Be Here Now: The Future Depends On It

What is the “present moment?” I assume most people have experienced something they would call a “present moment.” I know when I am there, or at least close, but planning on it is…well, a contradiction. We’ve all had experiences that were so intense, so embodied, so clear and blissful that they are imprinted forever and remain the standard for  presence. We’re completely undistracted by the past or the future, free of mental activity, grasping at scenarios that have nothing to do with the what’s happening right now. Even if it’s only for a few brief moments, we are out of our minds. The prevailing standard of mental activity has dissolved.

To occupy the present means time stands still. That’s what it feels like. Vastly spacious, everything is happening sooo slowly. Experience and feeling is so rich we can be overwhelmed. We are compelled by the moment until, eventually, we begin to ask ourselves how this can be happening…. and then, why can’t this be happening all the time? By now the present moment experience is already corrupted. Thoughts such as these, the maddening but seemingly inevitable reassertion of the witness (the ego), are the reason the present moment is so elusive, so vivid and yet so transient. That witness is pondering how to control the future.

We want to go back to the present. I know I do. Maybe we look for maps that will take us back…or forward…or inward, teachers and methods that will guide us deeply into fully embodied presence. We practice and believe and observe and record. Siri, directions to the present moment, please. Siri, take me out of my mind. Siri says, what? I didn’t get that.

This is not a frivolous thing because it’s not an experience of tuning out. It’s tuning in. Way down and way in. We know it’s important and we understand why it’s important. And yet, evolutionary biologists have been hell-bent to interpret social behavior, our interactive life, in terms of its utility and survival value. This is the scientific approach to understanding behavior, ecology, genetics, sexuality, the natural world. Everything is interpreted as a survival imperative, as if science can reduce all behavior to fit into the reductionist box that’s only about utility and efficiency.

Behaviors that don’t fit into that box, inefficient activities that don’t readily produce measurable results such as play, compassion, empathy, artistic expression, time out for tenderness, the pure simple enjoyment of this delicious life–or being so utterly present in the moment as to regard all action as superfluous– somehow these activities are left off the survival bus as if they don’t deserve a seat… because they might even be irrelevant, because they aren’t about the next meal or defense or the next reproductive act.

But as Eisenstein** and others note, our focus on efficiency and producing what can be measured has cost us immeasurably in things that cannot be measured: the erotic and creative ground of relationship, sacred community, our immersion in the planetary matrix of the non-human world. In achieving productive efficiency, maximizing utility and the productive use of our limited time, we have been giving up our relation to the timeless, giving up our access to the present moment.

There is another view, promoted recently by Martin Seligman, who has published a work called, “Homo Prospectus,” renaming our species to reflect our pre-occupation with the future. For him, our capacity to visualize the future is a distinguishing feature of humanity. For him, it is the reason we thrive. For me, and, I suspect, for many others involved in sketching out the New Story of Humanity, it is also the reason we are approaching a real possibility of extinction.

It has been said for a long time now that the Old Story of Humanity is one of separation. When we speak of separation, we talk about separation from each other and from the natural world. Overcoming that story doesn’t simply mean re-establishing relationship, but overcoming the very mental operations that so naturally and habitually divide us from our own experience. We are separated from ourselves, dispersed, as Thich Nhat Hanh might call it, from our own center, an organizing principle of existence. Or, in Seligman’s terms, we are lost in the future, our perpetual obsession with improving life.

Being fully in the present means there is no such reflection. There’s no time for it. There’s no purpose for it. In the animal world, the behavior of beings that don’t have the reflective capacities of humans exhibit behaviors essential to survival. There is nothing frivolous or extraneous or obsessive there. Likewise, just because humans have a reflective capacity doesn’t mean behaviors that don’t fit in the efficiency and utility box are irrelevant. What is more likely is that such behaviors, empathy, compassion, artistic expression, spontaneous creativity are just as essential to our own survival precisely because the most attractive expressions of these behaviors occur without reflection–as if they are completely natural. And, but the way, such behaviors occur spontaneously…in the moment. They improve life now.

It is the very unreflective, natural, totally present commitment of the animal world that exhibits the complete enjoyment of life, integral to whatever utility these behaviors might otherwise be imbued with by human science, and upon which survival depends. Such behaviors are viewed as being driven by instinct, completely unconscious motivations buried in the genetic material and passed from one generation to the next.

For humans, we not only spend a great deal of time contemplating the future, Seligman notes that we depend on our fellow humans to do the same, insuring that we have so many comforts and essentials of life close at hand. Prospective thinking is what has created the multitude of choices among those comforts and essentials. Yet is is also prospective thinking that has created the myth of perpetual growth. It is the reason for environmental destruction.

The transformational journey we are in is to overcome the inertia of the myth of perpetual Industrial Growth and to recover the capacity to be in the present moment, to indulge in unreflective spontaneous enjoyment, to dive into the erotic earth in the center of our souls and get messy with the pleasures there because these are the glue of relationship, of community, of connection with and commitment to the welfare of the whole. This is the medium in which we are immersed with the entire no-human world.

Further teasing out the meaning of the present moment requires making a somewhat technical point. Maybe it’s even irrelevant. But when we look more closely at what we mean by “present,” we quickly realize that there is no such thing as the present moment, as if time stands still for us to experience our connection to all things. No, it does not. Any designation of time as a unit is artificial.

The present moment is not separate from any other moment. It is all moments. It’s not a thing. It’s everything. If there us no such thing as a unit of time and thus no such thing as the present moment, then we must liberate ourselves from the (default?) tyranny of eternally imagining the future and recombining memories to support that new vision. Even if we are doing that (which is most of the time), we needn’t be prisoners of the process. Every moment is the present moment and there is no moment in which we are not connected to all things. There is no such thing as the present….or, for that matter, the future.

The way that our survival depends on knowing this is by realizing that the present moment, which does not exist, is the erotic ground of everything, the natural mind, the source of everything, yet is always perfectly still–even while we are busy constructing future scenarios. Knowing this, we can begin to discern and distinguish phenomena, events, thoughts, relationships, every dynamic of our known matrix that is disconnected from this view. That is the basis of creating a different world.

** NB: a podcast conversation with Charles Eisenstein, December, 2015.

Night of the Racketeers

I don’t know about you, but much of the time these days I am wading through the hip-deep mud that emanates from the White House. Leaping from the delirious unraveling going on, composting social and political structures and identities into an activist’s view, to a critique of the dominant social, economic and political dynamics seems important, but in reality only seems to provide temporary respite.

What to do? Trust what we know or rely on someone else’s perspective? On one hand, there is the dismemberment resulting from the current crew of cartoonish characters on the Right casually propagating the malevolence of isolation, the exclusionary ideologies of fixation and separation, willing to leave increasing numbers of people stranded between their origins and their destination. On the other, we are now affected by events from the farthest reaches of the earth. We are infused with and influenced by foreign peoples and cultures as never before. We see the big picture of the destruction of the biosphere and the many versions of struggle against it. We are steeped in mind-blowing ingenuity, intelligence and wildly creative solutions to huge problems, taking increasingly risky stances on principle, envisioning something different based on relationship, living fully into our inexpressible beauty and creativity, the constantly emerging chaos and opportunity. We can sense our partners on this raft hurtling through the cosmos, dismantling the ideology of permanence, countering the whitewashing of the past and the denial of death.

Every boundary that can be crossed is being crossed in a seemingly inexorable destruction derby emanating from der Furor. In that dissolution, every tenet of the old order is under assault even as the earth demonstrates daily that our assumptions of human exception, what Freud called “human narcissism,” are the height of folly and arrogance. Thus, the old story (that the concentration of ever-expanding wealth into an ever-decreasing number of hands while the destruction of education, the rise of mass surveillance and loss of privacy and civil rights is somehow good for us) collapses as we sense our fragility, our true intimacy with the human and the non-human, our unfinished nature that will never be finished, especially in a future that is not guaranteed.

As eyes and minds open, barriers fall. We see (and respond) beyond color, culture, language and national boundaries to a previously inconceivable resonance of life-affirming values spreading across the world. Maybe this is driven by global climate upheaval, naked political and economic repression, an unfolding realization that humans themselves are a geological event in progress; maybe we are driven by impending crises of population, water, food or other essential elements indispensable to our tech-driven culture. Maybe it’s all part of the decay, the collapse and death of the conventional narrative about death itself, about how things are, by the realization that there is an ineffable reality beyond the intellectual fences: we are in perpetual transition.

Of course, the other thing going on is retrenchment, a hardening of the fear-based authoritarian ideology, intimidation and distraction serving exclusion and control, the desperate grasping for domination and continued extraction, if not from the earth itself, then from people, an intensified grasp of unsustainable practices, retrenchment into greater secrecy, less accountability, more and deeper back-room, under-the-table influence, off-line and off the charts collusion, the propagation of terror by and for the arms, pharmaceutical, agribusiness, banking, surveillance and fossil energy industries, the flagrant flouting of law and fact, an assault on truth itself for personal gain. Profit and democracy do not coexist well. They never have.

These are real things, materially affecting everyone. To avoid seeing them does not make them go away. But to see and name them is to freeze one frame of a dynamic process. It inevitably changes the seer and the seen. To operate in that binary world is a flawed approach particularly if we impose an immutable binary view on others, not to mention ourselves. Denying others a freedom we demand for ourselves will not get us where we wish to go.

Where does death fit in this view—except perhaps as one more barrier, one more metaphor of our self-imposed compartmentalization of the individual? The anthropocentric nature of death is expressed as religion, which purports to explain death by reassuring us of our permanence, which, by the way, is also the essence of the corporate business model. Extracted from religion, death is intimately entwined with time. We say we are all prisoners of time and yet are also being gifted by time in every “moment.”

We may  regard the “prison” as compassion in disguise, giving us, even as our “time” diminishes and our future narrows, a widening view and a greater capacity to resolve the dilemmas of impermanence and dualism in which death itself becomes a culmination of our lifelong journey–seeing through the disguise instead of succumbing to it. If the world is encoded in our materiality, every death is also a service to life, a gift to the collective, the world speaking to itself.

The polarity of expansion vs retrenchment (the corporate determination to cheat death) is what continues to produce and intensify the effect and drive so many forms of global violence they are too numerous to mention. This is the ongoing blatant and increasingly coercive economic narrative at a global scale: racketeering. Some would say that racketeering has always been the business model of America. There’s certainly enough evidence of that. Indeed, America was built on this model. See Robber Barons.

Racketeering, is “a service that is fraudulently offered to solve a problem, such as for a problem that does not actually exist…. that would not otherwise exist if the racket did not exist.” (See “War on Terror”)

A few examples of racketeering: disenfranchisement campaigns, the fraudulent impeachment and removal of Dilma Roussef in Brazil by a cabal of criminally corrupt oligarchs, North Carolina’s HB2, Bayer/Monsanto/Syngenta insisting that pesticides are required to protect the food supply. The contrived (potential) problem may be caused by the same party that offers to solve it.

The most common example of a racket is the “protection racket.” –such as the fossil fuel industry’s 100-year promotion and creation of dependency upon fossil fuels as the sole and essential source of low cost energy, taking us from social benefit through extraction to the extraction of social benefit through misinformation, the obfuscation of scientific fact, the insistence that the social costs of carbon-based energy either don’t really exist or aren’t sufficient to deter us from continuing to rely on it, i.e. people don’t matter.

Racketeering assaults science and scientists while tickling the testicles of members of Congress, TransCanada insisting that the Keystone XL pipeline was critical to North American energy independence, Energy Transfer proceeding to build the DAPL pipeline without an easement from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The racket exists as both the problem and its solution and is used as a method of extortion. The racket promises to protect the target [party] from dangerous events; then either collects their money or causes the damages to the business until the owner pays. (the 2008-9 US bank bailout)

Racketeering is violence. Racketeering is organised crime. It is the companion of the narrowing economic opportunity that is created for a small elite while propagating the myth of rising wealth. The unfocused rage directed at this violence that excludes so many underpins much of the support that Trump enjoys, but which is misdirected rage because since Trump was elected, the cabinet has been stocked with alligators, racketeers, while we have seen more violence directed at the groups (immigrants and minorities) that are perceived to be the ones stealing from the excluded.

Campaign finance, aided by entities such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is the other racket that twists democracy to the service of moneyed interests. This has been called bribery, but the quid pro quo is more subtle. The elite insiders (including especially the Clintons and their Davos pals) of the capitalist club understand each other. They don’t have to leave trails of evidence because there are covert understandings between them about how to do things, what is in their interests and how they will decide what is in our interests, namely propping up the facades of democracy and transparency. The receivers know what is expected of them and they gladly comply.

The student loan industry, in collusion with the government, is racketeering. The international “free trade” agreements, NAFTA, TPIP and TPP, may be the grandest rackets of all. With the truth buried in hyper legal text and kept from the public eye, national sovereignty is quietly overturned. Geographical borders may not be sacrosanct, but the collective right of people (governments) to care for themselves should be.

Even language undergoes tortuous manipulation to extract and re-shape meaning to reinforce the ideology of human primacy, the hubris that denies the agency and import of the non-human world, suffocating the eloquence of dismemberment, of being broken, of subliminal chaos, of being perpetually in formation, living in a balance of questions formed and answered and questions unformed and unanswerable. And yet language also remains one of the vital tools remaining to pierce the pretense that the music can and must go on forever.

A mentor poses, “We have to allow for the fact that we may not be smart enough to even know how to think through our problems,” and, “Would we have the same conception of waste we have today if we defecated from the same place we ingested foods? Would we think in binaries, write in studious sequences, or understand ‘progress and development’ if there was no notion of ‘forward’?”

That world is already here—the single portal for the ingestion of nutrition and elimination of waste has become the smart phone/tablet—our ‘eye’ to the world, as well as being the portal through which so much waste passes. As more and more moves in and out, telling the difference between the two is the challenge, of course, since-at least in terms of the smartphone portal-one man’s shit is another’s nutrition. Every user to an increasing degree is now trading in the global transmission of both, such that the linearity of ‘knowledge’ and intelligence breaks down as more and more becomes integral to more and more.

Ironically, the technological tools of connectivity are products of the very racketeering that now both facilitates and limits mass access and intimacy, the continuing breakdown of linearity, institutions of control, reductive reasoning, the birth and death of Stories, development, the emergence of issues, activism. Less and less can occur in secret or in sequestered domains now, which is why racketeering, the deliberate (not accidental!) drive toward increasing control and the increasing secrecy of those efforts have become so much more intense.

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