Making Sense

by Antonio Dias

We all know what that means!

What does it mean?

To make is to put together. It’s not quite the same as create. Not as pedestrian as assemble. It does imply a matter-of-fact doing. The emphasis is on competence and taking things as they are and putting them together so the result will function as expected. It implies an efficient process….

Regular readers are saying,”Uh oh! He used that word…”

Sense. That’s a little harder to pin down. It often means – it is the root of – sensation, which implies the world of the senses, how we perceive…. It also means, as this common phrase tends to use it, something rational, reasonable, reasoned. At the end of a process of judgement we arrive at something that, well, makes sense.

In this sense, sense brings the rational into line with sensation. What makes sense is sensible. It feels right. This appears to bring the two meanings of sense into alignment. They both refer to the senses and seem to rely on a sensually felt appropriateness as a reason for accepting a judgment, or even just a statement.

There’s more to be seen….

This is difficult, and I might as well get right into why I’m bringing up this question. Why I am turning a simple statement into a question in the first place?

I’ve written before on the problematics of language. That, as with any form or tool, it exerts pressure on us to conform to the expectations implicit in its own parameters. This can be seen as the functioning of what Krishnamurti calls our conditioning, but it can equally be expressed in a simple aphorism like, “If the only tool we have is a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail.” “Making Sense” can illuminate how this works on us and light a path around this obstacle.

Behind the simple statement of making sense is a whole series of assumptions. Let’s begin with its assumption of urgency. Without urgency we lose the incentive to “make sense,” don’t we? Why bother, if we didn’t feel compelled, striving after a result? This urgency is behind all making. Though I would say it is not behind all doing, all acting. Urgency generates a vector and impulse directing us down a particular path.

What is this path? It is a path bounded by the parameters of what we mean by making. Again, it is about following a path that stresses a certain matter-of-fact-ness, a pragmatism, an acceptance of forms as they appear so that we may carry out our striving, taking steps to achieve ends.

All of this sounds perfectly reasonable! How could we exist if we didn’t do this! The alternative is to be paralyzed with doubt, lost in a morass of uncertainty!

All of that is true, and well, not true….

Within our everyday lives it is certainly true that we expect to keep things moving and this is perfectly well served by making sense. It is also true that for us at this moment very little of what passes for sensible action actually does make sense! It requires a pervasive act of obscuration to maintain any semblance of a belief that we are well served by following existing patterns of thought or behavior uncritically. We are held in this habit of avoiding the obvious – It was ninety degrees in central Massachusetts yesterday…. – teetering on the brink of an appreciation of the futility of so much of what we do, in fear that there is no alternative.

Is there no alternative?

I think there is. But it does require we stop making sense.

This has been offered as an answer before. Dada, an art movement named after the nonsense babbling of an infant, claimed to dethrone reason. By the nineteen eighties we had pop music pumping this “radical, avante garde” notion out of wall-high speakers at all the most expensive clubs where the pose of irrationality went full circle from the far-left to the far-right as young Wall Street up-and-comers danced to its catchy beat. After all, wasn’t that the ultimate theme of Reagan’s “Morning in America?” Why make sense when you could make money?

Fear does drive us to conform. It also can drive us to rebel. What has only now become gradually clear is that neither of these options addresses the roots of fear or does anything to break us out of cycles of conflict. Something in our situation sparks our fear. We seek a response. We are filled with urgency. After all, we are afraid! An answer presents itself, either discovered or acquired second hand. We then pass it around looking for ways for it to adhere. Persuasion, negotiation, building up alliances, and drawing distinctions that separate us from them. – As with the last post, it could be said that this is exactly what I’m doing here, while advocating something else!

The difference can perhaps be illuminated by looking at whether what is going on here is making sense?

A lesson has come to light in a recent conversation. There is something else going on when a few people gather together and set aside the habits of negotiation and abide together looking to see what might come out of the gathering of its own accord. One block to this is fear. Fear can be generated by expectation, either expectations we bring to the dialogue, or the appearance of the expectation of another. Expectation not only leads to fear, “Will I perform adequately?” It also puts us in a relationship to what transpires that is rooted in making sense.

It appears that much of the latent ritual around such an attempt to go beyond negotiation, leftovers from pre-civilized rituals half-remembered or invented from scratch that put an emphasis on presence and an abiding with each other, leads to long silences. These silences could be maddening, especially in a voice-only exchange without visual cues as to what the others are up to! In confrontations within a mode of negotiation silence is a threat. What does it hide? What machinations are being bred to spring some new trap?

Within an abiding dialogue these silences are of another kind. They are an opportunity to share in leaving behind the expectations that one must make sense.

This will take clarification. What becomes apparent is that in these silences there is an act of willingness to wait. Urgency is set aside – together. Within the individual we may be racing with thoughts, biting our tongues to keep from just filling the vacuum with any noise. We may be calmly abiding the silence and feeling – whether it is a projection or not is beyond testing! – that the silence is a shared moment and not just dead air.

What does such a moment, a string of such moments, a shared body of experiencing such moments give us?

This is a “pregnant” question! There is a sense of possibility that does not fall into the usual circles and cycles of behavior that are now so riddled with signs of their futility!

One insight that bubbled up during this recent conversation was this feeling of welcoming the loss of the urgency to make sense!

What does that mean?

You see, unlike a pose of nonsense, like Dada, or any flavor of “cool;” this is not an arch attempt to do without meaning. It is contemplated in all seriousness as a way to engage with meaning, with questions of meaning and how we can arrive at meaning, at – to use a term I’m quite fond of – as a way to find the significance of things.

If thinking is different from thought. If experiencing is different from experience. If being is not just a series of flickering gaps between memory and anticipation, then we need to find ways to approach sense outside the limits of making sense.

Finding sense. Even this is too constricting! There is still too much expectation there. Sailors are loath to declare destinations! One sets-off in a certain direction and then, one must be open to circumstances and adapt. Hunting once shared a similar attitude. The search cannot assume that intentions will be fulfilled, or that what happens must be limited to what was expected. Especially, or not – I think this is always true – at a time when the usual is so fraught by futility.

There are two ways to look at this sense of futility that apply. We are caught within habits of intention and expectation that lead us to commit acts that are futile; and, the traps this attitude has led us into have closed off so many avenues that we see ourselves surrounded by futile choices. I suspect both are true. In either, and, or both cases anything that breaks us loose from our habitual patterns has the potential to open up new trails. If we are open to these other ways of perceiving and acting we are much more likely not to fall into the deep ruts of urgency and expectation that have gotten us so far away from a relationship with life that is not so fundamentally focused on death and destruction.

To acknowledge that one is not making sense, to share this admission with others, and then to abide together in its implications; appears to be an essential step in creating a space in which there is an access to an intelligence that goes beyond the negotiated sum of the individual intelligences brought to bear. Within this acknowledgement of individual vulnerability there is a fundamental relationship established with truth. “I cannot know enough. I cannot be without others. I do not exist outside of relationship with everything else!”

There is a clarity this opens up. There is a living sense that each one has surrendered the urges that drive us to make sense, to push and defend ideas above and beyond, and in negation, to the power of truth that such a stance ignores. There is a liberation that comes with a sense that I will not be judged based on how well I can manipulate, but on how well I can suspend manipulation and peer into the spaces this makes available to us.

There is joy in losing the obsession to make sense. There is also the chance to find ways that have not been proven, again and again, to be futile. Enthusiasm, being filled with a breath that inspires, is found, not pushed upon us by the machinations of others intent to sell us on their plans.

It is there in the shared breaths of those silences.

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