Alan Watts, Buddha, Buddhism, Collapse of Industrial Civilization, Corporate State, Derrida, Eco-Apocalypse, L-Field, Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man, MONS ANGELORUM, Nature Bats Last, Pali Canon, Qi field, Subtle Body, Taoism, ulvfugl, Vachagotta, Wu wei, Zen
The following is a guest post by a writer who goes by the odd pen name ‘ulvfugl’. Portions of his personal blog can be found here:
His essay describes one way in which to find inner peace in a world of upheaval. Contemplating the world’s problems is maddening. Those delving into and obsessing over the subject of modern civilization’s collapse take on a sort of burden like that of the Greek mythological figure Atlas who carried the weight of the world on his shoulders as punishment. But we’re mere mortals, not Gods. Thus we must find methods with which to build our mental and emotional strength for weathering the coming chaos…
There’s all kinds of takes on philosophy. Nobody can say any one take is the right or the wrong. It’s a bit like music. You choose what appeals. Some stuff gets very popular and everybody tends to agree on the greats.
Along comes Derrida. Odd little fellow from the outside. Says something like, ‘Hang on, all philosophy is words. Are words ‘truth’ ? Of course not.’ Created something of an uproar at the time, the idea that Western philosophy is Logocentric, weighted towards words, which means it’s missing all the stuff that can’t be put into words. Like love, etc.
But this idea goes straight back to the earliest Buddhist recorded teachings, 2,200 years ago, 300 years after he died, written down in the Pali Canon, where the Buddha is interrogated, by Vachagotta and says that the truth that is most important cannot be put into words.
“Vaccha, this teaching … is profound, subtle, hard to see, hard to comprehend, beyond the sphere of mere logic, to be understood only by the wise.”
Derrida’s radical philosophy was part of the wellspring of the movement called postmodernism.
I’m going to shorthand my take on what that means, by saying we are story-telling animals, and that we construct both ourselves, as individual identities, and our cultures, and ‘the world’ as, or, out of, our stories, which are constantly on-going and in flux.
You can picture it this way. Neuro-chemistry, flashes of electrical activity in my brain synapses, forming word sequences, translated into finger movements on the keyboard, into symbols on the screen, into electrons down the wires, through the cables, to your screen, into your optical nerves, into your brain, the story moves and flows, just as it did, tens of thousands of years ago, as I sat across the campfire from you, relating my tale as you gazed into the embers, sound vibrations in air, beneath the vault of the starry night sky.
For those of us on the cutting edge of the doom story, we are expecting things to get extremely nasty. Some of the smartest people I know of, are expecting most of us, if not all of us, to die. If this comes as a shock to you, dear reader, perhaps you have not been paying close attention. Most people have not been paying much attention. Anyway, soon, seems likely, it’ll be impossible not to pay attention. So what happens then ?
The way I see it, all we have, is stories, all we are, are stories. Yes, there is more. All the ‘stuff’. The empirical measurable tangible tactile solid and not so solid material world.
Science can tell us stories about that. And then there is the other ‘stuff’, the spiritual stuff, that elusive, ethereal, contentious region, the numinous, the non-physical realities.
Here is where things have to get personal. What happens when disaster strikes ?
You see, it’s no good having facts and figures and making glib statements, and it’s no good saying you belong to a religion. Nothing is any good at all, is it, you only know what is any good, when the disaster actually happens.
I lived for some years on a street with a little shop across the road, where I used to go at least once a week to buy a few items. The woman who ran it made very little money and worked very long hours. One morning early, she was weeping. I asked what was the matter. Her two teenage nieces had been burned to death in a car crash on the motorway.
She composed herself, she carried on running the shop with quiet dignity, seven days a week, 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Most people reading this are probably Americans, a country with a history of a couple of centuries. China has a continuous history of several thousand years. Long ago, in the 700’s perhaps 36 million people died in war and famine, perhaps 15% of the population. Such events have recurred, again and again. Maybe there’s a reason they have recipes for duck feet soup and hundred year old eggs.
The Taoists have survived through countless appalling catastrophes where they have watched the empire collapse and the population crash. Bodhidharma brought Buddhism to China, and Buddhism and Taoism survived side by side for the last fifteen hundred years or so. For Westerners, these are quite strange belief systems, because they are quite unlike the three Abrahmic religions. What both of them have done is collected techniques that help a person to survive and cope with disaster. They learned what worked, and they learned it the hard way, and they kept the good bits. Western people, in general, know nothing about this. For all I know, modern Chinese people don’t either, because as far as I can tell, they are busy emulating Western culture.
I am by no means an expert, I know for sure there are people who know much more than I do, but I have had some very good teachers, and I have been studying a long time on my own. I have endured great suffering and faced periods of great adversity. There’s ways to deal with these things and to prevail. You can tap into absolutely astonishing sources of power that are completely unrecognised and unknown to Western culture and medicine.
We can hope for the best, of course, that the future is not as black as it looks. But the wise prepare for the worst, and the worst case is that there will be the nightmare scenario.
The kindest, softest, gentlest, the middle class civilised ones with nice manners, the decent considerate children from good homes, the girls who burst into tears if someone is angry with them, the boys who blush if you shout at them, the whole generation that has never seen a dead person. The period of my own lifetime, for Europeans, has probably been the easiest, most comfortable and prosperous episode in the entire history of the human species, abundant food, adequate health care, orderly justice, endless entertainment and access to education.
You see, the emotional trauma, the shock, the impacts upon the feelings of a total upheaval if and when this all comes to a gruesome end, are going to devastate the population. What can be done about this?
…I think it is important for everyone to listen to this tape, that’s why I decided to share it, as we appear not to have learned enough, yet, from the mistakes of the past.
There is nothing to be seen here, no photos, no motion pictures, no multimedia presentations, only sounds you can listen to.
Sounds of death, destruction, pain, fear, hate…
Fascism typically trains a class of brutalised thugs, attack dogs, that it releases upon the citizenry to terrify them into compliance. Decent people only need to see one mutilated beaten corpse to be shocked into submission. How to teach people to expect this, to be resilient, to bounce over the impacts, to be able to make autonomous decisions ?
Perhaps the easiest introduction, concerning Taoist philosophy and zen for Westerners, is Alan Watts. There’s plenty of his videos on youtube.
My basic thesis is this. You train yourself, gently but persistently and regularly. Your inner being, that is. You do this with determination and with discipline. It’s not a shallow or a frivolous thing, you treat it with all the seriousness that you can muster. It doesn’t need much time or very much effort. Say, fifteen minutes a day. Twice a day perhaps.
Here is a video of a qi gong exercise.
You can think of this as what you see, a physical display, but you can also think of it as what you don’t see. That is, that we are, or have, an invisible energy field. Consider Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man as cosmografia del minor mondo, cosmography of the microcosm.
The energy field is, partly at least, an electrical field that can be detected by standard instruments, I believe that the heart pulse can be detected from many metres distance.
But it must also be a qi field, which is much more mysterious and not understood, and little research has been done.
However, one can speculate, that certain movements are configuring or tuning this field, and altering its properties. One can further speculate that the ‘being’ that you are, that is, the Subtle Body, is changed.
So, the thesis is, that when the shocks start happening, words are no use. Ideas are no use. There is no instruction manual on the shelf that you can grab with a chapter ‘What to do in a crisis’ that you can quickly read up on, that tells you ‘how to be’. What you need is inner strength that goes much deeper than verbal intellectual knowledge. That’s what this Subtle Body thing is about.
So, you train yourself, and then wherever you are, and whatever is happening around you, internally, you are secure, you have a refuge, you have a resource, you have a place to turn, and as you learn, you discover how to heal yourself, and all manner of rewarding experiences, so that life becomes very rich and fulfilling, whatever the circumstances.
This is not something for the faint hearted. But it is not something for the brutalised either.
It’s not about being macho and tough. We are human beings, and as such, we can all be broken, because there’s limits to what the physical body can withstand. And there’s limits to what the inner being, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, psychologically, can endure.
I do happen to know something about this, so I can speak from first hand direct personal experience. I’m not bullshitting you. There is a way to deal with this, an art, a skill, and once you catch on to what it is, it becomes rather interesting, and there’s a positive feedback, ‘aha !’ moments, and you want more… damn thing takes on a life of its own. Effortlessly… Wu wei.
There is a choice to be made. If we extend the trends of what we see happening into the future, then it looks very clear, to me at least, that we are plunging into a mass extinction event, and that, en masse, there is not the political will or the leadership or the public awareness and insight to take any effective action to avoid this disaster. Imo, it is already too late, because so many of the causes have time lags before the full effects become apparent.
So the choice is, give in to the fear, apprehension, despair, anxiety, anger, and all the other responses that we see every day on NBL[Nature Bats Last], discussion of suicide and resignation and so forth.
Or, recognise that the Sun rises every morning, and each moment is a precious gift, and that life always was, always has been, always is, temporary. You are always falling towards the Abyss. There is a way to make the most of this, to be the most that you are. It’s not the way that most Westerners tend to think it is. Nothing dramatic. Something quiet and subtle that you do inside yourself. It’s not well-understood by science, but you don’t need to understand how it works to be able to do it.
This approach doesn’t care what your religion or beliefs or ideas are, because it’s not about words, it’s deeper, it’s more like eating or sex, closer to physical biology, more sensual, but it’s a bridge, it’s linked to the conscious mind, it’s not unconscious like the digestive system. The key seems to be the breath, which is both unconscious, on autopilot, like heart beat, but always available for conscious control if one wills it.