Abrupt or Gradual Change?

Found picture on Web, apologies to whomever it belongs (will remove if needed)

Each essay wrests a limited clarity from the infinite mycelium of loose ends that keeps the inquiry growing. As if demonstrating what I felt to be true in Truth and Distortion, the last essay clarified something, but also left distortions that I’d like to consider.

Is the transition to a proprioceptive mentality necessarily so dramatic and dangerous for example? Is it really like falling from a cliff? Or is it the most gentle transformation imaginable, giving up the strife that comes with trying to live up to a false ideal, seeing through all these deceptive feints and accepting them until they evaporate as irrelevant?

I’m never going to argue that anything I say is real. These are merely stories that wring from the world particular insights, while shutting down others. So the question has to be spun like a prism to see other spectrums of truth. And this also allows me to see with greater clarity the context in which the previous metaphor was apt. Let me see if this can be done with one of those loose ends right now, the gradual versus abrupt question.

I think I tend to interpret the world as leading to abrupt changes partially because of my own experience as a kid. I felt like a bird falling from a cliff before it learned to feel the hidden potential for flight in the empty uncertainty. The transition between believing in a solid world and then finding nothing solid came as a shock (as described for instance in An Honest Fairy Tale).

But it also left me alert to the potential for drastic shifts in awareness; to realize that there is a possibility of leaping like an electron from one orbit of consciousness to another discontinuously, without any gradual transition.

In looking at things this way with too much focus, the gradual aspects of learning are not noticed or are dismissed as self-help, perpetual self-expansion. This is close to what I’d call a “negative positive view” (not meaning dark or bad, but tending to look only for the errors in everything; a hidden certainty that forms around uncertainty).

And vice versa, in looking at life as a smooth, gradual growth from stage to stage any attempt to dig out more fundamental blocks in perception (which could lead to an abrupt leap in the orbits of perception) are dismissed as the overwrought wishful thinking of those tending towards a delusion of selflessness or enlightenment. This is closer to what I’d call a “positive positive view” (not meaning bright and cheery, but tending towards a belief in one’s own continuous and uninterrupted growth, as if the ego will slowly change into something sublime).

Now the negative and the positive can’t remain opposed like this, or we end up with an internal reflection of our insane political environment. Positive and negative, conservative and liberal are not functioning properly when they remain opposing forces. They need to merge fully to eliminate this cross-eyed vision. But this is contrary to the way our competitive society molded us into seeing the world. Everything from scholarly debates to courtroom tactics is based on the misguided notion that truth emerges from conflict between those who are positive you are right and those who are positive you are wrong.

Neither is what is called “negative awareness”, which is a merger of error perception and solution suggesting – what could also be called seeing the truth in the false and the false in the true. It’s called “negative” awareness because in any balanced state of mind, the errors and divergences from expectation have to be slightly (not solely) more important than our correct answers. But if the positive (if our correctness) is more important to us, then we end up in this world, where we are afraid of seeing our own errors and become increasingly divided and defensive of our own stories. So in a balanced frame of mind the negative perception is stronger, but not to the exclusion of the positive. Or rather negative awareness has a pH tending towards the acidification or negation of deception. A measurement of a whole compound, not separate elements.

I already covered this elsewhere:

I can’t conflate this [negative and positive awareness] with what is now called “liberal” and “conservative” thought. Those are degraded and sectarian ways of picturing this. Both sides in that conflict are merely opposing forms of positive dogma, competing isms. Real liberating or negative awareness isn’t opposed to conserving thought or vice versa. The perception of what is not worth conserving is also the simultaneous perception of what is worth conserving.

So these movements function in cooperation, not as oppositional elements. Think of negation as a knife that is sharp enough to remove the rot from the status quo without injuring the healthy tissue. “Without injuring the healthy tissue” is the conservative element buried in any liberating movement. So the positive and negative (conserving and liberating movements) meld into one seamless whole if they are understood coherently.

from Negative Knowledge and the Eruption of a Metaphoric Mentality

And a merger does not imply a compromise either. When the negative and positive are balanced in negative awareness we end up in a suspended state, noticing the truth in the false and the false in the true in every idea, every thought, without rest, without conclusion. This doesn’t mean we can’t act, but we act without kidding ourselves that we have the answer. We don’t decide what to do. The suspended state of perception is an active state of mind. It’s not thinking about what to do, it’s noticing, and what it notices is its own limits, and these limits merely alter its current approach to the world, and this shifting movement never ceases until we die.

So how do the gradual and abrupt visions meld? They meld in a state of suspension in which we realize that none of our ideas and distinctions are anything more than creative and honest fictions which are almost like magical formulas pulling from the amorphous and unknowable hat of this universe various rabbits and cats that otherwise would not exist.

It’s almost as if we live in a world that is utterly undetermined, depending only on how deeply we wish to test this fact.

So there are abrupt and gradual potentials in the world. Different stories pluck those hidden chords, making those implicate powers available to us as needed. However, there is one huge caveat. The stories need to be honest, which is to say balanced by negative awareness of any dishonest elements in the story. We can’t just make up anything we want. There is a difference between a theory and a wishful thought. A theory remains a fiction, but it’s an honest fiction that opens up a way to relate to the world on a deeper level.

It’s easy to believe that a theory is an attempt to ascertain something with final certainty. But that’s not what it is. It only clarifies things within a certain framework or orbit of consciousness. We can’t know the ultimate nature of what we’re seeing, we’re only making a coherent fiction out of what our senses make available from within a particular set of assumptions. Nothing we “know” will last. Our theories will all change dramatically as we change those assumptions and dive ever deeper into the amorphous actuality of this world.

So do we enter into a proprioceptive mentality gradually or abruptly?

If we only look at things as tending towards a peaceful, gradual transition from self-centered thought to proprioception we’ll reject the negative awareness of how this approach keeps us in a particular orbit around the Self. There is an infinite capacity to expand awareness and honesty within this orbit, but the orbit itself remains tied to the Self.

This is the same as saying there is an infinite horizon available to anyone living in a two-dimensional world, which would encourage the belief that this kind of expansion is unlimited, and there is “no room” for anything more and utterly different. But it’s an infinity limited to the horizontal. It’s that larger limit in our ever-improving thought that goes unnoticed if we assume too strongly that everything changes gradually.

Likewise, however, an all-too focused inquiry into breaking the limits of the horizontal can lead to ignoring the need to explore the horizontal far enough to realize its limits. Does this mean the horizontal leads to the vertical, as if self-development leads to transcendence of self? No, even though that is the usual assumption. But no, because ultimately the horizontal framework of self-development is realized as a dead end when the vertical is discovered. There is a discontinuity in this change, an electron leap.

The horizontal plays a different role in all this: Working on oneself, maintaining one’s physical and emotional health and balance by pursuing yoga, breathing practices and such (which I started doing and love doing), is neither leading towards transcendence of this orbit or horizontal frame, nor is it blocking the path to transcendence.

But if we don’t allow this horizontal development to proceed out of some delusional desire for a more abrupt change, then this subtle repression of our Selves acts as a barricade to any change of a different order.

In other words, our practices are not so much stepping stones towards transcendence as activities that neutralize unnecessary biological and brain distractions, leaving the ground fallow and fertile. We can discover great peace and insight through these breathing practices. But these will not by themselves lift us out of the orbit of the Self. After all, even the military harnesses these same practices.

A seed still needs to be planted in this fallow ground, and that seed is the insight of suspension. When the truth in the false and the false in the true lands, it lands abruptly; then our action (our breathing practices and such) become the fertile ground necessary for this new growth. But to say the one leads to the other (which implies gradually) is to not notice the abrupt discontinuity implicit in this changed orientation.


Footnote: Probably the essay that parallels this one the closest (from a different angle) is “The Limits of Ken Wilber”.

3 thoughts on “Abrupt or Gradual Change?

  1. These quickly written essays may help encourage the flow of ideas, but they also lead to less clarifying word choices and organization. I’m tending to make lots of editing changes for days after publishing in this style. Not worth re-reading for those that did, but just a note for the record.

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