Shaping Awareness

I began this piece sitting in an automotive dealership’s waiting area, a U of chairs arrayed around a television playing daytime tv at full volume. I shared this space with a handful of other inmates, all eying the screen in between looking at a magazine, or a best-seller, or texting on a mobile phone. The space was ersatz. Furniture covered in a veneer of a photographic image of wood grain or in the texture of leather impressed into vinyl under a ceiling of pretend tiles and walls of hollow false solidity. Plastic plants and artificial lighting filling out the totality of the experience.

I knew I was going to be in this environment and I left home with my notebook and pen intent on finding a way to deal with its toxicity and find some way to create something anyway. I found I could form thoughts, in a fashion. It pushed me to put them down in a hurry and without concerning myself with transitions or even wording. If they were to survive passage in contact with these forces intact I needed to just write them down.

As always, no matter how conducive the circumstances, in transferring these words from paper to screen, I have edited to some extent. But I still carry a fragmented broken view of what this might add up to even now, back in my habitual haunt.

It should be no surprise that these conditions led me to examine awareness. Here is what came to mind:

We can either abdicate our responsibility for the shape of our awareness or not. The dominant culture – if not any hegemonic culture, maybe all cultures – maintains dominance by taking control of our awareness.

Is it possible to control our own awareness? Does that constitute a laudable form of the will-to-control? Is it a “corner case” that sneaks past the rule? – That all control is illusory.

Is shaping awareness a form of control?

This begs the question, what does shaping awareness entail?

If our awareness is eroded and dissipated by our social environs as they push on us then its shape is tattered and its form dysfunctional. This effort to cripple awareness creates a condition in which awareness is destroyed – a sure sign of the will-to-control at work. We struggle like people caught on an increasingly sloping deck, scrambling for a hold and frustrated by those whose mistakes or omissions leaves them free to plummet into us as they fall into the icy waters below and threaten to take us with them. Our anger and attention is misplaced. The deck holds only an illusion of safety even as it rises ahead and plunges beneath us. Our challenge is not to fight with our fellows, but to discover what to do with these moments we may still have at our disposal.

If we shape our awareness through a discipline of mastery we are shaping awareness as a creative act. We acknowledge the impossibility of control as a positive force, and open ourselves to what is possible.

Creativity opens pathways. Can it “defend” itself against the will-to-control and prevent its own/our own destruction?

This is a recasting of the “civilized versus barbarian” struggle, turning it on its head. Civilization has been a Ponzi-scheme of escalating destruction. Its malignant dynamic spreads destruction and consolidates power. It rips apart the fabric of the world and replicates itself as long as it can. Its ability to destroy has grown as it has spread. By channeling awareness to focus on its ends, it co-opts whatever awareness it doesn’t immediately destroy. Ultimately its destructiveness closes in over itself. It “loses” in the end, except that destruction IS its great aim. Extinction is the inevitable conclusion of death worship.

Creativity is an engagement with reality. It embraces our vulnerability, acknowledging that it is essential, because it is true. This is its core defiance against death worship. In the eyes of civilization this is its core heresy. This sets up a conflict central to our relationship with civilization as civilization strives to destroy, limit, channel, and eliminate this challenge to its dream of power.

How do we respond?

Entering into “battle” is the flip-side of co-optation. The clue to a suitable response is tied in with this issue of shaping awareness.

Our eroded awareness is limited and channeled into problem/answer relationships. Fragmented awareness seeks to further fragment itself in a positive feedback loop reducing everything to an equation: x=y. This is the Promethean urge.

Civilization succeeds at domination because it shuts off our awareness of its faults. It is not the success of technology in meeting its purported “needs” that drives this urge. It is the blind-eye we turn to its staggering failure.

Without a profound disillusionment to break us out of this trap of conditioning that shapes our awareness into blinders we cannot begin to shape our awareness into any other form.

This situation puts us in front of a portal. We can see the need to pass through, but we cannot see what is on the other side. Choosing creativity/life over control/death is the overwhelming drive that motivates us to go on. This is not a choice between “success” and “failure.” There are no guarantees – in fact there is a certainty, the very certainty of death that death worship seeks to avoid – that we will succumb eventually. This is part of life. It leaves us with an ethical choice. Its motivation derived from the rightness of one choice over the other.

The smallest turn towards shaping our own awareness, instead of wallowing in its abdication, brings a different kind of assurance that we are heading in a better direction.

This brings us to the relationship between confusion and uncertainty. Confusion is the state of mind fostered by an unwillingness to confront complexity on its own terms. When we cry out that something is too complicated, we are in the realm of confusion. The erosion of our awareness fosters a state of confusion. This is how civilization cripples us. Confusion grows out of our unwillingness to confront complexity, our unwillingness to confront uncertainty. The only assurance complexity allows is that we are forever uncertain. Here is where the bargain of death worship takes over. It wagers that if we accept the illusion of control we will find certainty – the illusion of certainty. In return it demands of us that we join on the side of destruction. The only certainty possible, besides the deeper certainty of its impossibility, is the certainty that destruction will kill what otherwise might live and go on in its own un-derterministic way.

Confusion is the threat that drives civilization. The threat that without its false certainties we will descend into utter confusion and be damned. As with so many psychological truths, this is an exact reversal of the truth.

The big lie of civilization reaches outward and says, “Without my taking control, chaos will reign!” It reaches inward and says, “Without your controlling yourself, you will descend into madness!”

The bully relies on threats because he knows that without our cooperation he has no hold over us. Yet we turn to the bully and accept our relationship on his terms. We surrender! The confrontation with awareness is just too big a headache!

Trust is the greatest sign of love, or so I just read in a tweet. Trust is the pathway beyond frustration, the only way past the friction between our mounting disillusionment and our ongoing conditioning. As with any addictive behavior our reluctance to change is protected by a trough of irritability. As we begin to move away from its power it becomes noticeably harder to resist. Then a threshold is passed and we begin to see what our past behavior in a fresh light. We gain in strength as its grip is loosened and this gives us the energy to continue. But only if we get past that trough!

These are some of the barriers to moving onward into that portal. Surrounded as we are by such strong signals of the power of that illusion, it is harder to trust ourselves than to continue to give it power over us. While control is a fallacy, it has real consequences, especially when it is given instead of taken.

How do we loosen the grip of the hunger for answers? This urge acts like gravity to pull us back down if our trajectory hasn’t reached an escape velocity.

Krishnamurti said to stick with the questions. As hard as that may be this position is not bounded by the futility of looking for answers. Another re-framing of our condition that is so hard to admit.

The one thought that carries through today is that framing our task as that of shaping awareness, instead of any of the myriad of variations on the pursuit of control or looking for solutions, is useful. It is an organizing principle. It lays out where effort may bypass the channels of futility. It bathes us in the laudable questions, “What is it to shape?” “What does form mean in relation to awareness?” What is awareness?” “Who has it?” “How do we grapple with it?”

Sometimes a simple act of intention, no matter how humbly stated, and with however small an expectation of a result; can give us just the “something to do” that we need to get on with things. This may be one of those intentions, like taking a pen and paper into the heart of the beast, and turning off the sound when I finally found myself alone there.

Published by Antonio Dias

My work is centered on attending to the intersection of perception and creativity. Complexity cannot be reduced to any given certainty. Learning is Central: Sharing our gifts, Working together, Teaching and learning in reciprocity. Entering into shared Inquiry, Maintaining these practices as a way of life. Let’s work together to build practices, strengthen dialogue, and discover and develop community. Let me know how we might work together.

8 thoughts on “Shaping Awareness

  1. Antonio: Fine, ruminative piece which left me with a few questions.

    1. On the Nature of Civilization: I agree with Dougald and Paul that civilization qua industrial capitalism has been a horror story. Unlike them, however, I think there are other conceptions of civilization that are worth salvaging. Take, e.g., its derivation from civility. Or take the way that civilization refines desire: I don’t like grape juice but wine; not tea leaves but tea ceremony; etc. So, I’d invite you to make a distinction between civilization qua control-and-destruction and civilization qua raising-up-of-desire-toward-higher-things.

    2. On Awareness: It occurs to me that a distinction between phenomenological awareness and self-awareness may come in handy. Phenomenological awareness involves the sensuous attending to one’s surroundings. In this sense, one can attend to the complexity of what is here, of reality in its manifold nature. And this–think of civilization as cultivation–can be trained and improved. This attending through the discipline of art, through (as it were) the ars of art.

    The other mode of awareness is self-awareness, awareness of myself as the one attending to my surroundings. It is this second form of awareness that, ideally and at a higher level of consciousness, could lead us beyond our attending to how we stand in the world and toward contemplation of higher things.

    Could be another way out of the conundrum of industrial civilization you discuss quite well.


    1. “Civilization refines desire:…” Wonderfully put! This gives me an in to another way of looking at how civilization has gone off track. A more nuanced approach than just the institutionalization of greed. I expect to spend some time with this distinction between control and raising of desire.

      Both “raising desire…” and “contemplation of higher things” brings the question around to the way “height” affects desire and awareness. These seem like good places to look under the hood of our assumptions.


    1. Exactly! But it is useful to untangle civility from civilization – if that’s possible. I’m not sure it is. As with much of what civilization has done, it hides its horrors easily behind pieties.


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