Some Notes on Trans-Rhetorical Practice and Evolutionary Being-as-the-World-Together (A response to Terry Patten)

The following is a fairly long response to a paper by Terry Patten on “Integral Trans-Rhetorical Practice,” with a few questions/soft critiques, a number of echoes, huzzahs, and double-red-pen-highlightings. It is also a comparison of IT-RP and what I call “evolutionary being-as-the-world-together” in my thesis, as I see many resonant threads.

Italics are direct quotes from the article, which you can find here:

If so inclined, read with the following questions in mind, which I repeat at the end of the post: “How does this strike you? Where have you practiced this, or seen it practiced? What do you feel are your possibilities for being a walking catalyst of the world we all know is possible?”


Terry Patten recently sent along his paper from the 2013 ITC, entitled “Enacting an Integral Revolution: How Can We Have Truly Radical Conversations in a Time of Global Crisis?” to a group of us who came together in August to explore the space of awakened intersubjective relating, and I had to read it three or four times out of excitement. What he is calling a trans-rhetorical practice was one of the first places I saw an in-depth articulation of something akin to what I call “(evolutionary) being-as-the-world-together” in my Master’s thesis*.

Both trans-rhetorical practice and evolutionary-being-as-the-world-together (ebatwt) start with the failure of the facts. The postmodern approach of “consciousness-raising,” with its assumption that people simply have to know the facts (think an ‘awareness-raising’ campaign) for change to come about has come up against deeply embedded and defended worldviews and systems of power that disagree entirely about said ‘facts,’ or interpret resulting options for action differently.

In such an environment, a trans-rhetorical practice aims not only to engage with a third-person view of the world, to present and argue for it (the ‘rhetorical’ of trans-rhetorical), but also to create a space within which exploration of the unknown can occur, a space of genuine epistemic humility and creativity. As such, the preliminary method that Terry has delineated has a significant overlap with ebatwt:

-Both engage with ongoing explorations into third-person truths (particularly around crisis and conflict), with transparency about the constructed nature and ongoing exploration into those truths—

-Both call upon a radical authenticity and transparency in dialog and interaction in relationship and community—

-Both demand a rigorous and continually evolving practice of personal existential exploration into one’s own consciousness and the skillful means of engaging with the practical realities of liberation—

-Both engage directly with the field of intersubjective consciousness, requiring and recognizing the active participatory aspect of listening, as well as speaking—

-Both are conscious of and aiming towards an intuited potential of higher states of intersubjective resonance and knowledge/world creation, without reifying a goal (i.e., remaining as praxis iteratively open to not-knowing moment to moment while simultaneously being directive, or to say recognizing the non-duality/mutual emptiness of direction and receptivity)—

As I worked on my thesis, which started as an exploration of We Space (intersubjective awakeness), it became clear that what was at the heart of what was most exciting to me about the research I was undertaking was not only the possibilities for a consciously awakened intersubjective space, but for the kind of individual being-in-the-world that that pointed to, regardless of the capacities of that individual’s cultural surroundings. Adding two important elements to Heidegger’s term “being-in-the-world,” I came up with ‘being-as-the-world-together.’ “As” to further emphasize the insight that not only are ontology and epistemology mutually entangled, but our actions are world-making, or world-constitutive: ontology and epistemology are mutually empty and mutually creative. We do not evince a way-of-being-in-the-world; we are a way-of-being-as-the-world. “Together,” so that the phrase reads “being-as-the-world-together,” explicitly recognizing the mutual emptiness and creativity of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person modes of truth. Our specific ontolog(ies), axiology(ies), and epistemology(ies) emerge creatively from our ‘being-as-the-world-together.’ The separation of these truth realms, whether informally or formally, is an activity of a specific mode of being-as-the-world-together. In this (explicitly constructed) view, this is true of all consciousness activity: there are an infinite number of real and possible ‘being(s)-as-the-world-together.’ An evolutionary-being-as-the-world-together is one in which the ‘individual’ is consciously engaged as a node of liberation.

I find it no surprise then that Terry, in his account, started with an in-depth investigation of Integral Trans-Rhetorical Practice and ended up including an account of We Space practices and communities—in my mind, they are arising together as a significant number of people begin to engage with each other conscious (that is, self-reflexively aware) of the emptiness/transparency of the boundaries between self and other. We Space is the collective element of this, what happens when a number of people do this together, and ebatwt is the individual element of this, the activity of one node of consciousness-emanation in many different contexts.

The intuitive move to include in his account action-inquiry, which is a transformative practice that helps one progressively open to greater and greater skillfulness in an ebatwt, and circling, which is in my account a crucial and foundational intersubjective practice, along with more ‘traditional’ We Space groups like EnlighteNext and Theory-U, makes a great deal of sense then as well: the (contextual) object is neither We Space, nor ebatwt, but the crisis/crises and transition(s) that we are undergoing at this moment in time.

Below I’ll quote some pieces from Terry’s article that caught my attention, with some comments.

I’ll start with what we (and not we alone) use as a starting off point: this moment of global crisis. “This paper begins by setting forth the basic facts of our current world crisis and the injunction this crisis implicitly sets before each and all of us to change our lives and ways of relating to one another, explaining how this has inspired recent innovations in my dialogic praxis—an emergent form of ragged truth-telling and inquiry.”

Reading this I started wondering if this was a helpful way of framing it… though I have framed the issue in much the same way. The ‘coincidence’ of all these crises happening at once, after all, points as much to a way of looking at/bringing about a world, as it does the world itself. I am more agnostic than to say I (or anyone) could present the facts about global crises, save one: we find ourselves enmeshed in a billion crises. I think the urgency central, the sense of crisis itself more important than any one crisis, because urgency can become fuel. Is it an ‘ontological’ crisis, or is it a sign of the quickening of the times, the coming to a logical conclusion of a certain way of being-as-the-world-together, where we appear trapped on every side? (And what happens when there’s no where or way to escape? Explosion.) And does it matter? This is not denialism, or even (though I used the word with a different referent) exactly agnosticism. The stakes are high, and we are in crisis. But the crisis itself seems to extend as much from our inability to discern what the relevant facts are as much as it does from anything else. Anyway, this is piddling, perhaps. Clearly we are in crisis.

I am in any case much in alignment with the sense of injunction that this moment of crisis offers—that we are being asked (or demanded, really) to do something. What is that something? Well, nobody really knows, except that among many of us who have practiced intersubjective awareness practices together, there’s a pretty strong intuition that we’re being asked to do something new/together. Terry’s article is an elaboration of how he’s attempted to open the space for the collective investigation of just what it is that we’re being asked to do, something captured in: “…trans-rhetorical praxis” [is] a form of inquiry that uses but also goes beyond rhetoric to get to the end of what is known and explore what is unknown to the participants in the dialog.”

Dialog in this sense is very different than the sense of dialectical-otherness that I am so often up in arms about (ask my wife.) In a traditional dialog, the self is opposed to an other, and both enter into an engagement that, ideally, allows mutual understanding to arise, and that changes both (or the many) participants. This is wonderful, fantastic, crucial, and still much needed in today’s world. Nothing against dialog.

BUT, in the traditional sense of dialog, the other remains forever the other, and the self the self. I may understand you, but I can never be you. Dialog is a bridge between two separate islands of identity-attachment. Perhaps this is a hangover from the identity-heavy postmodern approach. The kind of dialog I believe Terry is pointing to, and the possibility latent in every space of conscious relating, is when the lines between self and other become transparent: we are radically emergent consciousness all, self-aware of itself, and we are the mystery at the heart of the cosmos. (Or as Terry likes to say, “We Am That.”) The other is I, and I am the other, unknowable, ineffable, and together we arise as mutual exploration into the mystery that We Am.

Perhaps I am being unduly dismissive of traditional ‘dialog.’

But in this, we are attempting to ‘uplift rather than persuade.’ We are not simply arguing third-person takes on what is real, trying to replace one version of reality with a more adequate one, we are reality jolting itself awake.

This requires the recognition that life and these spaces of radical inquiry “[are] co-enacted by all participants (rather than enacted upon some by others) and [cross] perspectival boundaries (I, We, It), even integrating types of discourse (parrhesiastic, prophetic, sagistic, and technical), while raising “truth-listening” to co-equal status with “truthtelling.””

The bit about truth-listening I find central as well. Engagement at the level of awareness is about attention, and the field in a room of five silent people all focused on the same inquiry is light-years more powerful than in a room of fifty people, half of whom are checking their cell phones. Let alone the need to have listened for a long time in personal practice to begin to discern between the voice of the ego-self, and a voice that transcends the ego.  What is so in the micro, in Trans-Rhetorical Practice, and in We Space, I find to be true throughout all contexts in life in evolutionary-being-as-the-world-together. Let the listening speak. Here engagement and attunement with the field of consciousness is primary, rather than on proving some or the other thing.

This engenders an attitude of total responsibility. When the self/other construction becomes mutually empty/mutually transparent, then I am the whole, and I am responsible for the whole. This abrogates no one else’s responsibility for the whole, but I am more concerned with my own participation, with what I am doing, than I am with what you may or may not be. And of course, that may take the form of a powerful call to action, as I’ve seen Terry make before.

“After all, if I am not a passive observer (or “victim”) but ultimately a co-enactor of this global crisis (which is implicit in integral theory) then there must be unseen opportunities to participate creatively in the process through which human beings can awaken to how we are creating the global crisis and learn to navigate it in a healthy manner. An integral worldview makes it preposterous to defer responsibility for the world crisis to political, corporate, and celebrity “masters of the universe.” No integrally informed individual can legitimately live and operate as if impotent, without the opportunity to creatively engender a transformation of human culture.”

I am much enamored of the following point: “The crisis presses upon me subjectively, and it presses upon us all collectively, whether we know it or not. It demands change. It is the single inquiry that brings coherence to a fragmented post-modern human world.”

Borrowing from Sloterdijk, the point here is something akin to saying that in the postmodern world where all values are horizontal, the only thing that can be a lodestone of meaning-making is mutually shared crisis, especially the global crises.

“I am compelled to change my own life, certainly, and to risk making myself a nuisance attempting insight and action catalyzing a breakthrough enabling us to change our lives on every scale and in every arena where I sense real possibility.”

This brought up a question for me—what about where there is not a real possibility, or where we do not sense one? Recently I had an experience in a retreat where the goal was the kind of open inquiry of an awakened intersubjective field, but where the participants were not ready. It was not at the point where a little nudging would have helped to bring it along—there were serious, and legitimate, needs for intercultural and masculine/feminine healing in the group. In that case the evolutionary thing to do (I feel) is to stand and hold open the gates of awakeness so that what needs to happen at the moment can. Of course, sometimes the only thing to do is to rest as radical love with other humans that you appreciate and love.

But where are we in terms of being able to take and use the power necessary to create the kind of world we envision as being possible? As urgent as this crisis is and as urgently as it is compelling us, is there anything to do other than bide our time and wait for global structures of disaster capitalism to collapse under their own weight? Or, is that day sooner than it seems? Does it ever come—or is the assumption that it inexorably will unwarranted itself? Or is the natural progression of hyper-capitalism fiscal fascism? If we wait for the opportunity, will we find ourselves in a global catastrophic dystopia?

“The times present us all with a series of impossible questions that we, and I, cannot ignore. Like a Zen koan, this mega- and meta-question must be lived as an ongoing inquiry with sincerity and authenticity and fierceness and surrender, and with no escape. This may yield insight and even acceptable partial “answers” at times, but its greatest power, here as in the monastery, is that it can exert a transformational pressure and pull upon our consciousness, behavior, and relations…this global genjokoan presses us, each and all, toward a seemingly impossible level of collective and cooperative coherence and behavior change.”

“The koan we face will not be fulfilled until we co-enact communications and behaviors that adequately account for interior and exterior dynamics in individuals and groups, and in natural and human systems on local, regional, national, global, and personal scales in the midst of a rapidly-changing multidimensional and unprecedented global crisis. We are called to “wrap our heads” (and whole embodied beings) around quite a lot!”

Ironically, I think this is where “Integral” comes up against its natural limits. I think Terry here is delineating a post-Integral approach, and Bonnitta Roy articulates one as well, but I see it articulated and emanated in few other places (Thomas Hubl being one particularly clear example of a post-Integral emanation). (This may elicit howls but I believe Wilber’s approach as well to be post-Integral). Integral is a transitional phase (as all stages are in any developmental model necessarily) between the modern ego and the genuinely transpersonal. I feel that a generative, or purely creative way-of-being-as-the-world-together is not necessarily conscious moment-to-moment of all of the many categories of Wilber’s AQAL. AQAL is rather a way of pointing out the largeness of the cosmos as a way to expand the boundaries of the personal until they start to burst, at which point one is the flow, and not just in a flow-state. As the flow, the master is (ideally) responding creatively and skillfully in the moment both as response to what’s present in/as the field and as open creativity impelled by what’s possible. This may be analyzed in a way so as to include all of these dynamics and scales of membership, but the idea that we will be in a reflective way including all of this in the moment as we act is I think a koan against which we can only explode—and this is the point. The basis of this generation is that transformation is impossible to avoid—once this is recognized and embraced, my experience is that the conscious intersubjective field takes on an entirely new dimension.

“Harder, by its very nature, is the fact that the integrated implications this feat of complex thinking must be shared. And that presents an equally challenging task to everyone with whom one might hope to share it, each of whom is unique, and at a different moment in the process of authentically reckoning with the larger koans of our existential and cultural moment. That is why human beings have, for the most part, been unable to join together to address these challenges effectively, despite their extreme urgency and importance.”

Actually, I would argue that this is easier than doing it as an individual, as I don’t think it’s possible any longer to be a ‘jack of all trades,’ but the process and holding space must be held expertly, asking for an intersubjective and transpersonal mastery from initiators, as Terry mentions later. One principle of Holacracy that I greatly admire is that every voice, every instrument (for a plane, eg), every person has an input and senses tension/information in a way that is invaluable. The question, and the task before us, is learning how to integrate these voices in a way that they don’t drown each other out, and that the voice of the collective field can come to be expressed. Holacracy does this in a way for a business or similar organization, but in a group process of inquiry, the structure must arise and pass away as it is no longer needed.

“…part of what is called for is that human beings come to want to change, and to want to change together, coherently.”

As We Space is a process whereby everybody’s full participation is needed, and as we face crisis on a global scale where the response must similarly be global (i.e. not as one top-down entity, but universal, requiring the active participation of each and all), then anyone who is not able to enter the flow of change will be clogging us up. (To put it delicately.) I think anyone who has taken part in a larger attempt to create a self-aware field of consciousness will recognize this point, as most people are taken by the process into deep shadow work, the kind of work necessary to become the kind of integrated self that can fully, authentically, and consciously enter into such an enterprise. (Much of my motivation for my thesis was based on delineating a skillful arc of interpersonal practices so that people who need this kind of deep work in community can get it, while groups whose aims are bringing a self-aware conscious field online can do so more smoothly).

The above I think fits with what Terry is writing, and I wonder about it. On the small scale (i.e., in a group workshop) certainly it takes a willingness, and an earnestness, to want to “change together, coherently.” Is this possible on the large-scale? We seem to be faced with two equally unsavory possibilities: One, that literally everyone on the planet must come to desire the kind of world that is possible, which is perhaps the daddy of postmodern consensus swamps. On the other hand, saying that a few of us are going to tweak the systems we are embedded in in such a way that we can bring about the kind of world we desire is regressive. Making the crux of this (admittedly constructed and rhetorical) dichotomy empty is no small task individually, and I think it’s one of the koans of the moment.

“Since we will undoubtedly be culturally, typologically, and developmentally diverse, and thus will understand the process in a range of different ways, there will need to be at least a critical mass of people co-operating coherently at a higher order of consciousness. That means many of us will need to become capable of a remarkable kind of enlightened intimacy, authenticity, vulnerability and shared passion. That would be an existential breakthrough, individually and intersubjectively. Toward that end, even the smallest experiments toward a new level of enlightened commitment, openness, intimacy, and authenticity are worthwhile and perhaps significant. To the degree they succeed, they have the potential to transform individuals who will share them with others, such that this kind of experiment in praxis, as a meme, will tend to spread, joining with other related experiments to inform the collective interiors of this critical inflection point in the evolution of human culture.”

The word Terry doesn’t mention in the above is ‘transparency,’ though it is at the heart of rhetoric, and reflects I think the genius of both what Terry is doing, and of using the word ‘rhetoric.’ “Rhetorical speech has the purpose of effectively communicating a defined message, directly or indirectly.” Much of what is missing in modern dialog, and something that I learned personally through circling, is good-faith transparency. Unless I am playing a zero-sum game against you, it is in both of our interests to be transparent, which involves learning how to effectively communicate not only larger scale messages, which is perhaps more the traditional meaning of rhetoric, but also simply what my own moment-to-moment experience is without projection, helping to create the kind of intersubjective resonance from which an awakened field can emerge.

It also helps, I believe, to speak across language and specialty (or: without resorting to abstraction), something which “Integrally-informed” people are famously terrible at.

I include the below mostly because I find it beautiful:

“Before long, I saw that this breakthrough had opened up new intersubjective possibilities, so I took it another step. I began speaking directly, in second-person mode, to the nature of our shared experience in that potentized field. For example, I directly spoke to the awkwardness I sensed many of those in the room felt, and that I too felt, as we held various paradoxical tensions and injunctions and inquiries, and as we were becoming more existentially exposed to one another. I described how uncomfortable and alive it is to do that “in full view” of one another, and how intimate it could potentially enable us to be, and how it suggests a new kind of praxis and responsibility. I invited them to acknowledge their own experience, and on occasion some confessed similar perceptions, experiences, and feelings. This sometimes opened up a deep well in which powerful, apparently contradictory passions surge—including fierce protective love, deep grief and anguish, dark suicidal despair, fierce determination, ferocious rage, and a noble, sacrificial willingness to ride into battle with a sense of transcendent commitment and joyous abandon. I sometimes even pointed out that it is a practice for each of us to allow and participate in this level of discourse and intimacy with each other, and how different that was from the level of discourse, intimacy, and vulnerability to which we were accustomed, and how that implied a developmental trajectory with plenty of room for growth for all of us. So I invited people to notice an injunction of individual and intersubjective practice, helping us all to notice our inhibitions and the potential for deeper communication and radically greater intimacy. Essentially, I looked people in the eye, and said something to the effect of, “Even if we can’t see how, we must presume that we can redeem the cliché and actually be the change that unlocks the stuck game in which we’re all co-creating this horrific global crisis. And there must be some way that we can shift right now that can more authentically enact that change; it’s right here in this room between us. We usually don’t believe this and almost always act as though that’s not true, but it is; logically it must be—do you see this too? If so, how can we show up more authentically right now?””

This is a gorgeous and powerful practice of We Space literacy. “What is happening in the field, what is the next possible level of intimacy/inquiry, and how can I help bring that about now?”

The following, quoted at length, I similarly include because beautiful. It sums up much of what I have been waving my arms about here, and Terry says it better than I could.

“It is quite significant that [Philosopher David] Bohm originally framed what he called “dialogue” as a way to address the very overarching problem that has driven my experimentation—the world crisis. He viewed war, systemic injustice and dysfunction, unsustainable practices and environmental degradation as expressions of incoherence and fragmentation at the level of thought. In a radical move that parallels that of the non-dual enlightenment traditions critiqued by his conversation partner, Jiddu Krishnamurti, Bohm even critiqued the presumption at the center of thought, that of a “central entity” or “self” and mechanisms to protect it, including judgments and opinions and fixed points of view. According to him, this fragmentation of thought prevented authentic shared meaning, and “shared meaning is really the cement that holds society together and you could say that the present society has very poor quality cement…a very incoherent set of meanings” (Bohm, 1996, p. ix). This tends to prevent human beings from really communicating with each other in a way that is adequate to our situation, which is inherently paradoxical. Instead, our fragmented thought tends to approach paradoxes as if they were problems and attempt to solve them. However, what is required is “sustained attention to the paradox itself” (Bohm, 1996 p. xxiii-xxiv). For this, he proposed “dialog” which requires an environment of free inquiry not directed at making any group decisions, in which participants suspend assumptions and opinions and judgments, and yet participate as honestly and transparently as possible, and attempt to respond to and build upon others’”

“In mature expressions of this praxis, participants cease to compete for persuasive dominance but instead begin to function with more and more efficiency and grace as co-inquirers, sharing the intention of being of benefit—to the quality of the shared inquiry, to each other, to others, and to themselves.”

“…exemplified by Rumi’s mystical intimate conversation with Shams Tabriz, which Rumi  described as the highest spiritual exercise, even higher than prayer and meditation (Barks, 2005, p.xxv). This is mystical discourse, or the direct meeting of sincere souls, hearts and minds. This occurs in the context of mystical communion. In that sacred encounter, the truth can and must be told directly and radically, without any attempt at rhetorical persuasion. The boundaries of self, other, and the Divine begin to dissolve. In this kind of speaking and listening there is only a deep meeting and loving inquiry. There can be no distortion of the communicative field by strategic agendas. This includes not only selfish and provincial motives but also idealistic and utopian ones. To practice this one has to be able to: access the primary, pre-reflective meanings, arising from within…deployed by the innermost substance of consciousness within the Heart, and, with the proper positioning of awareness, receptivity, and the environment of safety, they can be linked to speech …[which] requires great self-presence, inner listening, and discrimination between primary and secondary thoughts (Louchakova, n.d).”

“The transformational art and praxis of radical truth-telling (as well as truth-listening) is at the core of an integral trans-rhetorical praxis. For Foucault, as for Socrates, parrhesia [radical truth-telling]was in service of the “care of the soul (or ‘self’).” Plato focused on cultivating the virtue necessary to rule, to responsibly participate in Athenian democracy. For Foucault, the focus was on the purpose of cultivating authenticity and truly creative agency in a postmodern world in which the subject has become an inauthentic fiction without legitimacy. Both tasks have relevance to us today in the context of trans-rhetorical praxis, since we must recover our authenticity if we are to gain the capacity to speak with each other in a way that enables us to function effectively, in this time of crisis, as communities of responsible planetary citizens.”

My sense is that what Terry means by Integral Trans-Rhetorical Practice seems to be a method for invoking an evolutionary-way-of-being-as-the-world-together in a group that needs to be scaffolded into an openly explorative field (so, at the moment, pretty much every group). It represents then a method for catalyzing the self-consciously evolutionary collective. To be sure, there are other overlaps with ebatwt (mentioned above), and Integral Trans-Rhetorical Practice requires in the initiator of the field’s inquiry the kind of first-person orientation to life that is the first-person aspect of what I call evolutionary-being-as-the-world-together.

How does this strike you? Where have you practiced this, or seen it practiced? What do you feel are your possibilities for being a walking catalyst of the world we all know is possible? How do you see us getting there?

*Regarding the thesis: stay tuned—soon to be linked to and excerpted as well. (Waiting on a very busy man…apparently it is in the mail.)

High Anxiety

There is a long Context setting for this post. If you’re glancing over this, I recommend skipping straight to The Juice. There is also an Other Thoughts section further below, which has bits about Power and Anxiety; Anxiety, Linear Time, and Constructions of Self; and Decoupling Anxiety from Objects of Consciousness. Further Questions brings up some areas of inquiry that I would love some insight and reflections on from anyone who feels moved to respond. 


As those of you who may have seen my post yesterday on my blog documenting my year of eating as a Vegan, “A Year of Carrots,” I’ve been working rather fruitfully with a feeling of anxiety for a week or so. 

I think that it started last Monday, after an unusually powerful meditation. My concentration was very strong, and I decided to stay on concentration practice rather than moving on to emptiness practice, as I usually do. As I stayed with my experience of the body, knots of physical and pre-physical (subtle) tension began to resolve, making it much easier for me to stay with strong concentration, and to continue to resolve those knots. After the meditation I went to go downstairs, and only made it to my bedroom, rather (surprisingly) exhausted. I fell on my bed and listened to my wife downstairs talk on the phone, my body strangely peaceful and free, relaxed, and at ease. 

This didn’t last, and as the anxiety (a name I wouldn’t give the feeling until two days ago) came back quietly that night, and then to its normal levels in the morning, it ‘bothered’ me even more than it usually does, set now against the recent bodymind memory of its near complete absence in my waking life. 

I’m also not an exteriorly anxious person, nor am I internally obsessive, etc, though I do have plenty of nervous habits, like knuckle cracking, stretching, biting my nails, and chewing my lips. What I am describing is persistent, but also entirely low-grade in most situations, though in certain situations, namely around food and people, it becomes unbearable. With food it gets high when waiting to eat, when trying not to eat (like trying not to eat all of the bread on the table before dinner gets there, or trying not to eat other people’s share of the appetizers), or when tying to decide whether or not to eat something (like if I’m out during the day and the thought of ice cream pops in my head.) With people, it gets high when unfamiliar with someone, or when in a conversation with someone with no clear exit strategy (like at a party), or when in the company of people I don’t know but would like to. But it’s also clearly there in situations that are surprising–with family, for example, or even with my wife. 

Last night I noticed something I take as rather important while meditating, and that prompts me to write up my findings from the last week (you can skip this technical paragraph if you like, you won’t miss anything essential). Under the direction of my meditation teacher I have been working for the past nine or so months (for those of you who know me, entirely independently of our pregnancy!) on ‘clouds of awareness,’  the very subtle objects or orientations of consciousness that ‘block’ the apperception of Buddha-mind, or awakened consciousness, which is one of the last of the emptiness practices before the instructions for awakening are given in the Mahamudra/Dzogchen tradition in which I meditate. The clouds that I have been working with have been “doing,” “looking for an outcome,” and “looking for a state (of consciousness)” which all cloud awareness by projecting awakeness into the future and qualifying it with experience or an individual activity, and thus subtly rejecting what is present, which is where awakeness is realized. I have also been working with “not being (good) enough,” where one has projected many good things onto awakeness, and negative qualities onto the self, such that the self could never realize awakeness. In the last few weeks, these have all been revealed to be rooted in a fundamental “no,” underlying my experience moment to moment, and as I’ve gotten to the point in meditation where I am allowing these clouds to arise as empty within my experience, I have simply been observing the underlying ‘no,’ and allowing it to arise as already-empty. 

Recently I have been noticing how the ‘no’ underlying my experience of moment to moment consciousness acts as something of a force-field: 

The Juice:

And then, last night in meditation, I ‘got’ experientially that the somatic and emotional component of this ‘no’ was anxiety, and furthermore that this anxiety was the background of my experience of self (I cannot remember being without it in my life) and that what I had been ‘seeking’ for most of my life in one way or the other was the release and relief from this anxiety. Any ‘positive’ objects of consciousness (whether food, orgasm, social acceptance, a movie I want to watch, a T.V. episode, those millions of books that I’ve wanted to write, fame, power, money, etc. etc.) are fueled by–or at the least associated with–the desire to relieve this very subtle anxiety. 

And it’s torturous, my own personal little hell. I often have the image of the princess and the pea: everything around me is right, in fact, I can’t find anything wrong with me, my life, my surroundings, etc., and yet something is offand I can’t find it, or relieve it, and it’s seriously bothering me. Something that, like the pea under 100 mattresses, is so faint as to be not there, except that it is–and it won’t go away. 

I often have a hard time getting at what it is that I ‘really’ want in any given situation–but when pushed (as I have been recently by my wife), it boils down to “I just want to be okay.” This ‘okayness,’ is also the absence of this feeling of anxiety, and when I’ve used the term “liberation,” it often also means freedom from anxiety (which I’m realizing is perhaps a cheapening of the Buddhist sense of the word). 

I said that I can’t remember being without this feeling, but obviously there must be a comparison, some experience of its absence, or I wouldn’t even know that it was there or that I desire it not to be, and I do have two kinds of experiences of its absence. 

First, the experience of freedom from any sort of negative body state is somewhere deep in my experience of being a bodymind. That is, I cannot consciously remember a time before this feeling of anxiety, but my body knows that it’s a possibility, akin perhaps to a sense of having lost Eden, or to the zen koan: ‘show me the face you had before your parents were born.’ I don’t remember it, per se, but I know that it is there both somewhere in the past of my experience of consciousness, and also as a deeply present background to my present consciousness. 

Secondly, I have experienced the dissolution of anxiety briefly. Creative reverie, active involvement in an engrossing activity (sometimes through exertion in sports), also known as a flow state, through drugs and alcohol–(though certain drugs can either create a reprieve or amp anxiety up), in moments of passionate pursuit of objects of anxiety (paradoxically), in certain mediative states of consciousness, in sleep (perhaps a cop-out, but legitimately a kind of experience, akin to the previous paragraph), in awakeness (whether on or off the meditation pillow) and in waking moments where everything is clicking (not associated with any particular activity). 

After meditation last night I continued to bring ‘anxiety’ consciously into my awareness moment-to-moment, rather than leave it as the barely perceived background of it, and after an hour or so, something interesting happened. Like last week, it mostly went away. As I’m writing (the next morning), it is much more quiet than it usually is, both requiring a little more attention to keep in awareness, but also not affecting experience as much. Additionally, the center of the feeling of anxiety seems to have moved from my gut to my chest. 

This, obviously, is a giant topic, especially in regards to how I theorize implicitly and explicitly self-construction, and I can’t capture everything relevant here–but it’s a start. 

Other thoughts/realizations from the past week: 

Power and Anxiety: Earlier this week, in talking to my wife, I kept using the turn of phrase “It (anxiety) makes me do [X, Y, Z],” and I suddenly realized how much of my power I was giving to anxiety. With anxiety arising prior to conscious reflection, I basically do one of two things: something I feel like I ‘must’ do, like work for money, or something that I do to unwind from doing the things I ‘must’ do but am not in alignment with, like veg out on the internet, or drink a beer, etc. etc. With awareness of anxiety, i.e. detachment from anxiety, anxiety can be present while allowing for a more authentic expression of self. The self is no longer split between what it ‘wants’ to do and what it ‘needs’ to, or feels obligated to do. The choice of action is clearer–and the wants may be different. Under the thumb of anxiety, much of the things that I ‘want’ to do are really gigantic abstract meta-games that I feel playing will ‘get’ me some giant prize on which I project the absence of anxiety. What do I want to do? What would I want to do if I were no longer chiefly concerned with ‘feeling okay?’ I feel like this voice of authenticity, the voice of Living Consciousness arising as Andrew Venezia is just learning how to babble, and that’s exciting. I have long had great difficulty finding motivation for things that I ‘wanted’ to do. My interpretation is along the lines of the above: I recoil against my own inauthenticity, but am motivated to do enough of what the outside world is asking me to do to keep me comfortable, and to keep ‘them’ off of my back. Exhausting myself through the exercise of mostly busy-work hassles (to be sure, there are some overlaps of what I want to do and what the world has asked me to do), I numb myself through any number of means (food, alcohol, television), keeping what I “really” want to do as some sort of resentful tally against ‘the system’ or the way things are. As long as I keep myself in this position of victimhood, I never have to actually put myself on the line. 

Anxiety, Linear Time, and Constructions of Self

As the (or at least my) self, my identified psychological self, arises out of anxiety and has its base in anxiety, then anxiety is also my earliest sense of time. Anxiety does not point yet to linear time in the rational/modern/mental sense, but seems to me to be the base from which it starts. Anxiety is aware of a past, and anxious about the future–but again, in a way that only requires these three moments–that does not need the full elaboration/construction of what we call linear time. It is proto-time, and is the experience around which the proto-self develops, in my understanding. This is perhaps an explanation for why I am coming into contact with this now, as I have been for sometime deconstructing first my rational ego (approximately ages 20-26) and have been deconstructing my sense of being a separate self for the last four or five years, in a few discrete stages. As my wife said last night “what you are describing sounds like existential anxiety,” and I believe that the existentialists are acutely aware of and describing the space(s) of psychological development between the modern ego and the transpersonal. First you build a hermetically separate sense of self (the modern ego, what we think of as being “adult,” or Kegan’s 4th Order), then you take it apart and make it empty (transparent, without it ever really disappearing, which would be disastrous.) Then things get really interesting. (I should note that I am not advocating a romantic viewpoint– the romantic and evolutionary models are both essentially correct except where they disagree, which disagreements come from reifying their models. Also, this is fudging quite a bit for the purposes of simplicity. In some senses, I am still working on growing into Kegan’s 4th Order, in some senses I am working beyond that.) 

As in the above, (Power and Anxiety), if I have something within me that makes me do something, or that I feel like I’m fighting, I probably haven’t integrated it into an authentic and healthy (healthy bodymind, centaur, etc.) version of the self. 

One thing I noticed two days ago related to this is that, despite a more than decade long practice of meditation and mindfulness, I was orienting to ‘tasks’ mostly embedded within a sense of linear, 3D time, rather than from “Full Time,” or The Nunc Stans, the eternal moment. In noticing how much I was acting out of anxiety, I was about to return to a practice that I found very helpful over the last couple of years: doing nothing. Not sitting and watching TV, but actually actively sitting on the couch, without meditating, without doing anything, just sitting and paying attention (or not). Yes, I could actually release my attachment to doing anything not essential, and just sit for hours everyday while making sure that I wasn’t acting out of anxiety– setting a trap for my anxiety, having it come up and be paid attention to. While I think this can be helpful, and has been earlier in my life, I realized that I was at the point where I could be relating to anxiety moment to moment. That is, I didn’t have to throw anything out to be able to relate to my anxiety–far from it. It was much more likely to come up in a practical way if I continued to keep my schedule full, and if I kept it as an object of consciousness continually as I worked (and did what I ‘want’ to–an example is writing this post) rather than work on it “on the sidelines.” This way, I am cultivating a much deeper sense of non-attachment: not just allowing any activity to go by the wayside if it isn’t essential, thus sending a message that the most important thing is getting to the root of anxiety, but practicing acting out of presence and awakening no matter what I think my motivation is for a particular activity. In this way, I am always (at least practicing) acting out of the already free, already liberated moment in any activity, by keeping anxiety in my awareness. 

Decoupling Anxiety from Objects of Consciousness

One last interesting little shift of attention that has made a huge difference. While speaking to my wife two nights ago about some of this, I felt an anxious craving for some peanuts that are in our cupboard. Usually, I would be aware of this craving, and note it, and put it aside sort of dismissively, trying to get away from it. Inevitably, though, it would return, and I would give in to it (that is, habitually). I am not so good at resisting cravings. This time though, I noted the story about the feeling (“I want peanuts!”) and allowed the underlying anxiety to stay within my conscious awareness. Soon, the story and the feeling decoupled, and the story disappeared. I remained anxious, but there was no object for the anxiety, and as I stayed with the anxiety it became bearable. This was another “duh” for me after 10 years of serious meditation, as I feel like I’ve heard this advice a thousand times, and it never quite ‘clicked.’ 

Further Questions for Exploration:

I am left with quite a few questions. 

What is anxiety? For me it’s baseline negative, that is, it is pre-verbal, and experienced directly as negativity in the body, as opposed to something that is interpreted as being negative. It seems to me to be at the heart of suffering–the very urge itself to ‘leave’ the present moment. 

Are there other “baseline” constituents of the identified self? Is anxiety the same for everyone, or are there other pre-self bodily expressions of separation? What about people with actual ‘anxiety’ disorders? What’s going on there? (As mentioned, I have never felt the sort of outsized domination of my lives as people with high anxiety describe). 

Is it related to some sort of early-life (or in-womb, as my wife suggested) trauma? 

Are there people who have not untied the knot of separation (who have made the boundary between self and not-self transparent) who are not constantly on some level experiencing anxiety? 

What’s the link between living in modern society and anxiety? If anxiety “goes all the way down” with the ego, what about traditional or earlier societies? Is it there and unconscious? 

Thank you for reading, and for your comments!