How may we see past our confusion
I’m coming to realize there’s something that must puzzle anyone coming to these essays unable to decipher what’s being proposed. We expect a certain trajectory. An ideological position to be established and pieces written to support or further a position. An argument is made for or against. Disagreement is taken as support for the opposition. We imagine that clarity has been achieved when a plan has been carefully laid out and we are convinced by its rationale to sign-on.
That’s not what any of these essays are about.
Opposition and reflexive binary thinking are what have gotten us into this mess. It’s difficult not to read a critique of anything at all as a call to do its opposite. What other choice could there be? If we criticize a Democrat we must be a Republican. If we find fault with Capitalism we must be communist….
Conditioning is not constant. Not monolithic. It changes, and it changes rapidly in times of strife. It’s too simplistic to think of change as something bad, trying to find a way to do avoid it. The opposite tack is equally foolish. Change for the sake of change, our much vaunted cult of Innovation for example, is no better. Our conditioning controls us. If we are unaware of how it works — and even when we are aware to some extent, we can only achieve a partial understanding, leaving great swathes of our total conditioning unexamined and therefore firmly in control. Add to this that our conditioning is constantly changing as a result of all of the stresses hitting us at all levels from what is conscious to the deepest levels of our unconscious.
Our conditioning does not operate within a vacuum. It is affected and effects the conditioning of those around us. The aggregate is like a rough, confused sea lacking any predictable wave-pattern, hitting us with random peaks and troughs following neither rhyme nor reason. We call this chaos, although it would be more accurate to say we are confronted by an order we cannot identify.
This presents us with an entry. A way to relate to our ever-changing conditioning. It matters whether we accept the notion of chaos and abandon ourselves to fear of what cannot be understood; or whether, we find a way to accept that what strikes us as a cacophony is just a level of order beyond our understanding.
To be clear, this order might prove to resist any approach to understanding it. It most likely will remain occult, hidden from our capacities to perceive its patterns, its forms. Ask Horatio…. But even when this is the case, our relationship to violent circumstances is different than it would be if we simply close ourselves off and surrender to a fear of chaos.
We react to chaos when we find a situation impossible to plan for. At this point we give-up. We conclude that if we cannot plan then we cannot act effectively. We give-up. We find ourselves trapped in a reactive stance. All we can do is suffer. Our suffering results from focusing on our fears and letting our reactions wash over us without proprioception. The world happens to us and, “It makes us feel bad.”
This is how the trap of conditioning captures us. Unrealized conditioning leads us to expect that if we cannot plan and reason our way out of a situation then we must wallow in reaction, “It’s not my fault! They made me do it!” We act-out roles in a drama set in motion and perpetuated by our collective conditioning and our collective blindness to any possibility of proprioception, any possibility of finding a creative response.
In our bewilderingly perplexing conditioned state we assume that an ideal rationality is the only reasonable response and therefore condemn ourselves to reacting in the most irrational manner possible. This is an example of the crossed-controls problem. Our situation goes from precarious to suicidal as our responses are fed the wrong way through. Wanting to go up we force an input that sends us crashing down. Thinking we’re saving ourselves we bring about the fulfillment of our greatest fears.
Conditioning is a fossilization of a series of heuristic guides. In the past we have found that some rule-of-thumb worked, or at least, it seemed to have brought about a welcome outcome. It becomes lodged in our habitual tool-kit. Whether it actually helped, or just seemed to — true cause & effect is never as easy to decipher as we’d like to imagine — once a habit has become ingrained — we lose sight of it. We fall into a stereotypical reaction without being aware of it at all. We call this “human nature” or “just me….”
When cognitive dissonance opens a yawning chasm beneath our feet and we can no longer ignore that our methods are not working we tend to double-down. We fear that the collapse of a role we’ve fallen into — or actively adopted – is a collapse of the self itself. We fear this more than death. Ask anyone who’s put themselves into danger in the defense an ideal.
There is a salient diagnostic that will help us recognize a cross-control situation: When we are certain, against any and all evidence, that we know what to do. When we think we know how to fight a peril. When we refuse to see that our inputs have only worsened a situation. When we refuse to stop. Caught-up in a compelling sense of urgency fueling our desire to force our will upon a situation. We continue in error strenuously blocking any vital impulse that might warn us we’re only making things worse. We insist. We can’t let doubt intrude, “I’ve got to keep going!”
This is why I keep returning to seemingly fussy, procedural questions surrounding perception and awareness instead of, “Getting down to it!”
We want to act. The more precarious the situation the greater the urgency. This is the crux of our trap.
Suspending urgency is not the same as denying it, repressing it, or simply, “Going with the flow, man!” Suspending urgency is the necessary precondition to — not necessarily avoiding danger, but certainly, to avoiding that we guarantee the worst possible outcome as we cross-control ourselves into self-inflicted disaster.
What happens if we recognize that we are dealing with levels of order we do not understand, perhaps cannot ever understand, instead of falling into the trap of surrendering to reaction against a perceived chaos?
An array of alternate options comes into view. Our cry of “It’s chaos!” is a surrender to an internalized chaotic state that mirrors our view and projects it onto the world. Suspending reaction allows other pathways for insight and action to present themselves. We have deep instincts capable of recognizing and responding to subtle clues. We cannot access these while locked in rigid panic, stuttering through repeated attempts at establishing willful control.
Right-action falls to hand. We act within relation to all that surrounds us. Not out of willfulness, planning, a miss-placed belief in simplistic notions of cause & effect. We participate in the moment and, as a result, something develops. It grows creatively out of the moment, leading us to the next moment, and the next.
While this is most vibrantly apparent in times of clear physical danger. In an “actual emergency” we discover ourselves responding instinctively. This can be equally true any time when we engage with what-is, living instead of acting-out a stereotypical role. This realization dissolves our fear of losing control, our fear of failing to carry out a role we have equated with our very being. It becomes possible to disillusion ourselves of this fantasy of control.
Our fear of loss of control stems from a confusion. Practicing proprioception — put most simply, self-awareness — we discover that we are not tied to roles or projections of an illusory independent Ego-self. This freedom allows us to suspend our reactions and engage what needs to be done without becoming embroiled in dramas stemming from and leading us into further suffering. Our fears of losing control dissolve as we see that every piece of the statement we attempted to defend is false:
There is no self in the sense we imagine.
This non-existent self has no possibility of controlling anything.
Its attempts to impose its will upon events will always backfire, a matter of crossed-controls.
We fear to admit to futility. We refuse to let go of our conditioned reactions. When we no longer recoil from any evidence that what we’ve been doing is at best futile and, most likely, violently counter-productive; we can begin to break out of our trap.
Conditioning controls us when we fail to allow for its existence. The only way we can perceive its seemingly chaotic existence is to open ourselves to a realization that our sense of chaos is a reaction to an order we cannot comprehend.
Once we have internalized these insights from our own inquiries and experiences we see that action does not have to be tied to an ideological position. This does not make it irrational or lacking in purpose or meaning. It is not a case then of, “Anything goes!”
We find a conjunction between humility and efficacy. Humility being an appreciation that we cannot control outcomes. That we can never clearly know what is “really happening” or that any set of prescribed actions will improve a situation. Only then do we discover how we may approach action in a way that brings us into relation with what is going on — even when we cannot know what this is! We find what can be done, what is not futile and counterproductive.
At first blush, and even after prolonged meditation, this seems to leave us very little room to maneuver. What is perhaps even harder to swallow is that what has happened is simply a loss of illusions. Wielding our primitive linear sense of cause & effect we blunder about doing damage while fantasizing that we are slaying dragons! The first step to finding solid ground is to lose this deeply ingrained habit of assumption.
This is a good time to laugh! To have a good laugh. It will help us realize how much lighter our load has become when we give up on attempting the impossible. Especially as we realize that what we have been doing under this grand justification has only made matters worse. Much worse.
There’s an old term for this kind of thing. It was once known as maturity…. We’ve heard the call before, “Oh! Grow up!” The trick, on us all, has been that this too has for so long been misunderstood. Taken to mean that we should buckle down and dive deeper into the ruts of linearity and binary thought. Once we find the knack for it we start to see this sort of thing everywhere. The way shadow-projection leads us to turn things on their heads.
Maybe this will help…. It’s a place to start….