Monday, July 09, 2007

How We Got Here From There.

Let’s try a little experiment. Turn on your TV when you know there is something really stupid on; something banal and unimaginative and that shows humanity in a poor light. It could be a game show where they compete for kitchen appliances. It could be a weep fest touchy feely thing like Oprah; something saccharine and cloying. It could be a soap opera where those basic emotions are toyed with and acted out in maudlin skits of needy petulance and self-involved reaction games. It won’t be hard to find. In fact, what would be hard to find is something informative and engrossing. But we aren’t looking for that. We’re looking for some trash.

You know its trash when you first see it. You’ve seen it before. Now watch yourself as you watch it. In the first few moments you are aware of yourself watching it. You have an objective position to it. Now watch as you get sucked into it. It only takes a few minutes and it goes through various stages of absorption on your way to forgetting that you are watching until you hit the sponge-like or subjective processing state. It’s a little like falling asleep. We’ve all been there at the edge of sleep, aware that we are in a position to fall asleep and then moving from the images produced by the mind, on in to various trance states until, and you never catch it while it’s happening, you fall asleep.

We experience similar things sitting on a park bench watching whatever may be passing in front of us. Sometimes we know that there is an ‘I’ that is watching. More often we are just watching. People vary. Some are more aware of the process than others. There are periods in human history where more people are aware than at other points. There is never a point where this portion is more than a tiny minority. There’s something uncomfortable about being aware that you are watching. There’s a more universal condition of being lost in, wanting to be lost in the experience.

Most people are uncomfortable with themselves and they want to be lost in something so that the focus is not on them, unless it’s one of those vanity things. During these moments there’s a real pleasure in being observed when we imagine, correctly or incorrectly that someone is interested in us. One of the great devices that effective salespeople and politicians have; that certain professionals and sociopaths have is the appearance of empathetic listening. Many a successful Romeo knows about this little trick.

A large portion of everything people engage in or want to engage in is for the purpose of distraction. Sex, drugs, rock and roll; or whatever form it would take for you, holds out the promise of losing yourself in something. In some way it’s connected to the irrepressible urge for freedom; the desire to get out of ourselves. Spiritual teachers will tell you that freedom and illumination can be achieved by losing yourself in service to others. Some would say it is also attained by retracting your attention from all things external. Meditation is based on this concept.

It’s been said that whether one dispassionately seeks the inner depths or passionately seeks the surface that they are both the same, differing only in perspective. That’s a very heavy concept and not easily reconciled with so much of the baggage everyone carries around with them. It’s also been said that one of the surest routes to liberation and a state of continuous ease is to forget your personal history; operate as if it didn’t exist. The whole of a person’s life, in the ordinary person’s life, is made up of events that seem to change the person going through them. Watching people is an amazing thing. When you can watch with real attention you see some remarkable patterns. A crowded park on a summer evening is a good bet. You can watch children running around with constantly changing focus. Then you see adolescents involved in a posturing self-conscious awkwardness, filled with giddy transitions that are all about a control that just isn’t present enough to contain the repeating sense of embarrassment over not knowing what’s going on, along with the under current of uncertainty over whether anything means this or that. It could be either one.

Then you see the later teen condition where romance and one’s degree of cool ease in motion comes around. Some have the appearance of it having worked out the technique through observation or possessing the seeming good fortune of being attractive to begin with. All kinds of types are displayed, including the rejected and those rejecting because a little James Dean or Jack Kerouac got into the mix. You can watch these ages move on to bent forms in stroll walkers or wheel chairs. Usually you don’t see the drooling senility but you might. You can also see the predators and the prey, in a crowded park, in the evening.

Some of these lives are to be considered successful according to particular social yardsticks and some aren’t. That doesn’t mean much given that success is more about how you feel about what you’ve done and who you are than in what others might think; unless you are in the majority and then it’s some mix of the two. Quite often what people feel about themselves and others has nothing to do with what they really feel because what they really feel never even made it out of the gate and then life is just a series of evolving postures until the posture gets really bent out of shape.

Usually people are moving toward some kind of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that will eventually etch itself permanently into their face. Usually faces will tell you most of what you want to know about someone. It’s not the face itself; it’s what they wrote into the face. On the satisfied track the progression is moving toward a condition of serenity. On the other it is to a condition where there is no peace and then you get situations where the TV is always on, or something is keeping time.

Whether people in general are more or less happy or more or less unhappy depend on the conditions they live in; the state of their society. It’s a curious phenomenon that I have observed when you go to a poor country and often the majority of the inhabitants are smiling and engaging, welcoming and often carefree in circumstances of want. Yet, in societies where all sorts of conveniences and entertainments along with the basic needs and much more than the basic needs are covered they can be resentful and suspicious, hostile and indifferent. It’s odd, that.

A person really ought to find out what is going to make them happy before they go too far down the road to accepting whatever the prevailing assumption of that might be. It gets harder to fix it without having to just walk away completely... after awhile.

It’s strange; all those disappointments that people have in common. Its stranger still when a society goes on churning out discomfort and disparity, paranoia and confinement and it never gets fixed. Many besides Thoreau have commented on this. Most of those for whom serenity and fulfillment are important have found that you often wind up keeping to yourself.

It’s almost as if life is some kind of a candy store. Some of the candy is poisonous and some of it just rots your teeth. In order to succeed while you are in the candy store you find that you shouldn’t eat any candy at all. It seems that those elusive conditions of joy and bliss and tranquility are achieved by forgetting about candy altogether. This flies in the face of the entire construct that depends on your wanting the candy. One might almost say that it makes you an enemy of the state. Pointing it out is almost certain to.

Roses and thorns, romantic love and attachment, loneliness and despair, alcohol and hangovers, hot blood and banked fires, the vain attempt to cosmeticize what we are losing, acquiring enough wealth to seal yourself off, regret, fear of the unknown and a prevailing sense of loss. I don’t know. It seems like such a waste of time. Occasionally I hear this music. It’s a sensation of large bodies rubbing together and its unspeakably exquisite, some kind of warm living rain precipitating. There are voices in it and bright images of some far location now near at hand. I can’t imagine anything comparable and it literally penetrates everything but somehow it isn’t enough for most people. All you have to do is take a look around.


Anonymous said...

I always feel a little more awake after reading your posts here. I don't know what it is about this spiritual thing but I go through periods of what feels like being very close to being "there"; never much in the way of visions or anything but a very deep sense of peace, contentment, and extremely intense feelings of well being, connectedness and timelessness. The mind really has no words for what that state feels like. I'll then go from that back to a more normal mode of being: underlying sense of boredom, discontent, and something at least resembling the usual wants of western society, the need to "achieve", keep up, compete, "be somebody", etc.

This cycle has been repeating itself for 6 or 7 years now. I'll think I"m getting somewhere only to end up being bothered or experiencing suffering from something that I thought i was done with. Or I'll go through really dry spells spiritually. Have you experienced this? I feel like I've been toggling back and forth between waking up and going back to sleep for awhile now. Well in any case, I feel like your writings here are always another nudge in the right direction.


Visible said...

Hi Ben;

I go through exactly the same thing and can tell you that I am going through is right now. I was at a point not long ago where I was experiencing breakthroughs of great magnitude. I was living in a beautiful place within that would open up into the most profound states and remain there for hours at a time. Without any warning I found myself right back where I had been before any of this happened.

It's been a constant, this up and down thing. Sometimes there seems no end in sight. What this tells me is that we must strive relentlessly and we will succeed in the ways and on the terms that the universe permits for those who do strive. One of our biggest deceptions is that we think we are going to get there here. At the same time there is no where else we can get there from. I take this to mean that you strive and strive until you can strive no more and then.... you surrender.

Anonymous said...

Surrender. Yes, that comes up alot and surely it must be key. But just as quickly as one thinks that they have acquired some degree of competency in that skill they find themselves right back in the mode of trying to bend and shape reality to meet their particular interests and agenda, with resistance at every turn. Or at least I find this to be the case with myself. And it's funny because just like you mention in your post, one is never consciously aware of the transition between these two states as it taking place.

This cycle gets tiring (and frustrating) and I can only speculate that it's the result of thousands or millions of years of accumulated human conditioning and mind patterns. It feels like there is a tremendous gravitational force, pulling us back into the familiar and habitual. This inertia is constantly at odds with our higher nature but at the same time it's the suffering that it creates that fuels our urge to awaken and rise above it.

Maybe it goes back to the whole duality thing; can't have one side of the coin without the other. I guess we could expand on that train of thought and assume that everything is exactly as it should be and it would serve us best to learn to sit back and enjoy the scenery. (Sometimes easier said than done!)


Anonymous said...

I don't think you're wrong Ben.
Your 'it's the result of thousands or millions of years of accumulated human conditioning and mind patterns' isn't far off the mark. I think ones 'demeanour' is genetic. Just as we can have different exterior features eg. colour of eyes, hair, skin, etc. Our 'being' can have different features. Some predominant, some suppressed.
That's my take on this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Surrender, eh? ;)

Surrender also means giving in or giving up. Imo, in and up look like pretty darn good directions to choose. Doncha agree. :)

Have read all that you've posted since you've become more visible these recent days. It's sooooo nice to have you back :)

Take care dear Les. Loving hugs and vibes coming at ya...from me to you, annemarie

Anonymous said...


I wonder if this *surrender* is the transcendence of the ego?

I am? Why not just *am*? Ok, that doesn't work or make sense gramatically. But still... what I'm trying to say is this. Maybe instead of focussing on "I am", perhaps the ultimate state of awareness is that of just *being*. As in: I be. Or *BE*.

Damn, I can't seem to be able to put it into words!

Maybe this is a better way of saying it? Let it be. Let I, you, he, she, it be. Let all be.

Oh yeah, like Ben says, I too feel a little more awake after reading your words. Even if I don't sound that way. teehee

thanks mucho mon ami :)


Anonymous said...

Just finished reading thru all the comments, AFTER I'd posted two. Noticed that Tony said 'being'. And, that genetic demeanor stuff. Genetic predispositions? Genetics pre-determining our overall disposition (personality/character) too? Sure, why not. Very cool, imo. Nature and nuture working in harmony, painting us, creating our selves and our lives as we go.

And...maybe we should spend a whole lot more time just being. Rather than always doing. That old crappy adage springs to mind: an idle mind is the devil's workshop. Think that comes from a xtian, maybe puritan point of view. And to which I say: Bollocks!

I think it's good, fruitful, productive, and essential (to growth, real growth) to have/possess/desire an idle mind. Clearly balance is key, toujours.

Still, too much focus and energy spent on doing stems from getting. Get, get, get. Can't get enuff of [whatever]...fill in the blank. Imagine how much more mature/advanced/healthier/kinder we all could be if we were more idle? Idle, of course, in a positive sense.

Idle time for me means freedom, time for thinking, daydreaming, playing, appreciating, etc. And it's high time we all had a lot more idle time. heehaw

This post. These comments. You've (all) inspired and stirred the chatty idler in me ;)

Peace. Write on. Right on!


Anonymous said...

Hallelujah! The Protestant work ethic.
A big part of Why We Are Where We Are
or How We Got Here From There. (I've just read that somewhere recently.)



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