Ditching Progress

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The sleek apparatus we call progress has failed us.  The signs are all around, if we but dare heed them.  I’m very clear, for instance, that the curdling of country lanes into frost-heaved mogul courses should be a bygone phenomenon.  You shouldn’t be forced to drink the day’s first cup of coffee while your kidneys are undergoing paratrooper training.  Similarly, had progress been successful, tests of the Emergency Broadcast System would have been moot by now, lawyers would be blowing our minds with ever more efficient and transparent mechanisms of cooperation, and food would be both everywhere abundant and perishable.

These shortcomings are trivial, however, compared to the full-blown letdown.

We know progress hasn’t delivered on its promises, first and foremost, because messiness endures.  Not group text messages or awkward high school photos that surreptitiously find their way to the Internet, but Grade A messiness– moments in which we are up to our knees in the raw yolks of our pain, when our most practiced visages come flying apart and a whole lot of we-don’t-even-know-what stumbles out into the open.  The jail that once housed our worst fears is blown apart, and our polished presentation of selfhood is preempted by a gritty parade– pouring straight from us– of shame-faced beggars, pompous actuaries, neglected children, and hyped-up prima donnas.  The whole sordid collection.

Progress was meant to save us from that unmasking.  Part of the deal was that, if we applied ourselves, we’d be able to maintain a sense of reasonableness and decorum throughout.  That gnawing black hole following us all around– full of horrible, no-good, very bad nothings– would fade from memory.  Our merit badges would shine it into oblivion.  We know something has gone wonky, though, because to get anywhere worth being you still have to go out back a few times in your life and hold yourself while you tremble, sink to the ground, and weep into the arms of a willow tree– your vision reduced to a blurry heat.  To truly live, you still have to take the risk of your scariest, deepest and most confusing feelings coming to light in the presence of your lover.  And some day, some where, a decision will find you that involves urgently choosing between bad and worse– a decision that will feel exactly like finally accepting your place in that strange ensemble of dilapidated demons that trot out every time your vigilance wanes.

Progress has failed to keep our worlds neat and tidy.  But how could it have?  That would have been like taking the world’s greatest gymnasts, at the peak of their powers, and telling them they could experience all the same things by becoming bookkeepers.  We need a few brushes with muddy intensity along the way, just like a high-performance engine needs the soot blown off it once in a while.

But take away progress, and what are we left with?

Don’t we need a guiding vector or something?  A compass needle?  Don’t we need something to push off of so we can grow and expand?

This is my favorite part about ditching progress.  When you’re left with nothing but what you’ve already been given, and you finally call that good enough, it starts to grow all on its own.  It’s as if you unsuspectingly whispered the magic words.  Acceptance is the moment when rainwater settles down into the soil and nestles around the seed, and that first tonal latching of molecule to molecule deep in the seed unfolds.  Just by saying to yourself, I love you… I trust you… I know you… it all starts to open up.  You welcome the return of that line-up of little horrors to the stage, and they become a ballet troupe right before your eyes.  It’s not progress when veins of copper and tin become shiny trombones… it’s revelation.

In the absence of progress, what we’re left with is revelation.  And that’s much better.

Beyond progress lies every good thing we are.  Every good thing imaginable.  The whirling of the present thickens us up into something delicious, like whipping cream.  We recognize vastness without anonymity.  Beauty and compassion become tangible in movement and form, and ubiquitous in our silence.  Freed of the mandates of progress, we respond as we truly are, and it results in more of everything.  We can be broken, vulnerable, happy and whole all at once– stumble into a puddle of mud, and then stand back up and laugh about it.

We can start living as beings who will never get to the bottom of ourselves.  Ever.

And eventually, it’s quite possible, our roads will improve, but by then it’ll probably be too late.  We’ll be bouncing along, splattering coffee all over the dash, our speakers long since blown, our voices crooning into the distance, loving everything just exactly the zany way it is.

32 Comments

  1. I just could feel it in my bones that you were up to something!
    Your insight that “We can be broken, vulnerable, happy and whole all at once– stumble into a puddle of mud, and then stand back up and laugh about it,” feels just like the memory I have of what is to be, or what it was to be, or how we can make it to be, the perfect, organic combination that progress seemed to make incredibly confusing, but we still knew was possible inside. There is so much truth – so well-said, here, a perfect lobster and chocolate truffle treat for a holiday that seems to mark progress all too often, these days. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • Your response was wondrous, M, because I struggled with this one for longer than I would care to admit. It was one of those pulling teeth writing days. Maybe the transition back to prose or something had me in knots. I’m not sure. I’m glad it struck a chord. The resonance is helpful. I’m feeling broken and happy all at once over here…!

      I think you’ve written of this memory before. It feels like a capital ‘M’ Memory you have described. Am I mistaken? It doesn’t seem like a memory of watching Zola Budd run barefoot in the ’84 games, or taking the ACT. It feels like one of those memories we brought with us on the boat across the stars, to have nearby as we plunged into this mad world of franchised flavors and fire-based machinery.

      I do hope you were able to look your maddening day in the eye yesterday and wink at it. I managed to get out to the hardware store and secure all the industrial artifacts needed to get the roof rake tuned up for the next storm. Which has arrived. Now the cardinals are in the fir trees, red orbs huddled by the feeders, like little thoughts from Hafiz emerging from the backdrop of the world, calling attention to the brilliant colors of authenticity.

      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I sense that, like it or not, we are all going to have to abandon any cherished notions of progress in any case Michael. Whether there is still any such thing as The American Dream I would not really know as a foreigner, though it feels to me as if it would only be a remnant from the fifties were it to remain in pockets. The game is up; anyone who thinks must know this, and it is only the politicians, driven by their corporate paymasters and the mainstream media, that continue to feed the illusion. I feel we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift, one which may lead to what you describe in your closing words, or at least, approach it. We as individuals must drop our obsession with our competitive individuality if we are to come to knowledge of ourselves. In so doing we embrace each other in an accepting commonality of purpose, one that rejects the dreams of yesteryear, the personal trinkets of status and cupidity, and we befriend both the planet and each other as never before. Once can only hope there is time.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Hi Hariod,

      I would agree with you. I was thinking, with insufficient breadth and depth, about the individual notion of progress, and the idea that through some effort of our own we can make ourselves into something better. I was trying to point to the subtle distinction between the need to nourish the image of a self, versus relaxing into the self one already is, and working with the richness of that given material. I was also thinking, very peripherally, about the notion that the world that emerges from a collective of people seeking something else, might in fact be one populated by such oddities as The American Dream— whatever that is or was. The distancing of ourselves, from ourselves, as we’ve aspired (trying to work with you here on the vocab) to become someone is reflected in the world that is designed to make things easy, to offer clear paths, to minimize the clattering into the unexpected.

      A flat tire can produce an emotional train wreck in no time flat. What do we do if we’re not given instructions? A relationship that begins to reveal hidden pain we’ve carried… chuck it out and find a new one…

      I do think we’re moving past that world, as you say. I think that as we continue to move deeper into the heart of authenticity, we give rise to a different sort of collective experience. I just think that this movement towards a more authentic world has been driven, for many decades, and will continue to be driven, by those who have accepted the mess they have found when they looked underneath the packaging. Not that we all need to be having meltdowns or dark nights of the soul indefinitely. Not at all. I am reminded of a delightful message from Matthew Kahn I saw in which he encouraged us not to dwell in endless catharsis. But, to accept what we are, in all aspects, even the parts that don’t belong in a glossy magazine, warts and all as they say, results in such a rich and genuine type of human experience and engagement.

      Much Love
      Michael

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I too love ‘broken, vulnerable, happy and whole all at once’. So so true! Acceptance is the key, first and foremost of self. A beautiful piece Michael. And as always your writing gives me just the reminder I need, just when I need it. Thank you ❤
    Alison xox

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, indeed, Alison! Thank you for passing through here, reading and leaving a heart print behind… Hope you and Don are enjoying your travels!

      Blessings
      Michael

      Like

  4. Your beautiful post, Michael, and the comments all touch the heart of the matter. I agree with Hariod that we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift that might finally get us to Now. Joe Campbell once said “If the road is laid out clearly in front of you, it is not your road. ” Finally, one of my most cherished discoveries is that of vulnerability. When the heart breaks, it can well break open, and then life begins.

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    • Thank you, John. I’m enjoying the ride through the shift, and I am intrigued by how the rhetoric around the subject has changed. I can remember ten to fifteen years ago, when there was a lot of uncertainty around the issue of paradigm shifting– a fearful sort of doubting about whether or not we’d “make it”. Now, it seems many source of information I happen across are speaking of a joyful inevitability, rather than a firestorm sweeping across the land. I think this broken vulnerable joyousness is going to be an increasingly natural phenomenon, and new life is beginning to poke up through the soil…

      Peace
      Michael

      Like

  5. LadyBlueRose's Thoughts Into Words says

    “We can be broken, vulnerable, happy and whole all at once”
    the human experience that each came here to be a part of,
    born alone, live alone, and once in awhile we shatter the illusion by connecting with someone
    to experience love….the energy that leaves us broken, vulnerable, happy and whole all at once…
    progress wants us to believe we all part of one…but free will, imagination, creativity, and life experience is our own, we have similar lives, just different words to tell our story, once we see through our own masks….

    I really enjoyed your post…Thank you, made me pause and wander in thoughts I tend to stay away from…
    Thank you for sharing you and your thoughts…
    Take Care…You Matter…
    )0(
    maryrose
    ( I love that line and all the stories in between waiting to heard 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mary. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, and thank you for visiting. There’s certainly nothing like a full-blown relationship to afford us the opportunity to practice our joy, brokenness, and vulnerability all at once. Among half a dozen other virtues not always easily cultivated. I think eventually this ability moves into every relationship– our relationship with the land, the trees, the moon, the neighbor, the guy behind us at the traffic light, the ocean…

      I love the way you bring out imagination and creativity. That’s indeed where I think we directly touch the vein of loving beingness that lives within each one of us, peering out distinctly behind our various shells to bless the world…

      Peace
      Michael

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  6. I can relate to that. Progress has failed. Mankind is running into the wrong direction – but at least with full speed and ever increasing efficiency.
    Never mind.
    I think it was Mark Twain who said that if we assume that we are all mad, then the world is sufficiently explained.
    So, the thought of separation taken seriously is the root cause ( as you know from ACIM), and the rest of the madness is just a by-product.

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    • Yes, Karin. All the madness is a by-product. I think we’ll always have byproducts, that somehow what we perceive is always indirect somehow. The incredible inner-whispered-knowing I return to is that when unity is at the helm, every good thing is also a by-product… 🙂 We can’t explain it. Grace and goodness. They just arise. Things fall into place. The progress that I think is failing is the type we invented to set things right, the type that was focused on fixing the by-products… As you know… 🙂

      Much Love
      Michael

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lorrie! I love how you mention the pace. It’s something I don’t think about, but when you mention it and I look back, I realize I often am changing words and phrases unconsciously, editing as I go, to satisfy some strange rhythmic directive… It suggests to me that the correction of rhythm isn’t progress– it’s just healing… So we have healing and revelation, but no progress… 🙂 It’s a good life…

      Blessings
      Michael

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      • Ah! I agree 🙂 I love your work, Michael. I knew the first time I read your words that I would need to read more and more of them! And this “strange rhythmic directive” is your voice, I believe. It is present in much of your work…maybe not exactly the same…but recognizable. I am grateful for our connection ❤

        Liked by 1 person

        • I guess it probably, and inevitably, comes out differently in various situations. I’m sure that is the case. We’re all richer in timbres than we dare imagine…! I’m touched by your words here, Lorrie. They come as a blessing, which I know is a language you speak in all its delightful tones and colors…

          I am grateful for our connection as well.

          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Acceptance is the moment when rainwater settles down into the soil and nestles around the seed, and that first tonal latching of molecule to molecule deep in the seed unfolds.

    This is wonderful and wondrous. Acceptance, and an acceptance that is a true embrace, is such a difficult moment to give to words. But wonderful. Be well, friend~

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tac. I’m delighted you have dropped by. Everytime I see bussokuseki I am reminded of your grace-filled words…

      Likewise, my friend, be well. Good luck on another 18 this week!

      Michael

      Like

        • No idea! Perhaps. Who knows!? I live in New England, and once was in Texas for a seminar on vibration engineering. I was crossing the lobby of the hotel after class, and bumped into my aunt, whom I hadn’t seen for probably two decades… She lived in Florida at the time, I believe. Amazing. And then there’s all the people you pass by on the street, at the airline terminal, at the grocery store…

          It’s uncanny to think about it. There’s just us…

          Michael

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ah…..my father and ex-husband, both from New England….I love tooling up the Adirondack Trail. Thought you just m-i-g-h-t- be a particular Michael from these parts, as you “sound” like him. You’re right; there is. Just.

            Liked by 1 person

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