This concept appears to be the most difficult to comprehend. It’s also the one I’ve had the greatest difficulty discussing. We tie our notions of action so tightly to the process of striving. We cannot seem to imagine one without the other. We tend to fall back on rationalizations that to reject striving is to be nihilistic, that disillusion can only end in despair, and that hope consists in buoying our optimism. Faced with the most pressing case for letting go of the current paradigmatic world-view we fall short of being able to imagine action that isn’t the result of striving, action that is truly emergent, not manufactured or assisted into being.
This appears to me to be the crux of where we are. That this is the horizon we can’t seem to look beyond. I have the greatest trouble even bringing this up with the people whose thinking matters most to me. This as much for my difficulty making myself clear as it is anyone’s resistance to the idea.
How can we act without a plan? How can we expect to be effective without analyzing our situation and then striving to realize what we wish, er, hope to achieve?
We can approach these questions from two sides. First, we can challenge the assumptions behind them. I would assert there is no causal connection between effectiveness and planning, or analysis, or trying. Insert your example of choice here, and let’s demolish it together. Some combination of framing the alleged “success” to include its “externalities” combined with drilling down through the rationalizations used to cover over actions taken with a veneer of justification should cover most cases. What’s left can be dealt with by questioning the use of effective to mean desired or efficient.
We’re talking about Alchemy in a way. The pursuit of a process by which the ineffable, that which is held in suspension within the living dynamic of the Fabric of Being, and striving to distil it, to precipitate a “Philosopher’s Stone” that will give us ultimate power. The whole thing is damned at every step. “Knowing” is not understanding. What is suspended in a living dynamic is destroyed when precipitated out of its context. And, lastly, the pursuit of such power is a profound misunderstanding of the lessons of existence.
We get practiced at ferreting this out when it comes to our traditional “enemies.” It is so difficult to see the way we continue to labor under these same expectations ourselves. This is why dialogue is so important. At least one of the reasons. To stretch our perspectives in contact with the gaze of another. Facing the living reality of another and confronting their existence. We enter into a realm of action/contemplation that isn’t theoretical.
One of my difficulties seems to be either leaving out too much context, or getting caught-up in way too much! By the time I get to the question of action without striving I’ve exhausted all patience and/or run out of steam.
For me the two arenas that have provided me with examples of action without striving have been hazardous situations and the making of art – the latter I might consider a subset of the former, after-all I find myself caught-up in heart-pounding total engagement whether driving on ice or handling brushes, pigments, and canvas.
In these cases striving shows itself as totally inadequate. Trying, striving to survive, is akin to surrendering to the hockey-stick curve of exponentially increasing difficulties. We recognize this when we are there, acting without striving or plan, responding, even contributing to the creation of circumstances that lead us out of the apparent impasse. Nothing like the deer-in-the-headlights focusing on the obstruction and almost willing what in our minds we’ve become convinced is an inevitable collision.
We recognize it when it happens. Then we immediately begin to want to be clever – once the immediate need to be open has passed. We want to “learn” from the “teachable moment.” We want to codify an action plan. We begin to extrapolate into the “future.” We’re back chasing the Philosopher’s Stone.
This is where a practice comes in. Though not if we fetishize it into a ready-made provider of predictable results!
The strength we gain from disillusionment comes out of the stripping away of the hidden assumptions our habitual illusions throw at us. This has nothing to do with nihilism or hopelessness. Disillusionment is also never absolute. We are incapable of maintaining a lack of illusions simply because we have such a powerful projector in the human brain. We will always have illusions. The trouble comes when our body of illusions is so out of sync with our conditions as to lead us into suicidal behavior to maintain them. Disillusionment is a way of clearing away impediments to the creation of new illusions – call them stories? – while building up an awareness of our state of illusion and establishing habits that keep them from letting us see significant dangers in a creative way.
We don’t “solve” “problems.” We enter into creative dialogues with our predicaments. And the effectiveness of these dialogues does not rely on meeting our expectations for desirable outcomes, but having our expectations meet our conditions at a possible point of intersection. – This does not signify adopting a “defeatist” attitude, see the bit above on the deer-in-the-headlights. – This equation of desired for needed, or essential, is a fundamental trap set by our conditioning at the end of a long period of growing expectations and seeming unlimited power. We cannot confront the “future” without coming to grips with this in ourselves.
Now I’ve got a headache! That’s what comes of stretching.
These concepts aren’t ideologies, at least they fail as soon as they are reduced that way. They can’t be taught or learned. They can only be experienced. Dredging up this thought experiment has been one kind of experience; chasing a stream of consciousness, connecting examples from past experience into a train, and pointing out where certain stumbling blocks might lie. Also falling into perhaps unavoidable inconsistencies, like using a kind of analysis to arrive at the conclusion of the limits of analysis….
Still, this doesn’t compare with the experience we find within a dialogue, as we wrestle with staying in the question together.
Still, these are all just aspects of “training.”
Action without striving happens.