“Anatta: Literally ‘not-self’. The teaching that there is nothing that we can call a fixed self.” Jim Pym, You Don’t Have to Sit On the Floor

“Buddhism is often accused of being a religion so aborbed in the impersonal and the eternal that it overlooks the importance of individual and temporal things. According to its teachings, all things that have form are subject to change and void of any enduring “self,” but this does not imply that such things are unimportant.” Alan Watts

“It may only be a certain nagging sense that the world you live in does not fit. The job you hold, the education you recieve, the institutions that claim authority over you ( the government, the corporations, the courts, the welfare system), all these may seem to have been crudely designed for everybody in general, but for no body in person – least of all you.” Theodore Roszak, Person/Planet

“And still, you know, with an instinctive conviction, that there is an essential you behind all the world’s imposed identities, a you that needs a meaning of your own making, a personal emblem to hold in the face of grief and before the advance of death.” TR

“To give a face to the faceless, a voice to the voiceless – and to each person the one face, the one voice that is uniquely theirs… that is the meaning of personhood.” TR

In Buddhism there is the idea of anatta or no-self. That really the self is just a composition of various elements, converging and diverging in a series of rebirths. Science seems to confirm this; “I” am just a product of a highly developed neurological system, evolved in order to give coherence to the psychological experience of being an organism, itself constituted from various cells, genes, molecules and atoms in a state of flux or “rebirths”.

According to this explanation self is an experience that appears when I awaken and disappears when I go to sleep. If this is the case then “I” do not exist when the brain rests, and perhaps it is a different “I” that wakes up than the one going to sleep the night before. Perhaps “I” am a different “I” every moment time passes. The brain is not static, all cells and molecules within it are in a constant state of flux and nor is its sense of self.

And yet, there it remains; a strong, persistent sense of self. Despite changing over time, despite interruptions in the flow of consciousness called sleep, there is a strong sense of continuity, that, despite being different ages and with different personal qualities, the “I” ten years ago is the same “I” that is experience by this brain now.

Science says I am an impersonal package of impersonal neurons and synapses evolved to ensure the survival of the whole organism and the species of which I am a part. They may well be right, and I don’t deny there is truth to that. But really, let’s be serious, this is not how I experience myself, and no matter how many times I try to convince myself otherwise there’s that persistent feeling that “I” am there and “I” am very real and undeniable.

And with a scientific view we might say that this is fine, it’s way we have evolved, it’s how the organism survives and ensures the survival of its species. But even such a reductionist explanation still doesn’t quite do it justice, not the way I live it every day of my life. I feel it needs more honouring than that (and perhaps that’s just another survival trait?).

From an impersonal “soup” we call the Universe, a person can emerge, consciousness can take on a personal form! Not like it is imposed from somewhere “outside” or “beyond” but that personality is latent in the physical laws of the Universe. “I” existed as sleeping potential in the very fabric of the Universe, but without form or presence. And then an impersonal egg and sperm came together and began a journey that would lead to personhood through a miracle of biology and neurology, with millions of years of evolution preceding this moment. And this has happened not just once but many times over. Millions of persons. Billions of persons. Individual persons, not just masses of people.

Amazing that each human face and each human voice is so distinctive as to not be confused with anybody else… most of the time. Imagine over 6 Billion people with a face and a voice that is uniquely theirs! And that’s only now, imagine all the unique humans there have been and the unique humans there will be! Even animals transmit some sort of instinctive self, if my Cocker Spaniel is in a room of similar Cocker Spaniels I’ll still know which one is “her”. It is imprinted in me. Something that happens with people we don’t know as well, though seem to know so well…

You hear a voice on the radio, you see a face on the TV and instantly you have a sense of recognition. Sometimes you may not remember the name or why they are famous but instantly you know it is that person and no one else. Looking at a DVD cover right now I see a woman’s face, I don’t recognise her. I see a name -Kate Beckinsale- and instant recognition comes to me, it is her, much much younger but you see it is the same “person”. And turning over to the back I see another picture of her with another man poring over a map or something and I recognise him instantly; Art Malik. I see only his face looking down, can’t see much of a profile but I know it is him. Why can’t I mistake him for anyone else if he and I are just impersonal bundles of neurons and synapses amongst billions?

Impossible! Isn’t it? And what if it isn’t impossible, what if it is true? Doesn’t that make it even more of a miracle that “I” am here communicating with “you”?

How can individual unique persons be so “mass produced” in such an unconscious and impersonal Universe? The mind boggles! The mind gropes for some plausible fantasy to explain this; a “superbeing” “out there,” or manifest destiny, or a ghost in the machine, or, or, or…

It’s a miracle of nature, an implausible reality, to distill many millions, billions, trillions of impersonal elements; like cells, atoms, subatomic particles, through long long processes of evolution to finally arrive at personhood! The machine is the ghost! There I am. And there you are!

Miracles, each of us.

I haven’t written here for a while, but I thought I’d share this. It’s something I wrote for a message board. I’ve talked about it a bit before in at least two different blogs. Some of these quotes have made a guest appearance before.

Psychological Synergy is how I am describing my political view point. Psychology because that is my political tool. And Synergy because that is my utopian vision.

My ideas are probably left-leaning, liberal and green, or something like that. But for me that doesn’t sufficiently answer the deeper problem. Protests, policies, votes, petitions, bills, laws etc etc etc are very good at changing things, and a lot of things do need changing. However changing things doesn’t always change people, and if the people aren’t changed then the things that are changed do not have a strong foundation for any change at all.

Psychological Politics
“Neuroses are much more difficult to get rid of than beliefs. We can all change our opinions more easily than we can eliminate destructive patterns in our lives, however hard we try. It is the same with religion and, surely, the same with a culture. Our religious beliefs may have changed but our emotional compulsions have remained.” Karen Wilson. And it’s the same with politics; we may make changes to the structure of society, and who runs it and how they run it, but the people within that society don’t change and so the same problems appear again, just through different people and different social structures and different political ideologies.

Psychological reform at a political level is near impossible. And perhaps it is better that way as the power to create psychological reform at political level would get into the wrong hands, which would mean certain brain-washing of the populace. It is best to keep the two things separate, with psychological reform “infiltrating” society and politics from the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top-down and politics itself being used as a relatively stable structure within which to enact any such changes.

“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” Confucius

Psychological reform must start with the individual. Each person takes responsibility for themselves, their own life and for their part in the world. From this strong foundation they have the strength and integrity to resolves the problems of others. This cannot be something imposed by anyone or anything else but only freely chosen by the individual. But the more people that choose this path the easier it becomes to choose as the social momentum builds, making change exponential.

Utopian Synergy
The first part of my Utopia is seen in this quote;
“If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.” Carl Rogers
Each individual is encouraged, from birth, to be an individual, to grow to be psychologically independent. In this way the power structure of society is interdependently represented in the minds of each individual and not separated into those “who know”, those “who govern” and those “who do.” Each individual becomes a whole person in themselves, without having to be compensated for their lack by other people. People can still specialize in certain professions and fulfill specific roles, but they don’t need to be so psychologically programmed to fit those, developing a holistic intelligence of all psychological functions; spiritual, intellectual, physical, emotional, social etc

If each person is psychologically whole and balanced and able to maintain that independently then the need for control on society would be obsolete; “Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws.” Plato. The “law and order” would be maintained by the individuals themselves without it having to imposed in by them, because part of being whole and balanced human beings is to be a social creature, part of a group or community, and to be able to make that group or community work; “Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi. Social consensus, theoretically, would come natural to whole, balance and autonomous individuals.

This is Synergy, where each individual is psychologically independent enough not to need governing by any external entity and lives a life of personal fulfillment and freedom, and yet also willingly acts as a participant in the working of their society. I’d imagine that in this situation the need for politics and government would become minimal, serving only as a point of communication and coordination between people and populations. Organisation and conflict resolution would be inbuilt in all levels; social, national and international, all because it would psychologically developed and maintained in each individual involved with these levels. Citizens could trust their government and the government could trust their citizens.

And everyone would be free, fulfilled and harmonious, peace would reign, no one would want, and they’d all live in balance with the Earth and its resources and making developments to society in an ethical way. All because each and every individual is, and has been raised to be, psychologically autonomous, balanced and whole.

This is Utopia, not reality. It is my Vision, my North Star. I won’t see it in my lifetime, maybe no one will, but this Vision guides my steps as I walk my chosen path. I attend to my spiritual and psychological needs first and foremost and work to express that into my life and collaborate with those who share my vision, to be able to express it in the world. At present the democratic politics I’m in allow me this, so I’m pro-democracy but I need to see beyond it too. Before I work on the world, I work on myself.

“Society exists only as a mental concept; in the real world there are only individuals.” Oscar Wilde

God bless message boards, the bloggers inspiration, it’s all grist for the mill.

Typically, though not always, tribes are seen as localised in geographical regions (yes, even nomads), have common ethnic roots, share a common culture, have a structured organisation and are tied together by strong familial and social bonds, in essence, group identity. The society I belong to is definitely not a tribe in this sense, it is, as Oscar Wilde says, a mental concept. If everyone got amnesia, just imagine how many boundaries and distinct groups would disappear.

Long ago, the British Ilses were overrun with Goidelic, Brythonic, Pictish and, later, Anglo-Saxon tribes, but now they have all merged and the borders of their territories exist as countries and counties, if that. And the idea of “peoples” means little to people who regard the difference between such geographical regions as the difference between work (Sussex), home (Kent) and social life (Greater London).

Most concretely I have a birth certificate that tells me I was born in Britain and so I’m a British Citizen, as does my passport, with all the rights and responsibilities that that holds. That could be my tribe. But it says little of my ethnic or cultural background, I could be a Muslim with family from Bangladesh, like a few of my friends from school. It also says little about my familial or social ties. In such a large, anonymous and impersonal system, friends are lost and gained like so many leaves on a tree and families just drift apart in the vast anonymity of it all.

So now gangs of youths roam around unchecked in whatever haphazard way they can get away with and our “elders” are sent to nursing homes or their opinion so out of touch with the times it’s not worth listening to them (but they weren’t expecting so much change). One generation to the next can be as different culturally as two nations. My mum came from a Roman Catholic family and rejected that for a more Protestant faith. Her mum grew up in a Protestant denomination but married and became Roman Catholic. My dad grew up with Protestantism and later embraced Spiritualism. I had a Protestant childhood, a sort of Spiritualist adolescence and later went through an experimental NeoPagan phase that has become something that doesn’t even have a label for it. I call it my life journey, which has many influences on  it. Though if you look through the rest of my blog (hint hint) you might get a feel for what I’m about.

I grew up in Brighton (Hove actually) which is fairly cosmopolitan (compared to another place I’ve lived in England). I don’t know what to call my culture, except Multiple Exposure in South East England.  I know more about some American TV programs than my own Royal Family and its history. That is the effect of living in a multicultural and Western society I think. It’s a make-it-up-as-you-go-along culture, which has its advantages and disadvantages, as do all cultures.

To be honest, in this cultural atmosphere its easy to see how extremist groups emerge from this, they’re scared because what they thought was a very stable and well-defined world becomes a melting pot that gives way under their feet. Socially dependent individuals become very insecure  and may react violently and retreat into a smaller box than they were in before. It’s also understandable that people without a clue about who they are or what they are doing get lost amidst it all.

I’ve never identified myself as very English, partly because my grandad came from Scotland and also, as I was growing up, being English didn’t seem to be anything in particular, it seemed quite bland to be honest and overrun by international influence, particularly the US (did I mention TV programmes? And let’s not forget McDonald’s). My break from Christianity also broke me out of cultural identity, and I only embraced Spiritualism nominally. Later, upon finding Paganism, I jumped at it and started an active spirituality. In a way this was my chance to forge my own individual identity without the Christian identity of my mum and the Spiritualist identity of my dad.

Modern Paganism itself is not a single belief system or tradition, but an eclectic melting pot that, whilst including traditions like Wicca, Asatru, Druidry amongst others, it also includes bits from the New Age, Indigneous traditions, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Individuals with no-fixed-tradition are aplenty. It was a good atmosphere to look at myself without adopting fixed cultural trappings that might obscure my view of myself. I could have lost myself in this philosophical chaos, but I didn’t and the continuous focus of “nature-based spirituality” was what sustained me a lot of the time. It was always about nature and my connection with it, no matter what beliefs I was looking into and experimenting with.

That’s my group spiritual identity broken and my national identity is well on its way. Well, no, nothing is actually broken, it’s just expanded to include other things. My British nationality has expanded to become a part of the European Union, my geographical position is in Spain (or Catalonia, which might be a separate nation, or not) and I live with a Swiss family, one of which is my girlfriend. Would you like Tea and Toblerone with that Tapas?

So, where was I?

Oh yes, tribes!  What is my tribe? For me my tribe is not bound by cultural or ethnic roots, it has nothing to do with any social organisation I belong to, nor my supposed class, my geographical position, my family, my social circles, beliefs, spiritual traditions or any group affiliation.

To rephrase a well known saying, “Your tribe is where you heart is.” In the global melting pot of a mental concept that I call “my society” that’s the best I can do for a tribe. Well, actually that’s pretty good, and it works well for me.

“Often during initiation rites, Native Americans would take on a new or special name to reflect their new identity and to acknowledge that while still ordinary, the very purpose of their existence has changed. A man’s worldview is changed by his vision, and his life takes on a new or different meaning.” C.T.B. Harris, Ph.D., Emasculation of the Unicorn

The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomms Druidcraft Tarot

The Fool from Philips Carr-Gomm's Druidcraft Tarot

 

 “Man can learn nothing except by going from the known to the unknown.”  Claude Bernard

I stood on the edge of a precipice, looking into a vast chaotic confusion of nothingness. My stomach sank and seemed to fall into it. I felt like I’d lost my base, I’d lost the context which gave my life meaning. It supported me and stopped me falling in. It was the day I left my childhood behind and became an adult. Here I was standing before the raw power of a universe filled with nihilism. Events happened; stars were born and died; planets spun aimlessly around their suns; and humans committed the greatest atrocities and the greatest acts of benevolent service. All the while the universe remained seemingly unmoved, apathetic and without pity.

But then Life sparks something in me, and I feel hope and a will to live replace despair.

I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!

I looked at this nothingness with new courage, standing there and facing it. I did not try to escape from it; no running, no ignoring, no denying. I faced it and from the nothingness itself I extract my hope, meaning and infinite potential, using it as a source for raw material and transforming it through my dreams and visions, through the alchemical powers of my life-force in the depths of my being.

This day, the day I became the creator of meaning in my life, without needing the regurgitated meaning of others, was the day I became an adult. I stood for my independence. I stood for my life.

The universe is like a dying bonfire, and all stars are its embers. If it does not collapse in on itself, annihilating and restarting the universe, eventually all matter will dissolve and all energy dissipate into I-don’t-know-what (I’m no physicist!). All because of the entropic decay inherent in all things of the whole universe. But as our sun burns itself up, it sheds excess energy; scientists call it “free energy”, which is lost in space. But some of the energy isn’t lost because a little pocket of life and meaning collects it, feeding from and being energised by it. Living from it. A “little pocket” we call home; the planet Earth. Without free energy, life would not be possible in our entropy dominated universe.

I spoke at the beginning as though there was a void of nothingness around me, but that is not quite true. The living Earth, or Gaia, is context enough for us to find meaning. If we were rooted in this reality, where human existence was seen and felt as part of the planet’s ecology, there would be no such void or lack of meaning around us. Why do we feel a void around us? Why do we lack meaning from the world around us? Each breath, each step, each sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, is filled with meaning, filled with a context through which we live our lives. When we are disconnected from the wholeness of our environment then meaning can become disconnected from the process of living itself. When we replace living in a forest with living in a city, when we limit our human-nonhuman community to human-only community, when the sustenance of our lives comes from human manufactured technology and not from non-human sources, an individual can easily swim in a nihilistic void. They can become more abstracted and less responsive and sensitive to the world that they depend upon for their existence.

The life of the individual, when it matures from childhood into adulthood, does find itself in a “void” of sorts. We no longer rely on our parents or other role-models to show us the way in life, we have to find it and make it for ourselves. This reminds me of The Fool card in the tarot. The figure is often depicted stepping onto empty air, symbolizing that the next step in life isn’t always certain. Many people avoid the “empty air,” suckling on the teat of societal conventions and never growing up and some see the “empty air” in despairing terms and throw away their lives into meaningless activities (not much different to suckling on societal conventions) or even ending it completely.  But that empty air isn’t empty, it is filled with the presence of life, because without it we’d die. It is our lifeline to the Earth. So the fool, leaping from solid ground into “empty” air, isn’t leaping into nothingness, he (or she) is leaping from its parents support to find its own direct connection with the Earth and everything it contains.

If, when an individual is weaned from parental dependence, they have been guided into the world well and connected with it well, empty air becomes an opportunity for the individual; they can take the next step in life knowing that they will not fall. Their feeling of being part of the human-nonhuman world is strong and also they have enough individual presence to fill any “emptiness” instead of conforming to the roles, social conventions and stereotypes of their society, being who they are, not “what they should be.” This creation of a new self-image, instead of being isolated from society, can in turn contribute to society, transforming its dynamic into something relevant in the world, becoming a healthy guidance and supporting system for future generations, one that leaves space for their individuality and sense of connection with Gaia as a whole in her human and nonhuman aspects.

Although the Earth seems to be swimming in an empty void, we certainly are not, as we can see in James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis. We have emerged within an ecological context that has been evolving for many millennia, ever since life appeared on the Earth and humans are a continuation of that. We have been gifted by this evolution with life; it is our right to live it fully. Yet also we have a responsibility to work for the continuation of life on Earth. For most organisms, this worldview is biologically innate. But for humans this needs to be learnt and we need cultures and societies that will facilitate this worldview so that deep down we all know that we are a part of Gaia’s evolution and that, through our distinctive human creativity, we can contribute and become cocreators in this age-old process alongside all other organisms.

cosmic-druid4This blog is a medley (or synergy) of quotes. It all happened because of an interesting thread on a message board. A comment came up about how things could only be changed by a charismatic leader summoning the enthusiasm of the masses. I agreed with this, but with some serious reservations. This is my reply, though it has been edited to fit The Grove of Quotes:

The value of a leader is important; to be able to set up a vision and to concentrate the energy towards that vision so that it manifests; to be able to coordinate a group into effective action, that’s what a leader can do.

“Before you can inspire with emotion, you must be swamped with it yourself. Before you can move their tears, your own must flow. To convince them, you must yourself believe.” Winston Churchill

“The hero is one who kindles a great light in the world, who sets up blazing torches in the dark streets of life for men to see by.” Felix Adler

But we should be careful of who the charismatic leader is and what they stand for. Hitler, for instance, was very charismatic, he took the apathetic and despairing (at the time) German nation and shook them up into enthusiasm. His speeches, his military displays sparked a fire in the hearts of people. An insane and murderous fire, but fire none the less.

The problem here, as Hannah Arendt says, is “The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.” People without any charisma or vision of their own can become unconsciously swept up into herd mentality under the banner of a dangerous “Charismatic Leader.”
To avoid this we should listen to Carl Rogers advice; “If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.”

It is the individual that makes the difference and the foundation upon which social change is created…
“The whole course of human history may depend on a change of heart in one solitary and even humble individual – for it is in the solitary mind and soul of the individual that the battle between good and evil is waged and ultimately won or lost.” M. Scott Peck
“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” Confucius

The other part of social change is to connect the individuals, to concentrate their energies in a whole, but not to melt together…
“We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” Jimmy Carter

This is what has happened with my own life. At some point I took the initiative and thought about my own individual life. I started to develop that, not content with everything that my society had. I wanted to go beyond it somehow, expand beyond its limitations and become something that was really me, not some pre-determined role or stereotype I had to fit into. I didn’t want to give in to peer pressure or live up to others expectations, my goal became to fulfill myself and express my own individual truth.

I stayed true to this, no matter how obscure my vision of it became. I still had a deep trust that my inner process with my individual truth would take me somewhere, and it has!
As Anais Nin said, “The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself.”

Finally I found a role (for want of a better word) that fit me, not a role that I fitted into. It started in my own personal life and then expanded beyond that, finding others of “like-mind” (but NOT the same mind!) that I could work with, where my individuality could work alongside other individuals in a group effort without having to lose my sense of personal uniqueness (see Earth Sanctuary). For me it is proof that different individuals can collaborate for a common goal, a Greater Good that each individual has come to by their own choice, that there needs not be a charismatic leader showing the way to apathetic followers. If there is to be a charismatic leader then the followers should also be charismatic self-leaders, at the very least. Each individual takes a committed responsibility for their own life and also for a Greater Good. For me, the Greater Good to really concentrate on is a healthy interdependent and synergistic relationship between humanity and Gaia, the living Earth of which we are a part.

And here’s a few more quotes that sum synergy up, particularly the first one;
“Individual commitment to a group effort — that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” Vince Lombardi

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

“The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place.” Marian Wright Edelman

“In every community there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart there is the power to do it.” Marieanne Williamson

Then, as I was writing this post on the message board I receive a very apt comment on The Grove of Quotes saying;
“We walk a common path,” Mary Oliver said “whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination – calling to you to take up your place in the family of things – in this time of the great shift it is important to hear the voices in the chorus calling, leading the people to a new world order.”

BUT, it can only be done with a chorus. One bright soul followed by a load of blind sheep just doesn’t work!

Prades Mountains, Catalonia

“Aboriginal people learned from their stories that a society must not be human-centred but rather land centred, otherwise they forget their source and purpose…humans are prone to exploitative behaviour if not constantly reminded they are interconnected with the rest of creation, that they as individuals are only temporal in time, and past and future generations must be included in their perception of their purpose in life” C. Morris

“Through us, Gaia has seen herself from space, and begins to know her place in the universe.” James Lovelock

All of humanity needs Ecopsychology. I don’t mean that everyone needs to go to a therapist (there aren’t enough therapists anyway!). I mean that we all need to develop an Earth-based consciousness, an identity firmly rooted in the living processes of the Earth that some call Gaia.

Humanity’s psychological structure needs to be fully integrated into and informed by its place within Gaia, existing as a natural extension of our planet’s life, and all of the things that the human mind creates; societies, cities, cultures, technologies, sciences, religions and arts. All these need to become orientated towards evolving with Gaia, though certainly not to become enslaved to her in a way akin to Star Trek’s Borg or, less fictional, brainwashing cults or societies. I believe that individuality can be aligned with Gaia without being lost and that a person can have their individual thoughts and feelings without being in conflict with the world.

Ecopsychology, for me, is about training our humanity to serve not only ourselves but also the wider world on which our existence depends, where human consciousness is so much a part of Gaia, that it can be considered the conscious aspect of Gaia. All of our qualities are a part of the system within which we exist and evolve, something that should inform all of our attitudes and behaviours.

Evolution can no longer be considered an isolated action but a collective action, where all organisms, their qualities and the systems they inhabit, are part of a coevolving whole. The human mind’s evolution and of everything it creates is a part of, not apart from, this coevolving whole, our living planet, Gaia.