Archive for the 'consensus reality' Category

Stories we tell

December 25, 2013

I was talking to Gita about how sometimes recently I become so aware that something that occurs is just what happens when some energy happens to manifest in a certain way, like what happens when the wind meets a flag or a sail and we see the flag wave or the sail billow.  It’s just stuff that happens, the tail wagging on the dog that we happen to be able to perceive far more easily than we are able to perceive the rest of the dog.

Because so often we instead accord these tail-waggings (greater) significance.  We put them into narratives.  Illness occurred in this person because they ate the wrong foods (did the wrong thing), that person met their soul mate because they networked appropriately (did the right thing), this person found a treasure in their attic because they were industrious (were deserving), that person lost their business because they were not industrious (were not deserving).

This isn’t the “you didn’t build that” issue, it’s the “things happens as the result of long and complicated processes most of which we are not aware of.”

Some of us accord even more significance to things.  We see patterns, we see synchronicity, we see metaphor.  I got clobbered in a class once when I tried, with my best technique I had learned elsewhere, to analyze what the monsters in Cavafy’s poem about Odysseus might represent.  Different styles of literary interpretation or criticism use different techniques or assumptions — I think we accept that.  When we apply different techniques to the interpretation of life events, we sometimes get clobbered, too.  Exhibit A is the  label “conspiracy theorists.”  Some secular rationalists clobber people with religious faith, and vice versa.

But what I’ve observed is this.  Our accepted way of combining events into stories is just that, an accepted way of combining events in stories.  To see this, a person has to view what goes on in this world from “outside” of it.  If people do this in some ways, they fall into distress and dysfunction and we have mental illness.  If people do this in other ways, we have witnessing and detachment — which some people also consider pathological.  But once you go there, you can observe that consensus reality is just a group choice, it isn’t necessary or compelled by anything.  You just have to make sure you can toggle back and forth between consensus reality and witnessing it from without, if you want to be able to continue to navigate in society.

Once a person “bursts the bubble” of consensus reality, then they can see that “stuff happens” not in a fatalistic way, but in an observational way; it is that which happens.  It is that which happens that we are adapted to seeing.  Our attempts to make stories out of what happens that we see is more the aberration, more the foreign intrusion, than the occurrence of something that looks like an outlier, that doesn’t quite fit with our storytelling assumptions.

Maybe a person can get to the point of having a perch from which to perceive the world from the outside without first seeing the world through more intensive patterning.  But it is certainly one way to do it.  And once a person does it, then they can see that not just the intensive patterns are an artifact of perception, but that the more widely accepted patterns of most people are, too.  And then a person can process what happens, as simply what happens.  Gita called that “beginner’s mind.”

I sometimes say that I go to Gita when I need to hear what I don’t want to hear.  This time I could see the category is really “what I need an outsider to observe and relay back to me.”

Sometimes Gita  clarifies for me the name for a concept in a different way.  For example, I was using “unisex” where “androgynous” was the more accurate label for what I was referencing, and she corrected me.  We humans do pick one another’s nits, they just aren’t always material nits.

What I personally got out of what Gita observed back to me is not actually the point of this post, but I will end with it anyway.  For me, what she did was to tell me, in effect, that I had arrived on the outskirts of where I was headed, namely my beginnings but with an “I” aware or conscious in a way that I hadn’t had before.

Intentional or unintentional

October 20, 2013

I don’t like dualism, but here I am going to contrast intentional mirroring with unintentional mirroring, an issue that’s been on my mind for a long time.

The mirroring that has power occurs not through behavior we engage in with the intention of mirroring.  Effective mirroring takes place at a deeper level, the level revealed when we manage to pull away our personal concerns, desires, and fears — that other strand is what produces the mirroring effect, it is not something we consciously craft.

When someone mirrors another in this way, they may not be aware of it.

Just as it is difficult to distinguish the difference between badly-intended behavior and stupid behavior, it is difficult to tell when a person is conscious of what is going on in their actions, including writing, and when they are unaware of what they are doing (“It’s just a song,” for example).  People may consciously write versions of their friends and relatives into their novels, but people may also write pieces of other, real people into their books, too, whether they are aware of it or not.  Maybe it happens when they think they are communing with a muse, I don’t know.

Contrived mirroring (self-conscious acts of trying to mirror someone’s behavior or attitude back to them) doesn’t have the same impact, I don’t think, as mirroring done through a deeper level of the person.  Contrived mirroring may be a technique to modify behavior, it may be a way of calling attention to itself, kind of like a friendly wave or a not- so- friendly gesture — some sort of indication of response — but I don’t see it having a very significant function in the great scheme of things.

Here’s, for me, at least, the rub:  how do you talk about the part of this that occurs unwittingly, with people who don’t “believe in it?”

One participant in the interaction cannot even tell you “where it hurts,” what is going wrong, the other claims they are not doing anything to impact the other person negatively.

People disconnected from their inner selves may actually not be aware of what they are doing, other people may have some degree of knowledge of what they are doing, but employ a defense of “deniability” — they hide behind how socially unacceptable in our culture it is to talk about any of this and claim they ain’t doin’ nothin’.

An abusive pattern can continue over and over again if neither party has a clue what is going on, just as post partum infections spread so easily in hospitals before people realized they needed wash unseen germs off their hands between examining patients.

What I think is true, however, is that we only need one member of the interactive pair to understand what is, wittingly or unwittingly, going on, to end the dysfunctional dynamic.  That person just has to tolerate being regarded as a little daft.

Opportunities or losses?

October 3, 2013

Clearly, both.  A loss is painful, but it is also, often, an opportunity to reach further into ourselves and the divinity within us (or out to the divinity outside us).  It can be the proverbial broken eggs needed to make an omelette, a spiritual omelette.

(These are my thoughts after reading today’s Daily Meditation from Richard Rohr.)

I think one of the reasons this reaching is done within the structure of an organized religion is that, without that context, we are left as individuals to counter other people’s negative interpretations of us and our lives when we develop a spiritual approach to our temporal lives and make progress in our spiritual lives.  Not only can that negative feedback be painful in itself, it can also have a negative impact on our ability to maintain our new perspective and continue to enjoy its gifts.  The advantage to doing it as an individual, however, may be that we can expand even secular people’s sense of consensus reality — if they don’t write us off as daft, or worse, first.

The other thing I would add in addition to the traps of self-pity and resentment is the trap of feeling like a victim and entering the cul-de-sac of feeling more virtuous than others, of lording it over perceived perpetrators.  I think that, too, cuts us off from ourselves, God, and others, and is an impediment to our own progress.

What we agree is reality

April 8, 2012

There was a piece about “superstition” in the NYTimes, ostensibly defending it.  On the one hand, this is an improvement over Lucretius, who I think is against it (I once got tripped up trying to use a passage from his De Rerum Natura as a Latin invocation I was asked to do, because the lines subsequent to what I was planning to read (something about “Up with the intellect”) said something like “Down with religio,” and while religio meant something like superstition, the dean at the university was taking no chances, and we settled on some nice pastoral Virgil for me to read instead).  I was thinking, though, as I read this tepid support for some ways of interpreting the world (not all of which I subscribe to, by any stretch), that “When correctly viewed” (that’s from a Tom Lehrer lyric: “When correctly viewed, Everything is lewd”), most of what we accept without much thought as adults as being “real” is a product of convention, vast and deep and over many centuries, but convention still — it is our consensus reality, and viewed from afar, most of it can look as idiosyncratic as what many people in our current culture categorize as superstition.

Conflicting narratives and taxes

February 7, 2012

I’ve been working on taxes, and in two very different situations I’ve noticed how there can be multiple ways of describing the same thing — the basis of a bond or the tuition paid during a calendar year.  It’s about bookkeeping, in this context, but it gets me wondering whether bookkeeping is analogous to something we do more generally.  Maybe consensus reality is kind of like all of us subscribing to the same method of bookkeeping.

Telling stories

December 11, 2011

I have spent a lot of time working on unraveling somebody’s stories, including how they construct narratives in order to process the world.  That’s what we do, I think, in this world, take pieces of stuff and form larger pictures.  If we try to make them cohere in a certain way, including with cause and effect, it’s more like our every-day narratives of our lives.  If it’s more like juxtaposed pieces placed near one another, sometimes overlapping, etc., it’s more like what we call collage, a type of art, to our way of thinking.

There is a tendency to use the narrative and our models of narratives more generally to guide our (future) behavior:  where does this storyline seem to be going and how can I influence it? is what seems to be the process many people use.   That stopped working for me a long time ago, and at some point between being practical about it (this just isn’t working) and willingness (although perhaps that willingness was induced through coercion or deceit) to try something else instead, I think I stopped desiring it to.

Which, on the one hand, has led to some interesting experiences, but, on the other hand, is kind of difficult to explain to other people, especially when people say, “Well, now that you have developed these skills, why don’t you apply them in this, that, or the other particular way?”

About those interesting experiences: here’s an example from last week.  I kind of heard at the previous week’s Friday night services that there would be a potluck supper after services the following week.  Maybe because they said that bringing food was voluntary, I forgot all about it.  Thursday night Jordan and I went food shopping, and I happened to buy the makings for coleslaw, which I don’t usually do.  The next day, late in the morning I find myself putting it together, and, even more unusual, throwing in things like cut up apples, walnut pieces, and dried cranberries.  I think I am being a good hausfrau and using up stuff in the cupboard and fridge.  A little later I found myself looking at an email from the congregation, with a view to forwarding it to someone else, and behold, it mentions the potluck (to welcome the LGBTQ community) and I start thinking, “I really should bring something, what should I do?” And then I realize I can bring the coleslaw.

So, it’s kind of nice to have something other than my intellectually accessible memory keeping track of what I need to do, and I’ve gotten more of this support since I got caught up in spiritual pursuits.  But being plugged in doesn’t seem to be something that I can then decide to use for my own purposes, or anyone else’s, just because it looks like it would be neat to couple this sort of support with some particular human agenda or other.  It seems to allow me to see what goes on in my life as pieces of collage, as well as a story unfolding in a particular direction.  But that collage perspective is even less about pointing me towards a particular goal.  In the past, I have figured out what some chapter in my life seems to have been about, only after the fact, in retrospect.  Maybe here, too, I will need to have started doing before I will understand what it is and why.

Feet of clay

December 5, 2011

This phrase is usually meant to express flaws in a hero and disappointment in the observer.  But it occurs to me that if a person is like the girl (?) in the song “Little Wing,” having feet of clay can be seen as a beneficial thing, something that keeps this person anchored to the ground and within consensus reality.

I’ve been grappling for years with what is meant by the notion “losing one’s legs,” and maybe it has to do with, very simply, losing the ability to come back down to earth after spiritual adventures.

But what I think may be an even more difficult goal may be having those spiritual adventures and coming back down to earth but with a slightly different version of reality and helping to spread that slightly different sense of our world.

What to tweak

November 28, 2011

I read the recent article in The New York Times about how some people with diagnosed mental illness deal with both it and living in the world.  It left me wondering whether there are other points of intervention at which to tweak our understanding of what people experience in that region that is not consensual reality.

Like those spoiler alerts or graphic images alerts, here’s my “I may be about to say something others will find offensive” alert.  So saying I know doesn’t make what I will say less offensive, but it’s a flag for me to be as careful as I can and a flag for others to learn some context for my remarks.  Because what I’m trying to do is to figure out places in our societal understandings where we might think about revision in order to achieve more helpful outcomes down the road of consequences — I have no need to evaluate other people’s belief systems in order to pass judgment on them, I just wonder whether some of our current beliefs lead to trouble further down the road, for example, to people stuck in distress.  And I don’t think what I’m about to write explains everything, all delusion or mental illness or spiritual regression — I mean it as a possible piece of the puzzle.

So, apparently a common delusion is that one is Jesus or God, or has met Jesus or God.  Suppose we redefine Jesus and God.  Suppose both can be thought of as stages the self goes through, that they are more general, in a sense, than one being or a defined divinity.  If we possess them within us as aspects of our selves, then encountering them is less of a thing that must be explained away (with psychology, for example).  Even thinking that someone else we meet is “Jesus” or “God” can merely indicate that we are ready to recognize in ourselves and in others a level of spiritual maturity and identification with a more expansive state of being than we usually spend time with.  It’s not, then, that we have met a particular other being who is unlikely to be met in this way, but rather that some boundary within us has become permeable enough that we have access to aspects of our own souls that are usually walled off from us in this world.  But in western culture, I think we may have lost our vocabulary for this phenomenon — both the nomenclature and the concept, too.  We renamed and re-characterized these issues as discrete entities who cannot be part of us easily within our accepted system, so when we try to pass through this spiritual stage, we get stuck.  We say something like, “This can’t be right.  I can’t be Jesus.  That person I met can’t be Jesus.”  And so the whole experience gets pathologized as mental illness for want of a known better alternative.  Once we let go of thinking of “Jesus” as a particular being and God as a character, however extensive, and once we let go of the uniqueness part of our experience (suppose we assume that everyone may go through such a stage), then we can ride out the belief and move on to a new understanding, into a new phase.  I suspect that people end up in this somewhat tricky stage when they lose their boundaries without being able to quiet their ego and its fears and desires, or even being aware that their ego is their ego and their soul is their soul, before their boundaries become so permeable.

I should probably add that it is my impression that these stages of integrating the “Jesus” or “God” in oneself into one’s sense of self are recognized parts of spiritual development in other religions.

Relaxing into intuition?

November 7, 2011

This is actually about the interpretation of “thawing out,” again.  I have been turning over my interlocutor’s interpretation of this stumbling around as reflecting decreased hypervigilance.  I would have tended to see it as the result of navigating with what some people call “intuition,” what I think of as throwing the task (here, of navigation) onto the universe.

But it doesn’t have to be a matter of “either/or,” the two “answers” can be different aspects of the same phenomenon.  Maybe when we relax our coping mechanisms that we developed in response to difficulty but that also had the effect of cutting us off from other parts of ourselves, we regain our broader spectrum of ways of perceiving.

Then I’m left with wondering whether this stumbling is apt to improve, as N. seems to think it will.  My take on that is that it will as consensus reality shifts.  Because that’s what I really think this has been about, revamping our consensus reality to conform better to its original orientation and correcting for a distortion that had crept in and thrown off what had been a self-sustaining dynamic.

So my guess is that it will feel to me, and others, like stumbling around for some time to come, but that eventually a new normal will take hold, and consensus reality and intuition will become better aligned with each other, and we’ll all be more comfortable in time to come.  In the meantime, I do get by, with the kindness of strangers.