Changing Gears

My pace here has definitely slowed down. In part because of a shift in priorities towards painting and getting my fiction out in front of people. In part it’s also been through a bout of life’s intrusions and the breaking of the fine balance – some might call it obsession – I need to be able to “get out of my own way.”

This brings to mind how debilitating it is to be sleep deprived – and it doesn’t take much to lose the edge needed for what Bohm calls an active brain. The way this lack combines with an inability to remain centered as distractions flood-in to “pass the time” while we’re too tired for anything else.

There’s also the powerful force of habit which is derailed. When we’re used to doing something the effort is easily discounted while when it is unusual it seems daunting just for that reason.

I have been keeping a few things “in mind.” On the other side of the ledger there is the advantage of breaking with habit and allowing some new order to infiltrate. I’ve been feeling the need for this for some time….

Time. This is one of the subjects I’ve wanted to bring up. Krishnamurti wrote about “psychological time” as the space into which we move when we begin to strive and displace ourselves from an engagement in being and get caught up in remembering and becoming. To parse that last statement of mine, “I’ve been feeling the need for this for some time…” He would find reason to challenge just about every word!

“Where is the thinker behind the thought?” He’d start by calling into question where “I” comes from. The rest just tumbles into the jumble of conditioned “thought” which includes feelings and the confusion of desires for necessities. At the end, it’s all wrapped-up in psychological time.

I’ve just read his The Future Is Now, transcriptions of the talks he led when he returned to India for the last time in his nineties and with his final illness creeping up on him. Two things stand out as he worked to curb his “followers” impulses to turn him into a “founder” and the inevitable dogmatization of his words that would lead to. He challenged his listeners to refuse the trap of striving. The desire to change, which especially at times like these seems laudable enough, seems to lead directly to a justification of striving, “How can I change if I don’t ‘try’ to change?” we might say. His response was that if we saw reason to change something about how we dealt with our lives we not say, “I will change this tomorrow!” But simply to make the change.

This seemed to go over middling poorly. He returned to it again and again, with a fine tension between calm and the impatience of an ill, elderly man facing the foolishness of others and maintaining his composure. If we follow the reasoning, it’s not that difficult a concept. The seeming paradox is actually quite straightforward. While we are busy striving to change “tomorrow” we are piling up excuses and prevaricating so as to avoid the change we claim to accept. It smacks of “bargaining.” There is an implicit quid pro quo, we’ll change when and if certain conditions are met. The other problem with it is that it puts us, or more likely maintains us, within a problem/answer relationship to life that is bound to fail as it always has.

This brings us to his other recurring theme. Again and again he would ask a relatively simple question, but one that did not have an obvious unequivocal answer. Someone invariably rushed in to answer it. He would slap down their response and ask them to slow down and consider the question more fully. He would remind them of the limits of knowledge and the blinders we bind ourselves with when we insist that we have a quick answer. He would ask them to stay with the question for as long as they could, for the answer was there in the question. No matter what he did, most of the time someone would still rush into the gap with a new answer.

This is the other side of the problem with striving.

I’ve written before about the importance of negative capability, the ability to hold conflicting elements in suspension without falling for the desire to resolve the issue by choosing one side or the other. This seems to allow an insight into what Krishnamurti was exploring. In a way it’s like asking someone to look at a mirror instead of into it. The more you point at the mirror the more they will be drawn to the images on its surface and the less able they’ll be to see that you are directing them to see that it is a surface and not a depth. He wanted them to stay with the questions and not just see the images they’re brains projected onto them as “answers.”

These two themes, striving within psychological time and an inability to maintain a negative capability, are tied together and are fundamental drivers that maintain a deep status quo in our lives and block our capacities to engage with being and adapt to our world as-it-is. The linkage between the two is in the way our desire to strive and its justifications maintain us off-balance by pushing us in the search for answers.

“What’s wrong with answers?” I can hear you coming out with the question that’s been rising in your thoughts as you’ve read this!

It’s not a trivial question! Our refusal to ask it has been tied to our entrapment within a technophilic response to life’s predicaments, the signature assumption of our Promethean Age. If everything is simply a problem, and we’re comfortable with spinning off “solutions” no matter how many times each new answer only creates a new round of ever more intractable problems, then we never do get around to even asking, “What’s wrong with answers?”

Everything about our conditioning, and the round of habits and absorptions in ever more strenuous striving to meet our expectations, takes us further and further from the rather straightforward realization that our round of interpreting life as a series of problems and then jumping to implement their “answers” or “solutions” only guarantees that we maintain ourselves trapped in a circle in which everything about life gets turned into a problem, and our answers only lead us off into ever more intractable levels of difficulty. The more we bear down, the harder it is to see any other way to react and the farther we are from the qualities we may have that would see us through.

There was a third element in Krishnamurti’s talks, the theme of death. His own impending end was always there in everyone’s thoughts. He brought up the subject more broadly. He made the connection between striving and our unwillingness to accept death in any way. He related the way a letting go of striving is a way of letting death into our lives – where it always is no matter how much we might push it away. Physical death is the removal of all striving as all our desires and their objects are removed from us along with any perception of an I this might be happening to. If this is, as it surely is if we maintain a hold on what we can say about it with any certainty based on our own perception and not on projections of wish-fulfillment, then admitting this reality into our lives is a way to put ourselves into a more direct engagement with being as-it-is. If this is true, then by accepting that the things we strive for, the desires we have, and their objects continuously “leak” out of our lives on a daily basis and our ability to come to grips with this will also put us into a more honest relationship with existence.

Seen from within the prism of a striving life of problem solving our refusal to accept death’s part in life is seen as a justification for further striving and anything that will distract us from unpleasant realities and not disillusion us and leave us pessimistic, depressed, or surrendering to the challenges demanded of us by our quest. Solace is to be found in displacement or in bolstering our projections so that they remain strong. Nothing is seen as more dispiriting than to have one’s illusions shattered.

What if we turn this upside down? What if we stay within the questions this leads us to?

Bringing this up on this day, a celebration of a “teacher” turned into a founder and the justification for any and every rationalization or whim of anyone who’s found power “in His name” adds a further resonance and shows how deeply these questions penetrate into our conditioned ways of life.

Asking these questions just after the anniversary of the Gulf Disaster and just after a month since Fukushima may help put what’s is at stake into perspective, what we’ve traded away to be able to insist on our “goodness” and the rightness of our intentions.

How can we break these cycles? How can we begin to act in accordance with what is instead of only to maintain our illusions?

One clue is to stay with the questions. Build new habits that build up our contact with existence as-it-is. And, hold each other in relationship – as all the great teachers maintained at the core of their own lives.

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7 thoughts on “Changing Gears

  1. Was Krishnamurti successful in staying with “what-is” or was he striving to change his listeners?

    I pretty much think — though I don’t necessarily stay with it all the time — that trying to “impart wisdom” via talking to people is a fool’s errand. That does not mean that words are futile… but more and more, I accept that I put words forth for my own reasons and pleasure, and what people do with it is out of my hands.

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    1. Vera,

      Good points! Krishnamurti said he spoke for his own reasons as you say. He warned that he was not “teaching” or imparting wisdom.

      This stuff is complex, and my concern is to keep talking as a way to engage and not to lose sight of all that is in the way. There is a constant risk of being foolish and contradicting one’s self in this.

      A few years ago, I was “trying to change the world.” I’m not doing that now. I am finding things that seem to want to be expressed….

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  2. That whole thing about changing the world… I get annoyed when Dave Pollard says he is no longer doing it… (why not rename the blog then? tee-hee) … and I am definitely very much in the mode of “what we embody makes a difference.”

    So … do I have any new words for that? I am not *trying* to change the world… I know I change the world with what I embody every day. So does that mean I am striving to embody differently? Mm… it’s more like birthing embodiment with every breath I take. And I never step in the same river twice…

    We embody whether we are conscious about it or not. We cannot help but embody… Being aware of what goes on… maybe allows me to embody while incorporating more of “reality feedback.” And perhaps, something shifts… Does it make sense?

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    1. Yes, I think so.

      Krishnamurti, as I see his writings from my perspective, has validated for me that I de-link change from striving. I’ve long distrusted intention. Seeing that the feedback loops all head the wrong way if we stay in striving and intending while they seem to go in a better direction if we engage and interact with now, is all I have to go on.

      It’s funny that we are both committed to writing – talking in its own way – and have to deal with the limits of its usefulness. It seems to me that there is where relationship comes in, not to change the world, but to engage with others. This drops the striving, intending, directing, controlling nonsense and lets us focus on what can be done.

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      1. I have little doubt that words teach just as well -if not better- when they’re not ‘imparting wisdom’: A good conversation feels more like mutual play than didactic… and when I watch my kids, they seem to learn more through play than from parental lectures.

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  3. Thanks for this – again (and again) you’ve articulated something that has been fermenting in my own thoughts as a baffled muddle, and have addressed it explicitly and carefully.

    This post reminded me of a passage in the notebooks of Jane Bowles (whose biography and letters I have been reading so she is much on my mind recently): “she actually expected that some day she would change her present heart for another – or that some breach would be made so that the light could come through.”

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  4. Yes, yes!, like i wrote somewhere before to you, Krishnamurti was pretty influential to me back in his day and it’s good to read bloggage about him and that wisdom. When i saw him speak under the oaks in Ojai, truth be told, he seemed to “lead with his head”…which is good to see because we all have our shortcomings, famous spiritual philosopher and target of immense projection or no. (That was certainly a shortcoming i shared at the time, in my case being crippled emotionally and not knowing…which makes it hard to lead with the heart, and/or mystical numinosity) Today, as Eckhart Tolle and so many others say, it’s all about “presence”, as in being as fully present as possible without separational striving. Urgency does motivate it for me. Words do betray it. Practice does validate it. “Habits” do weaken it. Complexity does typify it. Simplicity sure strengthens it, but simplistic thinking about it kills it. So…thanks for trying, beyond striving, to avoid the latter and find deeper purpose in the dizzying, symbolic, seeming paradoxic nature of it all .

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