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.
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 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.
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.
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.