Someone said to me the other day, you don’t have a typical approach to ideology. You seem to contradict yourself: on the one hand, you are egalitarian; on the other, you’re an elitist, in the sense that you think that you need a certain amount of education to appreciate art or asthetics. On the one hand, you’re into self responsibility, total responsibility for your actions, on the other, you think there needs to be strong legislation to control, for example, the impact of big business and how much power they have over the environment, or trade. Greed and fear, they say, are the two forces that drive the market. So yes, I do think that some strong laws are required to rein them in. Like chess moves: rules give the game a structure.
If I were to have an ideology (and I do not) it would be anarchy. It is the ultimate system of trust to say that you and I could, given enough self-belief, come to arrangments between ourselves that would allow us to live at peace together. Ultimately, this is the acknowledgment that ownership is a hangover from the original agricultural revolution, that we are not as connected to or identified by the stuff we own or the houses we live in as we would like to think, the attachment to things drops away. We use what we need. It is effortful surrender to make this disconnect but it is the way of peace. However, it is easily manipulated and fear slips into the cracks: how can I give it all away? What will there be for me to live on? And like any transaction that looks like a power exchange demanding no reciprocity, there is a serious risk that the other will default. One buddhist memorably advised, love everyone, but keep a hand on your wallet.
The truth is, I think contradiction is inherent in ideology. Only by letting go of ideologies can we find a way of being that avoids contradiction. Yet this needn’t be nihilistic or a resort back to ego. It is the Zen trick of watching as dualism and non-dualism dance, like light on water, so that at one minute there appear to be opposites, and at another, the pool has stilled so that everything meets. The illusion pulls us into tension between who or what is doing and who is watching. Between some idealistic notion we have of how things ought to be (which, because it is always elsewhere, is the source of greed and fear) and the stuff we’re actually dealing with. The motivation to react now, urgently, is powered by the need to survive. But if this is fuelled by numberless incidents in the past that echo through us as we react to this, NOW, we’re chained, when ideologies chain us to the idea of some better THEN.
Instead, we can bring to awareness a sense that really we are just emergently conscious of going through the process of living. To use Rawls’ brilliant phrase slightly out of context, we can develop a ‘reflective equilibrium’ about what is going on, watching the foreground, becoming aware of the multiple channels down which our reactions most easily run their course, feeling the depth of emotions that flood and threaten to overwhelm, the dark shadows, the aching pain. And we can practice letting space develop so that we are observers, knowing that the process of observation itself emerges from the whole system of energetic exchange and cyclical meandering of matter through and within and of us. We are simply processes unfolding according to laws and circumstances that are completely beyond any kind of agency. But none of this need leave us cold. Quite the opposite.
In a sense, the very act of reflecting on the chains of cause and effect that apparently dictate vast swathes of activity allow the emergent features of that activity – including consciousness and the more complex, conscious or semi-conscious driven activities like how we conduct our relationships with one another and the non-human world around us – to be considered in a way that creates the possibility of alternative sets of feedback. We can simply watch ourselves as driven by various motivations, or we can note that the act of watching opens up the possibility of a small set of alternative motivations or possible actions. This, in Zen terms, is release from suffering, or from the chain of karmic cause and effect. In non-dualistic terms, we cannot be passive spectators any more than we can be mini homunculi. Both are dualistic. So there has to be another way of seeing it. One of the greatest fallacies is to consider that materialism implies mechanistic activity. Natural processes, including biological processes, are not mechanical. There is not one fit for each feature. Instead, they are processes and systems with much more fluid possibilities for interaction that are not dictated by any predesignated, mechanical arrangement.
Watching it all unfold, holding the emergent consciousness in compassionate but impartial embrace within itself, we create layers of reflective awareness that begin to show us all kinds of different possibilities for relating. It is like polishing mirrors, only there are no mirrors. There are only energetic activities, feeding back to one another, creating great castles of thought in the air and then falling away and leaving the delicate miasma of emergent consciousness temporarily aware of itself in all its fragility. Tremendous compassion can come from this. This emergence is something that is, to a degree, a shared experience – what is true for me is also true, simply by the process that you are, for you. And far beyond. I am not ‘I’. You are not ‘You’. These are just arbitrary names for interchanging, interacting, dynamic relationships. This is the realisation that our held patterns, our grooved channels, our clinging reactions, our determination to outline the boundary of what ‘you’ are into an alien ‘other’ attach us as tightly as glue to suffering. It is the motivation, therefore, to release those patterns by creating reflective space around them.
There are plenty of other contradictions in my life for people to point at: polyamory versus marriage. Atheism versus yoga. They dissolve in the light of this pragmatic determination to detatch from expectations. It may even mean that people like me are more difficult to control. Certainly there is no political party I could hold affiliation with (although, in contradiction, I am a member of the Greens – and yet I hold no sense of affinity with them. It was purely a pragmatic decision to boost numbers).
Two days during which we saw the sun and no photos to prove it. Ah well. A new phone, so I’ll test the camera out tomorrow morning and post a pic then. In the meantime, the above is an old one of the waves.