Thursday, December 29, 2016

On Rest

Rest is the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be. Rest is the essence of giving and receiving; an act of remembering, imaginatively and intellectually but also physiologically and physically. To rest is to give up on the already exhausted will as the prime motivator of endeavor, with its endless outward need to reward itself through established goals. To rest is to give up on worrying and fretting and the sense that there is something wrong with the world unless we are there to put it right; to rest is to fall back literally or figuratively from outer targets and shift the goal not to an inner static bull’s eye, an imagined state of perfect stillness, but to an inner state of natural exchange.

This template of natural exchange is the breath, the autonomic giving and receiving that forms the basis and the measure of life itself. We are rested when we are a living exchange between what lies inside and what lies outside, when we are an intriguing conversation between the potential that lies in our imagination and the possibilities for making that internal image real in the world; we are rested when we let things alone and let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk, to live with the rhythm of a house and a home, giving and taking through cooking and cleaning. 

When we give and take in an easy foundational way we are closest to the authentic self, and closest to that self when we are most rested. To rest is not self indulgent, to rest is to prepare to give the best of ourselves, and to perhaps, most importantly, arrive at a place where we are able to understand what we have already been given.

In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s un-coerced and un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and the take, the blessing and the being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.

A deep experience of rest is the template of perfection in the human imagination, a perspective from which we are able to perceive the outer specific forms of our work and our relationships whilst being nourished by the shared foundational gift of the breath itself. From this perspective we can be rested while putting together an elaborate meal for an arriving crowd, whilst climbing the highest mountain or sitting at home surrounded by the chaos of a loving family.

Rested, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it, rested we care again for the right things and the right people in the right way. In rest we reestablish the goals that make us more generous, more courageous, more of an invitation, someone we want to remember, and someone others would want to remember too.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

On Love & Hate

As another calendar year draws to a close, normality as we know it is coming unhinged. For the last few years it has been possible for most people (at least the relatively privileged) to believe that society is sound; that the system, though creaky, basically works and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress.

We are entering a time of great uncertainty. Institutions so enduring as to seem identical to reality itself may lose their legitimacy and dissolve. The social and environmental horrors likely to be committed could incite massive civil disobedience and possibly disorder. It may seem that the world is falling apart. At such moments, it is a normal response to find someone to blame, as if identifying fault could restore the lost normality, and to lash out in anger. Hate and blame are convenient ways of making meaning out of a bewildering situation. 

Anyone who disputes the blame narrative may receive more hostility than the opponents themselves, as in wartime when pacifists are more reviled than the enemy. Racism and misogyny are devastatingly real in our world, but to blame bigotry and sexism for the repudiation of the establishment is to deny the validity of our deep sense of betrayal and alienation. It does violence to the truth. Such is the cost of preserving a dying story. That is one reason why paroxysms of violence so often accompany a culture-defining story’s demise.

The dissolution of the old order that is now officially in progress, is going to intensify. That presents a tremendous opportunity and danger, because when normality falls apart the ensuing vacuum draws in formerly unthinkable ideas from the margins. Anything becomes possible with the collapse of dominant institutions. When the animating force behind these new ideas is hate or fear, all manner of nightmares can ensue, whether enacted by existing powers or those that rise against them.

That is why, as we enter a period of intensifying disorder, it is important to introduce a different kind of force to animate the structures that might appear after the old ones crumble. We call it love. So, let’s start with empathy. Empathy is akin to solidarity, born of the understanding that we are all in this together. In what together? For starters, we are in the uncertainty together. We are exiting an old story that explained to us the way of the world and our place in it. Some may cling to it all the more desperately as it dissolves, but what’s done is done.

We as a society are entering a space between stories; in which everything that had seemed so real, true, right and permanent comes into doubt. For a while, segments of society have remained insulated from this breakdown (whether by fortune, talent, or privilege), living in a bubble as the containing economic and ecological systems deteriorate. But, not for much longer. Not even the elites are immune to this doubt. They grasp at straws of past glories and obsolete strategies; they create perfunctory and unconvincing shibboleths, and they have no idea what to do next. When even the custodians of the story no longer believe the story, we know its days are numbered. 

We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. A story that will ask: “What would it take to embody love, compassion and inter-being?” We see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: “What is it like to be you?”

It is time now to bring this question, and the empathy it arouses, into our social discourse as a new animating force. If you are appalled at the current situation, and feel the call of hate, perhaps try asking yourself: “What is it like to be a hated person?” Ask it not with a patronizing condescension, but for real, looking underneath the stereotype to find the real person. Even if the person you face appears hateful, ask: “Is this who they are, really?” We hate what we fear, and we fear what we do not know. Let’s not make our opponents invisible behind a caricature of evil.

What is beneath the hate in our world? Why do we dehumanize each other? Hate is just a bodyguard for grief. When we lose the hate, we are forced to deal with the pain beneath. This pain is fundamentally the same pain that animates moral superiority. We need to stop acting as if we are better than others, no matter how broken they appear to be. We are all victims of the same world-dominating system, suffering different mutations of the same wound of separation. We live in a civilization that has robbed nearly all of us of deep community, intimate connection with nature, unconditional love, freedom to explore the kingdom of childhood and so much more. 

The acute trauma endured by the incarcerated, the abused, the raped, the trafficked, the starved, the murdered and the dispossessed does not exempt the perpetrators. We feel it in a mirror image, adding damage to our souls atop the damage that compels violence. Thus, it is that suicide is the leading cause of death in the military. Thus, it is that addiction is rampant among the police. Thus, it is that depression is epidemic in the upper middle class. Something hurts in there. Yet, we are all in this together. One earth, one tribe, one people.

We have entertained teachings like these long enough in our spiritual retreats, meditations and prayers. Can we now take them into the world and create an eye of compassion inside the hate vortex? It is time to do it, time to up our game. It is time to stop feeding hate. Next time we speak, can we check our words to see if they smuggle in some form of hate: dehumanization, belittling, derision... some invitation to take an ‘us versus them’ approach. Notice how it feels good to do that. And, notice what hurt still lies underneath.

This does not mean to withdraw from the social conversation, but to rewrite its vocabulary. It is to speak hard truths with love. It is to offer acute analysis that doesn’t carry the implicit message of: “Aren’t those people horrible?” Such analysis is rare. Sometimes, our evangelizing compassions veer into passivity. We need to confront an unjust, ecocidal system. Each time we do, we can stare hate in the face and never waver. We will access inexhaustible tools of creative engagement; and hold a compelling invitation to the haters to fulfill their beauty.

Monday, December 5, 2016

War On Consciousness

Consciousness is one of the great mysteries of science – perhaps the greatest mystery. We all know we have it, when we think, when we dream, when we savor tastes and aromas, when we hear a great symphony, when we fall in love, and it is surely the most intimate, the most personal part of ourselves. Yet, no one can really claim to have understood and explained it completely. There’s no doubt it’s associated with the brain in some way, but the nature of that association is far from clear. In particular, how do these three pounds of fatty stuff inside our skulls allow us to have experiences?

It’s at this point that the whole academic issue becomes intensely political and current, because modern technological society idealizes, and is monopolistically focused on, only one state of consciousness – the alert, problem-solving state of consciousness that makes us efficient producers and consumers of material goods and services. At the same time our society seeks to police and control a wide range of other ‘altered’ states of consciousness, on the basis of the unproven proposition that consciousness is generated by the brain.

That brings the so-called ‘war on drugs’ to the fore, which is really better understood as a war on consciousness and which maintains, supposedly in the interests of society, that we as adults do not have the right or maturity to make sovereign decisions about our own consciousness; and about the states of consciousness we wish to explore through entheogens (visionary plants). This extraordinary imposition on adult cognitive liberty is justified by the idea that, entheogens will adversely impact our behaviour towards others. Yet anyone who pauses to think seriously, for even a moment, must realize that we already have adequate laws that govern adverse behaviour towards others; and that the real purpose of the ‘war on drugs’ must therefore be to bear down on consciousness itself.

In the name of this ‘war on drugs’, governments continue to pour public money – our money – into large, armed, drug-enforcement bureaucracies which are entitled to break down our doors in the dead of night, invade our homes, ruin our reputations and put us behind bars. All of this, we have been persuaded, is in our own interests. Yet, if we as adults are not free to make sovereign decisions – right or wrong – about our own consciousness; that most intimate, that most personal part of ourselves, then in what useful sense can we be said to be free at all? And how are we to begin to take real and meaningful responsibility for all the other aspects of our lives when our governments seek to disenfranchise us from this most fundamental of all human rights?

It is interesting to note that governments have no objection to altering consciousness per se. On the contrary many consciousness-altering drugs, such as Prozac, Ritalin and alcohol, are either massively over-prescribed or freely available today; and make huge fortunes for their manufacturers, but remain entirely legal despite causing obvious harms. Could this be because such legal drugs do not alter consciousness in ways that threaten the monopolistic dominance of the alert problem-solving state of consciousness, while a good number of entheogens do?

There is a revolution in the making here, and what is at stake transcends the case for cognitive liberty as an essential and inalienable adult human right. This possibility is regarded as plain fact by shamans in hunter-gatherer societies, who for thousands of years have made use of visionary plants to enter and interact with what they construe as the ‘spirit world’. But, indigenous peoples today are still the most marginal and exploited members of society in all of the states in which they live.

States resist including indigenous peoples in decision-making processes that impact their lives, and almost never let indigenous values or practices govern those processes. The South African government's proposed Traditional and Khoi San Leadership Bill, for example, provides only recognition of leadership structures and communities; without any promise of cultural preservation or land rights. Nor does the Bill provide that Bushmen communities will be supported in attempts to practice their way of life. A way of life is built around communing with nature and passing on ancient wisdom traditions, based in the exploration of consciousness.

The Manila Declaration of the International Conference on Conflict Resolution, Peace Building, Sustainable Development and Indigenous Peoples concludes: “The dream and vision of indigenous peoples for a just and lasting peace, and for sustainable development to reign in their territories, can be realized. What is needed is for others to share this dream and work in partnership with indigenous peoples to make it a reality.” When the custodians of ancient wisdom traditions go, including the entheogens so integral to these traditions... then so goes a large part of our sovereignty over our own consciousness.