Hygiene

Pathologies surround us.

The time for establishing a hygiene is before a crisis becomes acute. There is a window for this, as for everything.

The system of latent belief, habitual preoccupations, and elaborate denial mechanisms that allow us to stagger through our days, propping us up, will at some point in the ongoing collapse cease to work. Jury-rigged coping strategies are like that.

The trouble is they stop working as soon as we peer behind the curtain. We know that – in the way we know a lot of things we don’t think we know – and this knowledge tends to scare us. We feel trapped, as if the way forward is blocked and the way back is disappearing. This is the way it feels to be stuck.

Once a threshold of immediate danger is crossed the window has been shut. The walls tumbling down, it’s hard to hold anything together at that point.

Some, can accept that moment as a challenge and rise to the occasion. Most tend to succumb. The violence that increasingly affects our lives in such situations erodes our abilities to do anything but react. Our customary passage through a series of alternatives and shifting horizons-of-the-possible narrows down. In the end, for each of us, as for any society, any form of life, any thing; the possibilities eventually narrow down to a single path that leads to death, collapse, disintegration. This is the only singularity we’ll ever actually achieve.

Leading classes in Qi Gong, I see again and again how it helps people who come to some point of trauma in their lives, a disease, surgery, the loss of someone close. I also see how, for some, the introduction to this helpful hygiene comes too late. They haven’t taken on enough of what it offers and the crisis strikes and they fall back into earlier patterns, and….

I’ve long found something vital and significant in the example of Outward Bound. The foundation of the program as a way of inoculating sailors and fliers during World War II was a form of hygiene. A vaccine for the soul. Exposing in an incremental way those at risk of disaster to conditions they might face so they could learn to accommodate to the abrupt loss of all that was familiar, comforting, and supportive. In this manner they found what they already knew, but didn’t know they knew it. There are reservoirs of strength within us if we can only recognize them and let them flow.

What makes these realizations a part of a mental/physical/spiritual hygiene – instead of a theoretical construct that can be suggested, argued for, or in some way passed to another by persuasion – is its experiential nature. The words, “Drink only from a safe source of water.” will not keep anyone from getting sick. The gap between the concept and the doing is too great. It cannot survive the disruptions inherent in collapse and disaster. The only thing that does cross this horizon is a firmly embodied practice. And this is what makes of it a hygiene.

We tend to see how something might be good for us and then still go on as before, thinking something like this perhaps, “That’s good to know…. Someday….” But someday never comes. We know this as well. We just don’t trust that we do.This appears to be a threshold event. IF we begin to find and note some of the things we know, but don’t know we know them; a certain momentum can develop. This might break us out of being stuck.

For me, looking back, every breakthrough in this direction has been as a result of this sort of dynamic. Qi Gong itself, in many ways is directed at immersing us in repeated and conducive opportunities to arrive at these realizations. This barrier can be surpassed, but we are foolish to underestimate the danger hidden in that fuzzy moment of indecision in which we can make a significant break with the old patterns or slink back into them.

This is the business of a hygiene. There is a hidden danger. Its remedy is potentially in our grasp. Not something we have no power over, no means to control – like all of the obsessive threats we fixate our fears on. These are things we can control and we can develop our strength and do something about them. To embrace such a hygiene changes our lives in the only way that can open creative possibilities instead of adding to the destruction and violence that hems us in.

This seems to be the most pressing need. This seems to be what we should be putting our efforts into. This seems to be the kind of thing that requires what we have to offer. There is no need to meet some level of preconditions to establish ideal conditions so we can leap after the impossible. This is both necessary and do-able.

Collapse destroys institutions and the beliefs behind them. Before they have fallen completely away it is possible for us to know they are failing. Another thing we know….

At such times we can rail over how wrong some are to continue to prop them up or strive and fight to topple them all the quicker. Neither of these paths can lead us beyond futility. When collapse is imminent it cannot be avoided. It also does not need any more volunteers for its demolition crew. There is an alternative that is vital, not futile. We can work to develop and spread a new hygiene that prepares us for whatever is coming.

An actual hygiene is not a program. Outward Bound was a significant precursor to what is needed, but it was too narrow, too focused, too blind to the widest framing of the specifics they attempted to address. So far, what has kept any program of this sort, or any other, from working can be found in this contextual myopia. The kind of hygiene required cannot be bounded in this narrow way. It cannot be reduced to a Program and then Brought to Scale.

It needs to be a much more modest effort, and also, much more daring. It does not require an imposing edifice or institutional home. It does need us to establish and maintain the most basic contact between its practitioners. A humble place in which our focus is declared and presented to those seeking help.

It also needs us to be willing to approach its promise with audacity: Stepping out into a space where all that we already know is waiting to be discovered. Where our strengths and our resilience can meet our challenges directly, avoiding the corrosive effects of our current habits of “holding it together.”

Before the window closes we know it will close. There is a certainty that arises out of us as surely as our next breath. But this only lasts a moment. It is strongest just as the window is about to slam shut. We know what follows as well. Beyond that moment –if we fail to heed – lies only regret.

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3 thoughts on “Hygiene

  1. Very good, as always. I’ll stop “rating” as it’s too reminiscent of the Facebook “like” function that you have for good reason left behind. This “knowing a lot of things we don’t think we know” (proprioception?) needs this kind of exposure you are giving it here I think (like an irradiation of awareness, a hygienic action). The temptation is to say a lot of fancy crap in response. But I only wanted to jump in with both feet and reverberate the emphasize you’ve given to this fascinating sleight of hand that seems to succeed (to our ruin) by going along with the trick unconsciously. There is a need to say yes, this is the place to watch, which can be said from at least two superficially opposed directions: 1) there is a need to be aware of the awareness already happening, and this needs no active assistance (quite the contrary); and 1A) there is a need to be aware of the UNawareness, of the rutted paths away from (conditioned resistance to) what is already known. And the statement “knowing a lot of things we don’t think we know” emphasizes and maybe activates interest in this fascinating phenomenon a bit.

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    1. Jeff,

      Thank you. I hope you out that lovely new WordPress site to good use!

      Yes, on both counts. And it’s so slippery. We want to rush right past it and, “Get on with it!”

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      1. I believe I had to sign up in order to access your essays. I don’t have any intention of posting anything of my own at this point. But thanks for the encouragement.

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