Problem and Resolution: Why Optimism Is Not Necessarily Personal

bird cage

Anything and everything, depending on how one sees it, is a marvel or a hindrance, an all or a nothing, a path or a problem (Fernando Pessoa)

Why are problems sometimes interesting and sometimes frustrating?

I think if we’re too focused on obtaining a solution, a way past the problem, then the persistence of the problem can lead to despair and frustration. But if the problem itself is interesting, if its persistence is seen as the unfoldment of a mystery, then the problem is something we’re enjoying and we’re not merely trying to get rid of the problem.

When it comes to the “problem of Literalism” — which is the problem of thought, of being confused by our projections, as humanity has tended to be — the “solution” to the problem of Literalism is so rare that it either gets dismissed outright as an impossibility, or it tends to get labeled as “enlightenment” or “grace” or some other pedestaled conjecture, which are various forms of escape from the problem itself.

Most reasonable people will try to avoid tackling a problem that almost nobody in history has resolved, such as Literalism. From this personal angle, their hope of resolution is squashed immediately by realizing that almost nobody has ever solved this problem of thought, so why should they? Who are they to imagine that the solution is within reach? To avoid embarrassing delusions of grandeur and inevitable failure a seemingly humbler response would be to ignore the problem.

But this reaction is premised on the desire to get past the problem, rather than enjoy the problem.

But reasonable people don’t enjoy the problem. If they can’t get past it, they don’t want to consider it.

The problem is, we can’t enjoy a problem if we don’t recognize a possibility of resolution. But if we focus too much on resolving a problem, then we’re trying to get past the problem too ambitiously, which means we don’t enjoy the problem, which means the problem never resolves!

So most reasonable people get stuck between these two poles, hoisted on a double-bind that not only blocks any further interest but also wears them out.Read More »

Coils and Spirals

This is a surreal comedy with a tinge of terror. It was based on a dream, and seems to have something to do with the state of the world, but also with writing itself — the difficulty of calling anyone’s attention to the Jungian shadows. Here’s a recording of me telling the story: 

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A while back I discovered a part of town I hadn’t known. This was odd because I live in a small city. We’re surrounded by farmer’s fields, they press upon the city walls. Farms and farms, their fumes invade every spring and summer, heralded by legions of pillaging flies, forcing our retreat block by block, week by week, until we find ourselves by August or September in the last green oasis for hundreds of pesticide-ravaged miles, which is the city park, a tangle of briars and downed trees, a green confusion which is never easy to find, perhaps never even in the same place.

I hesitated to say anything about my discovery for months, because I was afraid that the news would make me and everyone else who grew up here look stupid, misplacing, for god’s sake, an entire neighborhood.

Of course, my aunt ignored the gist of what I told her to resume arguing that we’ve not only lived here all our lives, but for all eternity. She repeated the argument daily, and said she was condemned to repeat it the next day, too. She would say time is a loop of dramas, sitcoms, tragedies, and other forms of farce, one following the other, the same characters, the same punch lines, but you’d need to have a perspective like hers, spanning billions of years, to notice that you’ve played these roles before. The theory alone was good enough to make my aunt feel trapped in a giant hamster wheel, panting for air. That was her preferred state of mind, anyways, favoring the stability of a known horror over any unsuspected risk, no matter how small, which is why the deep silos of her eyes glowed bloodshot red, and why she tirelessly scanned the world for confirmation of her worst fears, so she could blow them out of all proportion, and feel moderately relieved when her worry proved exaggerated.

It was a preemptive claustrophobia that rebounded in a momentary illusion of spaciousness.Read More »

A New World Is Only a New Mind

I’m picturing a mostly unconscious human being – a mind occupied all day by video games, food, sex, drink, and sleep. Or I could picture a corporate executive who has utterly surrendered to the sociopathic profit motive, perhaps somebody at Shell who has helped to bury the science on climate change. Or even myself more often than I care to admit – my thoughts like mice constantly scurrying to the higher end of a perpetually sinking ship.

But it’s all the same state of mind in one fundamental way at least – a mind perpetually busy trying to outrun itself, trying not to notice the unfathomed compulsion that keeps it busy. In this state of mind (if there aren’t sufficient distractions available) the tendency is to feel subjected to thought, tossed and turned by thought. To avoid the sensation of drowning in this tumult, an inner director, a thinker in charge, a focus of Self, is created, which seems to be a retroactive gloss that thought itself compulsively places over its own shenanigans to retain an illusion of order and control. But in this state of mind there is only a running script (though ad libbed) in which this fantasy of a director (a Me playing the starring role) ends up organizing what is still only a compulsive escape from its own unfathomed turmoil.

I need to emphasize this distinction between people and the habits of thought that hold them captive, otherwise I fall into the common misconception that people who think and do ugly, evil things are inherently (in their blood and bones) ugly and evil, and not merely ill with thought. If I blame the person — even my own starring Self — too much (and I often do) I become susceptible to the illness itself, willing to injure that person just to stop the ridiculous ideas driving them (or me). Then the distinction between these dimensions of life (between the actual human being and the thoughts driving them, between territory and map) is lost, and then I’m driven by the unfathomed compulsions of thought, and capable of ugly, evil things.

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We Are Like Squid: The Gift of Shape-Shifting

“He explained that [shamans] see infant human beings as strange, luminous balls of energy covered from the top to the bottom with a glowing coat, something like a plastic cover that is adjusted tightly over their cocoon of energy.

He said that glowing coat of awareness was what the predators consumed, and that when a human being reached adulthood, all that was left of that glowing coat of awareness was a narrow fringe that went from the ground to the top of the toes. That fringe permitted mankind to continue living, but only barely.

As if I were in a dream, I heard don Juan explaining that, to his knowledge, man was the only species that had the glowing coat of awareness outside that luminous cocoon.

Therefore, he became easy prey for an awareness of a different order; such as the heavy awareness of the predator. He then made the most damaging statement he had made so far. He said that this narrow fringe of awareness was the epicenter of self-reflection where man was irremediably caught. By playing on our self-reflection, which is the only point of awareness left to us, the predators create flares of awareness that they proceed to consume in a ruthless, predatory fashion.

They give us inane problems that force those flares of awareness to rise, and in this manner they keep us alive in order for them to be fed with the energetic flare of our pseudo-concerns.”

Carlos Castaneda — “Active Side of Infinity”


A prismatic perspective changes the nature of a conversation. When we realize that thought is not actual, but fictional, then answers, and the deceptions necessary to defend those answers, both go extinct. They become archaeological artefacts of a world that has ceased to exist.

We stop trying to compete to be right the moment we realize that nothing we say is right.

In fact, nothing we say is even Close to being Right, because what we Say about life and life itself are composed of utterly different substances.  The map can’t get closer to being the place itself, no matter how precise it tries to be. They are different substances entirely and never the twain shall meet.

But in this case, we’re making maps of a world that becomes more complex and profound as we learn. So beliefs are essentially out of date and primitive the moment they’re formed.

Out of date if they’re proposed as answers, that is. But they become more profound as metaphors – freer to experiment with angles and stories, because we’ve discarded the burden of being right. So we’re no longer being pressed into working towards a singular conclusion.

And then discussions stop being debates over who is right. We stop acting like prosecutors of one another. We stop trying to undermine an “opponent’s” point of view, because it would be self-limiting. So argument dies and questions become subtle requests for directions to the vantage points being discussed, because every new metaphor adds interest and color to everything.

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A Fly Fable (Which Includes the Amoral of the Story)

fly

Act 1

Eugene yawned. He dreaded another day of banging his head against the glass.

His friend Leslie, however, was eager to get started.

“Yesterday that precocious young fly Skip said he felt the glass in the upper pane softening a little. Let’s get cracking! Today’s the day, I can feel it.”

Eugene stretched his wings and nibbled on sun-dried bacteria. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

Most of the flies stuck between the storm window and the regular window were already banging away.

Eugene stretched his wing again.

His world measured approximately 64 inches by 26 inches by 5 inches. The majority of flies were banging on the glass facing the interior of the house, and not on the storm window to the outside. That’s because the curtains in the little shack were usually closed, which made the interior window into a weak mirror reflecting the trees and fields across the road. And that’s where they wanted to go.

And all memory of night, when they had banged away on the storm window facing the dark fields and trees, had by then faded into legend.

“Eugene thinks he can sit there all day and reap the benefits of our hard work!” a fly named Bixby complained, when he saw Eugene slowly crawling his way towards them.

“Yeh, but guys, how many generations of flies have been trying to get out of this window?” Eugene said, looking down again at the piles of corpses on the sill.

“Oh, listen to Mr doom and gloom!” Bixby said. “Legend has it that a fly named Boris flew out this very window and into those yonder trees!” Bixby shifted a wing to point at a shimmering mirage of a tree. “So how’d he do it? Not by moaning, but by banging that’s how.”Read More »

You Say You Want a Revolution?

 

trees-brain
“If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.” —  Rilke

This was published on Counterpunch, September 5, 2016.

“What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.”

— from The Man Watching, by Rainer Maria Rilke

As CJ Hopkins pointed out in Counterpunch, “… we are not yet capable of conceiving a credible alternative system [to global neoliberal capitalism], or a way to get there.”

Or maybe we conceive alternatives, but the canopy of globalization has grown so wide that it stunts their growth. The media’s floodlight shines only on a sucker’s coin of allowable alternatives: Regressive Revolution — a rabid demand for the nation to be “great again”; and Patriotic Reform — a “gentler” allegiance to American exceptionalism. Both sides of the coin bank on what no longer exists – a sovereign nation.Read More »