Hello everyone! I am now back from my annual two-month summer retreat/break. This particular break emerged differently for me than most previous ones, and which I will share about in the present Field Note. As well, this Field Note will likely come across as somewhat more philosophical than usual. However, I am quite certain that, in reading this one, you will detect the tie-in with your own inner work.
I have seen many people being quite dark and down when they are finally freed up to have their much-anticipated vacation. In many ways, the whole pandemic period has been acting as “vacation,” although not by choice, but forcefully imposed, such as the Covid lockdown situations. It is not surprising that people’s Shadow material now emerges: the material that has been suppressed by busyness, fatigue, and the checking off of to-do lists. I didn’t anticipate that I would become one of these people, as I have not usually experienced this, at least not for a very long time.
During my summer break, especially at the beginning, I was aware of thoughts and associated feelings related to my perceptions of the state of the world, and this was intermingled with many aspects of my own life, including my body’s aging process and my reactions—at times, perhaps somewhat extreme—to this process.
I watched images on the news about Covid 19, the unexpected call for an election in Canada with what seemed to me to be increasingly acrimonious comments with attendant negative tone from the political leaders towards each other (contemporary politics has clearly become an art of dragging down and shaming the other leaders and parties); insurrection in Washington, DC (certainly a sharp contrast to a so-called democratic and civil society: is this country a champion of democracy?); and the revoking of long-standing rights in the US of women over their own bodies (definitely this is a scary sign of eroding democracy).
Then there is the destruction of the value of truth by political leaders: lying even blatant lying seems to be no longer an ethical breach; it seems to have become a behavioural norm, for convenience and situational cover-ups, amongst many politicians and ordinary people. There is that notion that if you tell a lie enough times, eventually it becomes the truth. That ‘practice’ seems to have become common practice. As well, our political leaders do not seem to take at all seriously the idea that they are indeed role models for those that they govern. Although as we see, they are indeed role models at times for the most egregious of behaviour and ethics.
And well we might consider the increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters, related to the massive climate change events that are unfolding, resulting in fire, flooding, rising ocean levels, extreme heat, and so on (how Biblical can this get?): the list of terrors, horrors, and disasters seem to go on indefinitely.
With more time available during my summer break, I kept watching the news and realizing, more than ever, that the world is indeed in deep trouble. How did we come to this? Not that this question hasn’t been asked before! Ku-Shan, a 4th century neo-Taoist scholar, was asked, “What is the basic object of investigation?” And he replied, “How has one gotten to such a state?” My investigation has this time penetrated beyond the individual psyche into the collective psyche to reveal a relationship, it seems, between my inner world and the current and ongoing events of the outer world.
I have for example noticed and been affected by the huge outcries about mask wearing and individual rights. Individual rights? What about individual responsibilities? Since when were rights and responsibilities seen as two separate packages? As Heesoon, my wife, would insist, from her knowledge of modern Social Contract theory, that the two are inseparable. The central understanding here is that individuals claiming rights must consider whether their rights claims negate their responsibility-taking. Such is the case for claiming mask wearing and not wearing rights. How have we, the collective culture/society, come to this?
The often vehement and at times violent protests against mask wearing, along with claims that a mask wearing mandate is a violation of individual rights and freedoms, seem to forget that wearing a mask is a civic responsibility to protect others from the possible spread of the COVID virus. This is just one example among many that seem to indicate that very many in our culture are not able to understand or believe that they have a responsibility to other human beings and to the living planet.
Of course, there are multitudes of unknowns. It is not that the anti-vaxxers have no point at all but the preponderance of evidence seems to favour vaccinations, social distancing, masks, and lock-downs when extreme conditions emerge. Personally, I am convinced by the science, as I know it. Most importantly, aside from science, I am in favour of civil and meaningful dialogue. Such seems far away from the current reality on this and most all the important issues of our times.
And, I readily acknowledge that I am complicit, as well. Could I not do better with my responsibility-taking? But what, or what more, could I do that will make any difference?
Trying to think honestly and realistically brings me back to my beginning statement of observation: that many people are quite dark and in a down state. Indeed, personally I feel at times overwhelmed by a sense of darkness . . . about the future, not a long distant future but even the next five to ten years.
From my perspective the truth is that most of us have only the tiniest of possible influence or effect on the world crises and issues we are all facing. However, as my Dad used to state: “Tiny is not zero.” The purpose of this Field Note is to show possible connections between our individual and collective inner worlds and these issues: how we can benefit ourselves, others, our relationships, and the greater universe.
Most prevalent is the mindset that sees the world to be “out there,” whereas I’m ‘over here,’ as if the world and a self are two separate entities. Can this be so? Is not each of us a part of the world, as we are certainly totally connected tangibly and intentionally to the world. However, even to talk about the connections or need for such reveals that we are already thinking in a binary way. Before the thinking and speaking mind takes apart the world and the self, perhaps it is worth considering that a human being is always and already inseparable from the world. This is a powerful understanding, as far as the possibility of our action-taking or activism is concerned. Of course, such understanding is not what we were brought up with, and so we need to re/member this can perhaps be revivified from deep within our individual and collective psyches.
For, if I make changes to myself, to my inner world, then, since I am intrinsically integrated with the intangible world through my thought experiment, the world might change, in big and small ways. Perhaps this aligns with Pascal’s famous wager. If you are right, something is gained. And if you are wrong, nothing is lost, and you have had the adventure of the growth that occurs in you through the pursuit of this possibility. I might add, never underestimate the ways of the small! From the tiniest seeds grow nourishing and healing plants; a gigantic oak tree grows out of a tiny acorn.
From my perspective and experience, my sense is that I have only the tiniest of possible influence or effect on the pressing issues that humanity is facing. But, again, tiny is not zero, and can be a seed to something big. The purpose of this Field Note is to show possible connections between our individual and collective inner worlds and these issues; how we can benefit ourselves, others, our relationships, and the greater universe by pursuing these possibilities.
I urge you to experiment with the tiny contribution that you can as an ordinary individual make to the greater whole: the environment, others, and your relationships. An important question here is: “Do you care about this?” I think, for many of us, if we are very honest, our answer might be “sometimes,” and/or “when I have time,” with variations. But when do we ever have time? I would suggest to you that little bits of time appear each and every day, and that even little micro doses of reflection, and at times action, have some potential, however small they may be. And as a small personal incentive you might consider that even these micro doses of awareness and imagination may have a very positive impact and influence on your own neuroanatomy and your feeling of wellness.
Another compounding problem to watch out for is this: When we are ‘crazy busy,’ or preoccupied with life and survival, that will almost guarantee that we don’t feel that we have much caring in us for things that we do not see as being directly related to our own survival. Thus, paradoxical as it may sound, what we need to do is to slow down, take time, and regularly attempt to bring down our survival stress level, in order for us to feel deeply caring towards the world.
I have seen far too many activists who while very passionate about various causes, were essentially ignoring themselves—their body, mind, heart, and spirit/energetics. Sooner or later, this neglect catches up to them in the form of growing health problems, psychological health issues, relationship issues, even ‘seeing’ the shadow of the world within, and missing the personal connection to their own diminishing resilience and growing feelings of inner and outer darkness. Let us remember this: that we can only take on the world based from the core of our being that is wholly integrated with the strength and health, or lack thereof, of our being.
In order to truly contribute positively to the world, we need to steadily build our capacity and become a person who can practice activism in the most sustainable and enduring way. And I would argue that the greatest capacity comes from becoming an increasingly whole person: a person whose body, mind, heart, and spirit are unified and integrated, within and without. In the absence of such integration, our activism may end up modelling a fragmented view of the world, which would translate into unconscious transmission of a value based on fragmentation, polarization, dissociation, and even duplicity. We need to bring our transformed wholeness to everything, from environmental destruction to erosion of human community, and into an increasing process of immense and total wholeness.
As well, I have been struck hard by the shocking amount of venom and rage with which many activists directed their thoughts and actions towards those whom they deem to be the perpetrators of the problem. I think that the old phrase, ‘violence begets violence,’ fits here. History has shown over and over that the revolutionary leaders when they are successful in overthrowing the dictators very frequently become as bad or worse than those they replaced. I believe what we are looking for is a different consciousness, a different human being and beingness, and a compassion that neither negates nor affirms the need for any particular action: a consciousness that allows for differences, ambiguity, and not-knowing.
The question remains: how do we become whole and integrated? What are the practices that support and facilitate becoming whole? An ample case can be made that meditation as a holistic practice of inner work are royal roads to becoming whole. I won’t go into a long exposition and case-making here but just confirm the view with a brief remark that work on the self, when undertaken and practiced with a right understanding and right approach, does aim at accomplishing just that: becoming whole, and expansively so. For, meditation unites and integrates mind, body, heart, and soul/spirit (or whatever term one may wishes to use). What I am saying is not just a theory. One can discover and confirm it by the experience, just like eating. It takes eating blueberries to know what blueberries taste like. Perhaps centralizing meditation is not really the best idea, and is at odds with the integration of many spiritual, psychological, and physical methods, which is certainly the constituents of my own practice.
Now, in my previous Field Notes, just prior to my break, I have spoken about non-substance micro dosing. In the present case, that would be micro dosing, in the service of developing, a unified whole-person consciousness. This might also include your wishes about the universe and your connection to universal energy. Would I call this a form of meditation? I would, however unconventional this may be. I should be clear that I am very supportive of practices that enhance life.
I am all for regular meditation. However, I have found that this is not readily workable for many people for various reasons, including not being able to sit down for any length of time, and the proverbial lack of time. Consequently, they wind up with no practice at all. Hence, I recommend micro dosing a mind-clearing and energizing breaths at those moments you are so inclined, a recollection of memories of unified consciousness experience here and there, a long gaze at a sunset in the evening, a sip of a heart-warming smile both given and received wherever you find it, and so on. Micro dosing opportunities are everywhere. So are the opportunities to transform our consciousness. Micro dosing provides you opportunity to disrupt ordinary consciousness, and eventually have this non-ordinary consciousness become the new normal for you.
There is a well-known saying that is wrongly attributed Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the Change You Want to See in the World.” Apparently, this statement comes from Arleen Lorrance. She stated this in response to her own unhappiness while working at a High School in Brooklyn, NY: see https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/10/23/be-change/. What Gandhi apparently really said was: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man [sic] changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him” (same source). Either way, both of these statements capture an important understanding that I endeavoured to address and illustrate in this Field Note: the possible connections between our individual and collective inner worlds and what is happening in the outer world or environment.
Moreover, I have attempted to encourage activism and support it through inner work. Whether you are inclined towards activism in the outer world or activism enacted through moment-by-moment consciousness alignment and attunement, through micro dosing, the important point is that each of us, in our uniqueness and in our unique ways, can practice activism each and every day. Recently, my long time good friend and colleague, Larry Green who is both a gifted artist and psychotherapist, quoted to me the eminent psychotherapist, Andrew Feldmar: “Depending on your temperament you could work to change the system from within or work to destroy the system from without or work to create a new system.” Larry said that he belonged to the latter camp. Personally, I really like that camp, too. I do at times wonder, though, whether what I do is really of any value, given the magnitude of the crisis we are facing on all fronts. I have no clear, let alone, definitive, answer. One conviction that I have is that I’d rather try and fail than fail to try. The nearly last word goes to Twyla Tharp, the dancer: “Ultimately there is no such thing as failure. There are lessons learned in different ways.”
In case you are wondering about the title of this field note, The Little Flame, this is a reference to the small but significant life energy within each of us, and. that we have a lifetime of opportunity to cultivate. So here are questions for you to contemplate: 1) Do you identify with the small flame? 2) Do you see your small flame as a part of the whole of the major and immense flame that is the life energy of everything? 3) Do you actually see and feel yourself as the major flame?
I wonder what you are thinking about all this and what practices you employ in the service of living your life within the current contemporary context.
As always many thanks to Heesoon for her contributions to this Field note.