Creation of the New (a.k.a. Muck-Wading)

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Course Ideas

Several posts I read this week raised a similar question about the New: what would it look like to you?  What would it feel like?  Who would we be?  I wrote in one response that it seemed to me we would trust one another and all that is around us— meaning the heart of the world itself—in a very deep way.  Then I went out and lived the type of week that made my musings seem silly and naive.  The actual application of these ideas can be incredibly difficult.

I take this matter of the New seriously, because I feel that it is already alive within us— breathing, dreaming and desiring to come forth.  We’re desiring it to come forth, too, for we are it.  We are desiring ourselves to come forth.

We know, at some level, even if it’s hard to describe in words, what we are up to here.  We can feel it within us.  This jubilance.  We can feel its heartbeat.  We can sense its enormity.  We wonder how such magnitude will flow through the birth canal of our beingness and into the world.  We sense that getting this New into full swing—into evident reality, into the relationships and interactions that collectively result in the climate, the condition of wild salmon fisheries and bison herds, the cost of housing, the subtlety of our healing arts, the discoveries of particle physics, the zoning ordinances, or the architectures of our commerce—will require our living it into form.

Living it.

This all sounds wonderful, until you see the extent to which we are woven into relationships and systems in which living it seems to mean facing an endless string of difficult choices—choices between people, choices between opportunities, choices affecting livelihoods, happiness, and outcomes—none of which seem at all related to jubilation.  In order to avoid particulars I will paint a picture of my experience this week.

Imagine you own a farm that has been in your family for several generations.  It is the type of mid-size farm that has been forced to compete for business in an increasingly competitive and global market—a farm that has managed to hang on through innovation, through meticulous attention to the maintenance of assets and equipment, through innovative branding and selling strategies, through building relationships in the local community, and through changing the means of production five to ten years ahead of the emerging trends.

Margins are lean, and it’s time to invest again.  What’s working now, won’t be working in another five years’ time.  You decide to automate the growing systems.  This involves installing a complex system you don’t fully understand—an unnerving array of computers, wireless transmitters, remote soil hygrometers, light cells, anemometers, solar cells and charging stations, pumps, control valves and instrumentation.

Now imagine you speak with three or four potential suppliers of the system, and pick one you think will do a good job and be reasonable to work with.  The work begins.  The supplier discovers that the slope of the land is such that the standard pumping system won’t work.  It must be supplemented by a secondary pump station.  There was no way to know this without performing a survey, and surveys are typically not performed at the time the job is bid.  You accept.

Two weeks later you are told that in order to properly supply water and nutrients to one quadrant of your best field, you will need a signal booster for the instrumentation in that sector, and an extra solar panel station.  Now the costs are increasing to levels that cause alarm.  You may become angry, feel pushed into a corner.  The supplier indicates that the need for the additional equipment could not have been known prior to performing the detailed study of your farm that was offered as the first step of the work.

Bullshit.

Bullshit is how you’re feeling.  Bullshit at the surprises you can’t fence off your land.  Bullshit at the surprises you can’t afford.  Bullshit at the difficulty of trying to do something well, and being stymied once again.  Bullshit at the precious savings you’ve spent that can’t be recovered.  Bullshit at the thought of stopping, and losing it all.  Bullshit at the thought of telling your kids they’ll be going to a different school.  Bullshit at the thought of going forward and losing even more.  It’s difficult.  For everyone involved, it is difficult.

Imagine the supplier is your son.  Imagine he’s right.  Imagine it really couldn’t have been known without two weeks of careful study.

Just like this, in ways both big and small, we are brought into difficulty on a daily basis by circumstance, by constraints and desires, by the very nature of the systems in which we live.  If the supplier had a magic wand, he’d supply what was needed.  But maybe that’s his rent money for the next six months.  If the farmer had a magic wand, it wouldn’t matter either.  But she doesn’t have one either.  And we are miles away now from that feeling in our heart about the New.  We are miles away from the jubilant feeling of trust.  We are in the difficulty, the compromise, and the sacrifice.

The muck.

The burden.

You could take my example and come up with all sorts of ways it could have unfolded differently, or been done better.  You could apply them to the next farm, but the secret of this world—the Old, separate world— is that they wouldn’t help.  The challenges there would be unique.  The people involved would have different biases, different triggers, different rivers of reality flowing through them.  The surprises would be present, pushing it to the brink.  Difficulties have a way of finding us.  The muck flows in through cracks in the scenery.

What then?

The New absolves us of the muck somehow, but not by managing it.  You don’t manage the muck.  The New handles these situations in the invisible realms.  The circumstances arise, but there’s margin in them, a ray of light, a way to wiggle through.  It’s just there.  You’re never quite backed into the corner.  Your main tool is a needle, whose eye is very worn.  I think that is how it begins.  It’s like reality judo.  You have just enough presence to sidestep a lunge and let it tumble past, out of reality.  If you’re really good, you grabbed the person next to you and held them out of the way, too.  When the muck arrives, you do the very best you can, knowing there are no guarantees.

No matter what happens, what is said, how it goes down: you love the farmer.  You know the farmer loves you.

The farmer calls a friend for advice.  He’s an attorney.  The attorney has the desire in his or her heart to give the farmer every advantage possible, to take words and explore their nuanced possibilities, to line them up like sand bags along the sea wall of this difficulty.  Meanwhile, the supplier has a closed door meeting with his or her partners.  The farm is beginning to look like a chess board, the fields like black and white trapezoids.  Everyone is trying to understand the moves.  Every word starts to glisten with sweat.

You love the supplier.  You know the supplier loves you.

The muck is the problem.  The muck has distorted what’s really happening.  Because, really, this is simply what it feels like to find a brother you need, and one who needs you—to grab hold of one another, and wade out together through the muck, your needle-eyes out before you, probing the darkness for a way back.

21 Comments

  1. I agree Michael. We need to work together with our brothers and sisters remembering the most important thing is to love each other and worry less about the muck and circumstances.

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    • I agree, Brad. I think also that we may wander into the self-love business you and I once discussed, for as Hariod and Alison have pointed out, there is a way in which our perceptions of ourselves, and the sum total inventory of feelings, beliefs, ideas and interpretations that we carry around within us, yield experience. The muck as I’ve tried to describe it is impersonal. Can it be ignored? Forgiven? Both are certainly possible. We just may have to relinquish a few of our favorite ideas of self and/or interpretations of others along the way…

      Michael

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    • That’s it, David. To realize, when the muck is rising, that you’re in the moment when healing stands at the ready, awaiting the command of our vulnerability to fire up the bilge pumps! These are the moments when the dross of pretense and uncertainty are heated in the crucible, and burned away. It’s good to remember in such moments, that we are surrounded by friends… 🙂

      Michael

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  2. I know a German businessman, one who was been very successful on an international stage, whose approach to problems is largely to ignore them. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he remains aware of their existence, but he affords them a passivity of response such that they become eaten alive by their own energy, so to speak. Unless any perceived problem is truly causing his business plan to be derailed, then he simply refuses to engage, believing that others outside of his employ will, by some mysterious means which he remains oblivious to, create their own fix for what are very often largely more their own problems, yet which they seek to transfer onto this man’s business. Amazingly, this has worked very well for this fellow, and should it transpire that he is forced to engage at some point, then this has tended to happen towards the end game, and the cost in terms of finance and energy are far less than had he got involved from the start. So, really he had been bypassing your ‘bullshit’ phase Michael, trusting in your ‘margin’, your ‘ray of light’ through which the problem itself wiggles through. I have to say this chap is remarkably well-balanced psychologically, with not a trace of the psychopathy that presents in many high-powered business people. He is a little like ‘Chance the gardener’/’Chauncey Gardiner’ from the film Being There, and he almost seems to be able to walk on water just as Peter Sellers did in that film. It simply seems to be a matter of faith.

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    • Sounds very interesting, Hariod. I don’t quite know what to say about it. My only response is that undoubtedly there are patterns of thought and response within me that contribute, through mechanisms neither seen nor heard, to the experiences that arise in my awareness. These attractors, as they are modulated by insight, by forgiveness, by surrender, or whatever words we wish to place on them, will also undoubtedly give rise to new qualities and types of experience. And this I think, is related to the manifestation of the New which many desire.

      Ignoring problems is undoubtedly an art as well as a science, as it seems to me the motivation for doing so is of critical importance. How many of us have tried to ignore problems in relationships because we feared having the conversation, or feared what lay beyond the conversation? In failing to discuss or accept some difficulty because of such doubts, it may fester. There seems another way of ignoring, which is the development of sufficient insight to see that what was previously called a “problem”, was the displacement or projection of some internal need or uncertainty onto the world. I think it is entirely possible that insights of a particular depth would result in our ceasing to map our pain and doubt onto the experience arising all around us.

      But even in this latter case, it strikes me we are not immunized from the investment of compassion and magnanimity on which healthy relationships depend. We are not insulated from experience. We simply have the knowing– which I think goes beyond faith– that there will be an escape pod, a needle’s eye, up around the bend perhaps, that is currently hidden from view. For how could there not be?

      This is an important topic I think, for it seems the topic on which freedom depends…

      Michael

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      • It is a bit of a mystery to me as to why this fellow’s arms-length approach was so spectacularly successful, yet it was. When I talked to him, which I did a lot, he suggested it was just about remaining focussed on the broader objectives of one’s business plan, and not allowing oneself to become derailed by short-term issues, even though they may appear pressing and vital as they surface. His approach was tested over many years, and prior to him selling his company to a large American conglomerate, proved very successful; he was even interviewed by The Financial Times at one point.

        Now the funny thing is, I had another friend who took a very similar approach though on a far smaller scale, and this time by virtue of a naïve laissez-faire approach both to problems and the very idea of having any sort of business plan at all. The amazing thing was that it worked for him too, and once again I had to shake my head in a mixture of bewilderment and mild admiration. I was never willing or able to take such an approach in my own business affairs, always feeling I had to deal with issues, if not reactively as they arose, then soon enough. I tended to like a clean desk, so to speak.

        As you say Michael, there is something of an art to deciding when to attend to attend to matters and when to leave well alone, when to wade in the mud and when to walk on the water. I think one needs a certain cool detachment if the latter approach should even be considered, and for much of my former business life I was more of a doer than a planner, so my eyes tended to be set and engaged on what was before me. It worked for me and my employees, and I was moderately successful, though I think if I went back into business now my approach would be quite different.

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        • I’ve been practicing this week, Hariod… 🙂 Being more observant of the parameters I set, and what they bring me. I think I’m probably closer to the style of professional demeanor you possessed than the water walker. I have this thing about paying attention to the details, wanting to be clear and up front. If you gloss over them, people can feel you set them up. If you pay attention to them, you sometimes have to work hard to squeeze everything into a day. It’s a balancing act for sure. I think there is absolutely a way to settle into a more comfortable, less laborious approach, and to come full circle, I think it does involve trust. It’s maybe a higher level trust. Maybe the person next to you doesn’t quite have it specifically, but you can still trust that the sum total of insanely unpredictable events occurring on a daily basis could nudge things a bit for you… 🙂

          This post, and the subsequent dialogue has been very helpful to me… For which I thank you (and anyone still reading 🙂 )

          Michael

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  3. Tracey says

    This perspective helps to zoom me out of my “worm’s eye view” of the world and see from a higher vantage point so that the larger picture is visible. And *that* helps to remove me from getting so caught up in the muck & the gunk and to remember….

    And for that, I thank you.

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    • Thank you, Tracey. So much of it does seem to be a matter of perception, of defusing the defenses we immediately bring to bear in these situations. Zooming out is a great practice. Seeing the entire picture. If nothing else, it often restores to me the realization of each person’s innate goodness, and affords some insight into what that goodness has been yoked temporarily… 🙂

      Michael

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  4. There’s nothing wrong with the muck except for the stories the mind makes up about it which creates it. No stories no muck 🙂
    Takes a lot of practice to catch the mind stories in action and stop them.
    Takes a lot more practice to not make up stories in the first place. Apparently.
    A.

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    • Hi Alison,

      Thank you for that. I cannot help but agree. I often use the word “wrong” in my writing here or in leaving comments to people in similar quandaries. While it is admittedly, in the final accounting, not any more complex than what you have stated, in the web of relationships in which we all participate, there is a pressure which arises when situations threaten to pull us too far from our current position. Some threads will tear. We may have to hang by just one or two remaining threads for a bit. In some cases, we may fall. We feel the gravity pulling on us, and we know which threads are critical to our stability, and situations such as these stretch them to the limit.

      It is not wrong, but pressure is felt. The pressure can be relieved by changing the story, for sure. By dropping it altogether. These situations often involve more lives than our own, however. We all have people depending on us, and those people have people depending on them, and when one breaks free and falls through the web, many persons may be affected. A situation with one person affects many situations.

      And all of those people bring their own muck to the table. In this particular case this week, we got through it. But we saw the muck rising, to be sure. People had to make choices to sit still, let the muck rise, not react to it. Over time, it drains away again. I’m simply saying this isn’t a solitary venture. You’re right in that none needed to even see the ominous tide rising.

      This is why I think, in these moments of forgiveness and surrender, it has a far greater impact than on our own spheres of awareness. At some point, the ripples through the web will change far larger stories than our own.

      Much Love
      Michael

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      • I agree entirely with your last paragraph, and that is why the only healing of the whole will come from individual forgiveness and surrender and letting go of stories of how things ‘should’ be. Sometimes the threads break. Had recently to deal with a lot of family-of-origin muck and saw that the only way out/through could only come from within me – forgiveness, surrender and letting go of stories. I own that it makes things easier that apart from Don my life on a daily basis is not deeply entangled (webbed) with any others.
        Alison

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      • Yes Michael, I know very well from my own past experience in business that when the muck rises, and as the owner of a business, then the way in which we clear it away has to take account of the ramifications for others. I once did a little reckoning of my employees and saw that on average, whilst I felt I had a direct responsibility only to them, in fact each represented between two and three others who were dependent upon the decisions I made for them not to have their lives affected. It was a great burden at times.

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        • I know what you mean, Hariod. I am not a business owner per se, but do have a role that impacts a fair number of people, or can at times. These bonds between us… as I grow and learn… I wouldn’t change them. They are, in a way, what bring me to the places of commitment, desperation, uncertainty, and power. They kind of all roll together in a strange way. Were we truly independent, we’d be fluttering– lost altogether I’m afraid. Somehow, these tensions bring us back to one another…

          Michael

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  5. Feels so familiar this MUCK! Muckity muck 3 weeks running. In the fall, the wind was at my back and I had this feeling like “Ah, this is what it is to be in the flow!” Such a change in the wind when one thing after another has arisen, seeming roadblocks, much like the farm scenario, Finding how to proceed, how to not feel pushed in a corner, to bravely go forth into the wind with a detachment and trust that all will be well, despite the “appearance” of things, has been a steady challenge. I love the examples that Hariod raises in these successful Mr. Magoos – there is something to that outlook – the blindness to the blocks while keeping the eyes steadily just a bit down the river into flow again. And as ever, these words are just reflecting just one possible story about the momentary now – This wonderful capturing piece of writing helped me to choose to close one story and put it on the shelf – while I choose another story book for tonight – who might I wake up to be tomorrow? Thank you, Michael!

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    • So, Miss M, I have missed you and had wondered momentarily if perhaps your front axle hadn’t strayed into an unfortunate bit of Pluff Mud. Been a rough lunar revolution for that all around it sounds.

      I love Hariod’s examples, too. I wonder sometimes if they provide any seminars or instructional videos, or do they just go about ignoring difficulties and starting businesses while the rest of us mere mortals feel obliged to figure the whole thing out? I’m convinced there’s something to it, but am reminded of the notion that one cannot succeed in being unimpeded by sticking to the age-old practice of first identifying the phenomena that one is trying to overlook. The mystique here, I think, is not seeing it to begin with, and this boils down to interpretation of experience. We should be pleased with this realization, shouldn’t we? We haven’t screwed up here. We’re simply trying too hard to do the best thing possible… We’ve inherited the foolish notion that it might go sideways, if left unattended. I confess I find it painful at times to be reminded of the obvious… But ultimately helpful… 🙂

      Michael

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