Thursday, 19 January 2012

Stony is the world, and precious

Today I read the post "Stone Soup, mutual dependency and a new economic order" by Andrew J. Taggart. Go and read it now, because what follows is some kind of response to the excellent questions he throws at us. 

I really like this post. Because I think about this kind of thing a lot. I started writing a comment for it, but then it got longer and longer and many thoughts and bits of coversation that have been chasing each other around in my consciousness in the last months started to move into a clearer pattern, so I decided to use Andrew's post as a trigger for another piece here.

I have been accused of Pollyannaism. Partly in reaction to that, I called this blog "These precious and beautiful things". It's laughably easy for a certain kind of person to dismiss me when I choose to approach the world with a let's call it poetic, soft, not always rational way. Even easier because I'm a woman, yes still in this day. I know that. But it was as if I wanted to throw a gauntlet in front of all those who purport to know "what the world's really like, my dear", the reactionary as well as the progressive ones, and scream at them (very un-Pollyannaish actually) to fuck off with their patronising attitudes that peddle a dark resigned view of the world as "reality". As if I wanted to dig my heels in and shout, guess what it's not my reality, you fools! 

Why oh why can people so rarely cope with ambiguity, with things being this, and at the same time also that.

Where I really I find myself mostly is in a place between awareness of darkness, destruction and quite ok with looking it in the face, and a kind of "yes, but still.." attitude. Where I will hold on to the possibility of mutual cooperation, kindness, beauty and other good things. 

So I think the beggar turned visionary in the Stone Soup story is an important figure.  It's probably no coincidence that it's someone who is already outside the usual order, who doesn't have much, who has to survive by his wits. A state that can open the mind, clear the goo of contentment from the soul. Contentment is what many of us, here in the privileged places have, not deep aliveness. Clear the goo, and sometimes we see things just a little differently. Herein does lie the potential in all this new austerity and collapse (new for us privileged few of course, for most of the world it's old hat), clearing the goo of contentment. What each of us will do with this opportunity, I'm afraid nobody has full control over. Deal with it.  

As for Andrew's question how we avoid being or falling for a con artist peddling a pointless vision of a better world - maybe it's not about a leap of faith. I don't really do faith.
So I'm thinking, maybe we need to stop talking about the possibility of a kinder world as a vision. Shift our perspective a little and see it already as a reality. Unearth it, make it visible by being mindful of the many little (and occasionally big) experiences of mutual cooperation, kindness, simple sensibleness that we do actually encounter all the time. I just feel that we often don't recognise them as such because we are so blinded and sold to the idea of our brutal competitive nature. I don't incidentally subscribe to the idea that humans are at core brutal and self obsessed, neither do I believe that we are naturally wonderfully cooperative beings who have been corrupted somehow. Like I said, when is a thing ever one or the other? All I can say, if I go by my direct experience, is that there already is kindness, cooperation, resilience, beauty. People saying, and living as if they mean it, even if they don't manage all the time: "yes,  but still".
People have always done this. I know this from my parents who have lived through the second world war, when it would have been so easy to just see the darkness, but who told me a lot about cooperation and kindness as well. I know it from being in places where people have nowhere near what we have here. And yet there is, also, kindness, cooperation and beauty. And this is not limited to the human realm. I'm reminded in this context of Jay Griffiths speaking of  wild kindness, the kindness in nature that is, also, wild.

If I can experience something, then it is part of reality. It exists. (I hope you understand that I'm not talking about the western empirical model of science-type experience here.) It's not a vision. I can't be conned into believing in it, nor can I peddle it as a con to others. I can however seek it out, speak about it, feed it wherever I find it, encourage it, if I feel brave and not as shy as most of the time, I can even initiate my own instances of it. I think we feed the dark stuff too much. Can we not feed the equally real light stuff a bit more? 

It seems to me that the problems come when we cling to the idea that all these things, these great visions of our great minds, will "save the world". When we are attached to the outcomes of our actions, rather than acting because simply, inside, we know it is the right thing to do. I know that I'm walking on shaky ground here. Dictators may well argue that inside they know what they do is the right thing. I haven't fully developed my thoughts around this, but it comes to me so often, this idea that we need to do things because they feel right inside, not because we are attached to the outcome. And when something keeps knocking at my door this much, even uninvited, I can't just dismiss it. 

So there is this attachment to the outcome of our actions, the desperate hope that using different lightbulbs, growing vegetables, creating community based structures, signing a petition, joining a political party, blowing up a dam, writing a poem - whichever of the innumerable possibilities that people see as their way, that any of this will save the world. But the world is not ours to save, as it quite possibly is not ours to completely destroy. Human hubris, not just from the proponents of the capitalist technofix order, but also from the alternative margins of any persuasion. 

Accepting that we can't save the world is also an acceptance of our own limits and of the reality of death. It is not a giving up. I said it in my last post, and I'll say it again: what I want most is to be with ever more people who are ready to question what the great beggar-visionary and writer Dambudzo Marechera called "the nature of available reality". Who will do the best they can with their particular talents, passions, heart desires. And who will bravely meet whatever is, whatever comes. In the moment, with kindness and cooperation and with thoughness as well. In the process we may even grow the patches of a better world that are already here. 

Nothing is ever fully this or that. Stony is the world, yes, and precious.

Andrew's post was inspired by the post "Stone Soup, the story" from Antonio Dias - Thank you Antonio for igniting the whole thing!
I just thought, I feel strange, only directly referencing the people whose written works I have connected with about this. Many people's ideas are woven into this too, from conversations I've been having. One who has played with these ideas with me more than anyone is @AllieKStewart - and I appreciate it!!


  1. I especially like the "yes, still" stance you take. It cuts diagonally, as it were, across cynicism and bald Pollyannaism.

    "Yes," someone could say, "I grant that things have been this way. Still, it doesn't mean that everything is this way or that things can't very well be otherwise. Huh? How do I know? Well, I've had shimmering experiences."

    Later you write of some of these intimations: "I can however seek it out, speak about it, feed it wherever I find it, encourage it, if I feel brave and not as shy as most of the time, I can even initiate my own instances of it."

    The nice thing about the visionary in Stone Soup is that he seems to embody the same spirit. I think of him as saying, "I won't ask for a lot. In fact, I won't ask for anything from you. I'll simply invite you to look this way and walk this way with me and see if we get somewhere. We'll both be vulnerable together."

    1. HI Andrew,
      I think that's precisely what I'm trying to say - maybe it's worth asking for less, doing it with all our heart, being mindful that we cannot make others do what we feel is right, but only invite them and be open to the possibilities that arise.

      Best, Daniela

  2. Yes, Daniela, if people could only deal with 'ambiguity, with things being this, and at the same time also that' then I suspect we'd have a saner world. But for me, what you're describing (the way sometimes people see only darkness) can be the classic 'journey to the underworld' through which we all have to pass to emerge with the classic hero/herione's treasure: the new way of looking at the world. I went through a similarly dark place that lasted about 18 months recently, when I could only see all the difficulties the world was facing, and what I felt was my own powerless to do anything about it. And so my reaction was to retreat and to respond (to anyone who talked about the place we all find ourselves in as if there was any hope there) with what might have appeared to be cynicism but really was born of despair. But for me it was necessary to go through that place in order to come out understanding that attitude - and therefore to be more ready to face it, deal with it in other people, learn how to transform it, or simply move on. Which is precisely what you are doing with articles like this. Keep the flame burning :-)

    1. HI Sharon,

      you are right. I do know these places, I have been there too at times. And I think the only sane thing we can do in those situations is like you say to retreat, immerse ourselves and move through them. I also appreciate that sometimes people get stuck there and that can be a grave and frightening thing and is not to be taken lightly. Like I said to Andrew, maybe all I can offer is an invitation to see some brightness, not as an unattainable vision, but as small pockets of light that are already here, already real.I understand cynicism born from despair.I suppose the flaming anger I feel sometimes - rightly or wrongly - comes when people try to convince me that my reality is false, while I don't deny their stance that things are dark, I merely see that they are light too.
      Keep well! Daniela

  3. Hi Daniela

    Thanks for this fascinating post, and also for the ones you have submitted to Earthlines. This isn't a question or comment about thispost, but about one that seems to have gone missing (!). My blog-following thing on blogger tells me that you published a post titled 'what remains and what we do with it', but I can't find it. Can you enlighten?



    1. Hi Ian, thank you for your interest and encouragement! After one year and much more intermittant posting than I would have liked, I still feel this blog is a fresh and fledegling little thing, although it is becoming bolder!
      Yes well, that post you're looking for existed for about 5 minutes until I decided it wasn't quite finished. I'll put it up in next couple of days.
      Best wishes! Daniela

  4. When we begin to see life as a Gift, we set aside the bargaining.

    I can't help but think that so much of what we struggle with in our predicament comes not from how bad it is, very bad, but how hard it is for us to let go of seeing all life as negotiation.

    "S," as Andrew suggested we start calling our hero, takes the leap and then invites the villagers to join him. Everything leads from that.

    You may want to check out this post and its comment thread. These are further thoughts on the story:

    1. Yes! The bargaining, and being used to getting what we want (or think we want at least!)as long as we bargain well... I don't for one second say that I don't care what happens to humanity or the planet, I just feel that often we humans overestimate our powers, which is of course to a great degree what got us and the planet into the mess. Applying the same attitude to how we deal with the terrible state the world is in, is probably not good either. Two sides of a coin... Thanks for the link to that post and thread, I'll check it out.
      Be well, Daniela