True passionate curiosity
An old teacher once told me, “Choose any one thing; if you stay with it long enough, research and experiment with the elements that make it up with true passionate curiosity, you will understand how anything and everything functions. Choose any two things that appear to have no direct relationship, apply the same methods, and you will know how Nature thinks and feels.”
This is one of only a handful of ideas that have sustained their original impact on me through the course of my life, remaining so penetratingly relevant that it has actually altered my approach to everything from my work, to raising children, to reading a newspaper or walking across the street. At its essence, the implication is that a connection, a working relationship, does exist between any two, and therefore all, independent things. The ethic born from this implication is that we as human beings have the freedom and the need to comprehend the connection—to construct a bridge with our imagination between our own needs and the innate potential of anything we happen to come across.
The process to doing that, as I’ve discovered, is infinitely complex. (So, at least I’ve gotten that far in knowing Nature.) The greatest minds throughout history have all enacted some version of this idea. Indeed, one could define the stepping stones of human evolution as steps made up by connecting apparently unrelated and often seemingly irrelevant matter and images: sand and fire formed glass; crushed plants and minerals created ink and paint to transport the ideas of writers, painters and musicians; moldy food produced the cure for bacterial infections; the search for a spice or fabric caused the discovery of continents and cultures.
In my study of this idea, I’ve tried to isolate the key components that appeared to be so casually assembled when I first heard it. For example, “with true passionate curiosity.” Seems simple enough. Then again, religions and the major schools of thought throughout the world have spent thousands of years trying to design a technical map in response to passion and curiosity. A few describe passion as the opposition to resolution. Some have settled on an open mind with compassionate interests. Others have interpreted it as a little specifically directed curiosity with moderate passion as a means to get what one wants. Still others have split the two, promoting passionate imposition as the solution to the discomfort and awkwardness of genuine curiosity.
I’ve learned a lot from persons who seem to have a real gift for applying passionate curiosity in such a way as to come up with extraordinary discoveries: an old beekeeper who lived on a dirt floor, a basketball player who delighted in being double-teamed with just a second left on the clock, a biologist who studied evolutionary mutation in cockroaches, a child staggering through the final stage of an incurable disease. Each of these persons had an unusual knack for intuiting that something imperative was somewhere else other than where one would think to look.
Curiously and, I think, passionately, I’ve rarely met such an individual well up in the hierarchy of a religion or spiritual organization. As with any form of specialization or exclusivity, the further along you go, the more difficult it is to be genuinely curious about what exists outside of your own already-defined methods and goals. Every club, however holy or intelligently conceived, has a set of precepts that are meant to limit and hone perception toward a defined path and what lies at the end of it. This is like a particular style of music. Each style suggests, explicitly or implicitly, that the solutions you’re looking for already exist within the defined style. Which makes it difficult indeed to consider that real discovery, revelatory insight into the nature of life and one’s life, may not be within the set of precepts one is working within, however infinite or absolute one passionately believes they are.
Passion is most easily provoked by awareness of opposition. That is, it’s easy to feel passionately about the opposition to what one wants and its direct relationship to what one wants, as in, say, the pursuit of happiness. Desire may be deeply felt, but it becomes passionate only when one notices that what is desired is not so easy to acquire. This is what gives birth to “the enemy,” and probably to suffering itself. Unfortunately, it is also most often the demise of sincere curiosity. Once opposition is identified, there is no question to ask except how to get rid of it. The imagination shrinks to fit into the frame of opposing forces, and almost everyone experiences this from one side or the other, choosing which side according to style preference.
A number of great ideas have sought to break the frame. For example, the value placed on paradox so emphasized in many Eastern schools of thought and the themes of forgiveness and loving one’s enemy in Christian traditions. Such ideas extend from an underlying sense that there does exist some kind of essential mysterious harmony, and we just have to find it. Male and female, black and white, virus and host, opposing opinions, arrow and target, have an obvious bond to each other, representing two parts to some kind of whole that implies a harmonious relationship between the two will produce a superior result for both.
The search for such a harmony is a large part of the game of life. Religions, economics, politics, psychology and the health sciences all look to establish their version of a functional harmony of well-being in the individual and the community in which he lives. And each of us looks to one of these, or a stylized combination of them, for answers in our own individual search. Historically, we spend a lot of time and energy arguing and selling the superiority of our chosen system of answers over another; part of our time and energy is allocated to the actual pursuit, and the rest is spent trying to validate the way we’re going about it. Finally, there’s not much left over for genuine curiosity, and our passion is already spent on pursuing, arguing and selling. We end up with virtually no harmony at all, and nothing more compelling to show for it.
True passionate curiosity is a subtler approach to harmony, one born from our original childlike fascination and love for life. It is not the search for answers to obvious questions we’re trying to solve, or being clever in reaction to the inconveniences of opposition one faces in life, or temporarily appreciating casual distractions. It is more along the lines of an active inquisitiveness toward whatever one might happen to come across—a kind of piercing peripheral vision along the way. Not just stopping to smell a rose alongside the road we’re on, but allowing the rose to provoke imagination, to fuel the context of engagement, to open doors to mystery. And even further, choosing to passionately explore whatever is on the other side of those doors, following the sense that curiosity itself is imperative.
In this spirit, this small monthly newsletter is meant to offer sustenance for true passionate curiosity. The hope is to provide a forum for original insight into personal evolution in realtime, alive and questioning now, rather than to exchange or list existing answers and niceties, or discuss the superiority or one position or idea over another; to aid in keeping our perception and imagination vital, looking for clues to mysterious alchemy. Much like forming glass from sand and fire.
Coffee beans in the fire
“I read your first newsletter and don’t understand curiosity and ‘piercing peripheral vision’ as a means toward harmony. Are you referring to intuition? Doesn’t this kind of oblique curiosity conflict with other spiritual ideas? What about devoted concentration as the path toward transcendence and resolution?”
The universal curiosity I’m talking about is one of the primary impulses of every living being. Any baby or young child in any culture naturally has a strong sense of it. The rate of speed a child learns, many times faster than an adult, is directly proportionate to his level of passionate curiosity. As a baby, this is a need, not on option, so the passion is absolute or very close to it. So is the necessity to look beyond the things he knows he already wants. He looks to assemble an experiential knowledge of all the variables present in any moment. The impulse to do that is driven by a fascination for mystery, that which he doesn’t already know.
So, I’m not really throwing another idea into the competitive marketplace of spirituality. I’m suggesting an underlying “tone” of engagement applicable to anyone, including those uninterested in things spiritual. It is not an idea that implies opposition to a belief system or to not believing at all. Evolution and resolution, of anything, always require some kind of creative leap. To produce a result we don’t already know, we have to have curiosity for the unknown, and that has to be real and passionate enough to motivate exploration and cause discovery.
That’s not really intuition; it’s an essential wonderment for life. From there, yes, one perceives possibilities and options that would otherwise be ignored, and that can include brilliant spontaneous insight.
To find this depth of wonderment, we simply have to turn away from the mirror, meaning, we have to find something more attractive than our own obsessions and ambitions. The easiest way to do that is to notice and invest in whatever it is that provokes wonderment. You could call this coming back to mysticism as a way of life. We were all already there as children. This doesn’t have to oppose whatever else we are doing or in pursuit of. This kind of playful acknowledgement of natural curiosity directly fuels creativity in our chosen endeavors and existing challenges. The curiosity is in us for a reason, however peripheral it may appear to be. That is, whatever provokes it is a clue to something specific within us; we have a relationship with it already.
This also happens to be fun. One could almost define fun, and even happiness, as what happens when we forget about ourselves. Big-time fun—love, valued creative work, producing resolution or joy for another—is all about losing ourselves precisely because something else is more fascinating. Something compelling pulled our attention away from the mirror. The clues to such experience, the threads that lead to them, aren’t in the mirror.
Noticing something that pulls us away from the mirror can only happen is there’s some peripheral vision in place already. I’m not talking about being distracted by any pretty little thing that saunters by. The experience is more an appreciative sense that the elements present right now have meaning and beauty in being assembled exactly as they are. One senses a pattern, a harmony, even if it isn’t clearly logical. There’s a tremendous relief in falling into place within that pattern. Not controlling the elements or ignoring them, but looking for a way to integrate within them. That is subtle. But it can only happen if we’re curious enough to notice it.
This is an art, not a science. Meaning, it takes a lot of imagination to assemble things that appear to have no direct relationship, or that seem to have nothing in it for us. This is also what makes passionate curiosity true: it’s not about what we know is in it for us. Most often, we miss the point and the experience because we can’t figure out how to funnel what we’re intrigued or compelled by into our own existing ambitions and obsessions. We can’t find a way to own it. As if meaning is only about what we already know we want. So, we end up seeing only what we believe we might personally gain from, or the opposition to it. Pre-set ambitions and assumptions work like blinders: “I’m looking for a cookie, I’m looking for a cookie…”
Imagine someone sitting under a tree with a cup of water in front of a fire some hundreds of years ago. He’s thinking about all the things he wants and is trying to construct a plan of action to get those, but he’s tired, cynical and a little bored, mainly because the same problems and opposition to what he wants are always in the way. He starts to recall a lot of ideas in the way-back seat of his mind, like, “God is everywhere,” “Seize the moment,” “Keep an open mind and heart,” and things like that. This makes him even more tired.
During all this, a few beans have fallen out of the tree into the fire. They’re roasting there. He doesn’t notice them because he’s tired and they have nothing to do with him. The beans are from a coffee tree. Within a few feet of each other, we have a tired man, a cup of water and roasting coffee beans. What’s missing? And why?
Concerning spirituality, since you brought it up, spirit means vital essence, or life-giving force. Religions, sciences, philosophies and coffee makers have each tried to show what that is and how to get it. The totality of that search, and whatever successes have come as a result of it, was born from true passionate curiosity. Spirituality, when one finds it in a human being, is mainly a state of fascinated questioning, particularly as it relates to assembling disconnected parts into a whole. If we can find that fascination, sustain it and explore it well, happiness, love, salvation, a good cup of coffee and all the rest fall into place.
Religions, the organizations that have given us definitions of spirituality, are in place to do basically one thing: assemble disparate parts into unified harmony. They seem, for the most part, to have failed to ignite the imagination or intentions of their followers enough to create social harmony on a large scale. An honest tour of the human race in 2005 (or 2015) would reveal that deep and habitual reactions in general have not been successfully reduced or refined over the last, say, 3,000 years. Fear, ignorance, prejudice, hubris and violent reaction—the opposition to true passionate curiosity—are at least as strong as they have been. What we’re staring at, and how we’re going about it, isn’t all that impressive. As a species, we certainly have the worst record on the planet with regard to selfish imposition, blatant disregard and abusive self-indulgence. And we’re not having much fun anyway. It seems like someone’s not noticing the coffee beans roasting in the fire.
The foundational qualities of ethical and moral behavior and of spirituality itself as defined by almost all religions—humility, compassion, integrity, generous sacrifice—are not really demonstrated beyond the walls of personal gain by their apparent promoters. These qualities are already difficult to find in response to ourselves, our own family or club members. With the majority of the world’s problems caused by an inability to enact these qualities toward those outside of our own families and clubs, and the religions as organizations not demonstrating any true capacity to do that themselves, where are we to learn this from? If we cannot come up with enough genuine passionate curiosity about the essential workings of what we don’t understand and don’t like, “the unknown” and “the enemy,” where will the shift of dynamic come from?
It’s not the ambition of this newsletter to try to solve large social problems, although change and evolution on any level require the same methods. The spirit is the same. We are all born with that spirit. It’s at the core of the impulse and intuition to look beyond that which we already know. The opposition to rediscovering this spirit is most often our own existing set of answers and presumptions, held tight with fear, cynicism, prejudice and arrogance. It takes courage to let those down long enough to sense of perceive something else. It does take courage to have fun. The clues are all there, though, sitting just off to the side, like coffee beans in the fire.
Thank you for your comments about the January issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few we received:
“Interesting Newsletter. Naked facts and deep contact to the core of life. You might be describing the quality of life fabrics.”
“As I see it, curiosity [is] a step down from compellingness, is that what you want?”
“I just read your January newsletter article and it touched me very much. You have a way to put into words that which is just not said anywhere else like this. I feel this sense of a fresh stream of running water outside the window on a clear summer night.”
“Honestly, you and your newsletter are full of bullshit. Drivel about hidden truths and secrets over there somewhere is an easy con to spot. Obviously, you’re having problems seeing what is in front of you, like how to articulate clearly what you mean.”
“As someone who’s only moderately familiar with your thinking, I definitely had my work cut out for me. It’s not that I mind the challenge; I’d expect nothing less from you. At times, your writing has an unusual kind of opacity to it: although the words themselves aren’t so complex, they don’t yield their freight readily to the casual observer. It definitely becomes an act of conscious (and unconscious) devotion…. yes, true passionate curiosity.”
“I just don’t get what you’re proposing. Specifically, what does spirituality have to do with ‘fascinated questioning’? In my experience, those who are really spiritual convey understanding, knowledge and an obvious contentment that comes from them. Are you sure you’re not taking on more than you can handle?”
Well, let me walk you through the maze of spiritual evolution. But first, please remember that I’m not selling or even promoting spirituality. I’m trying to make a clear distinction between essential human spirit and the conceptual schools of thought that have tried to design a program to get to it.
True passionate curiosity is at the core of everything we perceive or experience as the external signs of spirituality. That is, spirituality is a category, mainly recognizable by the various disciplines that try to articulate a language through which we can understand it. Each of these languages has its strengths and weaknesses, just like real languages. (French is a beautiful language, for example, but has failed to come up with a precise word for wit; which, by the way, parallels a number of spiritual languages that have failed to come up with that quality.)
Actuality precedes language. Apples existed before we created a word for them. They also existed before we knew to eat them, or to grow trees that would allow us to eat more of them. The total body of conceptualization around apples—what they are, why to grow different types, how to make pies from them, identifying the vitamins within them, the benefits of apple puree for babies, etc.—would, no doubt, make an impressive document that would help in the understanding of apples. Then again, it still wouldn’t be an apple.
Your understanding of spirituality comes from one or more languages that place a great importance on understanding, knowledge and contentment. These are the key concepts through which you look to identify spirituality. These concepts are particular; they are not universal. For example, they are not on the top of the list of definitions of spirituality from the perspectives of Christianity, Judaism or a number of other religions. And you can easily find spiritual disciplines that would place a higher importance on their opposites—non-understanding, innocence and discontentment.
So, you have different languages pointing to an event or experience from different directions. You may very well be right in looking toward that event of experience from the angle you’re looking, but it’s for sure that for someone else that angle is not correct. For someone else, understanding, knowledge and contentment will not lead to the event or experience, what you call spirituality. Now, if you were to have some understanding, knowledge and contentment with that fact, you would eventually become curious about someone completely different from you. That would begin a process of discovery in which what you already believe, understand and are content with would have to be tossed. If you had enough true passionate curiosity.
There are, however, some universal concepts or experiences that appear to be at the foundation of each spiritual language. There is a music or tone of engagement. But, again, if you look closely and notice, you can also find this music in a lot of other places and languages. In other words, you don’t need a spiritual language to perceive or to get to the core experience. That’s available to anyone anywhere, at any age, with any or no education.
In any case, let’s settle for now in the idea of true passionate curiosity as the musicality within all languages. Okay? In your spiritual language, what happens then? The ripening of that curiosity becomes the fruit of genuine interest: concern becomes compassion, discipline becomes devotion, care becomes integrity, creative experimentation become brilliance and mastery. This ripening is the natural process of opinions, prejudice and concepts falling away to reveal direct perception, and of agitated self-consciousness dissolving into contentment and freedom.
As we develop experience with the transition of curiosity into real interest, we begin to notice that personal fulfillment and harmony hinge entirely on the ability to be fascinated by something other than ourselves. Fear and self-satisfaction shrink as motivators and context for choice as we discover that there are more interesting things to do. Discernment expands and refines as we realize that there are certain things that are essential, others that are relatively important, and a lot of others that are irrelevant. Such discernment requires an enormous range of qualities and skills to back it up for it to really become spiritual, for one to recognize and engage the essential things in one’s life according to their real value. But the primary dynamic that determines how deep this spirituality goes, how far it will evolve, is absolutely dependent on our ability to keep true curiosity alive in the face of every temptation to kill it.
So, yes, one can get a sense of someone having succeeded with all this through the expression of knowledge (direct perception) and internal peace (release of self-consciousness). But once those become stagnant, become a repetition of the same knowledge and peace, that’s the end of the evolution; you could almost say that it’s the end of spirituality. The answers that replace the questioning produce a product that goes out onto the assembly line. One may then teach what one already knows, and do that well, but invention, creation and real discovery are over.
You could think of this as the difference between a teacher and an artist, in any field, including spirituality. Generally, it is true that a teacher is someone who disengages from the creative process so as to comfortably give what he is already good at, what he already knows. He lowers his own personal bar so that he can show others how to jump over it. Certainly that has value. For example, it sets a context for others to evolve toward the level of the teacher. But it does not display the act of creation. It shows how others have done that, or how the teacher once did it, or how you could do it. Each of these, though, is abstract. For the teacher to return to creating, he would have to go back to the drawing board, as a questioning beginner, and take on a challenge he is not already familiar with. The spirit that would drive him to do that is what I’m referring to as true passionate curiosity.
Unless you believe that the human race and yourself have achieved an ultimate level of evolution, there is a need to reconsider the existing knowledge and contentment that’s out there. In each spiritual discipline, there are answers given out that, as a whole, have not succeeded in producing what they were meant to produce. They’re good answers. But, like the answers of any great physicist throughout history, the answers given must then be used to ask better questions. The bar is raised with E=MC², but that’s not the end of the game, it’s not ultimate salvation or resolution for physics.
All great minds, and spirits, understand that any answer is the birth of another question. That comes from an intuitive sense of how to position questions and answers relative to each other. Every answer is a beginning, not the end. To live according to that truth requires a depth of fascination that is itself the ultimate expression of knowledge and contentment. Not an understanding and contentment as the result of completing the game, after everything has been answered, but as a state of dynamic harmony while within it. That’s not conceptual spirituality; it’s just human spirit.
It’s a great joke: our struggles in evolution are not caused by what we don’t know; they’re caused by what we know. We tend to sit back and try to force reality into the concepts we hold as true beyond question. All the clues for how to crack this joke are present. Those who succeed all follow the same principle. They all live from their curiosity. That is, they tenaciously, playfully follow their deeper imagination, which is born from a fascination for the unknown, for mystery.
As to your question, am I taking on more than I can handle? Yes. That’s the point.
Thank you for your comments about the February issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few we received:
“The Mokens are the nomadic gypsies of the Andaman sea (think Thailand). I find it particularly fascinating that they don’t have words for a lot of the concepts that we take for granted such as want and when. They survived the big tsunami with no casualties. Speaking of (the lack of) peripheral vision in some Burmese fisherman… ‘They were collecting squid, they were not looking at anything. They saw nothing, they looked at nothing. They don’t know how to look,’ says the Moken man. ‘Suddenly, everything rose up, their boats were thrown up in the air. The violence was unbelievable.’”
“Thank you so much for taking the time to put out this newsletter. It’s a great idea, and such a gift. My own ability to stay awake, aware, curious and engaged feels like it has been improving. However, the numbing fog banks of apathy, boredom, inertia and too much me-me-me are always lurking nearby. Anything which continues to encourage me to dispel that fog is so welcome, as is your newsletter.”
“A finding on my internet surfing… It goes your way I believe and it will reassure those who don’t get exactly what you are doing. If Einstein said it, it must be valuable no? ‘The perception of mystery is the source of every learning and discovery.’”
“I remember when I was a kid I was tremendously curious. As I grew older I felt I had to hide it, knowing was more important than the curiosity. So when a question was asked, the reply was usually, ‘Why are you always asking stupid questions?” I would love to have this gnawing, can’t sleep because of it, questioning as when I was that age. The simple fact that you’ve written these two newsletters on the subject, that which has been sitting there in the background of my life has been brought forward into full view. Thank you.”
Angle of perception
Did I ever tell you about that time I almost killed the master in the monastery I had the misfortune to have signed up for?
I had been in this isolated monastery for some months, after going through a big production to get there and get in. Besides the basic difficulties, I couldn’t understand anything, no one talked to me, and I was completely ignored. The only real job I had was cleaning the wooden floor in the “dining room.” And even there, the only contact I had with anyone was when someone would look in on me, giggle and walk out. They gave me a single rag to clean with, and after a couple weeks it was worn down to the size of a postcard with holes in it. There were no chairs anywhere, and my back was always aching and cramping. I spent most of my time thinking about everything that was wrong. My list of complaints was long, interesting and valid.
A rare visit with the master was arranged after days of multiple requests. Two monks led me in, and the guy was sitting in a fucking chair reading a magazine. He put the magazine down and said, not asked, “What.” I told him I hadn’t signed up to be a cleaning woman, I had sacrificed a lot of things to cross an ocean and spend time there. I was obviously serious about being in a monastery. It was appropriate that I receive at least some instruction or even a comment now and then, and besides, I needed a new rag.
At the moment I said that I needed a new rag, he began laughing so hard that he actually slipped out of the chair and fell on the floor. The two monks who had accompanied me tried to lift him off the floor, but to no avail. This went on for a good five minutes. I had laughed myself for the first minute, not because anything was funny, but the way you do when someone else is laughing well. By the fifth minute I was furious. Now and then he would glance up at me, and this made him laugh even harder. He was hacking and spitting up phlegm, snot was running out of his nose, and his face was hideously swollen and red.
Finally, a group of additional monks rushed in, picked him up and carried him out. I could still hear him laughing from across the courtyard, about 25 meters away. The two monks who stayed with me started yelling at me in Japanese, way too fast to understand. The one who occasionally translated for me calmed down and explained that it was forbidden to make the master laugh, because once he started, he couldn’t stop. He had already been in a hospital a number of times because of it, one time on medication to put him out. The risk of death by laughing was very serious and no joke.
That last comment got me going; it was the first time I ever really laughed completely out of control. ‘Death by laughing was no joke.’ The timing and nuances of all the details leading up to this revelatory statement were so absurd, yet somehow they had created this complete shift of perception in me. Months of agony were transformed in a single second. I understood that the master was laughing at the absurdity of my list of complaints, and I saw it all through his eyes. It was hilarious.
This event was the turning point in my experience of monastic life (and a lot of other things). Everyone else in the monastery began to respect me in obvious ways, and I learned how to uphold that respect. I learned how to hold my difficulties, not just with grace and humble acceptance, but in such a way that the difficulties actually transformed into something else. I’d remember the experience and start laughing, and someone would say something like, “You’re trying to commit suicide, and don’t think we won’t laugh when you’re dead.” I’d bring my little wad of a rag into dinner and say, “No, I think I can get another day out of it.” I started inventing original techniques for cleaning. And when I received a new rag, I was slightly disappointed.
Looking back now, clearly, the master’s reflex was a brilliant display of effortlessly utilizing my weapon—my list of complaints—to his advantage, and ultimately to my advantage. The impact of my list was reversed. The facts on the list were mainly right, but my answers because of them were off. This is bad became this is good. That transformation required only a leap of imagination to see the facts from a different angle of perception.
I’ve had to apply myself over the years to relearn this technique as my complaints have altered, and grown in size and number. It can be so tempting to just sit and pout in the little isolated monastery of favorite answers. Sometimes I have to provide the laughing hideous red face myself. Fortunately, I never run out of opportunities. And I continue to work on this, as, of course, my current list is really great.
Due to the spring Retreat to the Source in France, the CobaltSaffron team has selected this previously written but unpublished letter for this month’s issue.
Thank you for your comments about the March issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few we received:
“Great reply to a question that made me furious. Are people really asking these questions? The question strikes me as, ‘Don’t you have real work to do, other than to bourgeoisely sit back and wonder about what the fuck spirituality is?” So much reflecting the VERY western mindset and lack of real engagement. Sorry, but had to get that off my chest. I am amazed at your patience.”
“I have been enjoying the newsletters enormously. They are a generous source of connection to your work and I appreciate the effort behind it.”
“In terms of passionate curiosity, there seems to be a fork in the road: one path pursues understanding and the other is consumed in knowing. The pat argument is that understanding leads to knowing but is that really true? Do our attempts at understanding really just make things worse? It seems like I have to choose even though I’m curious about both paths.”
Life relevantly lived
“The imagination and intentions displayed in your newsletter are all well and fine, but I can’t help but feel that it’s completely obscure. For the average person trying to move along in life, your ideas seem irrelevant and like just more naïve, self-indulgent philosophy alongside the road.”
Which road is that? The one that goes to the job, the bank and the shopping mall, then directly to the cemetery?
I always cringe when in the presence of those who view curiosity and imagination as either irrelevant or an expression of naivety. Not so much because of the tone of “wordly-wise” superiority, as if maturity is learning to get beyond imaginative curiosity (from which all roads were created) to cynical criticism. Not so much because of the blatant disregard for those who applied imagination to create the things we benefit from (including the chair you’re sitting in, the computer you wrote your opinion on, and the words you used to do so). Not so much because all problems we encounter personally or as a community depend entirely upon curiosity and imagination to resolve them. And not so much because those who are compelled enough to actually risk envisioning something other than the common road to already-known destinations are seen as the enemy. But mainly because of the ignorance and naivety fueled by hubris that causes the unquestioned presumption that one already knows not only what to pursue, but also what others should pursue.
What can be more naive and irrelevant than to not have noticed that one’s life has been spent pursuing things that made little or no difference to anyone, even to oneself?
The greatest persons I have met have been relentlessly opposed throughout their lives, not because of the specifics of their imagination or vision, but simply because they had imagination and vision. I’ve been witness to my children’s struggles to maintain their curiosity and imagination within an education system that has no plan or program for keeping these alive. I’ve worked with thousands of persons whose primary suffering is caused by trying to keep wonderment alive in a world that demands its annihilation so as to fit in.
In my naïve opinion, for “the average person,” as you put it, obscurity and irrelevance is the personal experience that comes from having lost wonderment and fascination for life. Self-indulgence then becomes the preferred technique for recuperating some residual sense of joy. The end result is finding yourself on a road you never even wanted to be on. You haven’t noticed this?
It may very well be that my articulation of these ideas is obscure. That’s probably a fault of mine in trying to find an original and effective imagery to convey their essence. But the qualities themselves—true passionate curiosity, imagination and wonderment, and ultimately awed fascination—are the source of every creation and discovery. So, they are relevant, at least to those interested in creating and discovering. They may be intimidating and overwhelming in their implications, especially when we consider how difficult they are to really locate and live according to. In their absence, however, what’s left over that’s truly relevant?
Perhaps these qualities themselves strike you as being naïve? As though they’re reserved for small children and those who can’t handle responsibility and the requisites for success in life. What then, exactly, is success? And what are our real responsibilities?
When I think of my responsibility and what success would really be for me, my mind immediately goes to providing something essential to those I love, such as my children. Certainly you’ve heard of the idea, “What I really want for my children is for them to be happy.” And you can probably imagine that to do that well, to aid someone else in being happy, is not an obvious and easy thing to do. In other words, it would take some imagination in considering how to go about it. One would need to be passionately curious about what makes up happiness, for example.
Is this still relevant? Or is it naïve and obscure to consider how to help make a loved one happy?
So, I’m thinking of what makes for a happy person. Perhaps there are clues sitting around somewhere. Common periodicals and books present the results of research made into the nature of happiness. For example, there are no consistent patterns of deeper happiness amongst certain age groups, gender, levels of income or education, location of residence, type of job, or specific belief system or religious preference. So, I’d cross those off the list and look elsewhere.
What are the signs of happiness in persons I’ve met? Well, they laugh a lot, listen well and are consistently generous. They’ve realized that being right doesn’t make a bit of difference. There’s also a certain noticeable fearlessness, as if what they’re compelled by is more appealing than security and the opinions of others. It’s as if they create their own answers instead of living out others’ answers. They’re passionate about what they do. Somehow, they’ve kept alive some sense of vital wonderment. And finally, they all have a deep curiosity, as if mystery and discovery are always more fascinating than just knowing.
Then, if I were to take this responsibility seriously, the one of helping to make loved ones happy, I suppose I’d then make choices to promote the qualities described above. And I’d probably try to keep these qualities alive in myself so that I could show how they function, give examples of their value, and share in their expression.
I’d also probably need to identify and work to protect the loved ones from the many forms of violence that seek to destroy these qualities, at least until they could protect themselves. So, I’d have to learn, for one thing, how to guard against everything that demands that they shrink to fit into the obligatory, irrelevant monotony of the unimagined life, the one without any passion, curiosity or wonderment. I’d suggest to them from time to time to remember to not follow directions from someone who could not discern the difference between relevance and irrelevance. Also, that they avoid those who complain or criticize without offering an envisioned solution. And that they never trade away their fascination for a lesser thing.
If I could achieve that, I’d look back on my life with the sense that I had succeeded, that my primary responsibilities had been fulfilled. That would be a life relevantly lived.
Perhaps, though, as you say, these ideas are just naïve and self-indulgent. What would you propose so that I better understand how to move along in life?
Thank you for your comments about the April issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few we received:
“Hilarious newsletter!! Like a tsunami (of laughs) taking you by surprise! I enjoyed it very much…”
“I don’t know if it works the same way for everybody, but I notice that when I have more time on my hands I find more things to complain about. So, I go into a snowball of projects and work so that I don’t have the chance to even sleep. But then again, I still have room to complain and I don’t have time to do something about it…! Does this ever get to a different place?”
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Darrell Calkins, soon to be published and available on the website.
“A perennial question that everyone seems to want to know about you is, ‘What’s your background?’ Both in terms of the typically combative, ‘who the hell are you to say/do the things that you do,’ as well as those who are curious as to the heritage that is coming down to us through you.”
My background is somewhat eclectic. In my early teens, I began to take interest in various Eastern schools of thought—Buddhism, yoga, Sufism, and the philosophies behind Chinese and Japanese martial arts. At the same time, I was in a catholic high school run by the Christian Brothers, so I had a fairly deep religious training. My studies at school focused mainly on theater, as a playwright, actor and director. I started my own theater group at 15, the same age I began lecturing through a public speaking program at a nearby college.
I jockeyed back and forth with all of these for a few years before really focusing on mastering the physical arts. That took me to a lot of places: Kung Fu and Tai Chi, Aikido, classical ballet, basic physiology and biology, endurance training and running, and again, yoga. I had the right genes and a lot of energy, so I eventually made my way up through the ranks and got to work with some elite teachers.
In my twenties, I traveled to the Orient, became serious about Zen Buddhism and Chinese and Japanese martial arts. I spent some extended time in a couple of monasteries. Back in the States, I studied Western philosophy, psychology and literature at Cal Berkeley and Yale, largely auditing postgraduate courses.
Through all this, I was basically following my instincts. I didn’t really have a single teacher or discipline that eclipsed the others. My luck was in meeting extraordinary individuals in each of the disciplines I studied, mainly those who had really given their life to their chosen art. And I understood that I was looking for a central theme or essence to all this. What’s the driving force behind these disciplines? What are people looking for? What am I looking for?
In terms of a heritage, I’m probably not sufficiently certified to be an accurate representative of any of the given disciplines above. My experience and interests are too wide-ranging. In recent years, my focus has turned toward the natural sciences, for example. I know a lot about falcons.
So, who the hell am I to say and do what I do? Nobody. Just a man trying to make the most of my time on the planet. If I’m succeeding in passing down some heritage, I hope it’s just this essential force, a love of questioning and engaging. Keeping that alive.
“How has this eclectic background led you to do what you do? How did teaching arise as a way of life? More specifically, how, for example, does something like your extensive knowledge about falcons emanate from and inform what you do? And while we’re on the subject: what exactly do you do?”
I don’t really consider myself to be a teacher, although I understand that others do. There’s a certain restriction or reduction in that stereotype that doesn’t ring true. Especially the underlying assumption that I know something that others don’t, and my job is to give them what I know. That’s simply not true.
My personal experience in doing what I do is more along the lines of following the questioning, or, more precisely, the questing of others. To do that correctly, it’s essential that I don’t provide an answer that ends the quest, but rather, that I somehow aid in making that quest more functional, clear and fulfilling. Part of that involves engaging in a dialogue to facilitate cleaning out unworkable habits and misperceptions. But most of it is just being authentically interested in the individual I’m working with. That builds a common trust, from which a shared process of real exploration can take place.
Beyond that, I’m a big fan of the idea that we already know way too much, but don’t know what to do with it. Beneath all that is a soul searching for how to have fun, in the deepest sense of the word, and how to cause fun for others. I try to assist in a process to relocate that and live according to it. For each of us, that’s completely unique. To find exactly what that is in each individual has little or nothing to do with teaching.
“Evolution seems to be your central theme or organizing principle. Where does evolution fit in your view of the world and how the world works? Do you use it as a metaphor because it is commonly known or as a metaphor because you find it powerful? Or is it perhaps your unconscious belief system?”
Yes, it’s mainly just a good open-ended, somewhat neutral metaphor. Terms like spirituality, human potential, personal growth, or even happiness and attainment or others all have common restrictions and personalities, causing more likelihood of, “Oh, yeah, I know what he means.” And they’re less accurate. I’m not using the term as in the Darwinian scenario, but more as in its origin: unrolling or unraveling.
It may be a belief, but as I see it, yes, that’s the name of the game. Unraveling mystery. Some of that is external and some of it is internal. I can think of nothing in the universe that does not abide by this essential principle. I’m simply transposing it to the specifics of the human being. We do have some capacity to determine how things evolve, and how we evolve, individually and as a community or race. That’s a tremendous freedom and a tremendous responsibility.
“You implied that various religious, philosophical and spiritual traditions carry a lot of baggage, I assume from the originators and followers, and the onlookers. I see evolution as equally loaded, including the ‘scientific view’ as well as those who use it to answer the traditional questions of where did things come from, is there meaning to life, who cares, etc. I would like a follow up to your last two sentences. Do you believe we have the capacity to influence our evolution or even the evolution beyond ourselves beyond rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic? Or, if we have little impact, should we act ‘as if’ we did because it makes us feel good?”
There is, no doubt, as you suggest, some reaction to the term evolution. I’ve found that usually what I’m up against in terms of prejudice or presumption are terms that are more commonly used and nice. I try to cut through the scientific association by specifying personal evolution. The majority of persons that don’t know me and are introduced to my work come from angles of self-reflection and self-betterment, usually via schools of religion, spirituality, psychology or other forms of therapy. Personal evolution makes some sense, it’s close in spirit, bus usually avoids immediate categorization.
In any case, I’m not attached to the word, and am open to better ideas. Do you have one? Perhaps unfolding is better? Sounds to me like something you’d do to a deck chair.
On your last question… Various human abuses resulted in reducing the total number of Peregrine falcons on the planet thirty years ago to dangerously low levels, where extinction seemed highly probable. A few, and only a few, individuals noticed this and studied the causes. After a long battle to get that information out and instigate necessary change, a corner was turned and, very slowly, the momentum changed directions. Now the breed is doing well.
My wife was an innocent observer in my own studies and work with falcons. Eventually, she pursued various opportunities to meet, hold and study falcons close up. Those experiences remain an unending source of inspiration and joy for her, and provided an obvious and permanent shift in her perceptions and experience of life itself, which has since influenced experiences of others. All of that was caused by noticing and engaging the elements of influence—choosing for things to unfold in a specific direction and not another or no direction.
On a more profound internal dimension, we survive largely because of the existence and recognition of high-end qualities—compassion, integrity, courage, humility, etc. These are how we perceive spirit. Even the most cynical and fatalistic bastard will snap out of self-absorption, abuse and hopelessness when confronted by an extreme expression of any one of these qualities. (Case studies show that this also applies even to rapists and murderers, not always, but more so than any other technique or therapy.) That is, beyond belief, the desire to feel good, or even hope or despair, there does exist an essential intuitive value system in each of us. This runs through and across every culture, and even every species. I don’t believe that those intuitive values are there to fool us into occupying ourselves so as to feel good while waiting for the inevitable to happen. Nature is not so decadent. Or cynical.
It takes choice and sacrifice to develop these qualities. This itself is the act of creation and personal evolution. Rarely do they happen by accident. We can equally choose to not develop them, to not evolve, at least at this time in history. We suffer and cause suffering when we don’t, but that’s not the ultimate reason for doing so. Whether or not we personally do impact some ultimate evolution beyond ourselves, we can definitely influence what happens today. To choose to waste a day, or a lifetime, is opposed to the essential spirit of life, expressed, sacrificed for, and upheld through every perceivable interaction in nature. It’s also opposed to every human expression of spirit throughout history. We know to live up to our potential, to fulfill the trust of creation by moving forward, even if we don’t believe it or feel like it or know why.
As an aside, the Titanic is a good metaphor. Notice that there were some survivors, new ship construction techniques developed because of it, lots of excellent stories (some involving the qualities listed above), a heightened ethic on peripheral perception and responsibility in some related areas, and the chance to see Kate Winslet topless in the film, so not all was lost. Some evolution came as a result of it, and that was a choice.
Thank you for your comments about the May issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few we received:
“…my deepest admiration for ‘Life Relevantly Lived’…as you have here so eloquently embodied the very thing you express, engaging with passion and a humble curiosity as well as with a warrior principle of outraged ethos the imagination you celebrate to transform as oppositional and destructive assail into a living articulation of imagination so compelling as itself to become a functional implementation of the framed paradigm…”
E.D., South Carolina.
“I love the way you took what feels like a sense of legitimate anger both at the author and, moreover, at the world which produces such thinking (along with what I’d imagine to be a strong temptation to utterly ridicule both) and transformed it into a hymn to the creative impulse. To watch you take something like this and from it craft a thing of beauty—is nothing less than inspiring.”
Having completed a half year of newsletters, the CobaltSaffron team would like to know if we’re succeeding in our original vision: “…this small monthly newsletter is meant to offer sustenance for true passionate curiosity. The hope is to provide a forum for original insight into personal evolution in real-time, alive and questioning now, rather than to exchange or list existing answers and niceties, or discuss the superiority of one position or idea over another; to aid in keeping our perception and imagination vital…”
Below is a short questionnaire that we hope will give us a clear idea of what you think about CobaltSaffron, and help us to produce a superior newsletter. Please take a few minutes to briefly answer the questions and return your responses to us.
- What single word or phrase best describes the CobaltSaffron newsletter?
- How would you rate this newsletter on a scale of one to ten (one being lousy; ten being extraordinary)?
- Why do you read the newsletter?
- How much time do you spend each month reading and thinking about the subjects addressed in CobaltSaffron?
- Do you share the newsletter with your friends?
- Are the ideas expressed in CobaltSaffron practical, or abstract?
- As entertainment, are the articles in CobaltSaffron more or less enjoyable than most magazine articles or other newsletters?
- How original are the ideas expressed in the newsletter?
- Are you sometimes offended by the ideas or the tone of what’s written?
- Do you have difficulty receiving or opening CobaltSaffron?
- Is once-a-month publication appropriate, too much, or too little?
- What criticism or advice do you have for the newsletter team?
- What would you like to see changed or added to the CobaltSaffron newsletter?
- Any other comment?
The PDF format of this newsletter does not allow for copying and pasting, so please just number your answers according to the corresponding question.
The CobaltSaffron Team.
Confronting the enemy
Our thanks to those of you who took the time and energy to respond to our questionnaire. We received a wide range of responses, from highly articulate suggestions and compliments to irrational complaints about things that have nothing to do with the newsletter itself. More than half of our readers did not respond at all, reminding me once again that most of us probably don’t get what we want because we never communicated exactly what that is. (I leave the implications of this in human relationships and life in general to your imagination.) But the majority of the responses we did receive have been informative and encouraging.
Speaking of communication and imagination, I recall a homework assignment I was given a few decades ago. I had been studying a martial art, and the master suggested that I work on confronting my fear. The assignment: whenever I see a woman whom I find attractive, immediately go up to her and ask her out for a date, no matter what the circumstance.
Being a bit of a philosopher, before I did anything, I sat back and took some notes. “What’s the goal? What’s in the way of it?” After some days of contemplation, I had what I thought was a fairly decent construction of the elements at play: 1) Actually, it’s not that hard to find attractive women; 2) Physically moving myself within ear-shot of them would also be fairly easy; 3) Wandering around looking for opportunities to expose myself to rejection, negative opinions and criticism from beautiful women was probably the last thing I wanted to do. I had recently read an article that people fear public speaking more than anything else, including, remarkably, death. This project seemed even worse.
I prepared for my first day of homework by performing every single exercise for relieving stress that I had ever learned. Feeling confident and optimistic, I checked myself in the mirror, changed my clothes for the fifth time, and went out to confront the enemy. Within ten minutes I saw a gorgeous young woman in a car stopped at a red light on the street. I paused, wondering if this particular circumstance qualified as “no matter what the circumstance.” By the time I had determined that it did indeed qualify, the light had turned green and she had driven off.
I stood there with that strange sensation I’ve since learned to distrust—a sense of having succeeded in avoiding a real potential disaster, when in fact I had actually done nothing and nothing had happened. A kind of emotional reorganization of the facts so as to feel relief in having avoided what I feared. This even went so far that I returned to the master and argued that the exercise was foolish, there was no point in demanding something from people I don’t know, I wasn’t motivated because I wasn’t interested in dating unknown women, and it has nothing to do with martial arts anyway. “That’s not the point, and you know it’s not the point,” he said. “The issue is fearlessness: acquiring the freedom and responsibility to speak and to listen.”
Here we go with the big words again, I thought. Freedom and responsibility. Okay, fine, let’s play the game. “Freedom from what, and responsibility for what?” He responded, “Freedom from the pouting coward, and responsibility for your delightful brilliance.” I asked sarcastically, “What delightful brilliance?” “The delightful brilliance you’re going to have to inspire out of the pouting coward.”
Devoid of any confidence and overwhelmed with pessimism, I returned to the assignment. Day one was an extravaganza of humiliation amidst sustained terror. By the end of the day, I noticed that my physical response to an attractive woman was one of nausea and panic. I must have accumulated more hostile verbal reactions in that single day than I had through my entire life up to then.
Curiously, day two began well after an unusually restful sleep. I felt less anxiety prior to my first encounter and came up with something to say that I hadn’t prepared in advance. The woman even smiled at me, apparently complimented by my request. By the end of the week, I was consistently receiving smiles, laughs and compliments, and had succeeded in setting up three dates. Recovery time after rejection was significantly shortened. My fear was slowly changing into a mild apprehension accompanying exhilaration.
I accidentally discovered two key techniques in the process. First, unimposing sincerity had a higher rate of success than anything else (something all great communicators already know). And second, if I actually listened to the responses given to me, without any defensiveness, I was able to perceive clearly how each woman felt and thought, which freed me from my own anxieties and ambitions, producing a remarkable sensation of relief. Once I found some genuine empathetic curiosity for the person in front of me, my obsessions about my own preferences faded. Real conversations began to take place. I was, in fact, learning how to speak and to listen.
Eventually, I developed the ability to follow each transition—from anticipation to engagement to completion and walking away—with little or no extra internal dialogue. That is, I was actually present, without ongoing reactive emotions and thoughts about what was taking place. This was really fun, real freedom. I began to understand that everything hinged on the issue of trust, or, more to the point, the inevitable distrust toward someone who was asking for something more. There was in place in each encounter an intuitive dynamic, an extremely quick assembling of information to determine motivation and intention. To succeed in establishing a relative sense of trust in me within a few seconds, I had to convey some authenticity. To do that well, I had to first go find it in myself. And that’s what the fear was all about, taking a risk to reveal what was within me and then being judged and rejected for doing so.
Anyway, like with all pertinent martial arts stories, I discovered that the real enemy was myself. Obviously, I couldn’t win by killing the bastard (although that did seem to be one of the better options at the time). Success was all about moving graciously through, not avoiding, the fear that was mine and mine alone. That challenge remains easy to find. The pouting coward is always lurking around somewhere nearby.
(Note: The CobaltSaffron team acknowledges the existence of persons lacking discernment, integrity and common sense, and therefore includes this disclaimer that the above article in no way suggests that the events described therein should be taken out of context and used for any reason whatsoever.)
Thank you for your comments about the July/August issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few we received:
“The ingenuity of the newsletters is that it is at once grounded in and a conduit to very abstract concepts. And yet it’s constructed in such a way as to be practical for those who wish to make use of what that channel has to offer. I like that flexibility: readers can take as much as they choose to take.”
“This is not exactly what I’d call an “issue #7” of CS, but just a survey… I’d still like to READ the 7th issue”
“I return again to that sense of curiosity where it is so present that it is not noticed as curiosity, but lived.”
“…It’s like being confronted with a high water fall which reminds me that there is so much more wonder in our reality than the apparently limited and pale possibilities I manage to build with my insufficient commitment, passion and discipline. Each issue is a further element in the spiral of evolution I’m creating for me and in my network. I read each one several times and continue doing so along the months. At the beginning more (it takes me a while to understand the minimum to follow it, then I start peeling the layers and need time to reflect).”
“I’d have to give it a zero – none of the numbers as a rating really makes sense to me, anyway.”
“…as a way to expand my imagination and vision of what life can be and to keep my spirit of the explorer well alive.”
“Because it’s unique. It often brings ideas or elements to think about subjects that matter to me or that question me. I also often find a good timing with my own processes of questioning.”
“Every time I open and read a letter, I am surprised by their contents. I remain stupefied by their diversity, each time it is an unexpected universe by the subject but also by the literary form used. For example, the letter in the form of an interview which was surprising, or to have received a questionnaire asking us to contribute to the creation of these letters. It is never the same thing, it’s always new, I love it!”
Reconciliation: to restore to harmony
At the retreat I attended earlier this month, one of the many subjects initiated and carried through the week was the idea of reconciliation. Having the luck to be in the presence of some brilliant thinkers and sincere explorers, I figured we could delve in a bit deeper than usual, bypass theoretical philosophy and superficial play-acting, and go for the real thing. So, I came into the event well prepared, intending to head directly toward the couple of crucial relationships we all have where reconciliation is most difficult to come by: time and space.
Everyone seemed to grasp their distrust of time easily enough, identifying key issues that are tough to accept: achievement and recognition take too long; inspiration in romantic love or elsewhere diminishes too quickly; “my turn” comes too late and is finished too soon; speed limits on roads of all kinds are oppressive; satisfaction and joy arrive late and depart early; and life itself is too short, although the wretched parts are too long.
Regarding space, this was more difficult to bring home (proving the point, as everyone wants to be somewhere else almost all the time). It took awhile to recognize just how many struggles and conflicts involve our sense of space: the career, house, weather, lifestyle, sex partner, or other desire we’d much rather have; permanent emotional or physical states we imagine, but can’t find; obligations and impositions that constantly crowd us; and all types of numbers that we know exist somewhere, but are not here—money, applauding fans, loving admirers, all those great options that the chosen few have. It’s like they’re out there, but in the wrong place; the space between us and them is too much.
We each identified a primary disharmony, or unhappy obligatory tolerance, for some of the structural elements of life itself. As if life as it is conceived (by God, Nature, random colliding particles, or whatever) wasn’t designed taking our preferences into consideration. Most of all of this could be reduced to time and space as we experience them.
Getting to the reconciliation part required at least a casual tour through the interior universe, including all its obstacles to reconciliation: resentment and rage; passive confusion and inertia while waiting for life to end; rigid obstinacy and self-righteousness; the unspoken belief that life has no meaning, or if it does, the meaning is that we’re all screwed, so take whatever we can however we can before it’s too late; addictive superficialization in an attempt to ignore the misery; pseudo-reconciliation through totally irrational fantasies; hopelessness, distrust, skepticism and terror; and all types of believing that, “If I was God, I could have done a better job of designing things right.”
Now, I’ve bitten off more than I can chew here, and having neither enough time or space to resolve these issues in a single newsletter, all I can do is to present two principles that seemed to work in addressing all this. But first, I’d like to return to our original theme of the newsletter itself, true passionate curiosity. Why? Because without that, we’re not going to engage the principles in the time and space they require to actually function and cause some sense of reconciliation. So, for those of you still with me (“Get to the point, Darrell, I have someone else to be”), if you could please consider the following with whatever residual curiosity that may remain within you…
Okay, the two principles. (1) Faith. (2) Accept, then engage. I consider these to be separate principles, mainly because if one doesn’t get the faith down, accept and engage won’t be real. But also because if one has faith, but doesn’t accept and engage, nothing changes.
Faith is a mysterious thing. I’m not referring to belief, which is reactive mental manipulation to compensate for emotional fear and hopelessness. Faith is something much more intuitive, extending directly from one’s core love of life. It’s a difficult thing to find once one has lost it, as it requires removing the obstacles addressed in our casual tour through the interior universe, and that does take time. And none of those can be removed without the real intention to do so, the spirit of reconciliation. One has to pause, sit down with time and space and have a real chat. And that chat has to be one in which time and space get to explain their positions and why things are the way they are. That is, one has to shut up and listen to them, really listen, with true passionate curiosity.
Having had that conversation (no doubt someday, somewhere after having taken care of everything else), one can then begin to consider the implications of principle #2. It goes something like this, especially emotionally, “Hey, this is the way things are; if I’m going to change anything, I need to know what it is I’m working with.” That’s part one, simply perceiving and accepting things exactly as they are right now and here. Nothing added or ignored, just things as they are.
Which gives us the freedom and power for the gesture that follows…utilize as much inspired creative brilliance as possible within the existing frame. Finally, we get to play. But, as time and space decree, only after the faith and acceptance are authentic. At that moment and place, one begins to experience time and space, and everything within them, completely differently. Once we get the feel for this, the technique is easy to transpose to simpler relationships, like with spouses, enemies and mothers-in-law.
With some practice, one can actually compress these principles into a single gesture. Now and then we can witness such perfect beauty, though it’s rare to find in humans. Which is why it’s always an excellent idea to take a good look around at nature, as this kind of sequential alchemy, mastery of time and space, is pretty common amongst animals, plants, rocks, rainbows and waterfalls. The faith, acceptance, engagement gesture is pure and seamless. The result is spontaneous reconciliation with everything in proximity. The individual sensation accompanying that is one of being in the right place at the right time, a certain state of grace. And harmony is restored.
Concerning the recent retreat in which we took on this project, my gratitude to those of you reading here who came into that event and engaged it exactly as described above. Deeply impressive, and a continuing source of my own faith.
Thank you for your comments about the September issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few responses we received:
“I didn’t expect to read Darrell’s letter in French! It seems so strange to have the translation right there before my eyes…It’s wonderful! It clarifies Darrell’s thoughts and eliminates errors of interpretation. I’ll be able to share it more easily with friends for whom English was a barrier. Thank you to the whole team!”
“I read the newsletter because it’s directly inspiring to me, and always seems applicable to whatever is currently confronting me in my life. I suppose I can just tell you that I don’t receive a lot of newsletters nor read a lot of magazine articles, but I love reading this one and find it’s really in its own unique category. I think you’re doing a great, and very valuable, job of reminding people—no, scratch that—of reminding me to open my eyes and keep looking at what really matters.”
“I read French more easily than English. Thank you for having translated [the newsletter]. The story is a mirror and I live it regularly. Not by approaching attractive unknown women with the goal of a date, but in many everyday situations. So, thanks to a new awareness, which this story will continue to reinforce, I see now that I’m the one who tells myself NO well before anyone else does. Thank you for having portrayed it so clearly. But the story goes even deeper, I believe. It’s not only in situations that involve another person. I notice it just as often in situations where I am up against myself. Okay, also in situations with another person, it’s still between me and myself.”
“I loved the story.”
False passionate curiosity
In response to our CobaltSaffron issue #8, Confronting the enemy, we received a number of generous and supportive comments. We also received the following…
“I have taken on the same practice myself, in a very occasional way (I knew I had to, because both my lust and my social terror were present in high and equal measure). I have already done the hard work of becoming a very open and authentic communicator, and have instinctually used that kind of approach in these situations, which has always engendered positive responses. I always felt great afterwards.”…”After all, what’ve I got to lose, really? And I’ve got freedom and responsibility and trust in others and in my own delightful brilliance to gain!”
This gives me the opportunity to confront another enemy here: abuse of freedom and power. This can be reduced, as the above writer has pointed out, to the relationship between freedom and responsibility as they relate to trust (if I may take these back momentarily after having had them “borrowed” from me).
Freedom and responsibility are always two parts to a whole; one never has one without the other. We can ignore one or the other, but they’re always parts of the same body, like a heart and a brain. Of course, most of us are all excited about the goodies that go with the idea of freedom, identifiable by the impulse, “What’s in it for me?” (Nicely articulated in the above comments, as every sentence is about the writer and what’s in it for him.) And it’s true that if you look exclusively at everything from that perspective, you probably have little to lose, but more on that in a bit.
Responsibility isn’t about, “what’ve I got to lose;” it’s about what others lose. That’s a lot less exciting, more difficult to identify, and is a real pain in the ass because it ruins the fun of just taking whatever one wants whenever one wants. It is possible to bypass all that by believing that one’s desires are more important than whatever someone else might lose through the pursuit of them (see thieves, rapists and plagiarists).
With ideas, that’s subtle territory. Ideas, like words, are just out there and available for anyone to use however they like. In the case of the story in question, my intention in sharing it was to offer some insight into the dynamic of fear as opposition to many of the ideas we discuss in this newsletter. I used an experience from my past as an example, or parable, if you will. I was not offering to the public a free technique to go out and experiment with (and this was expressed in the attached disclaimer at the end of the article). My experience came through extended training with responsible experts, parts of an ongoing education that had both a solid foundation and a clear, disciplined design. Lust and feeling great, for example, were not aspects of that training or the exercise.
There’s a world of difference between true passionate curiosity and taking the ideas, or anything else, of another to pursue one’s private ambitions. The space between these two is also made up of ideas, such as integrity and responsibility. Admittedly, integrity and responsibility are not as sexy as lust and feeling great, but they are the determining factors in a lot of things, such as trust. If you were to look at the persons you trust, what qualities do they exhibit that enable you to trust them? Integrity and responsibility. That is, they took those ideas and made them real, sacrificed for them and created personal qualities from them.
So, “What’ve I got to lose, really?” Well, start with my trust. But again, the greater loss is for others. Obviously, I won’t resort again to offering stories or techniques that could be misconstrued to be toys to go out and play with. That would place me in the position of being responsible for what comes from that, being that some others won’t assume that responsibility (“Wow, what a great ass and tits; I’m really passionately curious about them and all the fun they would provide me with. And I’ve got my own delightful brilliance to gain! Darrell said so.”). Given the general intentions and maturity of our readers, that’s too bad. Yet another example of freedoms lost because one or two individuals lack the necessary discernment to leave in peace that which isn’t theirs to take.
I probably wouldn’t invest the time and energy to come down so hard on this, if it wasn’t for the fact that the “borrower” of my ideas and experience happens to have a master’s degree in counseling psychology and another degree in comparative religions, is a therapist, teacher and workshop leader (recently leading a workshop entitled ‘Of Love and Truth’), claims to have practiced Buddhism for 20 years, is a “certified Master Trainer” and self-styled “intimacy and communication guru.” Which, of course, changes the entire equation in terms of some random dim-witted individual casually misinterpreting and misusing information in a newsletter.
This is not meant to be a personal vendetta, or a form of character assassination. As with the original story in question, my intention here is to use the information as a metaphor for larger and more crucial issues. The credentials listed above are pertinent, because counseling psychology, Buddhism and other religions, love and truth, and intimacy and communication are all built upon integrity and responsibility. Any authoritative representative of any one of these schools receives the vulnerable trust of others and is in a position to significantly influence their lives, especially if he is a therapist, teacher and workshop leader. In other words, this is someone in a considerable position of freedom and power, an authority whose choices, in and outside of the workplace, determine to an important degree the well-being or suffering of others, as well as the integrity of the schools he represents. From my perspective, this turns the corner of casual misinterpretation and misuse, and becomes abuse of freedom and power.
The primary issue, then, becomes one of protecting that which one values. Where does one draw a line? At what point does one determine that something valuable—in this case, not only the information in a free newsletter, but the schools of thought and ideas listed above—is being abused and that something should be done about it? These are questions of integrity and responsibility that we all have, or should have. These are the components that determine whether any idea or act is legitimate, and even whether or not it is true.
Going through the list of some of the subjects we have addressed in this newsletter over the past year—true passionate curiosity, following imagination, life relevantly lived, piercing peripheral vision, reconciliation, unraveling mystery—I can say without hesitation that, yes, these are ideas I highly value. And each one of them does require some protection. That is, anything can be used for anything. A stone can be used for building a house, blocking a road, or killing someone. The same is true for any idea. The passion part of true curiosity, or anything else of value, must include a sufficient depth of devotion to keep the thing alive, safe and whole.
Beauty in any form, including a woman or a newsletter, is not just about what’s in it for you. In a world where freedom is sought at any cost, and the associated responsibilities are often ignored, someone needs to uphold the basic principles that keep them both alive. One of the implications in the proud comments of the writer above is that we’re on the same team, doing the same things, so let’s just take whatever we need in our common missions. Just to make it crystal clear: no, we’re not on the same team and, no, we’re not doing the same things. If you want to borrow an idea to go play with, try chivalry.
As an aside, I’d like to apologize directly to the CobaltSaffron team here, a group of four very busy persons who donate a total of 40 to 50 hours a month to produce a free newsletter that provides absolutely no remuneration except for the joy of creating something they have interest and faith in. Their disbelief, sadness and outrage at the abuse of our efforts are unfortunate experiences that I’ll try more seriously to avoid causing in the future. (Contrary to common belief, this newsletter does not exist to sell tickets to my events; the intention behind the work is exactly as described in the first issue.) My appreciation goes out to the entire team, our various consultants, and those readers who continue to uphold the integrity of our original vision and the ideas expressed herein.
Thank you for your comments about the previous issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few responses we received:
“Ohhhhhh…. Thanks for that newsletter. I didn’t even know people like that exist anymore.”
“Thank you so much for the last newsletter on Reconciliation. It was and is a source of refueling the inspiration I experience at the Retreat, during that extraordinary unity of time-space. The feeling of constant reconciliation—stopping and regaining faith and weighing the value of each element, especially when strength and determination seem to fail—gives me back the dignity and playfulness with which I find now essential to live my life.”…”Well, just every time I reread the newsletter, everything seems more colourful and meaningful. Sorry for the lack of articulation, but I needed to express my appreciation somehow.”
A true master
In a recent interview, I was waiting for the interviewer to ask me about the persons who influence my thinking or who represent the ideals and skills I write and speak of. The question never came, but it’s been on my mind ever since, so I thought I’d give an example here.
There have been few individuals who have impressed me so much that my perception and understanding was permanently transformed. I’ve had some great teachers, those who have shared or evoked the brilliance and wisdom of others who came before them, but it’s rare to meet or witness someone who can actually bend and form one’s experiential comprehension of life. We sometimes get to see some of the work of a genuinely gifted individual, the finished product after the editing, refining and clean-up work has been done. We can find this in the arts now and then, in the presentations of a few deep thinkers, or in stories of now-dead geniuses who left some original, profoundly insightful work behind them. But to be in the presence of a full-on master in the act of creation, to see the dazzling mystery unravel before your eyes, is about as hard to find as someone who wants to make less money.
It’s true that I probably have an unusual and overly exigent definition of mastery. The first thing I look for is what I call, “No buying or selling.” That is, the choices of a master are pure, no attempt to buy the opinions of others or to sell an image or advice. Such a person’s actions are unaltered by considerations of manipulation for self-gain at the expense of someone else. Conciliation with issues of responsibility and respect has already taken place. Conscience and subjective preference are in accord. There’s no clever scheme or ultimate master plan, no appropriation or imitation of someone else, no attempt to hide mistakes, and no ritualized tics and accessories to prove that he’s a member of an important club on a mission. Stripped-down, plain authenticity. That’s a clean base.
Well beyond this, a master also makes a perfect link between his innate personal talents and skills and the requisite needs of his circumstance. He fulfills a purpose in a way that no one else could. And he does so with absolute commitment, making the most of everything and anything needed. There’s no disproportionate habitual reliance on only one or two families of qualities, such as gentleness and kindness, or passivity and tolerance, or optimism and motivation, or intelligence and memory, or strength and power. There’s a deeper balance in place, a core of supple versatility, most noticeable in the curious blending of opposites into a single quality, such as serene urgency. From there, he exhibits an evident fearlessness run by the engine of fascination, an abandon born from being in love with the moment—unselfconscious devotion. This quality alone is what we find most compelling in the best performing artists.
Next, he’s invested enough time, in research, experimentation and experience, so as to transcend already known technique. There is no conflict or gap between perception and application, no analytical hesitation to make sure everything’s okay first; each gesture is spontaneous and intuitive. Individual moment-to-moment choices become a continuous graceful communion, wherein mind, emotion, body and spirit meld into a single unified force. There is no residual feel of a disciplined work ethic, or any particular identifiable technique or philosophy, as these have been organically sublimated into the act of doing what he loves. The circle is complete: the innocent child is liberated, free to go play… but now he has all the tools and acumen to really do so.
And, finally, it all has to work, and on time. It has to be objectively true. Meaning, the results are precise, discernable as being correct and viable solutions to the specific challenges and possibilities within the master’s chosen arena. The proof of the mastery is in its functionality. Even though someone else probably can’t imagine the effort, risks and detailed work that went into producing the results, one can at least sense that the results themselves are uniquely effective. Everyone in proximity benefits.
In most fields of work, only others who have sacrificed enough to achieve some level of expertise themselves would be able to perceive this depth of mastery. This is why, in most cases, the general population catches on only well after the master has died, if they do at all. For the average studied layman, any expression of real originality is going to grate against what he already recognizes and accepts. It looks like it doesn’t fit within the frame, and, in a way, it doesn’t; it causes the frame to expand into mysterious territory. Which is exactly what a true master does. He defines reality.
Anyway, I’ve kept my eyes out looking for such persons throughout most of my life, and I’ve met and been influenced by a few. It doesn’t really matter much to me which frame or field of work they’re in. I’ve found momentary, localized mastery in busboys, garbage men, postcard writers, gardeners and backstage technicians. The frame they’re in most often has to allow for functional and original solutions; their colleagues have to value imaginative vision at least as much as traditional knowledge. That’s partly why I’ve yet to find such mastery in the types of work which are considered to be the arenas for the “great masters.”
I think most of us miss the real masters because of our preconceived notions of a particular stereotype. Also, we’re confused if there’s not a big audience of adoring fans around them to verify their value (which explains why van Gogh sold only one painting, Herman Melville couldn’t publish Moby Dick, and you never heard of Chester Westbury). There are a few exceptions to this dynamic, however. Now and then there’s the real master and the adoring audience, even though the audience might not completely recognize exactly what’s going on. And this is the case for a man I consider to be a true master at the peak of his game: Steve Nash.
Who? Well, you might not have heard of him unless you follow point guards in American professional basketball, probably not the most recognized arena for those looking for a master to give us clues to the great mysteries of the universe. But indeed he does do that.
Now, before you toss this newsletter, at least allow me to finish my explanation. Here is someone who came from nowhere near the traditional schools of entry into American professional basketball (raised in South Africa and then British Columbia), who looks nothing at all like his colleagues and opponents, who has mastered the art of creating possibilities for others in situations that appear to be impossible. In a field of work now made up of macho power players literally beating their chests and pumping their fists in the air at any tiny success (a phenomenon we can see in virtually every profession, including religious and political leaders), Steve Nash quietly and unassumingly floats under, between and over them to create, seize and dole out opportunities in an unmatched display of spontaneously inventive virtuosity. His surgical precision, while under extreme pressure in the midst of total chaos where every error will be seen and judged, is often delivered within timeframes of less than a second. Many of the subjects we have covered here, including the main theme of this newsletter, have no better living example I’ve seen in public view than Steve Nash.
“Don’t be fooled by the frame, especially if you don’t like it,” is a line an old teacher of mine used to say all the time. It’s a simple but great idea with important implications. Where do we actually learn the skills that will take us beyond the challenges we face? Where do we truly find the most refined qualities of the human spirit in perfect expression? Who are the individuals on the cutting-edge of our evolution? In what little hidden corners are the authentic masters working and playing?
The general opinion is that human greatness only, or at least mainly, shows itself on the platforms considered to be overtly generous and humane, as in saving the world, reducing human suffering, or articulating grand wisdom. But if we were to look carefully behind the scenes at the individuals who actually succeeded historically in advancing such projects, we’d find they embodied many or all of the qualities and skills listed above, especially in their internal processes. Anyone who is going to come up with a revelatory solution to anything—ideas and methods that enter into uncharted mystery, truth, if you will—is going to have to do basically what Steve Nash does. While others are meaning well in considering and giving their opinions about how to go about all that, especially on the overtly generous and humane platform, he’s actually doing it.
When you’re fed up with the phony niceties, all the cute quotable aphorisms, the depressing stalled talks and ridiculous political positioning, the bowing and genuflecting and esoteric hand gestures, the smiling photo shoots in search of more money and members, the same-as-it-ever-was alibis and answers, I’d recommend you change the channel, kick back and watch a real master at play. Number 13 of the Phoenix Suns.
Thank you for your comments about the previous issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few responses we received:
“I am writing to comment on your last newsletter. As always, thank you (and your team) so much for writing and distributing it; I very much enjoy reading them. Even when it contains news of someone missing the mark. I am sorry to hear that that happened, though I can’t say I’m very surprised. It is not an uncommon experience for me to observe someone subtly twisting profound concepts to serve themselves. I can feel how much more disturbing it is, and how much further the implications reach, when it concerns someone in a position of power & authority. […] Despite all this, I am writing to express my sadness that it appears you have chosen to not share a whole category of personal stories any longer because this one individual chose to abuse something freely given. Whether the newsletter contains certain kinds of personal anecdotes or not, any individual could still choose to misinterpret and/or abuse you words, maybe even in new and unpredictable ways. I for one get a level of connection with the text and/or story when it contains personal anecdotes that is unique and very valuable to me.”
“About your last newsletter…it first scared me a bit. I found it violent, I thought, ‘How dare he, that’s hard!’ This thought rapidly disappeared to give place to an admiring, ‘Wow’ and the ‘Wow’ became bigger: ‘Great that he dare, that’s a way to protect beauty.’ That’s one answer (amongst others, I think) to the question ‘how to protect beauty.’ So, I was impressed.”
“To all at CobaltSaffron: My sincere apologies for anything I did to create ‘disbelief, sadness and outrage’ for any of you, and I would welcome feedback on what exactly it was. In re-reading my email I can see how I might have come across as cutesy or arrogant—that was certainly not my intent—and if so, I am sorry. If I somehow created the impression of irresponsibility or disrespecting women or the work of personal evolution, I am mortified and would like to know how. I would appreciate your help in examining my potential blind spots.”
“After taking a few days to ponder, I wanted to show my support and express my personal frustration and thoughts to you. Your newsletter has indeed confronted us all with the enemy. I was amazed to witness such a RAW reaction to your story—words such as ‘lust,’ ‘terror,’ ‘trust in others’ all mixed up in a twisted way, and all dipped with this ‘delightful’ arrogance. […] After letting it all reside within me, when all of my frustration and anger subsided, I did find surprisingly that what I was really left with is the range of qualities your response carried. In my opinion your response carries a great value for the community, for me personally it has transformed this abuse into a valuable and insightful lesson. It seems that in one quick stroke of the pen you managed to convey certain qualities and draw the line in such a decisive, clear manner. It made me think, it made me feel, it inspired me to look inside within myself and confront what I fear the most—my own misuse of responsibilities, freedom and talents. Or, as I would put it, whoring out my own ‘delightful brilliance.’ Thank you for that certain response, it touched my core.”
In an effort to apply my own New year ritual of catching up on unfinished communication, below are some responses to questions we’ve received here at CobaltSaffron over the last months.
“Who came up with the title CobaltSaffron? And why that particular title for this newsletter?”
The name CobaltSaffron was explained in the first paragraph of the first issue (“Choose any two things…”). I chose cobalt and saffron mainly because I like them a lot. I’m intrigued by the natural contrasts between them in color, texture and quality, which is a nice range of masculinity/femininity. They’re both very difficult to collect and manipulate, for different reasons, yet each is fully abundant on the planet. Even the musicality of the words, particularly the contrasting three-consonant tones, is beautifully precise as a representation of the substances themselves. Lastly, they have no prefabricated “spiritual” meaning; that is, they’re completely untainted and whole—a worthy ideal to strive for in this newsletter.
“In terms of passionate curiosity, there seems to be a fork in the road; one path pursues understanding and the other is consumed in knowing. The pat argument is that understanding leads to knowing but is that really true? Do our attempts at understanding really just make things worse? It seems like I have to choose even though I’m curious about both paths.”
My job here is to give insight and support for true passionate curiosity, not to give answers that limit or deconstruct your own questioning. So, here are just a couple of observations to aid in your research…
Obviously, we need some understanding in life to handle basic needs, and to fit well within relationships and society in general. Beyond that, though, yes, there is a big difference between understanding and knowing. All Oriental and most Occidental schools of thought frequently refer to a higher knowledge—direct perception that transcends intellectual understanding—as the exclusive resolution to our primary personal and spiritual yearning. Some things you can’t understand, but you can know.
In my experience, and in listening to those who seem to have some skill with this subject, understanding is mostly about collecting or assimilating information, whereas knowledge is what happens through the release of ignorance (presumptions, preferences and prejudices). To know is to trump understanding. That is, knowledge is immediate and permanent; understanding is abstract and temporal.
The easiest example of this dynamic is in the effect of a good joke. Someone who understands the idea and construction of a joke may not find it funny. You either “get it” or you don’t. Explaining what it means won’t make that happen. But if you really look at what’s occurring in humor, you find that almost all of it is some version of what we might call bad news—something gone wrong. What you already understand and accept is trumped. Why would that be funny?
“I appreciate your intellectual virtuosity and your obvious mastery of the subjects in your newsletter, but I can’t get behind your mystical references. It seems as though you frequently come to a point at which you give up and claim, ‘And then something happens.’ You lose me there.”
See above response. There is a point where one has to give up, or perhaps give in, to make the shift to a deeper resolution (or comprehension, if you prefer). In terms of language as the means to such an experience, there are all kinds of obstacles and limits. I try to describe and, to some degree, create a dynamic to deeper resolution in what I write here. Some persons follow it; others less so. I’ve set the default level of my writing in this newsletter to a general audience with some familiarity with the subjects we’re taking on, while still trying to keep it accessible for anyone. Every month, I receive complaints that the newsletter is either too esoteric or not enough so. As long as these contrasting complaints are pretty much even, I figure we’re fairly well balanced given our audience.
“I feel overwhelmed in my life, but also feel a definite connection to your ideas and honest manner. Could you point me towards a direction or someone who could help me in my personal evolution?”
Don’t take a pill and call yourself in the morning.
“If I understand correctly, your newsletter is really talking about intuition, no?”
Basically, yes, while still avoiding the word and therefore the presumed meaning. Or rather, the newsletter is basically about what would need to take place for what you could call intuition to kick in.
“You continually mention things like questioning, curiosity and all that, yet you seem to be like so many personal development teachers who just sit back and give out their advice and answers. Don’t you find that hypocritical? Why don’t you ask some questions yourself?”
The concept of our newsletter is to provoke original insight on perception and engagement in daily life. Part of that involves acting as a supportive go-between in the process of questioning stereotyped, typical beliefs and opinions. The origin of the idea came from those who had asked me to write public articles of this nature on a frequent basis. I try to follow the questioning and interests of our readers, providing an ongoing source of education both ways. Although my sentences may lack quotation marks at their ends, the entire process is meant to care for the journey, not the destination (the questions, not the answers). I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I have some skill at guiding perception away from the commonly mediocre toward original insight, or at least that’s what I’m told. If you can do that better than I can, you’re welcome to take over. Are you up for that?
“Why don’t you address more pertinent issues, such as political and social conflicts or world events? It seems like you have things to say and we could use some insight on world problems.”
I’m a big fan of the idea that any kind of transformation or change takes place more so at the core than in the manipulation of external variables. If the larger issues you mention are to change, that will come from how the individuals involved perceive and engage them. We are trying to address the issues you suggest, from the inside out. That starts with a qualitative shift, such as being in the midst of conflict and finding a different way to see or experience it. For that to truly happen, one must have some skill at what I call true passionate curiosity, which is the foundation of our newsletter. Obviously, it’s up to each individual how or where that may be applied.
“Why don’t you include in your newsletter quotes or writings from others? I always enjoy insightful observations from a wide range of thinkers.”
Here are two I received in the last couple of weeks that I like:
“If you bring out what is inside you, what is inside you will save you. If you do not bring out what is inside you, it will destroy you.” Gnostic Gospel of Thomas.
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploration will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot.
Thank you for your comments about the previous issue of CobaltSaffron. Excerpts from a few responses we received:
“To the Team… Thank you for a year full of beautiful gifts—for your time and energy in them—to the loved ones and your other loves who had to share you with this project. May your work and care be well nurtured in the New Year.”
“Since my eye is not trained to see the intricacies of the masterful play displayed in the movements of Number 13 of the Phoenix Suns, his mastery would be invisible to me. I might be able to recognize that I had witnessed good basketball being played, but if I attempted to relate to you that I had witnessed his mastery, I would be quickly tagged as belonging to that part of the audience that didn’t completely recognize what was going on. Thankfully, I’m aware of it. While I too may be fed up with the phony, cute, depressing, ridiculous, and esoteric references that you made, watching Steve Nash isn’t going to do it for me. Being aware that you have attained that state of enlightenment, though, excites me, for I absolutely love being in the presence of anyone who is insightful, possesses great knowledge and exudes a genuine youthful joie de vivre. May I be in your presence for their next game? I would stand a better chance of appreciating genius.”
“Thank you again, thanks a thousand times for the newsletters translated into French… The texts arrived at the right time. I was in an absolute chaos, a moment of stress, of doubt and turbulence, and reading the newsletters was like a balm on the burn, relieving my doubts and anguish, calming me, comforting and immediately, instantaneously and through time allowing me to see things differently and above all to advance, to evolve. So, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.”
“Your newsletter an odd, intriguing piece of work. I don’t understand it all but feel that I do. I love reading it, re-reading it, re-re-reading it. I am intrigued by your comment (January) that you “still” avoid the word intuition. Please share soon. If knowledge is lasting and trumps understanding as ignorance is banished, what is intuition?”
The Latin origin of the definition of intuition is “the act of contemplating” (contemplation: “a state of mystical awareness”). Some additional clues: “quick and ready insight; immediate cognition; the power or faculty of attaining direct knowledge.” I also like, from intuitionism, “a doctrine that there are basic truths intuitively known,” and, “a doctrine that the fundamental principles about what is right and wrong can be intuited.” (I’d add only to the last phrase just before be.)
One could say that intuition is how to know, a method of spontaneously fusing our faculties of physiological, instinctive, emotional and intellectual knowledge into a single force that ignites imaginative revelation.
In most languages, intuition is described as a mysterious, objectively true perception or engagement. Many philosophies and spiritual disciplines place an extremely high value on intuition. Some have gone so far as to build their entire methodology on the search for and attainment of intuitive perception. Zen is a good example. The fundamental principle is that spiritual liberty is only achievable through transcendence, and that transcendence can only happen by intuitively rising above paradox. A simple image that might help in giving you a sense of this: Love will cause one deeper suffering than anything else, and it will also cause one deeper joy than anything else. But love is not about one’s suffering and joy; it’s about the other, the one you love.
There are so many different kinds of intuitive expression, many of which are so subtle as to seem invisible, that it defies categorizing. But, to give a few tangible examples here, let’s settle on this as a general description… Intuition is spontaneously arranging all internal elements so that they interface perfectly with the corresponding external configuration one finds oneself within.
You could look at this as if every circumstance has a specific combination of active and passive contact points. That is, any objective circumstance demands a relatively precise combination of active and passive “calls” for anyone within it. For example, a mother hands you her newborn baby. Obviously, that’s a time to activate a greater consciousness of qualities such as attention to detail, grace, gentleness and affection, and shift to a slower gear in your movements. You put on hold, into passivity, things like boldness, aggressiveness and your favorite moves from your hip hop class. An hour later, you find yourself on the freeway with a car out of control swerving directly toward you. That situation requires another set of choices and qualities, and a faster gear. Reality is offering a different set of contact points that you have to meet, or interface with correctly. This is easy to understand, yes?
Now, put the two together. You’re driving a car, the mother is handing you the baby, and there’s another car out of control swerving directly toward you. That’s a paradox, at least in the sense that what you understand to be appropriate active and passive choices via physical, instinctive, emotional and intellectual experience are invalid. (It’s also a paradox that a mother would hand you her newborn baby while you’re driving a car, but you don’t have time right now to consider the possible meanings or implications.) So, what do you do? The only resolution to that particular combination of external variables is to spontaneously invent an unknown, unique set of qualities and actions so as to blend perfectly with the actual requirements you’re confronted with. That can only be done intuitively.
This type of imagery leans toward one cult “family” of intuition, which we see touted in a lot of films, such as The Matrix or Star Wars, and many cartoons. These are modern versions of a spiritual hierarchy expressed through myths in every culture throughout history: the spiritual master as someone who has perfected physical engagement—interfacing perfectly with the corresponding external configuration he finds himself within—particularly regarding challenges with time and space (usually, not enough time and not enough space). All martial arts have their origin in this essential myth, spiritual mastery as a mysterious internal transcendence that shows itself in the supernatural ability to interface perfectly with time and space themselves, and everything within them.
Another family of intuition is sought and expressed through the arts. The same explanation on interfacing I’ve used above works there, too, but the variables, or corresponding external configuration, are different. The ideal and method to achieve perfection are the same; transcendence of what is already understood and used is primary. This is why such a high value is universally placed on creative originality. An artist, ideally, produces something that we haven’t already seen or heard, causing the recognition that a basic mysterious truth has been revealed.
An example of this might be a great piece of music. We recognize its value and beauty, even though we wouldn’t necessarily be able to understand or explain why or how. A three month-old child will revel in listening to Pogorelich play Bach or Mozart, even though he doesn’t understand at all what’s happening. It’s a certain perfect arrangement of elements, in this case, just different sounds that have no apparent meaning. Emotions, sensations and insight are provoked, but the exchange is essentially intuitive.
These are high-end or ideal examples of intuition working as an outgoing force—an individual creating a perfect interface. For most of us, any recognizable access to intuitive perception will mostly come through very short-term incoming revelation—a few seconds here, a few seconds there—when we forget about ourselves (step one in the art of contemplation). We all have glimpses of temporary perfect interfacing, such as seeing an item and suddenly realizing it would be a perfect gift for someone, a brilliant comment coming out of your mouth before you think about it, wondering what time it is and seeing three-fifteen on a watch on the billboard as above you, picking up the phone just before it rings, bending down to tie a shoe just as a leaf falls on it… Of course, the proof of the perfect interface is in the result: the gift is actually surprisingly wonderful, the comment silences the crowd because of its piercing precision, it is three-fifteen, someone has just called you on the phone, your child just asked you for a leaf…
I try to avoid the word intuition as much as I can, mainly because almost everyone has a conveniently preconceived idea of what it means, such as finding an empty parking spot on a crowded street, believing that seeing the word Ireland on a newspaper you walk by while thinking you should move means you should move there, speaking the words of someone else before they are able to assemble them themselves, sensing for some unknown reason that one investment is bette than another, or feeling protected by your guardian angel because they had your preferred bakery item in the café (while you were just thinking about it!). These are all examples of simply not understanding, or not liking, cause and effect and consequently interfacing one’s own vague concepts of grand mystery with personal preferences. That’s fantasy fueled by emotional desire and believing it’s real (otherwise known as neurosis), not at all the same thing.
There are all kinds of schools and “masters” out there proselytizing this type of miraculous solution to one’s misconceived hopes, beliefs and real yearning for spiritual experience, and marketing it under the heading of “intuition,” which doesn’t help the cause. I cover this and what real intuition is in my latest book, You Wanna Into it?, available by calling 1-800-I-WANT-TO-INTUIT. Operators are standing by 25 hours a day. With every order you will receive a free personal horrorscope and signed photo of me blessed by Our Sisters of Perpetual Intuition. Call now. Supplies, like intuition itself, are limited.
Traditionally, there is a sequence of states of consciousness that leads up to intuition. In every reliable and practiced system on the subject, highly developed love, compassion or devotion precedes access to outgoing intuition. One cannot manifest intuition for any sustainable length of time without valuing something or someone more than oneself. This is the context that gives one the right and the freedom to intuit. It gives us sufficient meaning and compellingness with which to engage the act of contemplation—the necessary power to see beyond prejudice, fear and ignorance. If intuition is how to know, then devotion is why to know. Knowing, intuitively or otherwise, is not an abstract game or casual hobby; there is responsibility that comes with it, particularly because all knowing is meant to aid in achieving resolution and establishing harmony. One can’t know unless one really intends to do something appropriate with the knowing.
Coming back to the essential principles we try to express here in this newsletter, we all have clues or pathways to our intuition everyday. But yes, these are indicated by our passionate curiosity, the natural impulse to find our way out of the labyrinth of what we already understand and believe. That’s how we learn to access a different way of perceiving and engaging, which you’ve articulated so well in your comment at the beginning of this letter: “I don’t understand it all but feel that I do.”
“Thank you for the generosity that this newsletter brings to us. Bravo and please keep this great work! In my case, the newsletter is a constant remainder in my errant life. The last issue was great as a finishing to the octave (personally, I associate to the musical octave that needs to be complete to go to the next one…). I enjoy so much the humor in it.”
“Some of the questions selected for inclusion and response do not seem to be up to the level of what I would optimally like, but as I have never sent in a letter or response it is not quite appropriate for me to criticize. I like especially and find intriguing Darrell’s stories, examples, comments on incidents, life observations, most. I’d like to see more provocativeness, his taking to task some of the questions, but in general the newsletters are magnificent and coming as they do just like that unexpectedly after a hectic day of work or frustration or totally expected activities with no surprises, they are little gems and gifts, serendipities. I thank all who are involved in getting the newsletters out and would like to help them in the future.”
“I have neglected to tell you how much I enjoy receiving the newsletter. It is so clean and crisp and aesthetically pleasing. And, of course, what Darrell writes is always thought-provoking. Congratulations to the team for doing such a great job!”
“It’s as if with this newsletter (#11) you took the lid off and the essence of life began to escape from the chamber we’ve tried so hard to contain it in, the desire to seek out this mastery, to seek it out in the lives we live. To actually read that in our lives there are those around us not wearing the customary attire of a “master” who live, exhibit what we are looking for, is utterly and wondrously compelling. What makes it so fascinating is that to see what I am looking for in others I have to not only know the qualities but also use them… This newsletter has left me with this sense of living in an enormous playing field, one that I had set limits to without realizing it.”
What’s at stake?
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Darrell Calkins, to be published and available on the website next month.
“When I listen to you, sometimes you feel like one unending string of contradictions. You seem to go to great lengths to support many things which you then turn around and trash. Spirituality/religion would be one primary example, but hardly the only one. Can you comment more on the role of the whole paradox thing in your work? Why is it so important? Why can’t you present anything in a linear way?”
The primary reason that I’m not a representative of specific groups or schools of thought is that that choice gives me the freedom to look at these groups and thoughts from the inside and the outside. I’m trying to be honest in that role—what really works here and what does not? That is, I have nothing to sell or win by any given position. I’m promoting a similar process for any person I interact with in my work, including toward me.
Investment in a given idea or group tends to immediately shut down options for perception, and then choice. Prejudice, bigotry and arrogance breed from that. One is forced to think a certain way to stay within the group or thought, and then to defend against apparent opposition. This constructs and feeds the kinds of adamant separation and conflict we see so many manifestations of on every level. In many cases, it’s also the cause of deep internal conflict in most individuals, yet it isn’t really addressed.
I try to focus on the essence of things. Following an already understood idea to its assumed conclusion is what linear thinking usually produces. One ends up with what one already has and knows… It’s raining outside; stay in. I’m hungry; go eat. I feel unsatisfied; make more money. An initial perception or impulse has an infinite number of directions it can go. Some work better than others. But in any case, if one doesn’t take time and energy to focus on the essential impulse, the gesture that follows will replicate what one already knows.
On paradox, it’s not intentional. There are some things that don’t function as one would assume. For example, the impulse and linear thinking associated with the search for happiness most often produce questions like, “What’s in it for me?” or “How do I get what I want?” Paradoxically, if you will, that very question pushes authentic happiness away. Now, to try to explain that to someone in such a way that they hear and are interested by the idea is going to probably involve some paradox and non-linearity.
“So many traditions advocate the notion that freedom comes from surrender; surrender to a specific deity/deities, and surrender to a preconceived set of beliefs and spiritual/social rules. Obviously, you’re headed in a different, more complex, and ultimately more dangerous direction: freedom is an individual’s greatest gift and greatest burden (regardless of organizational affiliation), and as such entails enormous responsibility. Can you talk more about the role of freedom and responsibility in our evolution? Not only in terms of defining concepts, but also in terms of how they influence our lives? To whom are we ultimately responsible? What is it we are trying to preserve and promote? What exactly is at stake in this arena?”
Well, for one, freedom and responsibility themselves are at stake. One does not find freedom or enact responsibility by surrendering to another’s conceptualization of these ideas. Living out the rules of conscience laid down by someone else for the attainment of an unquestioned goal, a freedom designed and articulated by someone else, is the surrender of human imagination and intuition.
In the more extreme versions of this, we end up with a collective momentum resulting in events such as Nazi extermination of millions of Jews, the Inquisition, or similar events recently in Africa and elsewhere. That comes from allocating one’s conscience to someone else, not attending to one’s own deeper intuitive sense of right and wrong.
On a more personal and, I think, devastating level, we lose access to our imaginative spirit—the impulse to imagine and create from our soul’s yearning. That may sound esoteric, but in practical translation, we end up with a life we never really imagined and designed. The goal, the methods to it, and the responsibilities attached to it were never questioned. Just play out the part someone else wrote for you, following the indications on the prefabricated signs along the road. I call this the superimposed self. You don’t really know or even recall what it was you truly wanted to do or be. “Life” got in the way of living; you did what you were told to do. Somehow, there was never time or space to really explore, to learn to love or create, or to ask, “Now, what am I here for, again?”
Each religion has provided a tremendous service in defining elements of conscience. They have made it possible for us to live together in a society, to work toward common goals, and to learn how to accept or tolerate relative opposition to our own opinions. I also think that this has been done much as a parent needs to provide a similar service for an adolescent. Internal and external conflict requires discipline to organize and structure some form of minimizing the chaos imposed on others.
There is a pivot point, however, to become an adult. That transition comes from recognizing and acting in accordance with your own deepest impulses. On the responsibility front, that means acting in harmony with your conscience, not because you’re going to be punished if you don’t, or paid for it if you do (heaven, enlightenment, salvation, or whatever), but because you know it to be right. On the freedom front, that means acquiescing to your deepest inspirations, following what truly compels you, even when it’s difficult to do so. These two principles brought together in the same time and space is what integrity is all about. And it is only through such integrity that you resolve conflict between the two of them: what you “know to do” and what you “want to do.”
Let’s see; what else is at stake? How about the human race? Whether or not one believes in the accelerating dangers of the climate crisis, the end of fossil fuels, or the permanent annihilation of species of plants, insects and animals that essentially cover our ass by maintaining an inconceivably complex environment in which we have the freedom and responsibility to do pretty much whatever we’d like, it’s not too difficult to at least perceive the dangers of heightened tensions between cultures that now, for the first time, have the power to annihilate each other or the entire planet.
I recently saw a wonderful documentary about what the Earth would look like many thousands of years from now. A number of experts from different fields and disciplines offered their views. Not one of them even mentioned human beings remaining on the planet. The species that would survive all had certain incontestable dynamics already in place. One primary quality, if you will, was that they had all resolved severe conflict within their own species. That is, all their energy and focus was directed toward real enemies, challenges and problems, not imagined or invented ones. They already realized that they were on the same team. The dynamic for the human race is exactly that of an adolescent frantically struggling to find a way to resolve apparently opposed impulses within himself.
Now, if you throw into an analysis of this problem the fact that internal species conflict for human beings is promoted and fueled by the different spiritual organizations or religions which are supposed to teach us how to resolve conflict, where exactly are we to find methods for resolving it? That’s going to take imagination and integrity well beyond anything we’ve yet seen. It’s also going to require a clear recognition that the challenge is not an abstract game, that we are not guaranteed immortality, and that ultimately, it’s our freedom and responsibility to determine what happens. And there is a clock ticking away somewhere.
“It’s fabulous to be able to complete, with each letter, the puzzle of this marvelous alchemy that you teach us. What a wonderful support in our daily life, as a thread which keeps us all connected, which keeps us intact. Keep it up! Keep it up! Thank you!”
“Almost a month that the last newsletter arrived to us… This letter, more than the others, has entered into me and won’t leave me… The question asked regarding Inspiration and its association with the word Interface have rubbed each other so strongly that they gave birth to a spark… And this spark, for a month, has became a burning fire led by a new and luminous curiosity. New curiosity because it appears obvious that the ‘Old level of knowledge’ was not large enough to enter into such a big subject, I needed to call for a new dimension of comprehension, something unknown and not yet created… Darrell, all the questions [that I ask myself] are, alone, transcendent through the movements they give birth to… Thank you for this luminous newsletter…”
A more compelling game
(The CobaltSaffron team has selected the following letter, shortened and edited for this newsletter, as an appropriate follow-up to last month’s What’s at Stake? The letter, previously published elsewhere, was originally written in response to questions about environmental issues, but in the context of this newsletter, the ideas of community and resolution are meant to include a larger spectrum, as referred to in last month’s issue.)
As with any loosely assembled community with related intentions, there is a huge amount of energy waste; this itself a metaphor for the thing environmentalists hope and intend to change. Much of this comes from inefficiency in concept and construction between the underlying intentions and viable result.
Efficiency in design between perception (comprehension of data) and action (precision of applied force) is largely about eliminating friction and dysfunctional opposition. The most common form is the addiction people have to the experience of war. That is, most people prefer the sensation of purpose that comes from having an enemy and a cause to actual resolution and progress. Transcending the dichotomy, or getting off the two dimensional platform, necessitates creative brilliance in presenting the variables such that the opposing energies and their representatives simultaneously perceive a greater gain in a common struggle. The struggle part is essential, as no one wants to lose their identifying purpose and investment in its structure, which is dependent upon the continued well-being of the enemy. Consequently, the deeper work is about imagining, designing and convincing others of a better game, one that is simply more fun to play. Whatever that game is, it has to have enough resistance to make it challenging; a vague notion of “harmony” is interesting to no one. And what is to be gained from playing it has to be clear and appeal to existing values.
As I’ve stated before, the current paradigm used by environmentalists in general, and the climate-is-changing-because-of-us community specifically, is most often based on the absurd assumption that accurate conveyance of information will wake up the conscience and corresponding intentions of others. This is simply unworkable. Imagination does not reach inevitability—the point at which it makes something happen—until there is the perceived need to do so now. The only way around that actuality is the perception of something as compelling as need. Self-gain, happiness, harmony, health or “what is right” doesn’t work, as none of those are sufficiently compelling to activate a deeper source of imagination and its intuitive expression, causing real evolution. The game and goal, as currently articulated, does not motivate because it does not feed existing values, nor does it replace those with more compelling ones.
So, there are three existing dimensions to play this out within. One, some kind of program to guide the values of the ignorant up to a level at which they can experience motivation, but this is almost impossible, because the current dynamic is exactly what they actually want; in general, this is what is already in place. Two, exploit the existing power infrastructure by infiltrating it with goodies to sell (“You’ll get a tax reimbursement for every mile you don’t drive”), thereby imposing positive authority, which will only work up to a point (negative authority won’t work at all). Or three, increase the aspect of perceivable need, either by actuality, as in working to accelerate the actual problem so that it reaches a point of inevitability, or by connecting the idea of evolution toward resolution to existing values. In this last case, we’re talking about the essential problem in all dualism, internal and external—you want to be happy and you don’t; men and women; Palestinians and Israelis; Christians and Muslims, and on and on… Part of this can be done by isolating and convincing the collective conscience of worth, for example, the idea that one’s children will suffer more if you don’t do something now. But, historically and currently, this fails to ignite the imagination enough to warrant sufficient sacrifice. The implication there is grave, but there you go.
Which brings us to the edge of the unknown. Ultimately, this is THE subject for humanity, and also for each individual. How to design a relationship between conflict and imagination such that they both fulfill their purpose but do so within the actuality of evolution. (Conflict: natural resistance that gives birth to or cause for imagination; imagination: resolution so as to get to something superior.) That is, how to connect want to need, and get out of the circle of neurotically imposed problems that serve no real purpose?
In the case of the worldwide blatant annihilation of natural resources, including the more obscure and less immediately recognizable impact on climate change, there is in place a purposeful ignorance, which I think is largely motivated by the desire for a collective challenge that would subsume existing dichotomies—that things become so bad that we have to really change the existing dynamic. In other words, the only way two opposing sides can become one side is to have a common enemy that is better than the existing one. The same paradigm is used, but is transposed onto a larger platform. Short of that, there has been no historical group transcendence or transformation of opposition or of imposed ignorance.
The thing is, how then to assemble existing dispersed energies and opposing values such that they attend the same event with the same intentions? You could look at this like crowds assembled in a stadium, and I think you have to think like this, because a small portion of the population is not going to make much happen in terms of serious changes in our relationship with nature. As a friend of mine once pointed out, which events consistently fill stadiums? Sports, music and religion. Or, more specifically, elite representatives that perform compelling theater within those frames.
Perceived entertainment value gathers more resources than anything else, internally and externally. This was the original idea and function of art. As of now, the entire process surrounding solutions to climate change or water and carbon abuse has been pathetically dry and uninspiring. The stick is way too heavy on the work and “be careful” side. I’m not talking about U2 giving a concert for the environment, where the money will be distributed to those who want to fund another war; somehow the actual engagement of the subject has to compel, that is, it’s more fun than not to do so.
With a vague sense of some kind of greater harmony or peace at the end of negotiations and consequent lifestyle alterations—in any arena, including Tibet vs. China, man vs. woman, or environmentalists vs. arrogant consumers—there simply lacks enough for the imagination to click in and work toward realization. Perhaps there is a chance that collective effort can assemble into a linear line toward resolution, but that will necessitate both a viable, attractive goal and a compelling process toward it. For now, the problem is more interesting than the solution.
“Wow!!!!! This newsletter is one of the most inspirational and insightful things I’ve ever read. It should go out to every human being on the planet. It is brilliant. Also, to me, it’s written on a ‘simpler,’ more digestible level—any adolescent can understand. I just can’t get over it…sorry; again, it is brilliant on so many different layers…”
“I read the latest newsletter last night in bed. It was very dark and quiet … the streets outside were quiet, the sky above was quiet. I enjoyed and appreciated the interview very, very much. That last remark stopped me in my tracks: ‘And there is a clock ticking away somewhere.’ I know you are accused of operating with a great deal of paradox, but, frankly, it’s never been an issue for me. Maybe I’m dense, but I see the paradoxes—they just don’t bother me. In fact, I appreciate them. For me, ‘what you see is what you get’ could not be more boring.”
“I feel totally unable to express what service these newsletters provide me, but I can say that it does change the way I breathe, the way I see and the way I think, and it encourages and supports me to try a new way of being. These moving condensed pieces of art provide a service beyond any expectation if only one is willing to read them with a bit of care as pearls just born in front of your eyes. It is essential for me to stop and say thank you Darrell and everybody who contributes and supports this project.”
“I just reread your magnificent #13 and the comments (I like reading and re-reading your newsletters on weekend early quiet mornings, leisurely) and was intrigued especially by S.L., Belgium’s comment re: #11 about masters and using those qualities in order to se them in others. His comment compelled me to re-read and re-appreciate your #11, A True Master, purity, plain authenticity. So thank you Darrell and thank you S.L.”
A more authentic process
“I’ve enjoyed the series. Thank you for your thoughts and insights. I enjoyed, particularly in #15, your up scaling the discussion regarding the war between “The world is going to hell in a hand basket” and “Who cares?” You did your usual good job of seeing both sides and then seeing the conflict from a different perspective.
However, I was disappointed in what I believe was a slip; when listing examples of various conflicts you referred to “environmentalists vs. arrogant consumers”. If you use the adjective, arrogant, then you must use the same word or an equally condemning word in front of environmentalists.
Or, do you believe that environmentalists as a group are “better” than their opponents?
I, personally, don’t see one group as superior to the other. There are certainly individuals in each camp who are caring, thoughtful people who are well intended. But, then, the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the law of unintended consequences usually trumps the best laid out plans of mice and men.”
Yes, I did cheat there with the arrogant. My reasons for doing so are not because of any preference or affection for environmentalists as a group, but because of my passion and respect for nature (which, hopefully, most environmentalists share to some degree). But you’re right; arrogance is probably equally developed on both sides of this equation.
We’re in agreement that they key here is not to be found in any particular group, but in the individual authentic acts of care and thoughtfulness. This is what makes for that invaluable third group: individuals with no particular ambition or mission other than to remain true to these principles no matter where lines are drawn or which sides are taken.
“A friend just forwarded me CobaltSaffron #15. Thank you for your insights. I go with the gist of just about the whole article until your last sentence. I find ‘the problem is more interesting than the solution’ somewhat limiting; it makes for a great ender, it’s brief, concentrated and dialectical (opposites able to be identified), yet the article itself describes the ‘box’ of just such thought patterns. In a sense, the dynamics of polarization & living off the movement. May I suggest a less forceful last line, yet one that might open up more involvement, an invitation into the arena of action (by thought or material): both problem & solution may prove less interesting than the process from one to the other.”
Yes, you’re right about the ending of my article; your proposal is a wiser choice. My intention in writing what I did was to have the reader walk away from the essay with a clear image of the current dynamic; that there is in general a greater interest and investment in conflict than in solution. Obviously, my deeper hope there is to initiate a more honest appraisal of our motivations and addictions, thus opening doors to a more authentic process toward balance and harmony.
“…in several of your newsletters, I have been able to observe some amount of “attitude” on your part toward man’s misuse of the environment. I’ve not been in a position to understand exactly where you are coming from on such issues, but I certainly have my own opinions about mankind’s apparent feeling of entitlement to do as one wants and ignorance and arrogance toward the consequences passed onto others. As time goes on, I think I basically have come to the conclusion that I don’t like humans.
I’m in the business of trying to find oil. Many people think badly of oil companies, and the people within. What I have to say is this: If everyone would stop using oil and oil products, the oil companies would go out of business. Everyone that I have ever met is using and abusing the use of oil. Every complainer that I have ever met is a hypocrite.”
As was suggested in the introduction to last month’s newsletter, our focus here is not so much on the environment as on the individual’s manner of engagement (toward anything). Nature is, however, a very real stage, as real as it gets, on which we can truly witness the results of our choices and actions, individually and collectively. The arrogance, ignorance and feeling of entitlement you mention are, in my view, the core problem. And yes, as you so rightly point out, the consequences are passed onto others, including those who are entirely innocent.
Unfortunately, the business of transcending arrogance, ignorance and self-righteous entitlement is a difficult one (is there anything more difficult?). Every group I’ve ever observed believes that it understands better than its opponents do. Indeed, this is the dynamic that defines and maintains arrogance and ignorance on each side of every dichotomy. The only way out of this kind of permanently conflicted dualism would be for someone to realize, “Yes, I’m arrogant and ignorant and probably don’t even deserve what I already have.” That would then at least establish a starting point for learning—enough of a gesture toward humility, curiosity and thankfulness to cause some true discovery. It’s probably also the only way that “the other side” might learn how to do this itself.
I understand and am sympathetic to your comment about coming to the conclusion that you don’t like humans. Perhaps the best we can do is to work to uphold the human qualities and virtues we most value, even in the face of everyone’s cynicism, skepticism and distrust, including our own. That way, we might help to develop a humanity worthy of being liked or even loved.
Thank you for your comments about the previous issue of CobaltSaffron. Here’s an excerpt from another comment we received:
“This sentence from Victor Hugo came back to my mind after reading CS#15. I find it superbly formulated, it underlines the arrogance and choice of ignorance of humans, and expresses much more than appears at first: It is a sad thing to think that nature speaks and that the human gender doesn’t listen.”
On the rocks
“Over the last 6 months of reading the various issues of CobaltSaffron, I keep coming around to various ways that curiosity, imagination, and creativity are intertwined. For example, to be curious takes at least some bit of imagination to conceive even of the potential for something beyond what we already expect. One question that I’m trying to play with revolves around the difference between ‘rearranging our prejudices’ and what I think of as ‘real’ creation.”
You’ve brought together nicely the three key elements of the fundamental process of creation. As you have suggested, curiosity, imagination and creativity are intertwined so closely that one could view their relationship as a trinity of connected segments making a single circle. We need all three to be in place for any one to actually function, for the circle to become a wheel that rolls beyond just “rearranging our prejudices.”
I’ve often used the simple paradigm Perception/Choice/Action as a way to describe the essential linear process to the realization of anything, from cooking a meal, to resolving complex problems, to creating art. Basically, this involves perceiving variables accurately, then choosing resourceful options, and following through with active application. This design is primarily fueled by the attributes you’ve listed, being that curiosity causes perception, imagination offers choice, and creativity is the resulting act that brings about completion.
As you have pointed out, one does need to have at least some initial imagination—perhaps the better word here is inspiration—to sense some value in discovery in the first place. It does take at least a tickle of spiritual muse to even locate the sensation of passionate curiosity. The opposition to such an impulse and its expression is what we’ve recently isolated: arrogance, ignorance, self-righteous entitlement, cynicism, skepticism and distrust. There’s more, obviously, but these already make for a decent list of life-long enemies, all fighting under the banner of Fear and Control.
Without any effort, no matter who we are or where we live, we’ll find each of these enemies waiting for us somewhere today. What they’ll be hunting for will be their counterparts in us. In other words, the core challenge will always be recognizing and transcending these enemies within. Consequently, to get the wheel of curiously imaginative creativity rolling (which I’ll try to do myself here by getting to my point), we’ll need some courage. One may like the idea of being imaginative and creative, but it’s another thing entirely to actually invest in these at the sacrifice of lesser things, such as our own prejudices and addictions. Finding a passage past the borders of our fear and control will require a humble bravery that is itself the delineation of spiritual maturity.
I’m reminded of an exercise I was taught in my early training. As a means to ignite imaginative choice making, there was an exercise in which we had to literally jump in the air without determining first where to land (we used to do this in the evenings on rocks and boulders along the ocean shore, accelerating pace without pause for an hour or more). After falling a number of times and getting sufficiently banged up, I tried to go slower so as to control my movements, but that only made things worse. Frustrated and out of ideas, I finally stopped, sat down and tried to reassess the situation. My teacher shouted out to me while laughing, “What are you so afraid of?” Once I found a way past my anger and self-righteousness, it still took me months to understand that my fear wasn’t about confronting the rocks. The fear was about admitting that I was too arrogant, cynical and unimaginative to learn to adapt to the actualities of the circumstance I was in.
Eventually, I began to find momentary pockets of relief in just acknowledging the fact that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. From there, I accessed the beginnings of humor and humility, and it became easier to forget myself. I saw details and options I hadn’t noticed before. Time seemed to change, causing Perception/Choice/Action to compress into a single gesture. I had no control of the situation, but that in itself became curiously freeing. I slowly began to realize, to understand from accumulating experience, that it was more fun to learn. Discovering something beyond my expectations, even with the associated risks and probability of ongoing failure, was simply more compelling than my fear or desire for control.
This remains one of the better personal metaphors of my life, one that I’m still learning from. Admittedly, it’s often tough to locate this kind of inspired humble bravery after falling and being banged up by more serious rocks and boulders over the course of a lifetime. But the dynamic and the specific challenge remain exactly the same.
By the way, speaking of creative discovery and humble bravery… Some years later I was out for a walk with the teacher who had asked me, “What are you so afraid of?” At that time, the man must have been in his seventies. During the walk, a large Doberman pinscher came out of nowhere, running directly at us while barking loudly and growling. The teacher turned and walked straight toward the dog, giggling and talking to him like one would speak to a puppy or a baby. The dog stopped right in front of us, but continued to growl and bare his teeth. Without hesitation, my teacher knelt down so that his face was just in front of the dog, petted him and whispered, “Did we scare you? Come on, let’s go play.” The Doberman crouched down, timidly licked his face and hands, then stood up and happily followed us for the rest of the walk.
Now that I think of it, that might be a good phrase to recite to myself the next time I’m confronted with my own arrogance, ignorance, self-righteous entitlement, cynicism, skepticism and distrust. “Did we scare you? Come on, let’s go play.”
“I truly enjoyed ‘A More Compelling Game.’ Refreshing to step outside the personal arena into a concrete examination of the sinkholes that lurk beyond our individual borders—to experience this transposition of some of your fundamental principles onto a larger organizational/societal level. How does anyone actually accomplish meaningful change in this world? Your commentary manages to be, not surprisingly, at once disheartening and inspiring: it shines a sudden brilliant light on why large-scale evolution remains so dauntingly elusive, yet points the way toward the tools that do exist. I truly believe that real progress does occur from time to time; unfortunately, it always seems to be born in blood and flame. While this element of compulsion is inevitable, in the long run there has to be a better way—something more willing, something more open-hearted, something more life-affirming. ‘A More Compelling Game’ should be required reading for any progressive-minded organization.”
“…’a more authentic process toward balance and harmony’. A question immediately comes to mind: Is not the authentic process itself balance and harmony? Balance and harmony doesn’t mean being passive or nice; one has to find that also on a raft in the middle of the ocean in a storm. I see how this is all applicable in my life, right now. What makes how you’ve done this so beautiful is that it’s so precise and simple in its execution that one can’t help but go look for just that in one’s self.”
“I thought you may enjoy reading this, which was in my mailbox today…Saffron is a royal spice, the most precious and expensive in the world. 200,000 crocus flowers are needed to obtain just one pound of Saffron. In India, the color produced by soaking Saffron filaments in water was considered the very perfection of beauty. Saffron is also the prime Ayurvedic spice, balancing for all constitutions and considered pure Sattva, one of the three forces of nature expressing spirituality and equilibrium.”
“…I was moved and left with a sense of hope while reading your last newsletter. I feel a profound despair when I look around me. What a real mess in contrast with the natural beauty, balance and harmony of nature. But I’m part of this mess until I do something about my own pollution (verbal/actions…). I haven’t been able to consistently live up to the level of qualities and virtues that I believe in. But I believe in the transformation of those who witness the presence of inner strength—those who are consistently and with great urgency holding their vision of what we are humans can achieve when truly in tune with a profound sense of sacredness and respect for the tremendous generosity of this life.”
Views from the wings
This month’s issue of our newsletter focuses on the behind-the-scenes members of the CobaltSaffron team. Below are some of their perceptions and insights about the newsletter and their participation within it.
As I stumble through my life with all its challenges, lessons and moments of consciousness within a lot of unconsciousness, being part of the CobaltSaffron team remains a refreshing joy and privilege. Participating in this process continues to reframe things, open my eyes to new perspectives and keep me connected to something bigger and deeper.
For starters, it is a relief to be part of a team where each individual is so focused and compelled by the best interest of the project itself that separate ambitions and personality clashes don’t even make it into the picture. I often have the experience through our email exchanges that we are each cogs in a bigger movement. One idea is presented which sparks another which sparks another. And when we come to a solution, I look back and see that the solution was built upon the various contributions along the way, even if none of them were quite right on their own.
It is also fascinating to be privy to some of Darrell’s process as he conceives and evolves each issue. I am always delighted by the changes in format and unexpected turns as he refuses to limit his creativity in the effort to communicate something beyond the ordinary. I am constantly inspired by the commitment to not just write about something, but to actually create an example of what he is writing about within the writing itself. This is a general practice in most of his writing, in subtle or more obvious ways, but issues #11 and #13 are both delightful examples of this.
I’ve also learned a lot about risk-taking and honing discernment through this work. Given that the newsletters can be wonderfully bold and frank, sometimes we have to discern together as a team which risks have an important and appropriate impact given the purpose of the issue, and which, although refreshingly bold, don’t serve the bigger purpose of the subject. We work to keep in mind the range of people who might be reading CobaltSaffron, always trying to keep the issues accessible to newcomers and still give those who are familiar with Darrell’s work something meaty, layered and intricate to chew on.
The only disappointment I have found in this work with the newsletter is the generally limited response that has been generated. Although there are some avid and generous readers, who have been compelled, curious, and passionate enough to respond to the newsletters, offer thoughts and contribute intelligent questions, overall, there is not as much response as I had hoped. In a culture where we skim articles, where most of us take little time to really sit down, read and contemplate, is it worth it to invest so much in CobaltSaffron for the handful of persons who really dive into the issues, contemplate the ideas, and actively allow it to affect their lives? Is there something we can do to invite more feedback and interaction?
Participating in CobaltSaffron has been a great opportunity to observe and apply, on the scale of a precise project, many of the ideas one meets and deals with when working with Darrell. It has also been a wonderful way to stay connected with the spirit behind them.
Foremost, it is a challenging exercise of communication at various levels. In the translation process, one has to search for a deeper understanding of what has been written and a fluidity in the exchanges between the persons involved. It’s a constant game between the intention of the author and the perceptions and different personal styles of the translators. The approach to the text has to be far deeper than a single reading as many words or ideas of the initial text have to be lifted and considered, like precious stones, then expressed in a different language so as to restore the meaning, impact and harmony of the original. It is a good reminder that everything can be, and has to be, considered with a different focus and from different angles.
One of my fascinations in the process is to observe the big limitation of human verbal communication. Some words, concepts or effects can never be expressed in a satisfactory way through a different language. Working closer in the details of the text and ideas, through several successive readings, shows that I have never finished understanding what has actually been expressed in the newsletter. How many readings from different angles? Which real effects on my personal life and behavior? How, and how many times, should I read it so that it stays alive in me!? How to communicate—and receive—the spirit and desire for true passionate curiosity through paper and words…
Another side of this experience is the humbling sensation of participating in a “wider evolution.” Ideas and connections of words expressing Darrell’s thoughts and work are unique and have never been expressed in such a way by anyone. Translating them into another language sometimes implies difficult choices, as one can’t find the equivalent elsewhere. In doing so I sometimes have the impression that it is the language itself, the way things are being conceived and expressed, that is being affected and slightly shifted. Choices in using one word or way to express things are never neutral. It seems that the language itself will never be exactly the same because of what has been written… and translated… in each newsletter.
Working on CobaltSaffron is an interesting opportunity to practice the various ideas that have been presented. One of the notions that I come back to is the value of repetition.
Recently, I was walking along a beautiful black beach with some friends. Rather than the usually imagined volcanic sand, this endless beach was made from crushed, grey stone that looks black when wet. Relentless surf pounds the shore over and over again, turning giant boulders into smaller and smaller stones. Raging storms sometimes erode the beach to almost nothing and, other times, build the beach back up even higher than before.
I like to read the raw drafts of the newsletter as fresh as possible to get a gestalt of the whole. Sometimes things just jump right out, but only is there’s not a lot of preconceptions blocking the way.
Fascinating how boringly nice that day felt. A very light haze tinting the distance. A soft breeze helping moderate the heat: a bit hot in the sun, a bit chill in the shade. Mid-tide waves drumming a booming bass and a chorus of millions as the waves rushed the beach.
In particular, I find it really important to go over things at various points in my day. Before bed to let it sink in and percolate while I sleep, first thing in the morning, after working out, etc. I end up noticing distinct pieces and having different ideas.
My mind playing tricks with time and space. The usual cycle but oddly out of order. Or perhaps the soothing background made it easy for my internal discord to be heard clearly. The squishy crunching of our steps along the waterline setting the beat. Slowly, the frothy residue slipped through the stony sand, back to the sea.
What I find the most moving and inspiring is to participate in a project that is sufficiently valued that the egos remain in the dressing rooms. This makes space for a level of honesty that is at times difficult but essentially refreshing and liberating. It allows for a clean, efficient and productive communication among the team, in substance and in timing.
Working on the translation has given me more than I would have imagined. I discovered that I presume a lot—words, ideas, sentences that I thought I had comprehended. The need to be a faithful messenger obliges me to look closely into details and context. How to translate? How to take something from one side of a bridge, cross the bridge, bring it to the other side such that the content and the impact are the same? “There does exist an essential intuitive value system in each of us,” Darrell wrote in a previous issue of the newsletter; this is what I have in mind while translating… searching for an “equivalence”, the point of balance that carries the most qualities, the most “truth” across the bridge. In many ways, a fascinating exercise.
Helping to produce CobaltSaffron has brought me closer to the actuality of creation. I am in proximity to it, and I feel for those who take the risk to create—the faith, strength, solidity, sensitivity, compassion and generosity that creation requires. You walk up to the stage, vulnerable, revealing your self and having to be capable to touch someone else’s soul. And anybody can comment, judge, and criticize what has been produced without having gone through the journey of diving within oneself and producing something from it. I am realizing the solitude that comes from the process of creation. And the depth of intention required.
It is an honor, a joy, and an opportunity to learn how to apply the qualities we speak of in the newsletter to help produce it. It gives me more clues in realizing the need for and the power of action. On top of that, reading it, I feel nourished, revitalized. Someone is crossing the bridge with food, water and sun for my curiosity.
The quest for intention
During the recent Autumn Retreat, we began by listing the principles that experts have shown to be most effective in reducing or eliminating the primary opposition to personal happiness. To settle on a single term for all types of internal suffering, we used the word anguish, which was meant to cover a wide spectrum that includes basic discontentment, day-to-day stress and anxiety to profound sorrow, rage, despair and hopelessness.
The experts who deal with these kinds of problems—from the health sciences, including psychiatrists and psychologists, to well-being therapists and gurus, to philosophers, to spiritual and religious guides—consistently point to three key factors that reduce anguish for everyone: creativity, service and physicality. We spent a good portion of the first couple days delineating these techniques as envisioned by the experts. Below is a brief synopsis.
Creativity is, of course, the ability to create. But, in the sense of a method meant to reduce anguish, creativity needs to be applied on a consistent basis through specific acts of creation. That could be on traditional platforms, such as painting, writing and singing, or through subtler creations, such as the design of one’s day, choice of activities with our children and friends, or through inventive projects. A sense of exploration and play, as well as perceiving some evolution in the creation are essential components for creativity to become effective as a technique for relieving anguish.
Service is a practical term for the idea of devotion. As technique, experts advise two primary means of expression: helping others, especially those who are suffering more than we are, and engaging and fulfilling our faith. The first is easy enough to apply; the only real requisite is that the service is given to those who we feel truly deserve it. The underlying empathy and interest is already in place to some degree. The latter is more complex, involving a cause, idea, ideal or being that appeals to our imagination and values. Both of these, helping others and fulfilling faith, integrate our minds, emotions and actions into a sense of personal purpose, giving us reason, meaning and direction.
The third principle, physicality, was the easiest to identify and describe. The basic idea, and definition of the word itself, is simply that we place greater emphasis on our physical being. Yes, that probably includes some kind of sane exercise program, but the specialists see it as considerably more explicit than that. Learning to develop patterns that relieve anguish necessitates awareness of the impact of common choices, such as how we breathe, how we sit and stand, how long we sleep, what and how much we eat, how to recuperate energy, and even how much time we need in solitude or in proximity to nature. Breathing techniques, for example, can reduce anxiety or even physical agony in seconds.
As with all information given by experts—most of which is easy enough to find—understanding the facts was the easiest part of the equation. The retreat was largely designed from the start with the intention to practice and experiment with the above methods so as to know how they actually function personally for each individual. By diving into the subjects, through various presentations, conversations and exercises, it quickly became clear that any progress that might be made hinged on something deeper and more mysterious. Understanding, and even agreeing, lacked sufficient power to cause real discovery. Somehow, the subject itself, relieving anguish and achieving sustainable happiness, was not compelling enough to cause real discovery.
Which brought us to the question, “How does one find enough motivation to actually transform knowledge into action?” Or, perhaps simpler and clearer, “Why do it?”
As strange as it may seem, I found myself in the position of negotiating with people in an effort to convince them that happiness itself was a worthy enough objective to apply oneself with a deeper intention than usual. And, for me, that was the pivotal issue, finding enough genuine intention to leave behind discontentment, unhealthy addictions, preference for conflict and, yes, anguish. (I leave to your imagination the implications for relational, social, political, environmental and religious issues.)
Genuine intention is something we generally don’t have a lot of information about or support for. In our pursuit to privately “win” the game of life at any cost, genuine intention and the qualities that extend from it, such as sincerity, integrity, compassion and humility, are often cynically viewed as expressions of ignorance and even stupidity, increasing the likelihood that we’ll lose the game. Is it possible that our difficulty in finding sufficient motivation to resolve anguish itself stems from an inability to perceive a reason to do it?
Much of the rest of the retreat was directed toward the quest for intention. Motivation, an immediately recognizable reason to apply oneself, we identified as the most superficial or juvenile version of intention—you do this and you get paid for it. We also discovered a second, richer dimension of motivation that we called moral imagination, applying effort or sacrifice for beings we care about and love—you don’t get paid, but they do. And the third dimension, genuine purity of intention, was reserved for the truly creative in service—you pay.
Or, to make it more succinct for the negotiations within ourselves: If we won’t apply what we know so as to relieve anguish for ourselves because that’s not sufficiently motivating, perhaps we might do it because those we care for will benefit from it and learn how to do it themselves from our actions. And, if that’s not motivating enough, perhaps we’d do it because we realize there’s the need. That is, just because it’s right to do so.
I suppose we all have the freedom and right to determine whether or not happiness is a worthy enough objective. However, even with the awful appeal of anguish, unworthiness, inertia and conflict, certainly someone is worthy of it. It’s not too difficult to take a look around and realize that there is, in fact, the need.
“Thanks to the whole team for all the work done. This gives yet another dimension to the newsletters. Thank you also for the rich and intense testimonials, these thoughts. Once I finished the first reading of the newsletter, I felt a magnificent and powerful energy coming from it. This newsletter also answered a question that I (re)asked myself five minutes earlier (and that keeps running through my head for a while now). It underlined the importance of ‘forgetting oneself’ for a superior interest, ‘forgetting oneself’ which is requisite for true creation to come to birth (what a big word, I feel that I don’t perceive all its meanings), to give birth to something strong and powerful. Now starts (or continues) a reflection on ‘forgetting oneself’.”
“I want you to know how very much I look forward to your newsletter. I share it with my circle of friends and suspect others to do as well, so while your direct mailing list is small, there’s likely an unseen multiplier effect as folks share and discuss it with those with whom they are close. By its very nature publishing can be disheartening. With writing, it’s create, put it out there, then let out a deep breath, sip on a cup of tea and hope my finger tapping doesn’t drive anyone crazy. I wanted to share a few practical ways you can use your website (great design, by the way) to develop some quantitative, measurable ‘How’re-We-Doing’ data. Start by increasing the site’s content by creating a newsletter archive and posting the pdfs of past issues. This would be especially useful for us newcomers since they are often referred to. My final suggestion requires a bit more labor (sorry!) but it will be of the greatest value to you and your readers: creating an online discussion forum with multiple topic areas. Readers could interact in a more timely way and it would enable you to meet their differing needs long-term (since over time, the range between experience levels will only continue to widen). The forum could be open to all visitors to read, but to post, one would have to register as a subscriber. I appreciate Karen and Isabelle, Christian and John coming forward with your invitation to share and look forward to doing so in the future on ‘meatier’ topics.”
“I find the newsletters magical! Often, when I am questioning how to unravel a knot, it arrives to guide me, to help me ask the right questions, to calm me… like a good genie. Also, a big thanks particularly to the translators who give me an easier access to it.”
“I have just read your last newsletter ‘Views from the wings’. Reading it made me feel as if I had been watching a beautiful painting or reading some refreshing lines from a haiku (despite the length of each text, each contribution felt like one line in one haiku). It is good to be reminded that it takes much more than it appears to create these newsletters and it is great to hear about the internal process of each of you as if we were seeing a person in front of us and being able to go inside the complexity of their mind. Again thanks to everybody to sustain and create such beauty. Hey I feel inspired!”