Saturday, December 06, 2003

Running on autopilot 

I’ve been feeling oddly ill-at-ease for the last week or so, and couldn’t figure out why. Disconnected, running on autopilot, remote from experience; definitely a few cards short of a full deck. I’ve been bouncing half-formed ideas around my head trying to figure out the cause of the malaise; I started writing blog posts several times but abandoned them every time - the words kept falling into one of a number of stereotyped patterns, running away with themselves, finding their own course like heavy rain falling on a dusty hillside.

But I think the penny has finally dropped. It’s this blogging business, or rather the effects it has.

I had grown used to living in a rut. It may not have been perfect, but after a while you don’t notice the imperfections; it’s just not quite uncomfortable enough to warrant changing anything. Hankering after things that are out of reach only makes you dissatisfied, so after a while you build a high wall so that you can’t see them any more and that way you don’t get so dissatisfied. You don’t notice the rut, because everyone living your side of the wall has their own rut. Life goes on, day follows day and we all get a little older, a little more sure that our reality only extends as far as that wall, but since we do those things together, no-one really notices. And so the wall gets a little higher, a little thicker.

But then along comes blogging and it starts knocking holes in that wall, through which you can glimpse exquisitely tantalising thumbnails of the view on the other side; it creates links, threads that pass through those holes and start to exert a tug that’s almost physical. People, places, ideas, challenges – suddenly they’re all around in glorious technicolour and by contrast this side of the wall is grey, shabby, lifeless, dull.

So what’s been knocking those holes?

Well, for starters I’ve been particularly drawn to blogs that are, in at least some sense, rooted in place; places that have an attraction for me. Shelley’s pictures and the wonderful tales that go with them; Chris’ accounts of life on Bowen Island; Fred’s idyll from Floyd county; Beth’s view of New England; Chris’ traveller’s tales from Pinole county. Their words have an immediacy that no paper-bound account will ever have; when Fred says there’s five inches of snow on the ground, I know it’s there right now. The words don’t describe something that once was but is no more; they describe current reality and that’s as like to words on paper as a live animal is to a dead one. Being able to experience place so closely through the words of these bloggers, I realise the extent to which the immediate environment in which I live is discordant with so much that I value. In my ideal, I’d live somewhere where I could walk out the door and be in open countryside within a few minutes. Wilderness within reach would be good, but I’d accept any space hasn’t been totally subjugated by man’s hand.

I’d put to the back of my mind the thought that we could, if we chose, live somewhere else – tucked away there at the back, out of sight although not entirely forgotten, the idea wasn’t causing too much trouble – not until I opened the cupboard, blew the dust off it and looked at it again. Fellow bloggers, you did too good a job. Your writing painted a picture I could recognise, whose attractions created a desire within me, drawing me into themselves…

Then there’s another set of ideas that have long lain dormant, and are now reawakening. I always knew there was a better way – organisations have lost their way and are hopelessly sub-optimised, chasing ineffective, incoherent and contradictory goals. Once, I was passionate about generating change, about helping people wake up to the power they have within themselves for betterment… but the brick wall was hard, and my head hurt. I found a few that shared a dream that a new spirituality might enter business – and by that I mean that values would shift away from shareholder profit and monetary ROI towards values built around the welfare of this planet and all of its occupants. At the time, this seemed no more than a dream, but more and more people seem to be thinking along these lines, and more to the point, doing something to bring their dream into reality. People like Jon Husband, Dave Pollard, Flemming Funch, all create a vision of how things might be in organisations and beyond if we founded our thinking on relationships of wholeness, learning, collaboration and mutual support. This contrasts so starkly with the little corner of organisation in which I work, still stuck in the dark ages of mid-20th century management practices.

And another thing that’s taken a few more bricks out of the wall. I value community – or claim to. And quite by chance I’ve stumbled across a wonderful community of bloggers in North East Ohio. Then there’s the unexpected new discoveries, such as Zen Buddhism. I may be a committed Christian, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognise wisdom when I see it, and there is so much wisdom to be found in Zen.

And finally, there’s new friendships. The strengthening bonds that cross all boundaries.

A reawakened yearning for open spaces and wilderness; a reminder of purpose; new discoveries, new friends - all of that produces a strange response in me. If you’ve ever suffered significant trauma, you may know the experience of running on autopilot. Those occasions when, in the face of massive upsets to the system, you just keep going, machine-like, getting on with those things that have to be done. Something knocks the ground from under your feet; the bedrock on which you stood disappears; sense of balance is lost, proportion is distorted; all around, the world continues as before but you’ve lost connection to it, senses blocked, floating in a nether-world of unreality and remoteness. I’d be trivialising those real and intensely painful moments when life seems to shatter, if I said that that’s what I’ve been feeling this last week, nevertheless it’s something along those lines, albeit with less intensity – and I’m afraid that’s the nearest my inadequate words can get.

But at least now I’ve named the demon. It has some form, not just a shapeless blackness casting its shadow over everything I see and touch. It has boundaries, limits. If I can see it, I can start to deal with it.

I said earlier that all of my scribblings this week attempting to catch what I was feeling were wide of the mark. Well, maybe not. Maybe something was connecting my subconscious to my fingers in a way that my conscious mind didn’t understand. This now seems rather apt:

“Trouble up ahead. The status quo is already out of balance. I may have tipped it that way myself – perhaps in an unconscious attempt to create disequilibrium and force movement. But whether from unconscious intent or not, the tipping point is not far away”.

And even this, clumsy and, quite literally, over-wrought:

“Experience, did I once know you?
I feel I’ve seen your face before,
Yet we pass in the street with barely a glance of recognition.
Did we once laugh and learn and love together?
A memory stirs; a passion turns in its sleep.

Sight, did I once ache at the beauty you showed me?
Was I once enchanted by the colours, the forms, the kaleidoscopic variety?
Now structure degenerates, shape without form,
Variety mutates to dull repetition,
Novelty lies smothered under familiarity.

Possibility, your garden lies fresh, sparkling, intoxicating;
Humming with energy; alive, warm, sensuous;
Vibrant with the power of life, growth, regeneration.
Your door closed, this greyness Is.
Yet your door opened.
To find a path through…
To feel the pain of looking…
Or to slam it shut and so resolve the question?”

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