Recent misunderstandings have helped breed a new insight. I’ve been reluctant to post on the subject as I’ve looked for ways to write about it that do not remain focused within the drama that incited them.
Driving down what passes for the loveliest lane in the area the other day brought to mind the way even the most bucolic road, perhaps especially the most bucolic roads, hold within them implicit the violence all roads do to the world. It does not take a trail of corporate generated trash, beer cans and fast food wrappers; or the recurring punctuation of dead animals flattened as they attempt to traverse this scar on their whole world. The violence is there in the fact of the road. It has torn the land and created barriers and fragments where there had once been interconnection and the fabric of the tapestry of life before such an unraveling. These ribbons of toxic waste, a perverse synchronicity in which the residue of refining motor fuels provides the matrix for spreading their use while hiding in plain sight what would otherwise be recognized as the most potent of poisons…. They never stay bucolic, do they. They attract “development.” This is their “reason for being,” their “ROI.” They are one of the spearheads of the process of ecocide.
Now, as it becomes increasingly apparent that ecocide is suicidal, we come to the crux of our predicament, the enormity we face. As a predicament it is not open to solutions. The incoherence manifested in having billions of people working, striving constantly, after the destruction of the world on which all life depends cannot be addressed in the language of problems and solutions. As the result of a profound misunderstanding of the nature of thought and of our conditioned, habitual relationship with this phenomena, the processes of thought, continually carried out without an awareness of this inherent incoherence, can only lead to maintaining us trapped in this broken form.
So far, this is all old news to anyone who’s spent any time reading here.
What happened this time driving down this road, enjoying the glimpse into some of the largest remaining fragments of “underutilized” land, the dappled light falling between lichen covered trunks and over hummocks and reflecting pools of soggy ground, A familiar question came to mind,
“Where does the violence begin?”
This led, a few moments later, to recognizing the connection between this road, any road, and a recent realization concerning what this place of words is about.
I have been working on a post on the basis of a statement that came to mind recently.
“This trail is not a path.”
This blog was started with two intentions. One was for it to be a workplace. A place where I open my self to what comes to mind in a process of writing that is not one of coming up with answers and then laying them out, but a record of the process by which insight arrives when and how it does, within an open-ended series of actions, taking down words as they appear and then seeing where they lead.
Over time, I’ve come to realize that what happens here is a form of dialogue, a dialogue with whatever voices become available when we are attentive to them and willing to place them upon a “page.” This internal dialogue shares many of the dynamics we find in dialogue between people. It is a practice, and it is also a source of results.
The other intent in starting this place was to use the availability of the blog-form to create opportunities to share what came forth. As I continue to find, there is tremendous motivation in any possibility that what we say may be heard. There is even a catalytic function that takes place either when we write with the intent to share, or when we are in mutual dialogue with receptive people. These moments catalyze creativity and provide access to clarity that is often impossible to find any other way. This is yet another fundamental aspect of our shared vulnerability and the way in which the open sharing from within a state of acceptance of vulnerability bring us to life and its creative potentials.
But this process, the implications behind “results” and “sharing” in this context may lead, almost inevitably, considering the matrix of our society, to an expectation that what is on offer is a path.
To be explicitly clear,
This is not a path.
This is a trail.
What is the difference?
Now here is where the connection with roads becomes interesting.
A trail is the evidence of the passage of some thing or some one. In this area we live surrounded by the results left by the trails of enormous glaciers laid down at the end of the last ice age. I was born and grew up on Cape Cod which owes its entire existence to being the vestiges of those trails.
All sorts of creatures leave trails. Some of these trails are widened and deepened by reuse. They become available to other creatures who then add to their size and visibility and to the access they can grant.
Before this particular juxtaposition of elements on this particular day, I had always assumed a direct and transition-less evolution from trail to path. But now what is coming into sight is a vast gulf between the two.
In a trail there is no implication that there is any intent to lead others. Even when a trail is used and reused it is a matter of awareness interacting with contingency that drives whether on this particular outing this trail will be used or another, or a new trail altogether will be blazed. Creatures do not use trails in the attitudes of followers – outside social roles within families or herds. In these cases the herd itself may be considered an organism. Predators who keep an eye on the trails of their prey are equally not followers in this intent-full sense. In our hubris congratulating ourselves always on our great intelligence as civilized peoples we completely miss this sign of our atrophied intelligence. We rarely see a trail without confusing it for a path. We are so easily mislead into surrendering our agency in a way that would be “unthinkable” to other creatures we are so accustomed to scorning in condescension.
A path, unlike a trail, signifies an intent to channel those who follow it so as to give power over them to its developers. A path generates a conflict between the intention to manipulate and the resistance such manipulation may encounter. This process results in what has been labeled negotiation here as opposed to what happens in a free dialogue. No trail is violent in the implicit manner in which every path is. A path is the quanta of coercion. From these building blocks the entire edifice of ecocidal suicide is built.
So much of what appears to be my task is to use my attention as witness. The act of witness – yes, an act, not a passive stance – involves focusing attention in ways that bring occult, hidden, implicit violence into view. This act generates a dynamic in which compassion can be found and brought to bear.
This is another point of confusion brought about by the incoherence of thought. We dread finding any signs of implicit violence. We tend to see this as a step in self-flagellation. Egocentricity is eager to distract us in this way, insuring that it is “always about me!”
This only works if we confuse and misunderstand what compassion is. Compassion does not hold us to urgency which is an illusion of control used to ensure whatever we do remains mired in what has never worked before. The gulf between a trail and a path can be a fruitful point of contemplation. At least, it’s become clear that it is incoherent to confuse the one for the other.
Compassion, all that is creative and integrative within and around us does not ask of us to do anything but open our hearts to the existence of violence and in so doing place us in a different relationship to our selves and the world. Where this might lead is unknown. What is on offer is the only inkling of avoiding the same old errors that got us here.
There is strength in recovering and recognizing agency, in denying the violence of others traction upon our attention and our actions. This appears to be the lesson implicit in recognizing the gulf between a trail and a path.