How do we confront our predicament creatively? One of the most significant aspects of our situation, a factor that has become increasingly harder to avoid over the years, has been the need to acknowledge the growing futility of so many avenues of action we’ve been accustomed to take for granted.
This has led to frustration, a sense of being hemmed-in. We balk at the edge of disillusionment, afraid of what might be on the other side. Instead of dealing with our situation we end-up increasingly defending our emotional reactions, afraid of what it might mean if we gave-up on our strategies. Strategies intended to provide us avenues of action, but strategies that have become nests of unintended consequences that proliferate suffering while distracting us from the possibility of arriving at any other way of being.
In a conversation with Jeppe this week we came to look at this question from a different point of view. What if we focus on what is absent?
At first glance this seems nonsensical. Some sort of Zen trick!
It didn’t feel that way. It seemed quite straightforward. Focusing on what is absent, lacking, unavailable; might be a way to stay with the question. It requires that we suspend our reactions. Not get caught-up in fear, regret, recriminations, justifications; all the outlets for our frustration that come so easily but have not done us any good.
Absence. It relates directly to the experiences we have here in this practice. Focusing on a place of meeting where a few of us – so far – gather when we can. There is a continuing awareness of what is absent, who is absent. This is a community of practice that has already achieved some concentricity. Beyond those of us meeting there is a ring of those who have, for various reasons, been invited but have not yet had the chance to join in. Even among those of us who have met regularly there have been times when someone’s absence has been felt.
It would be easy to get into a cycle of frustration leading to strategies intended to enforce some sort of control over the source of our frustration. Actions taken, results aimed for, and most likely missed. The whole unintended consequence dynamic picking up speed.
This is how movements are managed. This is how they fail. Especially so if the intention is to move away from a business-as-usual attitude towards discovering creative responses. Such a plan of action enforces habits of seeing negotiation as the only possible means of interaction. Negotiating within our selves to maintain some equilibrium between optimism and pessimism. Negotiating with others to achieve our own ends and avoid being used to meet theirs. Focusing our attention on maintaining a customary level of anxiety. Fearful at what might result if we let go.
An affirmation that’s part of my Qi Gong practice states, “Let us trust that we get what we need.”
This is related to the question of absence. Absence is a large part of what “we get” these days. Gaps, losses, disillusionment, and encroaching limits hem us in.
How is it different if we approach absence as “what we need” instead of as a source of ongoing frustration?
For a start – and this is itself no small matter! This approach has a direct effect on our relationship with anxiety. Anxiety has been a once-useful reactive response to a dangerous situation that has become toxic in itself since we cannot escape its causes. When a sense of anxiety could lead us to change our situation and remove our selves from its causes it had a purpose and an outlet. It was passing.
This is no longer the case. We might wish to escape anxiety but without taking a creative approach to the question all we can do is hide from it temporarily in some form of intoxication before it returns with even more force. Unable to extricate ourselves from the conditions that lead to an anxious response we can only change how we approach the question itself. Fortunately – and this is true of all the various forms of suffering we inflict on our selves – this is something we do have room to act on.
Suffering is a reaction to pain. Pain exists. Suffering is optional. We tend to see this reversed. We expect that pain can be anesthetized. That policing dangers will remove pain from life. It doesn’t work, but we remain optimistic! If only we redouble our efforts.
What’s missing is a recognition that these efforts not only lead us to avoid what we can actually control while, instead of eliminating pain, we cause it to proliferate as our actions rebound, bringing an overall increase in pain, even if much of it is exported, temporarily removed from our sight.
If it were easy….
It’s not easy, and, it is actually effortless once it happens. The key seems to lie in how we approach it. In openly violent and extreme circumstances it may be virtually impossible to change our conditioned reactions to painful intrusions on our well-being. But what about taking a different approach?
Our response/reaction to pain is tied directly to our level of strength. This is true for physical pain and physical strength. It is equally true for emotional pain and emotional strength.
We may wish we can improve our physical strength by willing our bodies into an effort beyond its present capacity. The futility of this approach is immediately apparent. Yet we make these kinds of demands on our selves all the time. We use an expectation that will must overcome, reverting to a combination of frustration and self-blame/self-pity when it fails.
Focusing on absence without falling into frustration, or any self-imposed form of suffering, can be a way to change our present dynamic. It can be a way to grow stronger as we connect with the wellsprings of how strength actually functions without falling into traps of willfulness and wishful expectation.
Focusing on absence. What does it feel like that so much is dying, missing, lost? Feel the pain of it. But watch how anxiety and frustration dissolve. There is another way to be, another avenue to action. Another way to perceive and conceive what action can be.
It’s not about convincing, or being convinced. These are the currencies of negotiation. Our strength blossoms forth as we arrive at a different way of seeing and responding.
There is quality in this. Both a new perception of what quality entails – intrinsic quality that has no measure in a world-view dominated by quantification. And, a new access to quality in action. Something that begins with the loosening of our hair-trigger coupling of a perception of a lack, frustration, and immediate willful reaction. What I’ve long termed our short-circuiting.
This form of negative capability quashes our sense of futility. It opens us to possibility which then dissolves our anxiety.
So much that can come from so little. It unfolds simply as we embrace absence.