Tuesday 26 March 2013

Pre-history and the sense of purpose

Imagine pre-historic humans, unshaved, unwashed, uneducated, but far more alert to natural signals and intuitive communication. How quickly did they invent shoes in whatever form? The need for protection of feet has always struck me as priority, since movement must have been a key factor for survival. And survival must have been the first strong sense of purpose, instinctive protection of life.

In this year, 2013, we do not think of humans hunting for breakfast. Cereals, yoghurt, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, tea, coffee, champagne are all easily obtainable, and can even be kept overnight in fridges if necessary. We have survived so well that we have turned into a market of consumers.

Increasingly, we lose out on having an urgent sense of purpose. For less affluent people, the purpose is often about becoming more affluent. For affluent people, the purpose becomes the need to look after investment carefully. And then there's career development, social justice and spiritual imperatives.

I think about levels and intensities of urgency. What drives and motivates us, and what the implications are when we achieve our purposes. What really matters at the end of the day. Many would say that what matters at the end of the day relates to family, friends and the fulfillment of desires. I have the idea that if we unpack the sense of urgency to understand what it means and where it comes from, we need to re-read Brian Weiss for a start, to understand how all emotions connect,  and then the gnostic gospels to put matters in context. The Bhagavad-Gita and the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament would also help.

From a variety of sources we are told that the universe and experience are holographic. If this is so, then let's assume that one human death affects all human awareness and see what happens. My grandfather died young, perhaps quite suddenly and unexpectedly, and my mother's side of the family was traumatized. She was traumatized till the day she died, and that trauma still fills my heart with the urgent need for resolution. So I, too, will die relatively traumatized, and who can tell when and how this trauma is going work itself out? And all this trauma is merely personal. Wars, natural disasters and economic collapses have created wave upon wave of trauma that sweep through human memory. How will it ever be possible to resolve such a situation which revisits human awareness with every birth and death?

There is a gospel song "Call the man" popularized by Celine Dion that provokes the answer. The hero's courage to stand in stillness in the chaos and confusion is in each of us. The path to this strong, peaceful platform is by prayer and meditation. Prehistory had no sweeping concepts of mankind. Purpose was largely instinctive and has since gained almost unimaginablyin creativity. Choice of purpose implies less urgency of purpose, and less urgency implies less real. If I break a tooth, all other urgencies subside: my need to get to the dentist rules.

As I think about it, purpose and urgency overlap. The grander the purpose, the more deeply felt is the urgency. My grandfather on my father's side had the fervent urgency that took him to Spain, Chile, Argentina and Patagonia to convert the Catholics to Protestantism. He failed, and because I never met him, I don't know if this failure traumatized him.

I think that all the trauma of and in human history can be resolved by cosmic communication, and the meaning of that, so far as human awaresness goes, is by engaging with that which is spiritual. Prehistoric people argued less about defining what is spirtual, I should imagine, and tried harder to avoid the trauma of hunger, hurt and death.

In 2013 we have the amazing luxury of choosing purposes. This means not that our instincts have disappeared but that they have become clouded. It's not that we do not feel our innermost and profound urgencies but that we have a very useful array of distractions.

Why should anyone engage with the depths of human pain when there are cars, cookery courses, advertising campaigns and sport competitions?

If you move through all your layers of make-believe that this world is a comfortable, comforting place and revisit pre-historical awareness, there should a re-sharpening of awareness to the extent that certain urgencies become inescapable.

I enjoy comfortable and conforting things like single malt whiskies and first class international travel as much and moire than anyone else, and yet I realize the danger: if you lose the sense of vulnerability, you  lose the edge.

Every time I drive past Century City, Cape Town and read the billboard "Don't leave a will, leave a legacy" I really feel the meaning of that. I like it. Not many are in a position to do that. Many will die wondering what happened and why. I feel that, also, each and every time I think about it. I want none of us to have lived or died in vain.

So, "in vain"? We're not in prehistory anymore, we're here in 2013. How do you get to be born and to die in vain?

By not making your own attempt, however small, to contribute to the larger sense of spiritual context.
Ridley Beeton, a South African poet who is now in heaven entitled one of his collections "The Landscape of Requirement". Requirement makes sense. All are asked and few respond. (Check Zuma and cabinet.)

The sense of chosen purpose makes sense when it correlates with the sense of being called. Each one of us can change the evetual nature of human history by responding to the urgencies recognized in our individual souls.

I prioritize accomplishment over bliss, and I would like to see many resolutions to various traumas before I'm willing to trade in victorious and triumphant announcements.

Shoes are precious, you can't walk far without them. Holy ground says you take them off, out of respect for something greater than survival.

When I know I can walk no futher, shoes or no shoes, I am forced to my knees.

I think this posture teaches us once and for all who we are. No shoes. An emergency of need. An attitude which is ours to choose. An utter inevitability that takes us to the hearts' cry, the answer to which is not guarranteed to be what we want. Yet it's good, when by grace we accept it.

In 2013 the sense of pre-history is good for refining and re-defining the sense of purpose that creates real movement and direction.

Friday 8 March 2013

The mind's default is a pinball machine.

We start off with a linguistic problem with the definite article. "A" mind,"the" mind or just "mind"? I would prefer Mind's default since I am fairly convinced that the problematics of identity, solitude, agency and individuality are overcome by the perspectives gained from holism. But of course we can't escape from the privacy of our own bodies, so here we are each one of us thoroughly bound to a sense of self.

That's the sensory default. The default of being physiological beings in a physical world. The question of whether mind arises from or is the ground for the physical universe is a matter of decision. You decide how to think about this.

The logic of intuition tells me that mind creates the physical world. The basis of this kind of logic is that although I am thoroughly immersed in a physical universe I have a strong sense of the eternal. I am not prepared to argue either of these away. I am not prepared to deny the table in front of me, nor am I prepared to dismiss intimations of immortaility.

A key aspect of awareness that helps to confirm a default setting is imagination. Free-focus experiential, existential play. It's part of daily pattern, fully switched on in dream mode, suppressed during operational mode unless your work uses it.

You're free to imagine anything, act on it, work it through, make things real. The light-bulb didn't always exist, neither did the rifle, glass, internal combustion engine, paper, or tablets, either the medical or electronic version.

You may not be an inventor, but you do create your own mind on a minute by minute basis. Elsewhere in these blogs you can read about how I decry formal education. For most of us, the default relates to conforming, compulsion, compliance and obedience to what appears as decency. Our mind's formation is shaped but not freed by these imperatives. These are not the whole of the default.

Imaginative open-ness is crucial to following more of mind's default. Arresting one's logic for the sake of allowing greater awareness in any given moment will always allow you to hear more, see more, sense more, grow more.

Is that "more" physical, in the sense of seeing more green in the grass, more liquidity of the water? Or does intutive acutensess itself grow? How does the focus work?

I accept it when people tell me they see angels. I accept it when others explain algebraic solutions. I know the difference between vision, conviction and belief, and like Jung, I prefer not to believe but to know. I do not believe that the chair will hold me up, I sit on it and know that it does hold me up. I do not believe in God, I trust holiness in whatever form holiness comes to bless me. I am blessed over and over, and know it.

Not only am I blessed temporarily, in this life, with this food, that beauty and more friends, I am also blessed infinitely and eternally to catch glimpses of the human heart, full of desperate desires, wild affection and aspirations to beauty.

To seek mind's default is to approach poetic language. There's nothing neat or clever about it. It's not reducible. My experience leads me to think that courage is one of the first steps, also conviction, but not of the dogmatic kind. Conviction that leads to kindness works. Conviction that results in pietistic cruelty does not. Then clarity, which baffles me when so many people fear what clarity feels like. Becasue clarity is a feeling,not a concept. Perhaps I can alliterate even more and pull in carefulness as well as communication.

Once you open your mind, you can't close it again. This is what reason does. I don't argue because I want a particular conclusion. I argue because I want to find truth. I know I'm on the way when I get that sense of truth, that holiness isn't far away, and if we can hit the right speed of communication, take good care of the details in our intent, test our clarity, and utter our convictions, the default is working for fruitfulness in spheres that might surprise us.

Checking mind's default is very much like playing pinball. The ball wants to go one way, you want it to go the other way. The last thing you should do is get angry or desperate and tilt the machine because then the lights go out and you lose the game to the extent of having to pay again. There are rules, desires, inevitability, irreversibility. Even skill will never grant ultimate victory. There is not supposed to be ultimate victory. It's just fun.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

Modelling thinking

Childhood experience would usually sort this out at an unconscious level. Growing up, you absorb, adapt and extend the patterns of your experience, speaking the way your parents and friends do, aligning your emotional patterns to the text of your context.

I was more fortunate than this. My parents didn't speak the same language. My dad was a Scot, my mom Swiss. To this day, I think in a meta-language somewhere between languages. Being exposed to Afrikaans society has made it clear to me that cultural alignment influences communciation entirely. When studying applied linguistics, I read Jerry Fodor's work on private langauge, wondering if there could be such a thing. I didn't reach a satisfactory conclusion, and am left with the sense of having a private awareness that communicates either by default or on purpose.

The crux, of course, is how I communicate with myself. This is baffling. "Conversations with God" I, II and III ad infinitum goes in this direction, if you have the time.

Another bit of good fortune, although it didn't seem like it at the time, was that I had to sit and listen to preachers, preachers and preachers as soon as I could sit. This very valuable extended experience taught me physical self-control and stillness, to be sensitive to rhetoric, freedom of imagination because what else could you do? and critical conceptual agility because the whole purpose of the sermons was to enagage dogmatic purity, existential honesty and infinite salvation. It was my habit, from a tender age, to rush up to the preacher as quickly as possible to make acquaintance because I wanted to hear his "real" voice and sense who the person really was. More often than not, I was disappointed. The words of the sermon that promised so much failed to deliver a real person. The urgency of my curiosity amused, then irritated and finally enraged quite a few preachers who then complained to my father about my disobedience to God's word. They failed to realize that I genuinely wanted to understand. Needless to say, I refused to model my thinking on the style they offered.

I am still amazed that so few of my school-teachers had styles of thinking and being that suggested themselves as models. Frank Rumboll and Malcolm Andrew made lasting impressions on me, the former in terms of exactitude of wise analysis, the latter for being able to reduce complexities to essentials.

The humanities section of UCT's library was a smorgasbord of models. I read and re-read Satir and Perls without ever hearing of NLP. Hegel I liked, too. I can't remember why I was intrigued by Patrick Suppes, but I was. I would not able to make a list of the ten most influential books I have read. They would run into thousands. Neville Shute would be close to the top of the list. He was no academic. C.S.Lewis would also rank up there, for being a sane Christian. Hans Kung, whose books and lectures came to nothing more startling than realizing that faith and trust aren't far apart. I came to realize that I liked the "academic" model. I threw my energy into that vast pot, and tried to taste what I was cooking. There was one essential ingredient that still eluded my knowledge: my sense of self. I knew how to think for myself, but not what to think of myself.

This is going to sound like a snake with its tail in its mouth: what you communicate to yourself is how you think of yourself. When the brain is pushed towards cogitation at the expense of decision and emotion, the snake will swallow itself.

NLP deals with the balancing of decision, emotional states and intellectual constructs. I'm not sure if it takes one in the direction of being free to choose models, or if the essential model is freedom itself, which is a spiritual insight, but too intangible for easy access. My guess is that the former contains steps to achieve the latter.

I have come to the unsurprising but happy conclusion that I resonate with the models that resonate with me. The saving grace is that I am also happy to learn new chords.


Tuesday 5 March 2013

The fluid moment.

Does entering the moment bear any metaphor at all?

I enter the moment and find that even I am not. It is like vast space. Nothing is there, and there are no possible boundaries. Even infinity does not begin here. No lightning speed will strike, though quickness abounds: here but not here, presence eludes and dances without ever being caught. Yet the echo bounces just out of range and the touch retains an eternal imprint.

Then again I enter the moment: the richness of this world, filled with animal affection and wild inverted wisdom comes to sit in my heart and makes all my experience so light that everything floats.

I enter the moment and make all meaning to find that meaning unmakes me. I have never properly existed.

To enter the moment is to cease as a single drop and become the river. The ocean is not far away. The rain falls. All flow is related.

Entering the moment is a short step within eternity. To grasp that being alive is no threat to the sense of self. One sharp, clear bird call. Sea-smell, with coal, drizzle and a steam-engine's hoot directly out of childhood. A pair of eyes, another and another, and such a promise within all these. That all possible moments are in this moment, yet none will ever be owned. That presence is not about my presence. That questions fade in the light of one real answer.

I have moved from one human mind to another to another. Having spun the web, I have gone into hiding to await the prize and have been eaten. The web quivers imperceptibly, invisible until lgiht finds it. The human web waits in its own history, delicate with dew, cruel in intent, wordless. No concept escapes from the clasp of time. Too much carefulness loses the sensitive touch of freedom.

We have told so many stories to enter the moment. None hold for longer than the narrative does. Indeed, the truest stories hide the truth of the moment.

Is the most precious thing to touch the truth of another? That also is a metaphor. To touch another's truth is to touch your own grief, and vice-versa. We have to open that door wide, and pass through, to arrive beyond joy and grief, which are pointers that we mistakenly take as purpose.

We can't approach a real sense of purpose until we pass through the door of joy and grief.

An open door is open on both sides. The fluid moment is extremely porous. All points of exit and entrance co-incide.

The fluid moment kills philosphy and hounds philosphers. Composers hear it, artists see it, poets say it.

Faith bears it, again, again and again.