Clearing the Mind

We fill our days with irrelevancies holding us in patterns of thought and behavior that are dysfunctional.

What do we gain when we stop pretending?

Dark Mountain asked, “What do you do after you stop pretending?” This captures our current moment precisely. I wrote about it here.

As the ramp-up to the Dark Mountain Festival gains momentum and these ideas find outlets in wider circles so many people don’t know what to make of this view. They seem to equate the active work of plumbing the depths of our actual situation, stripping away shallow assumptions and hazy pseudo-mythologies that cocoon us within an acceptance of the status quo, as the only possible alternative to some deeply dystopian “end of the world.” They equate this action with “doing nothing” while valuing “doing something,” even as they can find no evidence that whatever their particular “something” is will help. It’s not working.

What can be gained by not pretending? The immediate frustration we encounter at the first hint that our “something” is futile leads us to lash out against the unfairness of our position. We want to belittle whoever or whatever led us to doubt, and leave it at that. The problem is, we fear, there’s truth in that doubt.

No-one ever gets angry, no one argues over anything they truly know to be true. I don’t think we ever really argue when we know something to be false either. It’s not worth the trouble. We simply discount the voice making the point and move on. Whatever truly riles us seems to be whatever we wish were true or not true, something we fear to be otherwise. This is the great wellspring of ideological conflict. This is why we argue Economics and Religion, in either case we’re dealing with opinions. Both have underpinnings, wrapped up in layer upon layer of trappings. These underpinnings harbor truth, but we don’t fight over them at that level.

Vinay Gupta likes to quote Gandhi, “First they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win!”

If we can get past our initial frustration that so much of what passes for action is in fact irrelevant we begin to find the time and the strength to continue. This is our first gain after “giving up” on the demonstrably futile. The Titanic disaster is rich with examples turned into aphorisms that enlighten us about our current predicament. “Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” is most apropos. It has a specific and clear meaning. It does not mean that one is “happy” they are in a catastrophe. It does not mean the band playing on as long as they could was a waste. The same applies to us today. “Planning” next generation nuclear power, or littering the planet with wind turbines, ARE examples of “Re-arranging the deck chairs….” Crafting songs that might give us solace, or help us prepare for the unknown, are not.

Magical thinking versus magic. Derrick Jensen quotes Isaac Asimov, “Truly advanced technologies always appear as if they are magic.” Jensen, turns our natural assumption of what this might mean on its head. He posits that perhaps, what we’ve ascribed derisively to “magic” within the practices of pre-civilized cultures may have simply looked that way because they were beyond our comprehension.

As with so much of our present language, words and terms are so muddied and distorted by current usage as to be worse than useless. The term magic is as badly abused as myth. Both came out of, or were meant to describe, aspects of pre-civilized life. They have, throughout history, been cudgels to disparage whatever civilization intended to destroy, a linguistic genocide. Genocide begins with the social death of its victims before they are physically harmed. Civilization has never shied away from genocide when it has felt threatened, most especially when it has fabricated the “threats ” it fears. The abuse of language is always a necessary first step.

Magic, by whatever actual name it had in pre-civilized cultures, was a practice, a series of practices and disciplines that opened its adepts to some deeper, wider, higher, more profound, more unitary knowing, understanding, state-of-being  the linear, reductive, dualistic, alienated civilized mind is incapable of appreciating. In what has always been a hard uphill struggle to “win the hearts and minds” of the pre-civilized to its – to what its followers – consider an undeniable superiority; when trickery, deceit, aggression, terror and encirclement fail we have always relied on killing or enslaving or both. The first step was always to belittle the pre-civilized practices, to willfully misunderstand.

With psychological transference, displacement and projection, the civilized have always turned their own compromised intentions inside-out, ascribing all virtue to “our’ side and all evil to their opponents. In this way, magic became “magic.” A deep practice dedicated to an unfathomable reality faced with open intentions is judged no more than a falsehood achieved through confounding the senses with the express purpose of compelling its adherents to follow a chimerical fantasy. True magic is conflated with a parlor trick. Gimmicky one-trick technologies that rely on slight-of-hand to displace their true costs onto others are held in high esteem. This travesty is taken to be pragmatic and grounded in reality.

Today we have no true sense of what pre-civilized people were capable of. We have stories, we have myths garbled in translation. The Alexandrian Library of pre-civilization was sacked and burned long ago. What do we have left? Our instincts, what we find when we begin to let go of the frantic activities of “doing something,” a silence, a space in which our instincts can begin to work again. Six thousand, or ten thousand years of civilization have not driven two billion years of living instincts out of our cells. Our bodies, beyond the poisoning and the damage done by metals, oil and uranium; are still indistinguishable from those of our ancestors one hundred thousand years ago or more.

We are made up of embedded complex dynamic systems from the sub-atomic level on up to our Earth, our Solar System, the galaxy, the universe. These systems have tremendous capacities for equilibrium even as their complexity and embedded chaos keep them forever beyond our capacities to control. A terrified pilot attempting to right a plane from a dangerous attitude might do best to simply let go and allow the plane’s natural dynamic stability to return it to a more manageable regime; he risks a stall or spin by frantically “doing something,” simply because he wishes to maintain straight and level. For us, the same is true. Our selves, our environment, our Earth are struggling to metabolize our frantic inputs. We insist out of a desperate desire to control our world. We cannot control these things. When we attempt to exert control we destroy. Stopping, simply stopping at the most internal, most humble level, within our own striving, opens up the possibility for healing. This isn’t the end of the process, but a necessary first step.

If this message angers you, I suggest you don’t want it to be true. Beyond the immediate vertigo, the yawning chasm opening under all of our habits and attitudes, there is a thrill, and a latent joy waiting to be released. This too can be frightening, but with persistence we can re-awaken our connections with life after so many generations seeking control, and gaining nothing but destruction.

This is what we gain by not pretending anymore. This is our first step beyond pretending.

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3 thoughts on “Clearing the Mind

  1. Thanks for your response Antonio. ‘Implies’ rather than ‘means’ is helpful: within the media reaction to DM one can see the panic drive to restrict focus, label and dismiss; the other tack is the capacity to hold the space for the deeper possibilities of the project, what can emerge when pretending stops.

    I’ll look out for your other blog as well.

    All best

    Catherine

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