We stand at a portal of transition, neither here nor there.
The things we do to maintain our selves this day and what will keep us going farther down our track have little in common. Our predicament could be said to lie right at this point of divergence. What works – however poorly – today won’t work at some easily foreseeable time ahead. Not only that, what works today hastens that day of reckoning. Not only that, what works today monopolizes our attention and keeps us from making the changes required to meet life farther down this path of transition. A path, let’s be clear, along a trajectory of collapse.
David Bohm’s youthful insight into flow, that we must leap from stone to stone without premeditation if we are to cross the stream ahead, describes the challenge we face. From a static perspective this seems a precarious prospect. It is only within a dynamic – in mid leap – that we can appreciate the thrill.
This thrill – not a cheap one, by any means, it shapes up as quite dear – is the joy we find at the center of being alive. A joy in the act of living itself. Something that seems a long way from the anxieties and deep concerns we brood over these days. The thrill of action. Although this has been appropriated by the propaganda of power to be confined to throwing one’s Fate upon Destiny in the fulfillment of someone else’s dream of conquest. What lies behind these fantasies is real enough.
There’s a recurring pattern to the way transitions like this unravel. The anxiety preceding action leads to a flux of both wishing for perfect conditions before launching and just wishing it would all just start. In this emotional turmoil there is a buried understanding of what usually happens next. All of our most treasured preparations fall apart and as they do there is a lightening of a sense of burden that almost makes the terror of uncertainty surrounding us seem worth it.
Eisenhower’s words on D-Day reverberate, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Except that planning is still the problem. Planning is not preparation. And, it tends to be easily confused with preparation, as it was for Eisenhower.
Let’s look at that moment of transition again. To prepare as Bohm sees it, we accept a certain attitude. We know what will happen will proceed as it will, not as we might expect. To plan – even if we do so with the expectation that the plan will be “worthless,” still leaves us lurching as our expectation struggles with the facts on the ground.
Many died in the early hours of D-Day. Many would have died no matter what. But, the momentum of planning and expectation had to be overcome in the face of repeated and intense failures of that plan before any viable improvisations could take hold and affect the action at hand.
There is no “Planning to not have a plan.” No presumption of an intention to act a certain way that does not impede the flow of direct engagement with what is unfolding. Especially at times of crisis.
This cannot be taught. It must be experienced. So much of what draws us into sport comes from our hunger to discover this in action. So much of what draws us to making Art is also done in this spirit, although this is not readily apparent to anyone but a practicing artist.
It’s one thing to talk about negative capability, being able to hold contradiction in mind without falling on either side of some illusory binary judgment. Something else entirely to act on this basis. So little of what we have available to us today helps us prepare for this. This may be the biggest threat the technological attitude presents us with. Holding us in thrall of recipes and with so little experience of having to face a nuanced jumble of seemingly chaotic input with an open being ready to engage.
It takes a keen appreciation for and a long and intimate acquaintance with failure and defeat to be ready to accept what all this entails. Wisdom does not come cheap, and when we ride the momentum of numbers and the accidents of cheap and easy energy into repeated victories we are insulated from its sources.
If it could be said we’ve suffered the stupefaction of ease and success, that wealth has made us stupid, then we’re entering a phase rich in opportunities to address this lapse. If only we take our lessons to heart! It is obviously easy enough to take defeat as an excuse for self-pity and put all of our energies into developing a mythology of destiny-stolen from us by dastardly iniquity. This may be easier for those who merely watched as those they identified with battled and lost – a projection of the shadow of their own cowardice displaced on an outside enemy. In the fervor of constant retelling such stories can infect so many. Justification is a hell of a drug.
The rocks we must cross are slippery. That’s what draws my attention back to this point in our story. Unless we’re aware of this we will fall as surely as so many other have fallen before.