Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Dialogues and Desires

I have been a student of Bohmian Dialogue for a number of years now and have been fascinated at its dynamics, its effectiveness and its utility in practice. Having established various forums that use this skill I know it is valid, possible and immensely rewarding for the participants in ways that are (literally) beyond words.

What is much more interesting is how little-used this profound technology is and in a recent call with colleagues we asked the mysterious reason for why this is. When you consider David Bohm's biography, the nature of his inquiry into the phenomenon of mind and the profound perspective offered, we have so much to learn in discovering where he went. To see thought as a system is to be in and to see thought at the same time. An essential skill for aspiring consciousness evolutionaries. Yet as Bohm describes, thought doesn't want to know what it is doing and struggles against knowing this too.

What becomes more apparent is how we are individually fascinated with the journey (rather than the outcome). The narrative of our lives is a journey we want to witness unfolding and experience fully. One thing we do not welcome is the plot spoiler, no matter how well the paths we travel, have already been trod. We enjoy the thinking about our problems with the mind we presently have. The conflict is our entertainment. In the words of David Bohm:

"Thought is constantly creating problems that way and then trying to solve them. But as it tries to solve them it makes it worse because it doesn't notice that it's creating them, and the more it thinks, the more problems it creates. ... We havent really paid much attention to thought as a process. We have engaged in thoughts, but we have only paid attention to the content, not to the process."

I for one always succumb to this. I would much rather go back and work on something from first principles, read the source work, and walk that path, step by step, than get someone's summary version. I do so because I am not sure that what others have seen, is always what there was to see. By this process you also get to recognize true guides along the way, those seeing beneath the personal content and self-affirming interpretations. Signposts and stage guides are always welcomed, as bystanders. They are there to serve us. They inquire of us - 'Where was it did we think we wanted to go to and how do we want to experience that journey along the way?' They don't take us on their journey, they inspire us to continue ours. This acceptance, is often within our thinking, not for our thought, and so is acceptable. What is unacceptable to us, is the presumption of the mind of unknowing. I think this is where Dialogue comes in. It allows 'thought to see itself', and to experience itself, in that rare moment of unknowing.

My reflective observation about the global sustainability and leadership initiatives I am involved in is that, other than our most enlightened collectives, we are (at present) at the early stages of playing the games of holding and revealing individual perspectives. This feels to me much like a combination of the children's card games of snap and concentration. Each time a perspective is revealed or offered, another is immediately placed over it in a game of recognition and automatic supremacy, in an equality of partiality, until face cards appear. At the same time, we turn over these cards repeatedly, learning about them, seeing their position, forgetting about them and then remembering them anew. Only to then forget them again. This mixing of games satisfies a feeling of utility and yet is so vast, we get lost in its complexity.

While there is some progress in the aggregation of these perspectives, mostly what we are doing in our global understanding is enjoying the puzzle and the game. The objects of our interest is other people's suffering. Resolution is promised. The play continues.

About eight years ago, in realising the complexity of Bohmian Dialogue did not lend itself to easy explanation, I wrote a description of the stages of the process in metaphor. This was to assist in making the practice, and its practicing, more intentional and less accidental. It also helps with understanding how evoking the process itself, makes us vulnerable. As a contrast to how our global collective actions seem to be doing above, I have dug it out, to offer this as an alternative to our familiar processes of collective seeing, using that which is already there, discovered once more. A different approach to the game is proposed, perhaps only for those who are ready to play:

"A number of people are playing a game of cards. Each person lays their cards on the table one at a time. Each new card is placed so as to obscure the one underneath. As soon as a card is recognized the next player rushes to play their card. When two cards are seen to be alike – snap – the fastest to notice wins conclusively. That winner then lays claim to holding all the cards already played.

However, while winning that passage of play, they notice the full deck has not yet been played. So the process repeats until all the cards have been seen. While many of the cards played are similar, the players notice that the cards are also distinctly different. Because the aim is to have cards that are identical, no-one is seen as a clear winner. Even the player holding most of the cards. An impasse results. The cards are shuffled and the game repeats.

Upon becoming frustrated at this, the players then try to sort the cards consciously and collectively, immediately noticing similarities in both face value and suit. When all the cards are spread on the table, face up before all players, it is recognized that while there is some obvious pattern and way of ordering, no two cards are precisely the same – none are truly identical. No player can find a match. For any one card, or for all.

The players then choose to change the game and combine all the cards together. They begin to collectively, and carefully, lay the cards out to form a pattern. Only when all the cards are arranged on the table face up, and the players stand back, can they see that the pattern of similarity they are looking for has been completed in a beautiful mandala they have unconsciously created, which perhaps was already there.

With all the cards in place the whole pattern unseeable, beyond the cards, is now able to be seen. It is only at this point that they realize that if all the cards are again turned over, that the pattern on the reverse face of each card is identical. The underlying truth discovered is that all the cards are, and always have been, all the same.
" (Varey, 2002)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Zen and Samu

I finished my Zen garden today. There have been many chores to do over my break and one appeared to require action above the others. The horizontal rocks came to this house four and a half years ago and had been placed waiting for the garden to appear around it. In the end this all occurred in two days.

The result was blessed in the Shinto tradition last night purifying the space and self, generating the seeds of generativity and welcoming flow, sanctuary and potential.

In the end this little stone garden (kare sansui) contained the many elements of a traditional design in a modern confluence. The tsukabi (water basin) is found adjacent to the ishidaro (stone lantern) which sits behind the hindo seki (prostrate rock triad) as framed by the sode gaki (bamboo screen fence) led to by tobi ishi (stepping stones) from the chiriana (refuse hole) at the entrance (with apologies for Western translation that loses the wider meaning of these terms).

Overall there is a feeling of a safe haven 'resting place' in an archipelago that winds through islands in a vast ocean. The smallness of the place summons the elements of a world lived elsewhere. Inspiration came from visits to Halong Bay in Vietnam and the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Francisco.

What surprised me most in this practice was the engagement with sitting contemplation (zazen) prior to execution in meditative action (samu), where what was envisaged after inquiring into the form of the space in relation to the surrounds of the house was enacted simply by following the steps.

Rock was split, earthed moved, kilograms of stones carried, bamboo transported, piping laid, screens built and sand spread. The work was the practice with the main effort being in the effortlessness in the selection, orientation and placement of each feature stone (ishi-otateru).

The place is a space for contemplation to return to when creativity and sanctuary escape me.

shujo muhen seigan do
bonno mujinseigan dan
homon muryo seigan gaku
butsudo mujo seigan jo

Sentient beings are numberless, I vow to save them all,
The passions are inexhaustible, I vow to cut them off,
The Dharma is unfathomable, I vow to master it,
The Buddha’s way is supreme, I vow to attain it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Forest Blue Moon

I celebrated New Years Eve watching the moonrise. This was a blue moon, which heralds nothing more than an attribution of special meaning to a natural world that does not fit into the 29.5 day configurations of the man made calendar.

Apparently, this common definition of a blue moon, being where two full moons occur in a calendar month, is not accurate. In the modern world of the wiki the popular mythos becomes the new reality. The more real truth is the one closest in popularity, rather than that more distant in history. This transforming of meaning is part of how post-modern subjective knowledge becomes structuralist in its teleology. Our evolving social reality will soon gain this perspective of seeing knowledge transforming in its own trajectory. It was a night of significance never-the-less. If nothing else this heralding of the new year was a spectacular sight.

My vantage point for this moment was Hester Brook Retreat, the integral ecology land conservation project in SW Australia. The stars and constellations appeared resplendent before being chased from the ever brightening sky. The forest was alive that night. A celebration of a different kind.

The reason for the post is I looked at my photos today and in the dark I had mistakenly changed exposure settings on one photo of the moonrise. The photo that resulted (below) made me recall the Howard Taylor Retrospective Exhibition Phenomena which I saw at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney some years ago shortly after his death.

His was a remarkable body of work, inspired by similar surrounds, immersed in the Northcliffe forest of equal grandeur, not more than 100 km away. Striking in its simplicity and the execution of form, light, colour in their essentialness. A quest over 50 years.

That particular reversed light image of Taylor's has stayed with me for years. In seeing it reflected in my own photo, the understanding of the ongoing engagement with that landscape, the simple inquiry into quite ordinary phenomena, reoccurred for me. Fifty years is such a short period of time to get something right.

If a blue moon occurs once every 19 months on average, I wonder how often it is we stop to take stock and see what is simply around us with a different lens, or a different setting (for that lens). Probably not more often than 'once in a blue moon'.

In the words attributed to Marcel Proust in the (again) popular (but inaccurate) re-quote "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes", which reads in translation (surprisingly also on an Icarus theme):

"... A pair of wings, a different mode of breathing, which would enable us to traverse infinite space, would in no way help us, for, if we visited Mars or Venus keeping the same senses, they would clothe in the same aspect as the things of the earth everything that we should be capable of seeing. The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is; and this we can contrive with an Elstir, with a Vinteuil; with men like these we do really fly from star to star.*

Perhaps with pause we, occasionally, may behold the universes others behold,

... to see the familiar with other eyes.

*(Source: The captive. In C. K. S. Moncrieff, R. Kilmartin, & A. Mayor (Trans.), Remembrance of things past (Vol. 3) )