A defining characteristic of western identity is the quaking mess – that aspect of us which has the horrors for what life could do to us, if we were to let it out, for all the trauma that we might suffer from wildlife.
The longest journey of my life was the journey to my self.
Smedley Darlington Butler was a Major General in the U.S. Marine Corps and at the time of his death in 1940, the most decorated marine in U.S. history. Speaking of his 34 years of active service, Butler declared that “War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses…I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service”.
How many of us have suspected that we’re actually surrounded by rackets and that maybe we ought to take up tennis and get in on the action? Or perhaps we should just get the hell off the court?
We are inside a social engineering experiment that has been evolving for at least several hundred years. Our air is contaminated in the interests of industrial ‘development’. Our water is being poisoned. (Fluorides have been used to modify behaviour and mood of human beings. Fluoride compounds were added to the drinking water of prisoners to keep them docile and inhibit questioning of authority, both in Nazi prison camps in World War II and in the Soviet gulags in Siberia. A fluorine compound called fluoxetine added to our water is, coincidentally, an active ingredient in Prozac, Sarin nerve gas and, because it’s medically classified as a protoplasmic poison, it’s also highly useful as a rat poison. See http://www.healthy-communications.com/fluorideasratpoison.html.) Our food is contaminated in the interests of agribusiness. Our homes are contaminated with many kinds of industrial chemicals in the interests of the housing boom. And guess where many of these ‘cost-effective solutions’ accumulate? At the top of the food chain, in the human body. Let’s make ecology really simple; on a round planet what goes around comes around. And while all this is going around we’re being deliberately dumbed down, disinformed, distressed and medicated until we inevitably break down.
How has it come to pass that the institutions of government, education and medicine that we were told were designed to protect and serve us, seem somehow to be producing the exact opposite effect? Who and what are they really serving?
Once you start following that particular white rabbit, it all seems to get rather deep rather fast. So let’s start from some basic propositions and hopefully by the end of this article we can arrive at some practical and constructive suggestions for change.
Consider a caterpillar munching leaves. Does the caterpillar know why it likes this particular type of leaf and not that? It just seems to mindlessly munch away. Then a moment happens when it stops munching. It doesn’t appear troubled by the change. In the next moment it starts extruding silk and spinning a cocoon. Once enclosed within the cocoon, its body literally rots away, turning into a rich nutritive soup. If the caterpillar were attached to its former way of being in the world, then this would likely be a fairly traumatic process. Only a few cells remain from the original body and these are termed ‘imaginal cells’. These imaginal cells form the living network upon which a new form self-organises. Would it help the butterfly if it had intimate biochemical knowledge of the successive transformations which produced it? Would that knowledge help the butterfly discover life more effectively and fully than it actually does; unfurling and drying its wings and taking to the air?
Consider that the identity that calls itself ‘me’ does not seem to include intimate knowing of how I arrive in this moment now; doesn’t include the functioning of my brain-stem, limbic system, pineal body, nor of the coordinated functioning of my spleen, liver, heart, lungs and so forth. This identity doesn’t include perceiving the complete turning over of the atomic structure of my body approximately every seven years. Therefore this identity that claims to represent ‘me’ is not anywhere near the complete ‘me’. It’s a fraction that yet claims to be whole. An illusion that sees, relates and acts in the world in a certain way. And therefore this way of being in the world is just as much a way of not-being in the world.
When a person learns to play a musical instrument such as a violin, there’s typically a period of basic guidance and practice in which the person learns about the instrument and how to play notes, scales, sequences and compositions. If people become true players, there comes a time when they’re not so much playing the music as the music is playing them. As Eminem says “You gotta lose yourself in the music”. Similarly in any creative enterprise, including sport, writing and tantra, there is a turning point in which we may experience a greater phenomenon moving through us and performance seems to happen effortlessly, without trying. In “The Power of Now” Eckhart Tolle relates a study investigating differences between geniuses and technicians engaged in the enterprise of science. Interestingly, the geniuses reported spending very little time engaged in thinking. Their discoveries were not the product of intellectual effort. Similarly, Mozart related that the concertos would come to him as totalities that he would experience as if he’d been transported to another kind of space. Once he’d passed through it, he could write it out. Einstein proposed that the hallmark of genius is being in the world with a childlike sense of wonder.
Of course this is precisely what is conditioned, schooled, distressed, disinformed, poisoned and medicated out of us: our fascination with life. We’re not available because we’re busy figuring out our latest dilemma. John Taylor Gatto says that a falconer puts a hood on the falcon to prevent the animal from following its true nature. Similarly, most of us have been hooded from an early age so that we do not follow our true nature. More than that, we’ve become mortally terrified of our true nature. Our wild selves. We live a sort of half-life in the Age of Scientific Management. And the fundamental axiom of this age is that we ourselves cannot be trusted and that therefore we must be managed and conditioned to accept authority and governed by ‘leaders’.
This identity that is an illusion is absolutely convinced that there is a problem that needs to be fixed, corrected and managed. It believes that it must escape from the intolerable reality of itself. Alan Watts, who introduced Zen to the West, says that our identity consists of these two parts. The first is the illusion and the second is a futile effort to escape oneself which manifests as a muscular clenching which ultimately and practically does nothing for us. When the body-mind is trying, when it’s clenched and desperate, it can’t receive. What it’s not receiving is the signal from life, from the power that is creating life within and around us in every moment and it’s precisely this signal which can inform us what needs to happen next.
Watts tells the story of water crossing land for the first time. The water sends out exploring fingers. In some places, the fingers encounter obstacles or prominences in the land beyond which it cannot go. Observe what the water doesn’t do in that circumstance. What it does not do is throw a ‘hissy’ fit. “Who put this rock in my path?” The water doesn’t get upset and project a story about how this same thing keeps happening and how it can never make any progress with all the rocks in the world. We would say “That’s neurotic water”. The water just stops. And waits, making no effort. When the water stops, it’s as if it’s receiving a signal from the land. Together the land and the water work out the best way for the water to flow. Soon enough, other fingers find a way. We know that the winding, spiraling, turbulent, flow-forms of water generate the conditions for more life in a densely entangled ecosystem. The water and land speak to one another and that evolving conversation generates life.
In exactly the same way, we can learn to generate the conditions for more life in our life. We need to recognise that most of us have never learned how to stop, focus and attend to the phenomenon of life as it’s expressing within and around us in this moment right now. You may remember that you learned to walk by falling over, a lot. The more you fell over, the more you learned. In the same way, you’re learning to fall down from the identity-world and stand up in the real-world, one step at a time, at your own rate and rhythm.
We’ve inherited an illusion that we have the capacity to fix ourselves, each other and the world, that we are solution providers and deliverers of expert systems for fixing faults fast. Yet we seem to somehow create more problems than we are solving. What then can we do? Clearly something must be done. We can learn to act in partnership with life. By listening to life and being guided and informed by the living relating between our inner and outer worlds; the experience of life within and around us, we can create change.
Hence the title of this article: dancing with the quaking mess. According to Alan Watts, a defining characteristic of western identity is the quaking mess – that aspect of us which has the horrors for what life could do to us, if we were to let it out, for all the trauma that we might suffer from wild life. The quaking mess absolutely must escape from itself, from its vulnerability. It seems to choose two principal pathways: the first is the materialist path of accumulating accomplishments and objects such as possessions and relationships, and the second is the spiritual path of accomplishments, practices, techniques and disciplines. In both cases the overriding objective is to conquer itself and to thereby no longer have to feel vulnerable. The very seeking to transform oneself is the quaking mess in full effect.
Most therapeutic and self-help modalities unwittingly collaborate with the quaking mess, supplying it with weapons in the forms of techniques and strategies to get beyond itself. The person then feels ‘empowered’. There’s a sense of achievement and accomplishment in conquering something. But sooner rather than later, another ‘rock’ will appear in the way. Some problem that the techniques don’t seem to work on, and when that happens the quaking mess reappears, often to an accompanying wail of ‘I thought I’d got beyond this!’ or ‘I feel I’m going backwards’ or something of the sort. The person must then resort to another therapy to fix the quaking mess. It’s an endless battle, judging oneself as damaged goods and pursuing the manufacturer’s warranty. There’s no freedom in this vicious cycle of fear, judgement and retributive action. Just as prisons don’t fix social problems, trying to control yourself, trying to defend against yourself just doesn’t seem to be sustainable.
We need to learn how to listen to what’s going on inside of us. We need to make time for this. We need to stop the war against ourselves. Stop fighting, stop defending and, when we do, even for just one moment, something happens, something wonderful. We stop trying to fix the quaking mess. As we learn to let go into our vulnerability we might just happen upon our authentic invulnerability. We learn to dance with the quaking mess instead of trying to kill it, and life starts moving again – the fingers of water exploring the land. What needs to happen will happen. We are part of that happening. Life is happening through us. Consciously and unconsciously we are speaking our relationship with life; in the tone and depth of our voices, in the brightness of our eyes, in the natural expression of our faces, in the authentic posture of our bodies and perhaps most significantly in our sense of fascination with life in this moment now.
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