About garyhorvitz

Inviting the new + invoking the ancient + observing the observer + awakening to what is/is not + dissolving into space = peace now.

Becoming No Body

 

The vehicle in which we navigate this life, our personal identity and material existence, is the body. The fields of feeling, physiology, memory, habit, the maintenance of relative equilibrium, motility, our conscious and unconscious adaptive strategies for meeting every circumstance are there, in the flesh.

With its delicate yet seemingly definite boundary, it obvious we are separate, that there is an immutable boundary between our interior and exterior life.  As a temporary collection of energetic process, providing what for all the world appears to be the differentiation between self and other, the body is our personal home, our platform and our refuge.

In the body we write our history in time: our negotiation with gravity, injury, trauma, aging, self-care, aspiration, defense, success and failure. It is all there, from the values anchored in our bones to our story written deep in the sinews, to perpetual turning and re-turning, compensations, aggression and retreat, drama and restraint. We wrap our selves in the record of our actions like the accumulated rings of a tree, layering the extremes of love and loss, pain and recovery, solitude and connection, triumph and tragedy, learning and resolution, the ways we adhere to–or veer away from—our most precious integrity are all there.

The body-mind continuum is an endlessly fertile topic of investigation, testing and speculation. For practical purposes, we indulge the idea of separation as a matter of convenience for the sake of distinguishing between body and mind, as if there’s some reality to that view. While mind may operate independently of the body, there is constant interplay with the causes and conditions arising in our physical experience, forming and reforming the identity under perpetual reconstruction. In the process, mind is reflected in form. The body speaks its mind. How could it be otherwise?

In our time-bound reality, body is telling the story we tell ourselves about who we’ve been, who we are and who we will become. Physical reality and the dynamics of body-mind are the obscurations of samsara, the realm of sufferingThey are luminosity objectified. We are emptiness itself manifesting as us, in plain view. We are Being manifesting as an infinite number of beings, just in time.

There is no real separation, of course. In the blissful stillness and dynamic motion of timeless awareness, there is no distinction between mind and body. There is no distinction between being and doing. In that condition, mind and body do also remain distinguishable from each other. How can they be both in union and divisible, simultaneously? Because mind and body are only convenient labels for modes of attention. Even in the gnosis of dharmakaya luminosity, cognitive process is still possible. Dwelling on the concept of time is also possible. In other words, a choice is still available to entertain duality within non-duality….or vice versa.

Practically speaking, what does that entail? Form is our anchor, grounding us in time. From the moment of birth, we have a past, a present and a future. From the moment of consciousness, the ways we may spin out of the present moment and into the past or future become increasingly complex, automatic, unconscious, untamed and, ultimately, less accessible to conscious intervention without disciplined mental practice, physical practice, or both.

In short, as we know too well, what was once the map becomes the territory. Our view and our choice become reified. Our identity is literally made into new and limiting material. Whether it’s default pathways in the brain or structural limitations in the musculoskeletal system, the way we see the world becomes the world we see. If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Being able to recognize and unwind our selves from that reified story, the inaccessibility of awareness, the ignorance of Being, is integral to our spiritual development. It is not only a way of piercing cognitive limitations, building new neural pathways, but also of discovering a physical architecture of Being, the harmonic of freedom itself, a character of mental and physical synergy reflecting greater freedom in the specific sense Buddhism most often speaks of freedom: freedom from the extremes of duality.

I prefer to speak of freedom in the ultimate sameness of the relative and the absolute, of nirvana and samsara, of duality and non-duality. The union of body-mind and awareness cannot be denied. That is the Dzogchen view.

True embodiment becomes a journey into the present moment, peeling away layers of accumulated disequilibrium anchoring us in time, shedding the self-induced entrapments of asymmetry, torsion, equivocation, self-delusion, the foundations of attachment to inequality and conceptual linearity, until the true dimension of our imprisonment in time is bared.  The journey of embodiment is the discovery of the body-mind as a micro-economy, of being as a fractal of Being. Embodiment is gaining a measure of equanimity, dropping ever more skillfully into a vast stillness between past and future in which we discover the nano-detail of that economy, also known as the bardo of everyday life.

That journey includes the physical resolution of mechanical disturbance and life-long strain embedded in liminal tissues, the endless cross-talk of opposing impulses, movement limited or repeatedly thwarted, with associated adhesions deep in the connective tissue matrix, anchoring and enforcing our learned behaviors, limited views and self-imposed rules.

Sitting in stillness strongly connects us to the relative universe, reinforcing our beliefs or at least our attachment to a binary view, even as we endeavor to see through absolute differences to reveal the essential sameness of all phenomena. In finding stillness of being, our mental activity comes to the forefront of awareness, along with the constant activity of proprioception, kinesthetics, our relative comfort and discomfort and the minor dramas of the ongoing redefinition of that state.

Is that drama really so minor? We may fail to notice much about our movement in the same way we barely notice much of our mental activity. True freedom in the body comes with addressing and unraveling crossed purpose, just as settling into the present moment is to see through appearance into the heart-essence of everything.

What we experience in the body when we deliberately still all movement is not merely a rising awareness of shifting strain, appearing and disappearing. We experience the deep and ongoing structural conversation, the low chatter of subliminal neuromuscular homeostatic mechanisms. We experience the mind transfixed by form. The very existence of such mechanisms is that universe of form, the negotiation of polarities, the antithesis of emptiness, the suffering of samsara.

The practice of meditation is coming into Presence, which requires coming into the present, generating a new economy of being expressed as the infinite potentiality of Being. Negotiating that re-union is to pull back the curtain obscuring the true body, the no body of dharmakaya. Part of that experience is a return to unburdened presence, leaping into the union of mind and awareness, the union of form and formlessness, the union of sameness and difference. This is Dzogchen. These polarities only exist in time, the ongoing drama of cause and effect. This is suffering.

As no bodies, we are mere “viscous porosities.” We are neither solid nor liquid, only temporary aggregations of multiple life forms, structural elements (collagen), an energy interface (ATP), a replicative blueprint (DNA), communication networks participating with the environment in the creation and exchange of sugars, heat, moisture, negotiating evolutionary dynamics, even light transformed by chlorophyll into nutritive material.

We exist in a trans-corporeal world as individual contractions, adrift in the atmospheric ocean, “intra-acting” precariously with the planetary system, each according to our geography and culture, fractals of “co-constitutive” reciprocal relationships between the macro-economy of planetary change, biology and the micro-relationships by which we live every day, relating to other life forms.

In this vast and dynamic matrix, not only is the presumption of a unique identity flimsy; the presumption of a unique identity anchored in a discrete timeframe is equally flimsy. We are products not only of our ‘personal’ stories, but also of family stories, the social story, the historical tale of our tribe, our culture, a nation swimming in archetypal forces in a perpetual dynamic with myriad other social, cultural and national entities. We are constantly under their influence. Inter-being inter-acts; we make each other and, imperceptibly, are made by all others, including the non-human.

We share in accomplishments and failures, evolution playing out in uncountable nesting contexts. The ghosts of the past, the aggression, greed and indifference we have committed our selves and allowed to be committed in our names are always present. We are parties to the calculus of limited resources, manipulation, dominance, convenience, distraction and the pursuit of short-term comfort. As Bayo Akomolafe might say, the demons under the national bed will never be completely silenced until they are fully heard. We own them all. They are us. However subliminal they may seem, they still surge into awareness, arresting us from time to time. Now is (always) one of those times.

Dropping into the body in meditation, we prepare for nothing. We invite nothing. If the clarity of luminosity, timeless awareness arrives, we are fortunate. We may experience moments of liberation, loosening the bonds of time. Having entered that realm, even briefly, there is no going back. True opening is the dissolution of imagined boundaries, never to be fully reconstituted. Now we know and cannot un-know. In timeless awareness, the body disappears. To say it another way, timeless awareness cannot exist without full embodiment, which is the dissolution of time, mind and body, subject and object.

In timeless awareness, cause evaporates; there is only effect. Linearity disappears. Analytical mind collapses. Inequality is transformed into the timeless equality of all phenomena. There is no imbalance to distract us. We are transfixed by the incomparably vivid streaming brilliance of limitless creation, without beginning or end. Bewilderment and confusion dissolve into overwhelming compassion. There is no ‘self,’ except as a momentary narrowing of attention. All that remains is the continuous dissolution of appearance into the vast space and infinite potentiality of emptiness, the potentiality of Being expressing itself as everything and anything.

Appearance and emptiness are in union. Appearance is not emptiness, nor is emptiness appearance. Appearance is not other than emptiness, nor is emptiness other than appearance. They are not two, nor are they one. No identity exists here; there is nobody. Imbalance, structural tension and all internal conversations anchored in time disappear. There is no body. All of it is instantly reconstituted simply by firing up the engine of samsara: desire. And yes, desire is irresistible. There is no relative existence without it. Desire is inescapable. That is samsara. In timeless awareness, however, desire is none other than stupendously comical foolishness. That is the Great Perfection.

When you realize how perfect everything is, you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.                                                                                                    —Longchenpa (1308-1364)

 

©Gary Horvitz, 2019

Listening

We are universally enjoined by the expressions of Dzogchen teachers to regard all phenomena as the simultaneous appearance of both deluded mind (samsara) and the natural or essence nature of mind (nirvana). We are always ‘here’ and ‘there’ in every moment. This guidance applies to everything at all times, even, dare I say especially, to the expressions of those teachers themselves.

When we listen to the words of a teacher, using innate cognitive faculties to convey conceptual information, which is then apprehended by our own cognitive faculties, we have thoughts, interpretations, memories and visceral experiences in response. As we all know, this is no less a continuing cascade of mental and emotional activity in the presence of a teacher as it would be under any other circumstance.

Beneath those words, completely integral to them, coming from an equally expressive locus of the inner world of that teacher, not only from the thinking mind but from the natural mind as well, is the reality and experience of emptiness. Like a carrier wave, that inner experience is not separate from the teaching nor can it be separate from any other experience. It is a manifestation of both oneness and difference in every moment.

The words themselves are the path of knowledge and contemplation. The carrier wave is the path of direct experience. The words emit from the direct experience of the teacher, but they are a derivative, not the experience itself.  The words are as much a reflection in the pond as the reflection of the moon itself. They are, as the moon itself, mere appearance, not their meaning nor any of the internal responses we may have to conceptual interpretation.

How we listen to those words can, but may not always, happen on two different levels: one, by way of the intellect, by which we receive and interpret and assimilate the meaning we attribute to them; and the other, by which we have a direct experience of meeting them as they touch some other locus of gnosis other than merely the cerebral.

These two ways of listening are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to assume they are would be a primary strategic error, a fundamental misunderstanding of our encounters with the teachings and with their teachers. If we are to have any chance of assimilating teachings in a manner congruent with their intent, we must activate our capacity to listen in both ways at the same time.

These two ways of listening are inseparable. It is often said that we must listen to teachings for their outer, inner and secret meanings.  But in reality, listening in two ways activates a direct and immediate experience of duality and non-duality, of both awareness in time…and of timeless awareness that characterize teachings regardless of their inner, outer or secret meaning.

We can learn to recognize our error by observing our inner process. We can lean in one of two ways. We can pride ourselves in listening and recording with our intellect, making notes, committing portions of what we hear to memory, keeping a record of our engagement for consideration and possible regurgitation at some later date when we believe it will matter.

Or, we can listen with the subtle body, the inner ear, the ear that knows there is no cognitive meaning to which we can cling, much less retain. There is only one message, the same message at all times: the unity of appearance and emptiness, the unity of time and timeless awareness, the indivisibility of duality and non-duality. That is the experience of Dzogchen.

True enough, every moment is an opportunity to enter that experience. But sitting in front of a teacher is a special invitation to listen in this way.

All of the Buddhist teachers in the West, at least all the Dzogchen teachers I’ve encountered, are very well practiced in transmitting to their students. We in the West are so well suited to hearing them because we place such a high cultural value on and rely more on our cognitive faculties. That is our default mode. We are good students in the Western mold of being a student. And our teachers have done a very good job of learning our language and expressing themselves in ways that speak to our default approach to learning, the rational use of logic, the collection and storing of conceptual knowledge and ritual practice.

But ultimately, that approach is not what we truly need. Insofar as we automatically rely on that approach, we learn little, and slowly, because no student can truly arrive at the Dzogchen experience without an empirical experience of The Great Perfection.

It is the direct seeing of the inseparability of the kayas. It is the direct knowledge of dharmakaya, the immediate, timeless and complete mutuality of absolute oneness and absolute difference, the union of the relative and the absolute, perpetually folding into and creating each other, becoming one another without beginning or end.

 

From What a Dam Springs…And What a Dam Brings

 

Hydropower is, like an oil well, an extractive industry. Yes, the massive mechanical energy of a moving river is renewable as long as the waters run, yet the attending realities of the intrusive and often massive contrivances we call dams are undeniable. To produce the power, they have to leave a little less behind than was there before, whether its water quality, fish or sand; maybe it’s an endangered critter downstream or a lower agricultural yield, a bribe, a displaced community, an inflated cost estimate, an abrogated indigenous land grant.  Something.

To speak of a dam in the same breath as fossil fuels may seem a radical and willfully blind characterization given the many consequences of fossil fuel use more directly damaging to health and the environment. And truly, fossil fuels are driving us toward a dystopian world at a much faster pace than dams ever will.

However, throughout the entire life-cycle of a dam, there are many well known risks and vulnerabilities. Dams are accompanied by the same illusion of permanence, the deceptive and selective construction of national economies according to a singularly uniform vision of development as well as the environmental assaults, all while assuming a paradigm of modernity–that GDP growth and per capita energy consumption offered by hydropower must go hand in hand, that the trickle-down benefits from industrialization and rapid economic growth will inevitably bring national competitive advantage.  These exaggerated claims of productivity and efficiency are, in many cases, accompanied by large cost overruns, increased debt and as much secrecy and corruption as any other energy producing industry, often more.

In the case of dams, beyond air quality or climate stability, the sacrifice is something more subtle, deemed less valuable, less material and less commonly voiced: the generations of knowledge, the intimacy of return, immersion in an indivisible relationship with natural cycles of river, flora and fauna. These are, in many cases, replaced by dislocation, loss of livelihood, poverty, depression, the fracturing of culture and community and even suicide.

Along the way, the river itself becomes an object of exploitation furthering a vision of development, whether it’s through the appropriation of sand for use in some far away place, the fracturing of connectivity in a river basin, not unlike severing limbs from a living organism, blocking the circulation of restorative sediments and the water itself as if the ecologies of agriculture and the food sources provided by the river also become empty objects divorced from the lives of those who depend on them.

The indigenous inhabitants of river basins understand and live within change, but dams overwhelm and upset that ethos, deforming communities, cultures, politics, breeding a new and, to the global south at least, foreign ethic. In fact, that this definition of development is unsustainable has been clear for some time. Yet, in response to rising global demand for energy, the juggernaut of dam development rolls on.

Climate change is an accelerant, but it’s taken much longer to understand how this change affects the rivers than it has to build the dams. In that sense, we become an endangered species ourselves, slow to adapt to the cascade of change we initiated and to which we continue to cling. But the truth is well known. We can’t have our cake and eat it, too. We cannot have the same river after a dam is installed, no matter how many times and how hard we may try.

Governments undertake modeling, the analysis of development, the results of which may bring them into conflict with the interests of investors. In that process, the analysis may soften, the logic and language may bend a little; the process is slowed, equivocation subtly permeates the conclusions. In such reports, written by consultants, versus pure academic studies, there is a welcome certainty appearing in open declarations that a specific component of a basin-wide plan is a threat to the health and longevity of an entire region or the river system that defines it.

The Chinese practice, far from being an isolated example, of secrecy, bundling hydro investments in larger appealing economic aid packages, combined with environmental impact assessments performed by Chinese consultants, leads to environmental, ethical and political malpractice, adding corruption and further exceptions to law and lack of enforcement to the whole ensuing package.

The opposition to mega-dam projects is a microcosm of the larger climate change “debate.” The success or failure of opposition depends, as in all climate debates, on how the issue is framed and what information is employed to “educate.” It has been shown many times that urgently pointing to scientific evidence is not always the most persuasive approach to climate denial, nor to the best-laid hydropower development plans.

Early dam development may have been undertaken without the benefit of advanced comprehensive modeling and projection of effects. It’s also possible that studies of the effects of dams state their conclusions with an abundance of caution in much the same way climate studies understate the effects of climate change, which so far has meant the negative consequences of dams will be greater and come earlier than predicted.

The amount of corruption infecting this process cannot be calculated accurately. But a recent study includes a literature review on this topic, a collection of estimates compiled over nearly two decades bringing some credibility and validity to the topic.

Throughout the entire project cycle, from the analysis of options to full commissioning and operation, there are a multitude of moments at which the integrity of the process is tested. Ten years ago, the amount of money lost annually to corruption in the hydropower sector was estimated to be $5-6 billion. Another report from that same period estimates whole budget losses at 10%. Extrapolating these amounts to global annual infrastructure spending of greater then $1 trillion leads to staggering estimates of losses.

The complexity of dam building can generate a lack of accountability and opaque project management (Bosshard & Hildyard, 2008). For example, there may be separate contracts for equipment, civil works, materials, construction, management, as well as for external consultancies involving local, national and international actors, each with their own requirements. Resettlement activities[a notorious target of corruption]involving large sums of money can also create opportunities for graft (Scudder, 2008; Sohail & Cavill, 2007).

The historical record of numerous cases supports these concerns. In Lesotho, Indonesia, Thailand and Kenya, dam builders used ‘corrupt practices’ to acquire reservoir sites that were reserved for indigenous people or impinged on protected national wildlife refuges (Scudder, 2008). Government officials reportedly stole $50 million of resettlement funds appropriated for the Three Gorges Dam in China, leading to ‘the largest such corruption scandal on record’ (Haas, 2008, p. 98). Costs for the Yacyret, a dam between Argentina and Paraguay, ballooned by $2.7 billion, due in part to bribes and misappropriation of funds (Sohail & Cavill, 2007). In Malaysia, Sarawak Energy has been accused of granting $200 million worth of hydropower contracts to companies linked directly to the Chief Minister’s family (Bruno Manser Fund, 2013). Source

The industry narrative on the carbon footprint of dams leads us to assume dams do not emit greenhouse gases. However, the deforestation associated with construction of those dams does impact carbon sequestration as new greenery growing on the muddy banks of a depleted reservoir is submerged again to become a new source of methane release.  The accumulated data on this phenomenon has been enough to downgrade the designation of hydropower as a renewable energy.

In Brazil, the 8,370MW Tucuru Dam in the Amazon produces more greenhouse gases than Brazil’s largest city, Sao Paulo; and another dam upriver generates 11.2 million tons of carbon per year, equivalent to the annual emissions of 2.3 million cars (Fearnside, 2002). Other studies have confirmed these findings, namely that the carbon footprint or lifecycle impact of a dam can vary greatly depending on design, location and climate, maintenance and lifetime of operation (Raadal, Gagnon, Modahl, & Hanssen, 2011; Vate, 1997; World Commission on Dams, 2000).

In other words, the changes to a natural terrain to construct the storage dam convert a carbon sink to a source of methane emissions that did not previously exist along with a reduction in oxygen content of the river. As serious as these incidences may be for some locations, over its entire lifecycle, hydropower still has the lowest carbon emissions of any source of energy production.

More surprisingly, however, the question of whether hydropower projects actually decrease economic growth rates was studied among over 100 countries over three different timeframes and confirmed by Sovacool and Gotz (2018). Equally surprising results from this study indicate there is no clear and convincing data indicating hydropower reduces poverty, yet there is data indicating hydropower increases corruption.

What is often missing in the opposition literature commonly seen in the more agrarian global south is a simple and direct bottom line, a distillation of all the various known and documented minor and major consequences of damming into a clear and penetrating message. The big picture painted by touting electrification by conventional dams does include at least some of the intended benefits, but beyond the dislocation, the debt, the cost overruns, the corruption, it all comes with a verifiable trade-off too often overridden by the profit-driven inertia of anti-poverty scenarios: lowered food security.

 

Belonging Redux

Belonging is a shifting thing, never really static. It means different things to different people at different times. Maybe that’s why it gets so much attention, particularly now. Just can’t nail it down. Whether I feel a need to belong to anything or anyone depends on how lost I feel. I can respond in very different ways. And even if I don’t belong to something, am I really lost at all? On the macro-level, what is there to belong to nowadays anyway, after we’ve decolonized our consciousness? Another tribe? Isn’t the world becoming more tribal everywhere we look? Is that supposed to be good thing? Is that truly where we need to go? Is that the belonging we mean?

I don’t think so. One can spend all day detailing the minutiae of the typical dysthymic (persistently depressive) longing for belonging, the pandemic of modern alienation and dislocation,  dissociation from the natural world, the creeping and equally persistent solastalgia arising with the daily degradation of our common home. The effect is deep and pervasive.

Perhaps every state is ego-driven and can all be understood by conventional psychology. This is micro-level, relative belonging, relative happiness, the relative satisfaction of being connected to someone or a defined group, having the comforts of soulmates readily at hand, finding safety in the bosom of your chosen sangha. And yet, an ever-so-subtle narrowing and increasingly reified set of beliefs can also creep into consciousness. Oops. That’s the flip side of belonging, the slow segue into cult-hood.

But when one drops beneath the conventional, asking again what we belong to or how we experience belonging, the easy definitions dissolve. The boundaries disappear and the reality of belonging simultaneously on multiple levels takes shape. If I were sedentary, settled geographically, socially, linguistically, culturally, vocationally…maybe it wouldn’t even be an issue. The majority of people do fit this profile. But having been a relative nomad for 4 years, I am not quite any of those things.

I don’t look for connection any less than others. But I have deliberately distanced myself from the conventional and allowed the definition of my community to stretch. Fortunately, social media and other communication tools extend the elasticity of that community to a global reach.

I differentiate between belonging, alone-ness and solitude as conditions having their own place and virtues. Belonging doesn’t mean we are never lonely; being alone doesn’t ensure ever knowing true solitude; true solitude, transcending the separate self, is a deeply informed view of belonging. We may dance or weave our way through any or all of these conditions in any given day. They are like the meningeal wrappings of our nervous system, binding and separating, communicating with and silencing each other in a perpetual conversation on duality and non-duality, the relative and the absolute.

We might also apply the typical Buddhist levels of transmission, the outer, inner and innermost, to these categories of awareness. On the most superficial, durable (gross body or outer) level, the ego-self wishes to belong, partaking of the relative conditions of material and emotional transactions of daily life. We can assess the long arc of such a life, deciding whether our most basic human needs are being met. It’s mostly about us, what we need from the world, whether we fit in, whether we can adopt and adapt to group ideology, practice and mutuality.

But the journey is long. Sooner or later, if we are lucky, in this life or perhaps in a distant future, we will go beyond mere ego-belonging into the dynamics of “we” to explore a realm of belonging beyond ego, where the definition of what we actually belong to now includes everything and everyone, stretching into an indeterminate past and future. Alone-ness is an inner layer of transmission between ego-belonging and true solitude, where we can watch the habits of thought, the subtle grasping, the rationalizations, the evolving understanding and shifting definitions of our true context. Here the glimmerings of our true nature awaken and entice us. Here we grow beyond the rationalizations of ego-belonging and peek into the deeper story of inter-being.

But I suspect most of our time is spent between the fuzzy ego of alone-ness and the defined ego of relative belonging.

Beneath all of it, lying in innermost proximity to the neural essence, the most easily injured, the most delicate wrapping adhering to all the neural elements: the pia mater, the “tender mother” holding all of us, the truest and deepest home of connection and compassion, profound forgiveness, the level at which we are always alone, never lonely and always fully one. In the deepest and most subtle recess where true belonging rests, the absolute belonging of no-self, we give up ourselves with no agenda, no grasping, no past and no future.

If you’re ever fortunate enough to receive transmission at that level, you will immediately recognize the truth of it. It is such a clear and sharp departure from whatever came before. In that realm, you will know a unique quality of aloneness, different from any other, a universality so exquisite and painful, so arresting and releasing, ungraspable. The what and whom to which you truly belong will change forever.

Sacred Activism: Acting As One.

Maybe this is the moment I’ve been waiting for without realizing it–the approaching object in my rear view mirror that’s much closer than it looks.

I’ve spent time in the recent past at the edge of language, not merely in the occasional futility of finding words for experience, but feeling through the subtle and tenacious bonds by which consciousness functions as language, shaping and expressing default beliefs about the world. What I needed was not merely new words, but a path beyond limiting structures, a descent into the substrate, a journey into the interstices of the existential. Haha. That journey invites a new consciousness, new thinking….or…perhaps no thinking. Whatever it is, it’s part of a critical decolonization process underway as we reconnect with self, other and the earth.

That phrase, “self, other and the earth,” is a core principle in a recent collaboration between Andrew Harvey and Carolyn Baker titled, “Savage Grace.” Their definition of decolonization tracks Derrick Jenson very closely, about which he writes:

Decolonization is the process of breaking your identity with and loyalty to this culture–industrial capitalism, and more broadly civilization–and remembering your identification with an loyalty to the real physical world…It means seeing the harm the dominant culture does to other cultures and to the planet….It means recognizing that the luxuries of the dominant culture do not come free, but rather are paid for by other humans, by non-humans….It means recognizing that we do not live in a democracy, but rather a corporate plutocracy, a government by, for and of corporations. It means remembering that the real world is more important than this social system. Without a real world we don’t have a social system.

Derrick Jenson

The colonizing power of language is also a manifest tool of conquest and domination. This has been most true of English in particular, but also French, Spanish and Portuguese. And that’s only in the past four hundred years. The dominant narrative of the human story has been so deeply buried in language it’s hardly noticed. Along the way, as has been broadly noted elsewhere, our relationship to the natural world and to death have been denied, pushed away and/or buried.

Along the way, a relentless barrage of linguistic bullets has mowed down nearly every alternative world view, redirecting (and destroying) every un-dammed river of shamanic consciousness standing in its way. The bill for this error, and all the hubris accompanying it, is coming due.

Just as surely as those once colonized still struggle against zombie neocolonialism (disaster capitalism), the rest of the world remains in the grip of neocolonial ideology couched in the narrative of mass culture, the interlocution of establishment media, organized religion, finance and the multi-national juggernaut of extractive capital perpetuating its myth of “progress,” and “growth.” In subtle and not so subtle ways, we are constantly told, as Margaret Thatcher famously said, “There is no alternative.” The great extinction unfolding before us is noted and shrugged off.

To be sure, slipping the inertia of the neural substrate is no simple task. This is also not a new idea and there is no shortage of places to start. Just take the term “sacred activism,” for example. It’s been an evolving topic for decades. The meaning of these two words has been under perpetual construction and deconstruction, constantly shifting depending on whom you ask. Books are written about it. It’s jargon for some, a source of inspiration for others. It’s a guideline, a goal, a handy slogan whose meaning is debated, abused, misunderstood and celebrated.

A long time ago (haha), back in the 70s, one could be involved in politics OR spirituality. The two could not coexist in the same person. There was no bridge. You could either be on the front lines of “resistance” or back in your hutch sitting silently, doing “nothing.” Or so we thought. The traditional activist pitted herself against the inertia of the Industrial Growth Society. The spiritualist dropped out. Since then, the journey into politics AND spirituality (like the converging journey of spirituality and physics) has been leading to the same quantum location, which means everywhere, but mostly into creative institutions marrying the two.

Spirituality and politics were two separate pursuits. We could not envision acting simultaneously in both realms. The term itself embodies a powerful dualistic view of reality, a linguistic field from which we nearing escape velocity. Nevertheless, the confrontational nature of traditional activism and the perpetuation of that dualism eventually felt like a dead end. Activism set apart from its sacred roots became part of the problem, not part of the solution. The realization that all politics is personal and that the personal is political worked its way deeper into awareness, sending us on long journeys of “personal growth,” which not only ignited deepening inquiries into spirituality, but more complex inquiries into the politics of interactive dynamics.

Gradually, we come to know that “politics” is rooted far more deeply than we ever imagined, far beneath the silted and nutrient-poor everyday channels of discursive thought, all the way into the primary beliefs we hold about reality such as the (un)conscious division between subject and object, I and It, Human and Nature. Along the way, those “beliefs” have been informed by, supported by and also undermined by science and philosophy. What are we to think?

Language is the carrier of our separation. Language will never overcome its self-perpetuating confusion and grasp the singularity of sacred activism without inventing new words for it. I now have difficulty saying these two words together. They have become baggage from the Old Story. The words no longer make sense together because, ultimately, (finally?) what they describe are mirror images of that singularity, as if I’m seeing confusion as the inextricable four bodies of Buddha. There is no longer any daylight between them. No distinction between the essential meaning of either.  And there’s no time left to even debate the issue.

The only way one can fully understand what they mean is to realize, spoken together, they are redundant. They have become the Tao or the Two Truths (which are really One). The very fact that we must still refer to something called “sacred activism” is testament to how far we have yet to go in eliminating the artificial boundary between the realities they embody together.

How can true activism, the pursuit of justice, not be rooted in a sacred unity of self, other and earth? How can sacred practices, seeking and restoring that Unity, not become the pursuit of justice? How can spiritual practice not also become the soul of activism? This is an evolution. Living your activism becomes the materialization of your practice. There is no longer any way to leave the cushion, the ritual, the river of shamanic consciousness behind. Nor is there any way to say that unleashing the colonized and controlled rivers of my consciousness and continuously informing and purifying my intentions is not the pursuit of justice. There is no other way. We can no longer even speak of activism without understanding that now the only true activism arises from the sacred heart of the earth, the soul of nature, the consciousness of the planet as Self, acting within the ethos of trans-corporeality, the only matrix in which we have ever lived.

The cognitive discontinuity introduced during the Neolithic was the beginning of straightening the channels of our perception and… placing the dams of hierarchical thought along these new, linear constrictions. The monoliths of politics, economics, organized religion and warfare were imbedded in these straightened channels to control the flow even further. Perceptual stagnation set in – not only unnoticed for what it was, but pursued as a charismatic ideal of perfection – becoming the sine qua non of the human species….Awareness had been civilized…The rivers [of perception] had been channeled, the flow multiply dammed.

The celebration of pluralities, the seeing of one/ness in all/ness and all/ness in one/ness, and the renewal of ex-stasis intrinsic to the previous two hundred thousand years of human cognition was deemed unnecessary. What was necessary was to straighten ever more cognitive channels, build more cognitive dams. Those populations of humans who persisted in the primal, unregulated cycle of cognition and ecstasy were driven out, marginalized or killed.

John Salskov-Iverson

The evolution parallel to a personal experience of overflowing the artificial channeling of cognition is in transforming the collective dynamics of this journey into wholeness. The agency we have imagined as humans, manifest in a broken relationship with the natural world, is a false version of our true condition.

In increasing numbers and in diverse places, this awakening is propagating itself, manifesting personal versions of an incipient mass spiritual breakthrough. We are igniting nothing less than global shamanic network–prophesied by Tibetan Bonpo shamans–by manifesting the true meaning of sacred activism, exhibiting conscious attention in ways that dissolve the collective mind control we call the liberal order of the Western world.

We are bringing the dervish mentality, the Shambhala warrior mentality–the energy of transformation, making peace with the demons inside while curing instead of killing outside, taking the cushion with them into every “being” while turning every moment on the cushion into “doing” justice. The tools of the true sacred justice warrior are, as Andrew Harvey would say, none other than those of the divine Shakti goddesses of Hinduism: Kali, the Dancer of destruction; Parvati, the messenger of love and devotion; Durga the Invincible; and Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity who restores us to the true  source of all bounty, the earth itself.

To channel energies such as these is to learn to stand in the eye of the storm, surrounded by profound spiritual and moral corruption, economic and ecological injustice with unwavering courage and integrity, attending in every moment to what is dying, performing mass healing ceremony, restoring eco-guardianship with unyielding dignity, fueled by illuminated compassion.

The place where life and death meet. The sky is always becoming the ocean. The ocean is always becoming the sky. We are always losing what we wish to hold onto. Yet we are always gaining the rewards of losing, too. And in that way, we are always discovering the secret of life and death, which is that love is always and forever the place where life and death meet.

Umar Haque

Wages for Facebook?

This page, Wages for Facebook, appeared in my feed the other day. Strange. Besides being entirely anonymous, no links, no credits, nothing to indicate its source, in blaring all-caps, it gives the reader less freedom from information than Facebook itself, scrolling away beyond my control, feeding me the prescribed dose of rhetoric embedded hip deep in rigid ideology. Is it art? Or what?

Turns out this scrolling iPad page was part of an art exhibit at UC-San Diego, an installation called How Are We Feeling Today  mounted in part by Lauren Ptak, a curator and faculty member at Parsons. She had been incubating it for a year, discussing it with students. After all that effort, how did she manage to be so off target?

OK. So the concept is interesting. What Facebook is extracting from us is unpaid labor. And we should be compensated. Marxism 101. It’s unclear whether she expects actual payment, merely a change in consciousness or some in-kind contribution.

What this polemic gets wrong is 1) the presumption that we have no choice and 2) that being surveilled is equivalent to unpaid labor. Perhaps, yes, we were duped to believe that signing on (clocking in?) meant we would get something of value in return, something more than friends and likes and community, the chance to create a personal “brand” or gain a following.

Well, yes, we do get something in return, but it’s not necessarily so obvious what that is, especially if all we do is hang out in a limited circle of intermittent activity and believe it’s all about “social presence.” In time, however, it has become increasingly clear what we are getting in return. What we are getting is distorted, bizarre, violent, myth-busting and soul-gutting. Ptak suggests we come to our senses and demand something more real in return, like….what, money?

What we are getting is hollowed out. Facebook has become an open-pit mine, an offshore oil-rig, a clear-cut forest. Our interiors, our sacred internal wilderness, is being harvested and sold off just as surely as Utah’s Grand Escalante is being cut up for oil leases. And the worst part of it is that we are doing this willingly. If what we give Facebook is labor, then we are all unpaid sub-contractors….the new gig economy, with no benefits.

IT IS IMPORTANT TO RECOGNIZE THAT WHEN WE SPEAK OF FACEBOOK WE ARE NOT SPEAKING OF A JOB AS OTHER JOBS, BUT WE ARE SPEAKING OF THE MOST PERVASIVE MANIPULATION, THE MOST SUBTLE AND MYSTIFIED VIOLENCE THAT CAPITALISM HAS RECENTLY PERPETRATED AGAINST US.

In a normal world and in micro circumstances, it might have been true and acceptable that Facebook is selling a chance to be seen and possibly create community. Maybe it even started with that lofty intention and looked that way for some years. But then something happened. It’s still a space in which advocacy can flourish (if not immediately smothered by trolls and bots), but since it went public, it became the toy of venture capitalists and the revenue mechanisms (algorithms to harvest your personal information) became ever more precise and surgically invasive, bulldozing everything in their way.

Now is not normal. Facebook has become both one of the reasons now is not normal and the perfect reflection of that abnormality. Facebook is no more normal than the culture in which it is immersed and reflects/exhibits all the aberrations we now see everywhere we look, including and especially the cracking of the social order. Thanks to Trump, the corporate state and an irresponsible media, the socio-political space is fast becoming a playground for the rich with no rules and no ethical boundaries. Who benefits from that?

OK, there is a certain “aha” about this polemic. But it’s stuck in the perception that we are workers and that our participation and value is “labor.” Something crucial is being missed here. To Facebook we are not labor. What is being extracted from us has no value until it is repackaged and sold back to us. And if this factor/perspective is fully considered, it forces a redefinition of what Ptak means when she says “wages.”

That missing view is extractive capitalism, which, as we see everywhere, always externalizes as much of the real costs of extraction as possible. The “cost” to me and to the culture (that Facebook is not paying) of my participation in Facebook and Facebook’s continued success in convincing me that it’s something I need, is incalculable, particularly now as “news” is weaponized, as “truth,” the 4th Amendment and democracy circle the drain. Ptak makes no reference to this view. The only figure associated with the art installation at UC-San Diego who mentions extraction is the curator herself, Michelle Hyun.

If I, a sentient being, were to attempt a calculation of the cost to me and to the larger culture perpetrated by the extraction of my personal preferences for anything, the cost that is being externalized, massaged, traded and sold back to me, even if it could be calculated and returned as compensation, will never right the socio-political ecosystem because those wages do not address or promote any recovery from what Facebook takes.

To suggest that the true cost to me of the extraction and trading of my personal preferences can be equalized in the form of some imaginary direct payment, as wagesforfacebook suggests, would indeed be a hit to Facebook’s bottom line. A truer representation of a “repayment” for trading in my personal information would be some as yet undefined reparation–such as agency, for example–that could RESTORE what has been lost, rebuild what is broken, which is not material and cannot be converted into money. The agency of a clearcut forest cannot be restored by showering it with money, any more than the social contract or ethical standards or responsible governance can be restored the same way. Democracy cannot be rebuilt from the ground up by handing out money or merely by declining to be someone else’s strip mine.

If FB were to survive in an enlightened world, it would have to replow its profits into the promotion of restorative cultural activity that would be completely free of, and an antidote to, the primary extractive nature of its business model: a new economy– which is a reference to the original meaning of the word economy, oikos, care of the home. In other words, Facebook would have to be directly undermining its own business model with one hand while harvesting your personal data with the other. How likely is that?

But in this sense, Facebook is no different from CNN in that it has abdicated a crucial responsibility of journalism and offloaded the task (and cost) of differentiating between truth and falsehood to the viewer. It is no different from Exxon-Mobil in the sense that it has many corporate faces and stories, ones that play to the masses, others that play to investors and still others that play to legislators. As long as the externalized costs continue, a corporate system that knows no national boundaries, has no allegiance to anything but profit and remains rigidly opaque is not taking care of the planet or the culture.

They are extracting an immeasurably valuable resource, exploiting it, trading in it, and dumping the consequences on someone else. This will continue until there is nothing left to take, unless we do something about it. Like, for starters, ending online anonymity, restoring and preserving actual privacy controls, permitting a complete opt-out of personal data sharing, fostering true competition in social media and bringing transparency and regulation to the data traders.

 

Emptiness Dancing

I’ve been very distressed lately. A thread running through much of what I do is to either seek approval from an outside source or aimlessly follow an illusion of enlightened purpose, commitment, responsibility, idealism or creativity. Who I “am” becomes a shifting mirage, subject to changing conditions at any moment, like a passing vehicle temporarily catching the attention a sleeping dog. We all know what happens next. I become the dog, obsessively running after every model passing my way. Sometimes the distractions even look new. But on closer examination, none of them really are.

Then I realized, suddenly, to my great surprise and relief, that all of it, the emotional attachments to certain “favorable” outcomes, the appealing appearance of shiny new objects, the desire embedded in each decision to engage with them, or people, or to see conditions in a self-affirming way, even the moment by moment play of deciding if I am happy or not, being myself…or not…being “good,” being responsible, or ejecting myself from all of it, is all one thing and one thing only—that is not really a thing at all:  Emptiness dancing.

Not merely a dance of awareness or the dance of mind, but something within, the primary dance. Emptiness dancing is the name I give it. It covers any moment, every illumination, rabbit hole of awareness, every black hole of despair, every experience, whether of union, alienation, desperation, every blissful connecting embodiment, every ecstatic dream of pure detachment, including true non-duality, the Great Abiding in supreme Equanimity.

Emptiness dancing softens every edge, completes every unfinished aspiration, rounds every corner of uncertainty or disappointment, even lifts up every tragedy. It’s the poetry in every moment, the inexplicable, the paradoxical, the ineffable, the laughing/crying never-alone reality of being alone. It’s the expanding heart of meditation. The dance with emptiness dancing is the drama of every life, every death and everything in between.

No, it’s not necessarily so simple to understand either term, emptiness or dancing. Their essence is not obvious. The expression covers the entire profound simplicity of the two truths, the artificiality of conceptualizing the relative and absolute as separable, and the truth that they are not “inseparable” either because even that implies two.  They are always and only one. Emptiness dancing is the effortlessness at the heart of every effort, the perfusion of every achievement. Emptiness dancing is the center of every arduous journey helplessly conceptualized by the materially-oriented mind. Emptiness dancing is the propellant, the inexhaustible fuel of all beings and all phenomena.

We may form intentions; we may pledge to follow a certain path. We may try to be mindful, compassionate, engaged, empathic, generous and follow every precept of the paramitas. We may believe in merit and diligently pursue opportunities to “collect” or generate merit. But merit is not that. It is not a thing. Merit as a thing merely perpetuates delusion. The banking of merit (as a thing) is thus also illusion, the accumulation of a karmic account can only be for one thing; and it’s not about the future. It is the capacity,…no, the surrender to falling apart now. It is the planting and the replanting of the seed of realization.  It is the realization of emptiness dancing, becoming the capacity to dissolve into that realization in every moment.

Such a realization cannot be bought or “brought.” It is not discovered through analysis. It cannot be engineered into awareness. It is not a realization to “have” or give or find. It is the inherent space beneath shamatha. It is the antithesis of analytical vipashyana. It doesn’t belong to anything. It doesn’t come from anything. The paramitas may become mere objects of awareness, but they too are emptiness dancing. Everything, all pleasure, all pain, all tragedy, violence, ecstacy, every loss and every gain are all the same….emptiness dancing.

Falling into emptiness is a relief. Every time. It’s a lesson relearned with amazement that the lesson can never be learned too many times, because every relearning is fresh, as if it is for the first time. And what comes with that relearning is expanding forgiveness and compassion for everything and everyone lost in the illusion of something. The something that I strive to be, the something in every moment that gives it–and me–substance. The something I can sink my teeth into, that becomes a new or deepening furrow in my gray matter.

I want to keep every one of those grooves, every memory, however fragile or remote. I want to feel it all again and again, as many times as possible, file it away indefinitely, bring it out again at the perfect moment, savor the pleasure and the pain, the entire luminous and terrifying journey, the impermanence of it, the death in every moment of it, the innocence of it, thanking emptiness dancing for all of it until poof! I disappear. That is the most confounding, confusing, maddening and astounding part of all. The disappearing, being subsumed into everything, connected but not bound. The humor of it, the throw your head back and laugh at the sky of it.

It seems Adyashanti has written a book by this title, which I did not know…or recall…when I started this. But let it fall open here, at random, repeating these words:

This tremendous innocence produces the feeling of an ever-present newness in life. Since the awakening, the brain no longer holds and compares, so every moment is experienced as new, just as it would be in the mind of a young child.

Oh. That distress. What was that about?

So…So You Think You Can Tell

Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail
A smile from a veil
Do you think you can tell?

 Everything changes….and there is no end. Everything seems to have a beginning, a middle and an end. But the end? An illusion. Sure, we are created, grow, mature, decline and die. No exceptions. The cycle is repeated in every life form, every material creation, everywhere in the physical world. Ideas, social movements, artistic expression are all born, develop and morph into maturity and decline, ever to be overtaken by something new. Nothing endures. Only the form and the venue change. What exists now could not be possible without all that came before.

It is, no doubt, these realities of life that spur our view of heaven, the nature of human existence, of ultimate fruition or any other supra-mundane vision. Human frailty is another matter. From the narrowest view of our individual (and separate) lives, we have all suffered (or will suffer) in some way, more or less. There is no such thing as perfection. No one is severed from the network of relationship, from the infinite ongoing web of events. Within that matrix, we are forever exploring and seeking a novel expression of human potential.

At the collective level, our magnificence and flaws are all amplified. We are violent, messy, conflicted, paradoxical, and interminably so–which stimulates curiosity and inquiry and reasoning, psychological and social theory and experimentation and testing and innumerable forms of remedy for imperfection and suffering.

Conventional wisdom, including prevailing spiritual wisdom, refers to healing as if it might represent resolution, completion. We even speak of enlightenment, like all other aspects of life, as a developmental process that has a beginning, a middle and an end. What is that end?–presumably eternal unchanging omniscient bliss. We talk about personal and collective spiritual evolution as an ongoing linear process happening for each individual and for the collective as a whole, leading to “higher” consciousness, which, in the language of integral dynamics, transcends and includes all previous levels of attainment.

This process is not described as one that is never completed. Rather, with the proper intention and discipline, the right effort, the right teachers, the right view and given enough time, something is achieved in a distant future; namely, the cessation of the cycle of beginning, middle and end. To suggest that this bias may be false or doesn’t serve us would be to threaten the entire superstructure of personal-even collective-spiritual achievement.

To a large degree, the ideology of healing depends on the existence of a separate self and assumes that a full cleansing and reintegration of every shred of separation from the core self can occur, that the unconscious can be plumbed, interpreted and redirected, that all “parts” are either fully discharged of their accumulated energy of dissociation or  whatever drives self-defeating behavior, whatever perpetuates suffering can be exhausted to the point at which the root of suffering itself, wanting things to stay the same, dissolves. That, after all, is the point of needing to choose between heaven and hell, between blue skies and pain, when actually, if we were really “here,” there would be no distinction between samsara and nirvana. They would be regarded as ultimately the same…and also as nothing whatsoever.

The path “to” enlightenment is different from one tradition to another and also within different Buddhist traditions. Some paths are all about the individual, as if everyone is on a solitary path. Others are about each individual realizing an intrinsic and unbreakable relationship with all beings such that their personal accomplishments are a contribution to the enlightenment of the whole and also derive from the actions and contributions of uncounted others.

Even in We-Space dialogue, the intention may be to access a moment of collective consciousness, whether through alignment or dissonance, and thereby advance the development of the whole. But we rarely imagine that the wounds of the individual cannot be “healed” until all wounds are healed.

And now it’s time to declare-via the Resonance Path Institute-that such wounds are themselves the fuel of connection itself. The healer is perpetually wounded, lives in and with the wound and never loses the perspective that the wound is the connection to all things, not a personal black hole, a soul-anchor drawing energy and light, the atomic dimension of being, one’s “freedom” into its deep invisible mass. It is a portal.

I cannot truly heal “myself” because, as we are coming to know more fully every day,  everything is a transpersonal phenomenon. What and who is being healed, however that may look to us on any given day, is greater than we know or imagine. We “know” this, but most of us still think and act as if it’s not so. What can be healed may feel like it has something to do with me-and it does-but it is also about relationship. What is made whole is not merely me, but also my relationship with the whole. What we call “healing” might be a new realization of continuity, an expanding complexity of relationship between the individual and the whole. And not solely to the intra-species whole, but to the full trans-species matrix of existence.

Healing is necessary for the evolution of consciousness and especially for an eventual resolution of all grasping, all unhealthy desire and aversion, all duality dissolving into the perfect unchanging non-dual bliss of absolute presence. But no one gets there alone. “My” problems will never be healed until all problems are healed. And for that matter, no collective problem can be isolated either. “You” are a flickering of my imagination. And in a trans-corporeal world of viscous porosities, the same could be said of “me.” We are all fully connected to the matrix. All wounds, the currency of our individuality, are portals to the network of collective consciousness…directly, without mediation.

Our hurts, our conditioning, the flawed beliefs that drive us, the sources of our dissonance, our reactivity, alienation and loss of agency are not what separate us from each other so much as the belief that they are ours alone to be suffered in silence or only to be shared with shame, regret or judgment. They are the essence of relationship. This idea pierces through the conditioning and the increasingly antiquated cultural ideology that says we are each alone in our dungeons of secret pain.

Whoever embodies this truth, who manages to be sufficiently present with whatever arises, as the Dzogchen teachers say, is then “spontaneously liberated.” There is no loss of feeling, and no lingering emotion remains to reinforce attachment to any remaining shred of embedded trauma, which means, again, awakening is not an isolated event, but instead is an expanding realization of connection with everything.

How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here. 

—–Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here”             

 

 

 

 

 

We-Space: Wired Together

Otto Scharmer’s Theory U (and Presencing Institute) shed further light on how We-Space is a presencing activity and a practice for the demands of our times. According to Scharmer (though he does not use the term itself), the cultivation of We-Space is not simply adding another app, another bauble to horizontalize your home page. It represents a full operating system upgrade. Developing versatility in We-Space is a vertical awakening of courage, compassion and curiosity, aligning the personal system to address and reverse the systemic absencing characterized by the current atmosphere of extreme, increasingly sophisticated and corrupt sowing of doubt, fear, hatred, fanaticism and polarization for the aggrandizement of a few.

Scharmer’s model moves from presencing to crystallization (of principles) to co-creating….from imagination to testing to codification. In such a process, the internal work of Circling and all the different models of We-Space promoting presencing must eventually coalesce and turn outward either by deliberately propagating the principles of We-Space in larger social contexts such as schools, workplaces and deliberative bodies or by depending on individuals to act ad hoc, taking their personal practices into  collective settings with other like-minded individuals.

Cultivating, or presencing in Self, is to descend into our deeper capacities, creative gifts, and at the same time soften the boundaries of identity, building a capacity to live in the zone of a more diffuse, transitional and fluid self. Exploring such deeper personal capacities by presencing in Self is to connect more directly with the natural context, the collective intelligence of the natural systems in which we live and grow.

Now, whenever I turn my attention to my internal space, and particularly in collective settings, I take for granted that however I feel inside is to some degree an experience of the collective field. Thus, “knowing” oneself, reinforcing or improving a distinct and separate identity, is only half of the learning process. The other half is to then look beyond that identity. We-Space practice takes me into a rich realm in which I can observe the micro-field of self in a dynamic flow with the macro field of the collective. In so doing, I become more acutely aware of the paradox of self, the ambiguity of my boundaries, where transitory concerns such as idiosyncratic waves of sensory and emotional activity can temporarily yield to a deeper experience of the ocean of energy in which we are all immersed.

As Rick Hanson noted in Buddha’s Brain, neurophysiology tells us “Neurons that fire together wire together.” In an individual brain, patterns of identical responses to identical stimuli literally become like x-country tracks in snow. We want to follow them because someone has been there before. Studies on the long term effects of contemplative practice indicate we can literally interrupt and re-program our responses by the deliberate practice of mindfulness, deepening and smoothing tracks in the brain that form the material analog of equanimity, generosity, compassion, gratitude, even courage.

The reverse is also true: neurons that are wired together will fire together in response patterns. The most common and obvious are the autonomic responses of fight or flight—a tried and true survival mechanism—but also the more nuanced long-term subtle regeneration of responses to the messaging of scarcity, nativism, tribalism, ego and ethno-centrism. Since we are now (in the nick of time?) gradually embodying the reality of individuals co-extensive with each other and all life, the existence of a group field, quantum phenomena, collective intelligence, the influence of culture in programming the brain function of the individual becomes as plausible as a belief in the role of nature.

In that regard, we might well acknowledge the influence of generations of ancestors, both human and non-human, being present in our immediate communications. Our ancestors are part of our bodies. We are endowed with their consciousness and their karma and must assimilate it all, digest it–experiencing our multi-generational patterns–to fully experience who we are and what is our path.

From the standpoint of collective experience, going all the way back to tribal society, what was assumed and learned and passed on from one generation to the next was our place in the group. One’s personal ego was at times subsumed to the group ethic. Under these conditions, responses, and thus brain patterning, would follow the community rules superimposed on the natural substrate. One’s relations would be to the earth, the tribe and the family. When the rule-setters, leaders and those who mediated the seen and the unseen, form and the formless, acted to enforce the rules, everyone followed because they were already patterned (wired?) to respond within a limited field of options.

Likewise, in a post-tribal world fractured and dissolved, patterning continues to undergo transformation. Now, in a post-modern, post-industrial world, family, cultural and, to an extent, tribal patterning remains. Individual and collective efforts to overcome largely unconscious patterning at the familial and tribal level bring us up against powerful primitive and deep patterning at the individual level as well as the remains of group-triggers that govern collective memory, intelligence and response patterns.

We live and function in an impossibly complex neural soup of ideologies, allegiances, survival mechanisms, structures of authority, reciprocity and group consciousness. While social media functions to connect people, spontaneously forming and assuming tribal identities, it is also the medium of pandemic attention-seeking behavior, a narcissistic inversion of belonging. All of it together is The Story of Us, however we may define Us (either as a microcosmic “particle” or as a macrocosmic “wave”). But it’s not just an idea or mere mythology. It is Us, which is a clue to how difficult it is to change the Story, regardless of the scale of one’s attention/intention.

We-Space, as a “direct, distributed and dialogic” practice, is an evolutionary response to both the psychic need for belonging and a discovery of the fundamental nature of our relationship. It is a vehicle of transition from, in Scharmer’s words, ego- to eco-consciousness. Since the human body is co-extensive with the earth body, the more we examine and integrate emotional experience, sensation, thought and action, the more we connect with a universal view. The more the boundaries between inner and outer experience become transparent, fall away or dissolve into a unitary non-dual view, the more we feel our way into the subtle body we all inhabit.

Becoming conversant in the micro-evolutionary flow from purely subjective experience to the communion of We-Space, with occasional healing bursts of actually feeling others from the inside, what Michael Brabant calls “collective somatic intuition,” is the essence of what Scharmer calls vertical literacy.