How to be? What to do?

Listening with the heart in the immediacy of music’s presence and its melodious flow [“A Fine Frenzy” & “Sigur Rós” while writing this blog post], every question is an answer as it dances into being and sometimes also into action. Then, “How to be”, or “What to do”, is not a question but a feeling-focus within the living mystery of awareness. Choices are made intuitively without appearing in the mind’s “I” – right and wrong are not considered.

Yet when we reflect on this and try to embed our behavior within our sense-making at large, what is natural to us needs unpacking and unraveling. At least in communication and collaborative meaning-creation. So let’s have a go.

(In the video: Sigur Rós – Glósáli)

Our ethics and mores are those guidelines, the deep symphonic structures as it were, that steer how we are and what we do in our streaming-moment life. Dave Pollard, whom I had an inspiring conversation with the other day, touching on these matters, says, “We do what we must, then we do what is easy and finally what is fun.” I don’t really know if I agree with this sequence as I haven’t been studying it in real life very much, but it seems clear to me that we indeed do what we must, and what we must is most likely determined by our true ethics, the moral that we have – partly in spite of ourselves; which means, well, we do what we must. So really, the ethical powers forcing us to do just that are stronger than our own power of decision, or we’d go for the easy way or for the fun. Most likely.

instictsMaybe what some call instincts are just these powerful ethics… But you don’t think that our instincts are ethical, do you? You would want to reserve ethics for some loftier rules?
Consider this: Ethics is really all about what is right and what is wrong, how to be and what to do. And aren’t instincts just those forces which compel us to do so? Fixed, imprinted action patterns that move us in the right direction? If you believe that instincts are real – which is open to debate afaik – than certainly survival and, consequentially, procreation (which is what instincts are concerned with officially) are right. They, and some luck and whatever else, have helped us to still be around on Mothership Earth.

Ah! You say, “Not every form of survival and certainly not every fashion of procreation is right, and instincts don’t care.” Well, now you force me to disclose that I’m very certain that we’re a bit more free than the theory of instincts allows. I believe that there is some freedom of movement on every level of life; even bacteria moving towards food and away from danger have some degree of freedom in the paths they take… we’ll come back to this later, I think.Right now we’re concerned with human beings, right?

When considering how to be and what to do for you and me, for human beings, it seems our choices and the forces that determine these are based on one of two possible ways to think about what we “must” do and what is right, and consequentially what is wrong. Most of us, even if we don’t do much thinking about this (which I don’t usually), we derive what is really the right thing to do from some transcendent source, a source beyond us – if not divine then similarly lofty, some higher authority. You will see how much you are ‘married’ to this way of thinking when I say that all real ethics emerges from the body, from nature, from what you are as a bodily living, breathing being. And to derive what is right, good, beautiful, true from some transcendent or disembodied source is, frankly, part of the the disaster that is upon us ecologically, economically and also socially. [So now how do you feel, what do you think?]

78_mainWhat we are and what we do is part of a larger context. I’ve been contemplating the folk wisdom “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” In my last blog entry I expanded this to a more specific, “A living whole is exponentially more than the sum of its members.” And since we are members of a larger whole, a society, we should expand it even more to “A living field whole is incomparably more than the sum of its wholes”.

Living wholes determine what is right, good and beautiful, or to use Dave’s terms, what we must, what is easy and what is fun, for all its parts and members. So clearly, our society and the groups we belong to – families, clans, other groups – have very particular “ideas” about that. I put “ideas” in parenthesis here because these are often not obvious or conscious to a family’s or group’s members. They might even deny that they have these ideas – to them, when pointed out, they would be simply part of reality, like the air we breathe. But we can know them as ideas nevertheless, these forces constellating a living field.

A group’s ethics is sensed immediately by all its members. When you deviate you feel uncomfortable and when you go against it you feel very uncomfortable. (Not that we necessarily feel comfortable with what we must do or be, but that is a different. We do what we must if we want to belong for longer, because if we don’t we risk being cast out, which is much more uncomfortable than any discomfort we might presently be experiencing by being who we have to be and doing what we must.) Our conscience is really the a ‘proximo-meter’, the instrument that by the strength of certain feelings tells us the degree of belonging to our group. Conscience, far from being a transcendent or divinely given something, is a finely tuned sense of the super-social animal we are. What, for instance, instantly causes a bad conscience in your family might not even activate in your chosen group of heart-friends…

The result of our historical cultural development so far has, despite everything I’ve so far suggested, led to the situation that transcendent ‘laws’ that tell us what we should do are part and parcel of every groups ethics. These moral rules have usually been created by some greater authority, traditionally by a religious entity through the mouth of its prophets and/or mystics. This can be a deity, several deities or more recently in history also some lofty concepts brought to that group or society by scientists, philosophers or other experts on transcendent content (Jesus, Mother Kali, Immanuel Kant, Ken Wilber, Albert Einstein, to name a few). You know these are transcendent ideas when you can easily get away with paying lip-service; actually often, if you really practice them and put them into real-world behavior you get into trouble and become really uncomfortable as you are pushed towards the perimeter of the group and are threatened to be cast out.

people towerReal ethics are always embodied ethics, they express in how the whole is and what the whole does in everyday life, transcendent ethics are disembodied and lip-served only. Real ethics are practices, transcendent ethics are mostly theories of what is right and true, their real-world consequences are caused by the debates, the struggle, the fights (and sometimes wars) between their adherents as to which is the right theory and doctrine. Surely, some tenets of transcendent ethics are actually embodied by groups and put to (rigorous at times) practice. But that is, I would venture, because it meshes so well with a previous and prior embodied ethics in the first place.

It seems to me that any whole’s prime directive of its real ethics is connected with its existence and duration, with its sustainability to use a modern word. You’ll only call this egotism if you believe in the economic version of Darwinism; you know, the one that relates all evolution-value to ownership (my genes, my turf), to separate being, to competition for scarce resources and what derives from that. But if you really understand that at the very root every living whole is first of all metabolic, which means that it turns what is outside into ‘building blocks’ of itself and gives away some of itself to the outside, you see that that “egoic Darwinism” is real rubbish (gibberish coming from a elite-group of alpha-males and those that lick up to it).
A whole’s metabolic relationship with its ecology – the whereabouts it is embedded in – means: the whole changes its ecology by being around for a longer time. So the prime directive of a living whole by it’s very nature is not egoic but altruistic: it will ‘want’ to change the ecology such that all others except direct enemies will flourish, simply because then it flourishes also. Any living whole is nourished by other wholes, and in turn it’s feeding other beings that feed other wholes that feed other beings and so on. This is living nature bootstrapping itself towards greater and more diverse wholes by metabolic relationships since a couple of billion years on this Mothership, and I’m sure all over this Cosmos. The thrivability of any living whole is contributing to the thrivability of life as a whole – which, en passant, explains beautifully the richness and diversity and creativity of life…

As strange as it may seems, a real ethics, one that helps you and me, takes its clue from exactly this – from living wholes prime directive, “Keep on thriving”, and from the simple fact that we are metabolic by nature.Consider, for a moment your body. It’s an amazing and large ecology of uncountable collaborating and also symbiotic species. In our intestines countless micro-organisms help break down the food we ingested with their own metabolism; we actually live from their ‘waste’; on our skins countless micro-organisms keeping us covered well with their metabolic acts…

So what is our body’s ethics? How to be this amazing wonder of collaboration between a large number of different cells plus countless micro-critters that live inside and on us, this immense ecology that forms the living whole that is you and me, and what to do?

MARCH-3My guess would be, to let go of the hold of transcendent ideas and disembodied theories us, and helping our friends and neighbors to see them for what they truly are useful for: marvelous playthings and clever tools wherever their use is appropriate. And also to simply be our feeling and take the emotionally intelligent way. In the 21st Century, it seems to me, we are learning to trust the inherent wisdom of whole living beings as intrinsic members of living ecological wholes. We’re letting go into the music of life that reveals its beauty in its flow in time.

Playing it by ear…
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Into the Polyverse

My twitter-stream has many tweets like these:

ColinUdeLewis “Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.” James Allen

WilliamHarryman “95% of your emotions are determined by the way you talk to yourself.” — Brian Tracy

bfederman A man’s own self is his friend. A man’s own self is his foe. Gita

Good advise, wise words, wonderful and inspirational stuff reflecting, I think, some of what goes on in the larger ‘community’ of world-change agents, spiritually savvy geeks, integralites etc. that I feel part of. Contemplating these and many similar tweets I was inspired to put this statement on twitter:

We might be moving from transpersonal to multipersonal, from transcendence to polysemous diversity, from individual to distinctively plural

Nurturegirls response got me interested to see where this spontaneous tweet takes me when I unwrap what this means for me. So here we go…


With “transpersonal” I’m refering to Transpersonal Psychology which put Spirit and metaphysics back into Western psychology. The dean of Integral, Ken Wilber, has expanded it to a much larger system which he calls Integral Psychology – which, in turn, is part of his much larger Theory of Everything. People who have been following this blog probably know that I am critical of Wilber’s views, and most of all his vertical spirituality with an Absolute or Non-dual at it’s pinnacle, implicitly downgrading whatever is ‘below’ – but that’s a different conversation I don’t feel like getting into now except for my tweet’s topic of trancendence, the movement that rises forever up the (spiraling) vertical axis, going beyond body, mind, matter, and endlessly on until it has gone beyond everyone and everything… this is what we’re moving away from and towards polysemous diversity; which I will come to a bit further down.

Vertical spirituality used to be my orientation since I was 14 years old when I first read about yoga and silence (1967) right until the very day I was finally enlightened 33 years later; yep, you’re not supposed to say that, but bear with me. Actually I call this happening Grand Disillusionment because it was basically nilling everything I thought meant anything before this happened. But, silly me, this level-change was just the end of a strand that had been in development since my very young years fuelled by the kind of thought-food one gets as a hippie becoming meditator becoming deep seeker becoming spiritual teacher becoming guru and then, finally, dropping out of that whole game altogether.

You see, my whole journey was fueled by the conviction that a single self or Self actually exists. But the idea of being or having a self/Self is really a nest of meaning and reasoning that very much reflects our cultures’ need for capable individuals (from latin, “non-dividable”) that have a permanence and consistency that can be relied upon and that can be (made to be) responsible. And our type of meaning-making needs a center around which it revolves and to whom it refers, so there you are

This is very sketchy, and much more can be said about the self/Self, its sources and status – maybe another time; for I also want to mention two basic perspectives in Western, and maybe Eastern, culture:
The ‘scientific’ view which is basically saying that ‘out there’ beyond our skin, and even inside of it, there is just accidental matter that we, our mind and consciousness, project onto. So, for instance, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder; it is not a feature of a flower or a sunset or a person or the galaxy. The same, obviously, goes for truth and everything else. All of this is “in the mind” and not “out there”. (That there are laws governing energy-matter that are objective and not projected is an interesting conondrum most empiricists carefully avoid; this doesn’t take away the basic conviction, though, that really matter is absolutely devoid of spirit, essence or whatever else you can project on it.)
The other perspective is formed by the ‘absolute truth’ that people, things and even processes have an essence, a soul, a spirit in and of themselves. This is taken to mean that beauty is not really, or only in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is actually part of being a flower, a sunset, a person or galaxy. In this view the beauty in us resonates or in some other manner communicates with the beauty out there – we recognize truth, beauty, the Good or God that is there already whether we know it or not. We find it, it is not projected at all.

These perspectives seem very contrary but they have something in common, the idea of a subject, “in here” and an object “out there” – the idea of a singular “me” and plural “other” or “you”. (An idea that Ken Wilber and his Integralites have expanded to a quadriga, “I, we, they, it” – the 4 quadrants). This subject-object orientation system is so pervasive and seems so natural that we do not often question it. No, and aren’t there enough beautiful and deeply meaningful systems of thinking, spiritual practises and day to day life that show subject and object, I and other, inside and outside to be really real and truly true?

2006-03-17-59To unhinge this a little bit and come to a proximation of what polysemous diversity might allude to let’s look at some experiences we probably share.
Remember your last “silver moment.” You were talking with a friend maybe, or even a stranger, and you forgot all about the time and everything else; the flow of the conversation was so wonderful, you even forgot yourself. And now, as you remember this, you might not recall what exactly you were talking about but you do remember the ‘spirit’ of it, the breath, the “silver in the air” or however you want to characterize it.
Do you remember a critical moment in your life with several people involved? Maybe an accident, a fire, a thunderstorm out in the wilds or something similar? How everybody just acted in unison, nobody being in charge, really, but everything got done in no time at all?
Or do you remember a great moment in sports when your team was suddenly “in the zone” and acted as a unity, unstoppable?

What is characteristic of these moments or times is that there is no self-awareness, no individual consciousness to speak of – you’re present, you’re aware of everything that goes on but in no way as a self or self-aware. There is, rather, a polyphony sounding around a melody common to all participating voices, sometimes taking in even some of the more perceptive spectators as in sports. This, I would say, is a very natural way to be; acutually I think this is the way we often are, only we don’t notice it because the flow is not sparkling so bright as in our “silver moments”.

Does the transpersonal, evolutionary view help us understand this or, and that’s what we’re approaching here, help us turn into artists of polysemous diverse ecologies of being-together? It does, and doesn’t.
It does in that we have co-evolved as aligned (tuned in) groups of humans. To be synchronised with others is wonderfully adaptive and helps along the continued survival mightily – from multicellular beings to swarming insects, flocks of birds, fish-swarms and herds, the same pattern has been used in nature countless times. So it’s not really amazing that such highly complex beings as humans are polyphoniously connected – a great diversity of voices ‘swarm-creating’ meaning, stories, understandings and yes, identities.
And it doesn’t, because the individualistic view that is part of the fundamentals of transpersonal psychology and vertical spiritualities or religions is operating with the assumption that we are a single subject, residing somehow in a skin-encapsuled cell-ensemble, in the head maybe or the heart.

We are also biased towards clear – simple, singular – meanings. Meaning should not be ambiguous or, since that term is often used in a negative sense, polysemous. This basic assumption has taken progressively hold of our collective psyche since the birth of modern science. But we only need to look at children or people who haven’t (been able to) loose their imaginative powers to see what rich meanings things can have. Who would insist to a child that a heap of sand cannot be a mountain in which dwarfs dig for gold?

If these ideas about ‘swarm-creation’ are right than meanings continually flow-emerge between us, in the polyphony of voices and forces that we are embedded in – the so-called internal ones and the external ones. When we experience a “silver hour” with friends diverse meanings flow polysemously between us, and it is the very flow in which we delight. Were one of us to single out a meaning and individualise it, that would be the end of the silver in the hour…

Don’t get me wrong; I do not believe the silver hour to be better than other not so silvery hour. Rather it’s hinting at an evolutionary possibility for human-kind that I see dawning. The subject-object orientation isn’t wrong or illusory, the transpersonal and integral view that proposes a vertical path of transcendence is a beautifully valid orientation – it is the individualized version of being human. We’ve worked very hard as a species to differentiate enough so that we can actually regard ourselves as seperate individuals with rights and responsibilities. Yet this is no end but rather the stage for the next step, where we use what is natural to us – silver houring – develop it into an art and use it to adapt to the challenges we now face in the exponentially complexifying realities we live in. Being an individual with a transpersonal, trancendent agenda was perfect in the much lesser complex times before massive globalisation, the ‘good old times’.
2006-03-17-60But now we’re in realities were two airplanes hitting the WTC can cause worldwide mourning or were political choices in the US can cause a global financial break-down, for instance. That all is one is not a spiritual statement anymore, it’s stating the obvious. The interconnectedness that goes with this has transformed, though. In a less complex world only a decade or two ago interconnectedness did at most linearly influence other beings, systems or processes; now interconnectedness means is a massive, uncontrollable, exponentially influential process. In this situation meaning is always polysemous, diverse and complex.

Individuals can’t handle this. Teams like we’ve known them in all kinds of organisations cannot find real solutions. Clear meanings cannot connect multifaceted challenges comprising multiple unknowns with the people and resources needed for the emergence of adequate solutions. We need coherently self-organising collaborative and collective intelligences to adapt to this situation. The technical means are either here already or on the verge of becoming available.

The ‘imaginal cells‘ are realizing who they are and starting to align with each other all over the world. You are one of them. So happy we’re connecting…