12 February 2011


One of the things about which I feel I should be very clear is that I have no idea what to do about some anything. None. Zero. I would be hard pressed to recommend that someone read the things I am trying to write in any case, but particularly if you are imagining finding some direct idea about what to do... I am sure those of you who know me are not surprised about this. I do not mean to be arrogant by imagining that someone is reading some thing I have written imagining an answer or something. I am just not really intending to write anything useful. I am not intending to write anything that is likely to be even remotely recognizable as a solution to some problem. It is not that I would not like to do those things. I just don't think such utility itself would be at all useful, even if successfully written. I feel it might be important not to confuse this with a kind of adolescent rebellion against utility as such. Well, I am glad I cleared that up.

I am collaborating with university faculty to ask several questions together with them. Some of them have noticed that something about their dynamic together seems or feels inconsistent with the type of collaboration they might want to have in order to ask and act on these questions together. They decide to meet to talk about it. This particular meeting is just a very few people, but it is more or less impossible to get together. This is mysterious. It is not impossible to do other things. In fact we are all doing many things, which on the surface looks like the reason why we cannot meet, to talk about why we cannot meet.

One of the strange things about pattern recognition is that it is often the case that the investigation of some particular 'pattern' or habit, stimulates that very habit, in the moment of inquiry. It may not appear to be so, and is not always so by any means, but it happens frequently enough to be worth remark.

Within the thing we call our schedule, which is a kind of grid based representation of our lives, reside many different assertions of necessity. It is useful and efficient to keep them there since, in theory, among other things it helps free up attention in the moment. It is a good theory. We typically live lives which are compartmentalized and prioritized for the sake of something like efficiency, in whatever context. We represent this with a schedule and we refer to that when we consider when and if we can do something. There are two organizational structures at work here, it seems to me. One is our system of necessity and priority, the other is the fragmentation or compartmentalization of our lives to accommodate that. Such a schedule might be situated with regard to natural phenomena, such as the seasons. Often it is conditioned by institutionally created units of time, like financial quarters or academic calendars. We therefore end up with questions like 'work, life balance.' It is almost as if some things are our life and other things are not. Or perhaps more accurately, some things are the things we feel we must do in order to have a life, which we then have on weekends, during vacations and when we retire. We end up in a kind of transactional exchange, where the context is fixed and perhaps unexamined, and the various compartments of transaction are in conflict with one another. This conflict might be internalized as stress, a feeling of not enough time, or externalized as whose fault it is that this is happening to us. We will act accordingly.

I am not suggesting that such necessities as we experience about the phenomena we call 'life' or the phenomena we call 'work' do not exist. I am merely considering the context(s) in which they exist and the consequences of such context. How does it work? How can we practice with this, even if there is not some idealized 'solution' to our experience of this as a problem? Often this sort of inquiry can seem like an attempt to minimize or dismiss the sense of necessity and responsibility one has in life. That is not my intent in any way. I am more interested in understanding how such things come to be and the consequences of our participation in different ways.

I imagine several things to be the case, none of which are necessarily true in any manner. We create and participate in such a system of fragmentation, in the belief that something is gained or avoided in the process. We view that participation as a given necessity, not as something that involves our active and ongoing choice. This creates a kind of layered and reinforcing dynamic of necessity between what we experience as ends and means, held as causally linked, but fundamentally separate for us. We do this individually, collectively and institutionally. When we experience tension, discomfort or comfort from the functioning of such an enacted system in our lives, we do not typically look at the fundamental choices we have made and are now living with, but instead create coping mechanisms to deal with the feeling of tension we experience. We do not typically, actively accept or re-choose the choices once made that have apparently lead us here. We do not really ask things like: 'Why was I doing this in the first place?; Do I still want to be doing it?; What was it serving?; What is it serving now?; etc. And how could we? Our most basic sense of identity is often wrapped up in the way these choices have played out and become habituated over time. Our basic notions of 'good' and 'evil', right and wrong, us and them, are fully cooked into the habituation of these choices over time and may even have served as or influenced the context for such choices in the first place. Such coping mechanisms themselves typically have consequences, many of which we perceive as undesirable or negative and we then engender further coping mechanisms to deal with those. We often have some idealized view of how things might 'work out' akin to buying lottery tickets... and so on. We also participate in all this together. We socialize the phenomena and it becomes part of our shared cultural narrative, further reinforcing the impression that all of it is a necessary and given condition.

I am not saying "I (you/we) made these choices, now live with them!" That is what we are already doing. This is such a hard conversation to have and so upsetting for many of us, in my experience. Many people will simply not have it. The result is that we remain feeling trapped by the choices we have made, often pretending that we did not make them, and are not still making them. I confess that I get a bit edgy about this conversation in a way that is not helpful. Extrapolate this condition of your life, however it is for you, which I am sure most of you can feel with some immediacy, to 6.8 billion people all doing it. I am not asserting that everyone is doing the same thing. I have not exactly had the opportunity to meet and ask everyone about this. I am asking you to imagine that condition. What would the consequences of such a condition be? What would it look like and feel like if the institutionalized and global condition were one of asserting a produced and primarily artificial sense of necessity and fragmentation for the sake of perceived survival and efficiency? How would you deal with that? Is it simply too big? Too 'theoretical?' Too complex? Too something?

How is that different than how we deal with it in the moment to moment of our own lives? Again, I am really not suggesting some magical idealized solution about this. If you just do thus and so, then it will all be OK. Nope. Action based on that sort of presupposition typically serves to amplify the condition, exponentially in some cases. Not-acting from within the same formulation also amplifies the condition. It is not a problem to be fixed or solved, particularly before it has even been felt as it is. Feeling it as it is is not trivial and typically involves a severe emotional journey, ordeals and crisis. Coming to accept "Oh, yes, I am doing that. I am a full participant. We are doing that, right now, even as I consider it," is a massive undertaking. It can be horrific. It can also be liberating and wonderful.

To take a stereotypic, illustrative example: people are starving at this immediate exact moment, not only far away, but quite proximal to where I am. I had a cup of coffee and a scone this morning. My participation in the supply chain that made that convenient to me and possible as merely a financial transaction is direct participation in that starvation. It is not abstract. It is not theoretical. It is not even particularly complex in and of itself. This is just one phenomena, relatively easy to see, even if we do not accept it. What do I do? Do I decide to engage in offset of some sort? Do I engage in charitable acts with regard to those who starve as part of the simple structures of my own life? Do I remove myself from the world in some way, living as in a cave or as some sort of mendicant? Do I put myself in a condition as a brother or sister to those starving? Do I imagine a scope to it, such as 'I will take care of this/those in my own life?' Once seen, this cannot be unseen, though we can cope with it strategically. The well intended charitable act is usually part of an enactment of the system toward which the charity is directed. A horrible thought I know. Extrapolate this to the life systems and 'environment' as a whole.

Once I have seen something about this face of interconnectedness, what narrative do I use to account for it? Do I imagine it is the result of some sort of social Darwinism? Do I feel I am better or worse and so deserving in either case? Do I attribute it to fate, or karma or some such force? Do I feel guilty or ashamed? On a moment to moment basis do I act as if that is all far away, and so I am not effected by or actively effecting it? Do I blame someone? Am I angry? Do I propose world saving solutions? Are they part of the same system of enactment? Do I have a religious, philosophical or scientific account? Do I attribute it to human nature or just the way things are? If any of these, do I make distinctions about that, when and for whom such things are true or not?

Based on this narrative what do I enact or continue to enact? Are those actions undermining or reinforcing the core condition I have seen? Does the exploration of all this trigger in any way the pattern(s) or activity of patterning that I am participating in, in some specific way in this moment?

I know this is not helpful, since it does not say anything about what to do. We are often, for good reasons, so immediately and exhaustively concerned with what to do, that anything we do not experience as directly, immediately related to answering that question seems a waste of time. It is a kind of closed system. What if we were to ask some different questions and work out the doing from that point, I wonder? I do feel there are things to do. I am attempting to do and un-do some of the things I feel are such things. I am not doing a particularly good job of that, overall, I would say. I do not feel that it is particularly useful or meaningful for me to suggest something about that to you, beyond the ways I am already suggesting it, and even those are pretty suspect to me.

Here are some of the things I imagine there might be to do. Consider radical and active disposition of responsibility for what is occurring. Such a disposition is not involved in whose fault it is nor is it naive about the dynamics of what is occurring. Accepting and understanding my participation in that. Considering and accepting the range of possible consequences of that participation. As a doing this might mean having considered the nature of collapse and engaging in action that I feel is appropriate to such a consideration. There are many aspects of this ranging from emergency preparation or a plan about the lack of that, to building social fabric, the capability to sense and participate in emergence, etc. Participation not only in the design and living of specific examples, but also building the capability for that sort of activity, wherever one finds oneself. Shift or allow my attention to be shifted, even consistently, as a practice in a way that allows a different ground of being, thought and action to emerge and be expressed.

Sometimes people will have some sense about what we are doing. We might then think, 'we need to change what we are doing', though often the first sort of thought is more like 'we need to change what they are doing.' We are doing what we do for what occur for us as very good reasons, in a way that correlates with some imagined future. While that context for thought and action is fully intact within me, something about the form of my doing might change, but only as another expression of the same enacted system, producing therefore like results. "It" cannot really be approached as a problem, since that is what we have been doing that creates 'it.' The moment of considering that dilemma, as such, stimulates the moment of the pattern of which it is part.

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