A Revolution on the Periphery

earthrise

This essay appeared in Counterpunch.

I think there’s a close relationship between peripheral vision and the somewhat famous “overview effect”. The eye, after all, is an extension of the brain. Both peripheral vision and an overview imply a perception of context, which limits the distortions of self-interest.

What’s more, peripheral vision is too quick to be resisted by the ego. It’s only an immediate sensitivity to what is happening. Therefore it precedes wishful thinking. As soon as we “take sides” for or against what is noticed, then our focus has already narrowed. Therefore a peripheral vision engenders something of a suspended state (ala David Bohm). It allows contradictory ideas to sort themselves out.Read More »

The Meaning of Confidence: A Brief Appendix to Direct and Indirect Meaning

emptiness-creative

I’d like to build this brief consideration directly on the back of Direct and Indiret Meaning.

When words, ideas, beliefs all become transparently ersatz, the question of what is real becomes extraordinarily urgent.

Where is the still point in this bending and spinning hall of mirrors that is consciousness?

When nothing that I know about myself is real, when everything is only a story, whose narrative lines are always being bent by ferocious headwinds of fight and flight, by a desire for admiration, where do I find a foundation upon which to live a confident and humane life?Read More »

Direct and Indirect Meaning (Being and Constructing)

birdsmind

The first 14 essays tried to “come to terms” with the limitations of language. By extension this included all of thought and imagination – the whole category of construct-making.

How can we discover the “limitations” of something that covers the whole of experience? An all-enveloping fluid from which we can’t leap free, like lucky fish?

In Part II of “Imagine the Limits of the Imagination” I suggested that this can be done by considering the category of “odd words”:

The Three Oddest Words

When I pronounce the word Future,
the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,
I destroy it.

When I pronounce the word Nothing,
I make something no nonbeing can hold.
— Wislawa Szymborska

Read More »

Limited Infinities

limited infinity

The reader is being reimagined. While this is happening, I’ll shake my notebooks free of the rejected scraps of previous essays.

After that, maybe a new phase can begin. A phase in which writing plays second fiddle to something I can’t really name. I’m not a writer and I have no intention of being hitched to any writerly discipline.

The commitment to a discipline feels narrowing. An intentional commitment feels like I’m putting on blinders and being yoked to a practice that promises its own enticing infinity. An infinity within a narrowing frame.Read More »

Footnote to “Ritual”: Four Elements of a Kaleidoscopic (or Ritualized) Perspective

elephant

This is a footnote to Ritual.

More coherent modes of language arise when the following perspectives are realized (at the very least):

1) We each see different parts of the proverbial elephant.

This suggests parallel truths. A multiverse. Each infinite and also limited.

2) We look with different levels of magnification. A microscopic vision of the elephant’s trunk at the cellular level is not more true than a macroscopic vision of the trunk as a whole. They are relevant to different contexts.

This makes it easy to suspend judgement.

3) The elephant is a moving target. The trunk we describe is already a different shape. Reality changes as we learn. I go into this a little more in Ritual, part II, in the section titled “The Simplifying Potential of Negative Language.”

This is a humbling perspective.

4) Wildest of all: The elephant we perceive is actually not the elephant itself. But I think a distinction needs to be made between actuality (the “holomovement,” the creativity of nature itself), and reality (the “things” we abstract from actuality as information, perceptions, theories or thoughts).

If we understand this in our bones, then there is no alienation. Then the world becomes sacred in the absence of religion.Read More »

Footnote to “Ritual”: Matter and Meaning

 

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This is a footnote to The Epiphany of No Purpose and to Ritual.

“[T]here is a universal flux that cannot be defined explicitly but which can be known only implicitly, as indicated by the explicitly definable forms and shapes, some stable and some unstable, that can be abstracted from the universal flux. In this flow, mind and matter are not separate substances. Rather, they are different aspects of our whole and unbroken movement.”
― David BohmWholeness and the Implicate Order

A Place for Words

I’m hoping the word “epiphany” carries a bathetic meaning. I hope it signifies a “ludicrous descent from the exalted to the commonplace.” But in this case a descent from the high horse of a ludicrous certainty to the banal wisdom of uncertainty. Being dis-illusioned in the best sense.

The epiphany doesn’t have a pedagogic purpose either. It’s only a moment without resistance to one’s folly. A receptive mentality. But not a proscribing or self-help mentality. Therefore without ulterior purpose. Banal in its own way. At least from the standpoint of conventional wisdom, which tends to picture a dumb blankness in the absence of words and ideas.Read More »

Ritual, Part II: Bewitching, Initiating and Ritualized Languages

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This continues from where Ritual, Part I, left off:

“The illusion that the self and the world are broken into fragments originates in the kind of thought that goes beyond its proper measure and confuses its own product with the same independent reality. To end this illusion requires insight, not only into the world as a whole, but also into how the instrument of thought is working. Such insight implies an original and creative act of perception into all aspects of life, mental and physical, both through the senses and through the mind, and this is perhaps the true meaning of meditation.”
― David BohmWholeness and the Implicate Order

The Reductive Bewitchment of a Literal Language

The literal mood of language is necessary for carrying out almost any practical work. It’s dominant in following a blueprint (a legitimate authority), or in honing a craft. And it plays a subordinate role in art, teaching techniques for working in any medium.

In its “proper” context this language could be described as “positive”, “practical” or “technical.” In a utilitarian context the connection between the useful thing one describes (such as the word “hammer”) and the hammer itself is so close that almost all awareness of the meta-level functionality of words recedes (or never develops).

The witchery begins when a literal language spills over into conventional life; when it’s used to talk about ideas – about opinions, goals, and identities. Then opinion posits itself as a literal description of material reality. Fixed. Truth. Not mere opinion.Read More »

Ritual: Part 1

Stag at Echo Rock

“His sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything” (from Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko)

I enjoyed moving-up ceremonies in elementary school at the end of each school year. Every grade stood in a separate line in the gym. And then the principal commanded everyone in each grade to step forward. There was some magic in that step. It instantly made us older and wiser.

But after a few years ceremonies all began to feel like empty gestures. Stepping forward and serving Communion and so on felt too superstitious.

Then in college I read the the book Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko. It was about a Laguna Pueblo Indian man named Tayo, returning home from World War II, unable to cope, heading for ruin. Read More »

The Epiphany of No Purpose

A minor epiphany hit me about three weeks ago.

An unobtrusive assumption came tumbling from the apex of a small inverted pyramid of beliefs and hit solidly enough in passing that I took notice. What came loose was the belief that doing things – even writing this rambling note — requires a purpose; purposes which are ulterior to the enjoyment one takes in the activity itself; as if it isn’t enough to do something for its own sake.Read More »

Death’s Good Intentions

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This is a picture by Abulena Panduri, used without permission. I hope she doesn’t mind.

Friendships are Parallel Universes

Almost a year ago, one of my truest friends died. Pat Styer. I never met her in person. It didn’t matter. We spoke the same fundamental language. It wasn’t about agreeing or disagreeing. It was about playing catch with a perspective that few in my circle at that time seemed to find worth picking up. What she said broadened my own vocabulary. And whatever I said, she received without distortion. It was as if we were learning something that could only be discovered between us.

I think every relationship (whether with a human or a dog or a cat) gives rise to someone new between us, creates a context of understanding that will never be duplicated with another. We move between parallel worlds. Each infinite, but limited to our mutual contexts.Read More »