“The Truth for me must be what I need it to be.”
David Bohm describing the justifications of Ego.
Whenever we allow our language to atrophy – as we do when we rely on labels to stand-in for complexities – we arrive at a paradox: We feel the need to be concise. We fear no one will listen if we can’t “get to the point.” Yet, our efforts to be heard, to anchor what we have to say in graspable concepts, makes it certain we will be misunderstood. If anyone does listen/read they will remain confused….
Right now someone is running for a catch-phrase. Maybe something like, “The map is not the territory…”
Trying, any effort to “try to…” pushes the stated aim away. Ensures that nothing will come of the effort. Well, not exactly nothing…. We get further evasion masquerading as concern…. The effort of trying establishes a series of stuttering reverberations, a multiplication of layers of attempts at effort. What might actually be accomplished is buried under re-presentations, signs of effort.
There’s a mosquito biting your neck. Do you try to swat it?
Your elbow nudges a cup, teetering on the edge of your desk….
So why does it become necessary to try whenever we feel the stakes are high? What makes us believe the outcome will be improved?
Searching for a way to break through the cycles of inanity and begin, let alone support, a conversation I’m struck by the image of attempting to intervene with a drunk. The most pressing task is to simply gain and retain their attention, but as in a nightmare this seemingly simple act is impossible. We try every conceivable gambit: sweet persuasion, humor, redirection, tugging on an elbow, offering coffee, walking them around, a slap in the face…. Nothing works. Moments of apparent success slip away. The situation goes from bad to worse in one or many easily imagined and therefore presumably avoidable ways. If only we could get through…, “Hey! I’m trying!” They claim and then nod off again….
Lacking a direct connection to making things has impoverished us. Mostly in ways we don’t even realize. There is a profound disconnect between our consumption of what is marketed to us and the whole environment of making. We are encouraged – “Would you like a straw with that?” – to remain in an infantile, reactive relationship with our stuff. Encouraged to act impulsively to gratify ill-defined needs and desires as quickly as possible and with the least amount of direct, purposeful effort. We cry and point and every available outlet is aligned to give us what we demand. At a price….
This lack of restraint, responsibility – “The customer is always right!” – this avoidance of any inquiry into consequences, is rewarded, normalized. Any reluctance, any hesitation at all is deemed suspicious, “Spoiling the party.” And so, any deeper questioning is flattened out into a series of binary, yes/no ultimatums. Any attempt to pause and see what is going on is treated as badly as if we were intent on turning back and going down a crowded up-escalator, “Don’t you believe in Progress!”
Acceptable studies of what is made, beyond the honing of efficiency and cost-saving and enhancing shareholder value, include those interested in streamlining the process of moving us from a vague desire to close the sale. Creating addictive buying experiences is well-regarded and well-rewarded. Academics hash-out their pecking-orders through a display of information abstracted from its original contexts, existing to support one intellectual “ism” over another.
We are impoverished. Left to assume that our own broken, fragmentary, and unquestioned assumptions – often not even consciously held, mere flickers of discomfort to be assuaged by another purchase or by lashing out at those who dare disturb our precarious comforts – are the only possible relationship anyone has ever had or could ever have with the things that support existence, “It’s human nature!” we say, shrugging….
Everyone, everything, that came before us must have been leading up to this pinnacle on which we are perched. And, if we’re not quite there yet we just need to try harder and buy more. It’s so easy to lose sight of how impoverished this supposed ease has left us, or how hard it is to keep on going when every choice leads to starting or feeding some addiction. How hard it is to do all that is required of us to afford this supposed ease. We confront the constant erosion of everything – approaching a state of free-fall – when we happen to look beyond the enticements circling above our play-pens.
People have made things in ways and under motivations that we can now scarcely imagine. The liturgical response to any such suggestion is, “And thank God! We have it so much better now! Amen!”
Remaining infantile is a feeble and pitiful squandering of possibility when clung to in chronological adulthood. What an infant does is tremendously effortful and difficult. It requires tremendous energy and a near-boundless persistence. But we generally lack the imagination required to see this.
I have a fired-clay roasting pan from my grandmother’s kitchen. A roughly elongated oval with thumb hole handles at each end. Slab-sides cant outward. A flat bottom. You can almost feel the flexibility of the slab of wet clay it was made from. It has, not so much a glaze as a patina, soft, black. The color of graphite and with the same shimmering slightly reflective surface. It was made quickly by someone who made thousands like it along with many other household vessels. The same kind of objects have been made in the mountains of north-central Portugal for thousands of years. It’s related to similar objects made for millennia all over the world. It would hold its own if placed in a glass case in a museum. The aura of its form and making and the traces of its long use give it a presence. It shows a complete lack of self-consciousness. Its maker lacked any presumption. No attempt was made to signal some supposedly advantageous quality, or denote its maker’s cleverness. It has an eloquence as an object. These qualities did not just happen…. The gulf between this clay vessel and any of our own artifacts reflects the gulf that now lies between our situation and that of all who came before us. Most would now see it as useless instead turning to the crap now on offer….
“But,” we insist, “Everyone is nostalgic for the Good Old Days!”
The alienation we now suffer, the decline it has brought about, has not been sudden. In the century since this pot was fired each generation has seen a partial and growing decline over what had been possible before. The story we’re used to is that each generation, each decade, has brought an advancement. But these so-called advancements can only be seen by those willing to ignore the vast repository of attitudes and experience that supported the quality of the made abandoned in the name of all this notional Progress.
There is a courage in this clay vessel. It shines forth in every aspect.
It all comes down to a question of trust.
The bazaar is full of hawkers pleading for us to buy what they are selling: security, certainty, pledged in return for our trust. Religions, Ideologies, every sort of con-artist….
David Bohm’s voice is hard to hear through the din. He had something else to say: We’ve long put our trust into an illusion, a delusion, a belief in the products of Thought. Into thought’s only conceivable outcome: Ignoring division and incoherence, putting our trust in any part of it can only bring us grief.
Early on David Bohm had an insight: The only way to clean a polluted stream is to stop the pollution at its source. No attempt at remediation after the fact can ever make a significant difference.
Don’t trust thought.
Caught-up in Thought, immersed in it, it is hard to imagine on the one hand that thought is so pervasive in the first place and then to attempt to begin to work down, let’s say head up-stream, to find the source of its pollution and see what is behind it, where it comes from, whether there can be anything at all that is free of its effects.
There are clues. Anything that actually works, that shows fluency and holds together no matter how hard we look for cracks. Anything that is coherent comes about in some other way. Thought does not create anything we would call Nature. Thought does not create Art, or catch a falling teacup, or find a way through a confusing emergency. The inevitability, the indivisibility of these situations cannot be ignored once one has the eyes to see and is no longer confused by the faulty lenses thought throws before our eyes.
These glimmers point to the possibility of trust. And, they don’t seem to be attached to the fine-print of some tawdry quid-pro-quo. A via negativa has taken us steadily away from blind acceptance and for those who don’t get mired in the Limbo of Nihilism along the way, at least not completely. We are all left with scars from our passage through it. For us, a distrust in the quid-pro-quo becomes a guiding compass. There is no security in certainty. This is left as the only assertion we feel we can rely on.
There is a cleansing in this. A sense of buoyancy, a natural capacity to let-go and let-come takes over. A cessation of falling. A release from tension. A slow and steady rise. Is this what trust feels like?
David Bohm was always insistent to qualify that though psychological insight works immediately it still takes actual time for the consequences of its release to work their way through the body. Just because we can see in a flash and know it to be true that images are not the actuality, that thought’s perturbations are not the prime-movers they work so hard to make us believe. This does not mean that aftershocks and residues of the old way of being made manifest in the structures of our bodies and the pathways of our nervous systems can just disappear. Thought’s effects leave a series of artifacts that persist. Just as they have been manifest in the world of time and space within our structures and institutions.
There are countless opportunities for back-sliding. If our assumptions have not been sen-through they block us and knock us back down.
To trust in what is beyond Thought out-there we need to trust in-here.
The crisis of trust, profound and deep as it is, reaching all the way down to thought itself, leaves us shattered. We have no trust. No trust in anything. No trust in anyone. Least of all in our selves.
This process of repair needs to begin inside us if it is to do anything. This is the source that has polluted this particular stream. Until the possibility of trust appears, trust in something within, there is no chance of going further.
There is a pain particular to this void, this lack of internal trust. It results from the deepest alienation when division has not only separated self from other but has shattered the self into shards and fragments. Attempting to guard ourselves against this pain is the ultimate barrier to fulfilling insight’s potential.
Intelligence has led to the insight that attention is compassion. Compassion attention. Now it seems we need to add another identity: Trust is attention is compassion and every permutation of the three is equally valid.
We may enter into this unity from any of these starting points, arriving at the others once we recognize their unity. We begin to see – not intellectually, but fully – a way to inhabit, incorporate a working sense of what wholeness feels like. A sense of what integration is like from the inside.
There is no jumping out of sensation*. There is a recognition that sensation is not just what thought has made of it. Not simply a path into delusion. The portals of perception become available to us within this wholeness of trust, attention, and compassion.
Seeing that the action of the whole made explicit in being results from the action of intelligence we begin to trust in intelligence. This trust opens us to intelligence acting through us. It removes us from the struggle to strive that erodes intelligence and destroys creation.
To participate in creation we need to trust in how creation works. Doing so we join in its unfolding.
*This is a new thread to be followed….