When I was a teenager, I was fortunate to witness the diversity of life outside my culture and receive the benefits of travel at a time when the impression had a deep and lasting impact, obliterating my US-centrism and changing my view of normal forever. I gained a perspective on my native culture, about some of the attitudes and social pressures I encountered later. I found myself unimpressed and not very responsive to the conventions of the time. It wasn’t until recently that this radical turn re-occurred, the opportunity for a fresh and extended immersion in a foreign culture. It just whet my appetite for more.
What other motivation is there? On some level, I am meeting myself, redefining the difference between preference and need, living a little more elementally and immediately. Here, what others might find challenging have become routine; but initially, every facet of daily life becomes an opportunity to peel away existing bias and thus some degree of separation between myself and others, to experience a basic and true identity more directly, to regenerate and reveal the essential that I share in common with all places and all people.
Second, the Borg-like complexity and assimilative power of day-to-day life in America, particularly under current circumstances, with its ever-thickening layers of lies and delusion, eroding a sense of agency. All stirrings of hope are undermined by the massive tech-driven inertia and propaganda of the post-industrial world. Indifference and even hopelessness are all too accessible. The multiplicity of connective possibilities to the global brain, combined with the exponential expansion and coordination of grass roots action-oriented groups are a powerful mitigating force.
Accessing that global brain from a different vantage point permits connecting in a different way to the whole. Have I been substituting the freshness of exotic adventure for the challenge of relationship? Maybe. In moments of greater clarity, I am buoyed by remembering that neither hope nor hopelessness are real. Neither has any substance. Neither is true and neither is false. I await revelation.
Paul Kingsnorth, echoing Rilke, writes this in an essay called “The Witness” in Tricycle Magazine recently:
I’m not a scholar, but I can say…. that if you make nature your witness, and if you act as a witness for nature too, there is a truth to be found. It even means, perhaps, that the ultimate witness to who we are comes from the earth itself. When you sit with the earth, when you make it your witness and when you act as a witness for it—what do you see? What are you compelled to do? These are questions that take us beyond political stances, beyond principles, beyond arguments about engagement or detachment. They are questions, it seems to me, that can never be answered in any way other than the strictly personal. Sitting or acting; engagement or retreat; perhaps there need be no contradiction.
What he is getting at is that we each have a personal path to discovering the inner force that will drive our actions in the world. Each of us must examine and define an integrity of our own liberation and the liberation of all—because there is really no such thing as “my” solitary liberation anyway. At the most personal level, that journey is one of remembering that nothing exists outside of relationship, of waking up to relationship with the entire natural world and being willing to take the leap into the uncertain outcome of our actions. We may call it an open hearted awareness, a commitment to allowing an uncompromising compassion to envelop and drive us.
A decision to break open and trust helps us reconcile being a solution while also seeking a solution without mindlessly recapitulating our projections on a world that ultimately, subtly and perpetually resists our categorization. We have and may use the scientific view to provide us a measure of understanding of what we do, yet it also diverts us from realizing that we cannot fully know–that we must treasure all of creation and each other in the moment, and not be deceived into thinking we can manipulate it all, that we can bend creation, including other humans, into our own image.
The sweep of this time is an initiation, a severance from all that we know, all we take for granted. Let it go.
Trust The Precipice
It doesn’t matter when they appear, these thresholds, these footpaths that again and again end, drop into a chasm. We shift out of a phase that lingered too long on a broken horizon.
We resist the fall with all our being, holding on like tenacious weeds to the cliff where meaning faltered, slipping from the place we made for it.
Now life’s change waits like a stepchild at the doorstep of the house where it may belong. As it gets darker you are afraid of the next step’s blind touch.
What can you now rely upon? Nothing to do about the encroaching fact of gravity, a hint of vertigo, anonymity.
The precipice is the resistance to the next moment, its unveiling, its miracle.
Nothing to do but wait for a visualisation, a vague shape of a memory that provides a theory of where you stand at this moment.
No other way, but to study the light inside you.
Abide in it as threshold, as prayer or as somebody who thinks about you as God. Abide in that courage that arrives as trust.