Dancing in the Tao

The most crucial conversation


Thank you, Don, for starting this conversation here. It’s perhaps the most crucial conversation we need to be having, and it’s fraught with challenges from the beginning: Nearly no one is looking in ‘the right place’ for the source of our collective problems, and the few that are have enormous difficulty communicating about what they’re learning.

Poking around the internet last night I was excited to learn that you and your co-author shared some core insights from the work of Julian Jaynes and Iain McGilchrist. I know only one other person who has found essential breadcrumbs in these works, and he recently wrote:

“There is no machine that will solve any problem we presently face. Every problem we face is invented by our catastrophically primitive relationship with representational cognition, language, knowledge, and technology. Making more technology will, in every case, explicitly invent new domains of repercussion (most of them purposefully invisible to us). ‘Free energy’ would wipe out humanity and life in Earth in an unimaginably short time.” – Darin Stephenson. More here, and here:

Perhaps the greatest challenge in this moment is how to alert fellow humans to the true nature of the problem. We have to use the traps (language, representational cognition, knowledge and technology) to point to the traps themselves, and it gets endlessly frustrating as we, even those of us with some awareness, get caught in the limitations of the trap(s) again and again. Especially in written text. Witness your exchange with Pluto yesterday: Pluto was looking to engage with and enlarge on your post; but the pitfalls of language, especially when stripped of the myriad nonverbal interpersonal cues that can help us in person, had you both signing off on the conversation in (apparent) frustration.

Your exchange with Pluto also highlights another key to the challenge: The aspect of our consciousness that holds power through language actively thwarts any effort to depose it — both within ourselves and between us. It inserts itself divisively, fomenting confusion and distrust. It doesn’t trust relationship, or life, or the unknown, and actively works against our best interests, again, both within ourselves and between us. We are all prey to this cognitive ‘predator,’ and it hides itself in plain sight: in the common ways we think and speak.

The Powers That Be, to vastly oversimplify, are those who are most in alignment with this predator both within themselves and between each other. Not consciously–consciously they think they are heroes or at least ‘smarter than the rest of us’–but those of us who can see clearly that the emperor has no clothes can see them for the sociopathic monsters they’ve become. What we haven’t been able to see, identify, sort out and respond to yet, is how the game (at least in the short term) works for them and against Life. Here’s the rub: Most of our blindness arises from our under-conscious awareness that somehow we are colluding with them.


Yep. That’s right. Just outside the range of our awareness, we know we are complicit — but the Aspect of our Consciousness That Will Not Be Deposed keeps hiding our complicity from ourselves, projecting it ever outward in cycles of blame and outrage that keep us unaware, and therefore helpless and vulnerable. Yes, I contradict myself: One of the central paradoxes of this mess is that we are ALL both victim and perpetrator. As Solzhenitsyn wrote: “The line between good and evil goes through every human heart…” Our failure to recognize our complicity has us participating actively in, and even celebrating, our own demise.

If we are to survive, if we are to make the great cultural leap required to turn the tide of current events–and IT IS YET POSSIBLE TO DO THIS!–then we must begin looking at EVERYTHING with fresh eyes. Ways of seeing and ways of knowing, that we culture together, as living beings in a living world. Of course we need language, representational cognition, knowledge and technology—and we desperately need to learn how to discover their pitfalls and dangers: how to master them so we are not enslaved by them.

For anyone who’s made it this far in this essay and wants to explore more, I urge you to look into Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind and Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. I take large exceptions with Jaynes’ premise and his conclusions (I’ve never argued more with an author in the margins of a book) but his findings, and the arc he draws of the early development of human consciousness are compelling and illustrative. McGilchrist’s work combines “the most comprehensive, and lucid, review to date of findings from research on differences in consciousness, motives and emotions in the two cerebral hemispheres” with a period-by-period review of the history of Western civilization, in which he demonstrates through discussions of art, religion, politics and philosophy, the growing power of the part of our consciousness that refuses to be deposed. (apologies for repeating this phrase, but I grew immediately fond of it after I first wrote it : )

To these books I would add Peter Kingsley’s work, beginning with A Story Waiting to Pierce You. Kingsley focuses on the very roots of Western civ. In 88 dense and densely-footnoted pages, he dives deep and brings back assorted astonishing treasures (about Pythagoras, and Ghengis Khan, and the Dalai Lama, and…) that, when played with and turned over in one’s imagination, can feel like throwing cages of ages of received wisdom off one’s mind. Thrillingly liberating.

A final recommendation, but not at all the least, would be Paul Levy’s work. He approaches all of this from a cultural and intra-/interpersonal perspective. Throughout history and across cultures, there has been an awareness of (and methods developed for managing) this potentially lethal aspect of human consciousness. The Cree people called it Wetiko, and by that name it has begun to enter more into popular consciousness. There have been many other names: For the Gnostics: Archons; Kabbalists: Kelipots; Algonquian: Wendigo; Hawaiians: e’epa; Carl Jung: Complexes, and on and on. The Sufi’s had a practice for dispelling the effects of this shadow: Ta’wil. Tragically, other than Carl (and few but his closest had an idea of what he was even pointing to) this feature of consciousness has done a demonically great job of hiding itself in Western thought and (anti-)culture.

I know this is all very dense and may seem literally incredible, but on a personal note: As I’ve explored all of the above and more over the last seven+ years, this wondrous and terrifying place we inhabit has started to FINALLY make sense intellectually, emotionally, scientifically (in the most general sense of that word) and spiritually (also in the most general sense of that word). It is a most excellent theoretical framework, because it provides inclusive contexts for what we see and experience, while allowing for the generation of endless hypotheses for us to explore together. No dogma. Really, the end to all forms of dogma. And the beginning of intelligent play.

If we humans can manage this, if we make the great cultural leap we need to make, then perhaps for the first time since we ‘discovered’ language and the representational cognition it gives rise to, we can discover what it really means to be humans: learning how to be human together, and how to care for this beautiful planet.


Growing Peace


We all believe and act like we have more important things to do.

We tell ourselves that if a peaceful world is even possible, which we doubt, then it’s the responsibility of government and leaders to bring about such peace.  But, as my sons like to say, that’s not how anything works.

Each and every one of us has a contribution to make toward the healing of our world. Everyone. The horror that is playing out on the world stage is a direct consequence of us refusing to step up and play our small part. Each and every one of us is special and unique. Our perspectives, our voices, our efforts, the healing of our individual histories are all required in order to evolve into true human beings, together.

It is easy to nitpick and fault find. Easy to complain about all the ways we’re getting it wrong and despair about the future. Easy to blame the other people. But it’s not so much harder to find the things that we’re doing right, small though they may seem, and build on them.

It doesn’t actually take more effort to share the news we find of positive steps that are being taken in our communities and to step with them.

I’m not advocating for a chorus of Pollyannas. We need our truth tellers crying out about the horrors and injustices and inequalities we need to address. But rather than simply forwarding on their cries, we each need to listen and to hear. We need to imagine even a small gesture that could change our present reality for the better, and then identify steps that can be taken toward that gesture. We need to reach out to one another and to the leaders of our communities and our nations and insist on the small but meaningful step in the right direction. Then we implement, together, what we have imagined. Rinse. Repeat.

Imagine humanity as an arrow arcing through time toward an ever more perfect world. Imagine more and more people focusing their sights on peace, justice, equality and then enacting this aim in their lives. Imagine small changes growing into larger ones, until even the skeptics and cynics could see the impossibilities transform before their eyes.

As our charming Mr. Einstein once said: “Imagination is everything. It’s the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Imagine a better world. Pray, asking for help. Then Act.

We can do this. My heart sings with the knowledge that we can do this.


Lowering our masks










Some thoughts on David’s post over at Raptitude:

We are 99% unknown to ourselves beneath that mask.

Who we know as ourselves is made up of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Where do we get these stories? We collect them from a very small sample of our experiences, often giving the greatest weight to the ones that were traumatic, the ones that hurt. They left the deepest impressions.

To cover the vulnerability we feel in the wake of these stories, we create masks. We grow up thinking there will come a time when we can take them off, but then we somehow simply merge with everyone else in believing life is some kind of perverse masquerade where everyone’s stuck in ill-fitting costumes, ill fitting masks. Forever.

Beneath our masks we keep hurting, and in our pain we hurt one another. Trauma begets trauma.

And make no mistake, we’re all multiply traumatized now. Conscious of it or not, the every-kind-of-pain humans are inflicting on one another around the world at this moment has its impact on every one us, on our hearts, on our minds, on our hopes, our dreams.

When we’re playing off each other’s masks, we exist in a fictional universe, everyone pretending to be something they’re not. We’re perpetually stuck ‘responding’ from mask to mask. Any claim about reality, about who humans are or what we’re capable of is all based on fictions. We have absolutely no idea who we would be if we all really showed up. We have no earthly idea of what our planet could be like.

We’re not condemned to this, though, it’s just what we’re agreeing to do right now. In actuality, our potentials for true response-ability exceed our wildest imaginings.

What we need to be able to see, together, is exactly what David is pointing at: This is our shared story, and we can help one another. When we begin to lower our masks with each other, revealing our mutual vulnerability, the whole world changes. In an instant. Because the 99% of ourselves that we’re not aware of contains vast potentials for intelligence and responsiveness that we can’t activate by ourselves. We need to play together! Authentically. Truthfully. Intimately.

This is the growth edge for us humans, and there is a growing number of us ready to risk being traumatized again, to trust enough to step out. We can do this.

How we experience ourselves in any moment depends on the uncountable influences and connectivities of that unique moment, only the tiniest sliver of which we have any awareness at all. In a very real and practical sense, we arise in response to each unique moment.

When we drop our masks at last (and this becomes more contagious as it rolls on!) the fictions fall away. We begin in each unique moment to actually respond to real, actual people in our real, actual world with and for each other, and for this incredible living mystery we call the universe.

O, and I’m not suggesting everybody suddenly gets vulnerable with everybody: we just begin by deepening our closest relationships, and then small groups of deeper relation grow naturally.

We’ll wonder what took us so long.

Following Desire


Yesterday, I felt strong and clear. Last night, another battering: waves of thought and feeling swept away both strength and clarity. Today I’m once again clear, but worn and weak.

I’m out on a storming ocean in a small vessel. One moment, a great wall of water rises up, encircling me, closing in, and that’s reality: My imminent demise. Then, suddenly, lifted on a swell, I see to the horizon in every direction; reality now vast and chartable, if only apparently calm in the distance. My best practice, my only practice at these stormy moments, is to keep myself in the boat, my hand on the tiller. After a lifetime of going wherever the current took me (asking no more of life, or of myself, than whatever showed up), I have a direction at last. It may prove a figment of my imagination, but it’s a destination nonetheless – and it’s about time I tried to get somewhere.

I am following my heart’s desire. For better or for worse, I’m all in. I’m laughing as I write this, because there are no guarantees. In fact, if you’re laying down money the best odds, by far, are against me.  Yet, I persist. Despite a beguiling kaleidoscope of shifting thoughts and emotions about it all, I have a steady desire; and even though the object of my desire may remain forever out of my grasp, my dogged pursuit is calling forth the best of me, and I’m learning mad skills.

One of the most useful new skills: holding my thoughts and feelings more lightly in my mind. After some time of paying attention, I see how changeable and insubstantial they are, arising and subsiding on their own tides, in response to whatever shows up around me, or perhaps what I ate most recently. I can have back-to-back thoughts that completely oppose one another, cancel each other out; yet both are accompanied by supporting, corresponding emotions that lend to each opposing thought an apparent weight and truth. Which of this shifting phantasmagoria should I follow? Oops, too late. They’re both gone … replaced by a third, fourth, hundred-and-fifth, on and on. A kaleidoscope makes a lousy compass.

AstrolabeDesire is a slightly less faulty compass, both because it arises from a deeper place within us and because it endures the buffeting of thoughts and emotions. Whatever you may think or feel about your desire, it keeps coming back. But desire is an intensely problematic compass. First, as noted, there are no guarantees. Co-opting Lord Krishna’s words to Arjuna: You’re entitled to your desires, but not the fruits of your desires. Desire can focus and motivate us, but it makes no promises. We may never get the job, the person, the house, the dream, the nirvana … and, if you’re going to use desire as a compass, you have to accept this going in, or make your peace with it as quickly as you can. Otherwise, you suffer. Well, and this is the second point: you’re going to suffer anyway. As the Buddha said, The root of suffering is desire. And the greater your desire, the greater the suffering. No doubt. Best, probably, to move right along … if you can. Uncurl the fingers of your heart and release whatever it is you wanted back to Life.

But! But! But! you say. I know. Whatever you may think and feel about your desire, it can be a pesky, persistent thing. Let go though you might, there it is again. Like an adorable, aggravating puppy. So my goal, at present, is to keep the focusing, motivating force of my desire alive and leaping in my heart, while accepting that this is all I am entitled to.

Wish me luck.

Illustration credit