Friday, August 13, 2010

Ways and Means

Beach Seen, oil painting by Tom Ferguson (images stolen from daughter's sketch books)

What is the best way to arrest our skid toward extinction? How to live an ethical life? How do we advance “spiritually”? How do we create the shift necessary to avoid nuclear war, war in general, alleviate poverty, eliminate pollution and unsustainable practices? I have always been suspicious of one-sentence answers to big questions but Tolle’s take on things overcomes my skepticism as it embodies the beauty of simplicity, a strategy to address the full range of important issues that plague the human family. As with all simple answers elaboration is required.

Seems whatever question you ask Tolle the answer is presence. How do I respond to my perception that the momentum of history is leading us toward extinction? That the quest for profits, power and privilege is devouring the life system? That the most successful in that quest use their considerable influence to insure that no alternative gets a fair hearing, that their preferred mode undergoes no serious questioning. This is accomplished via their ownership of media and disproportionate impact on the political system and other institutional life?

We can use our minds to create strategies to propagate alternatives, we might do that, what we are inspired to do out of presence is not predictable which is why Tolle doesn’t advocate specific actions like blocking logging operations, whaling ships, war materials and demonstrations. Get present, then, connected to the self-evident intelligence out of which flows evolution, you’ll know what to do. It could be those actions, it could be others, but it is known only through stillness.

On some level reality can be conceived as a frequency array. Human consciousness, or unconsciousness, can be seen as part of this array, anger vibrating at a different frequency than affection, judgment different from acceptance… and presence, the state of non-thinking awareness, is a frequency we can call joy or peace. An agitated angry self-righteous demand for peace is little different, frequency-wise, than a similar demand for war. The frequency array is shifted by mere presence and one’s contribution to that is the ultimate form of activism. Presence is the state we are in when obsessive thinking is stilled. That is attained by simply noticing the chatter, bringing it into consciousness where it dissolves.

Now in presence, in the stillness of being, there eventually comes an impulse, an enthusiasm to act and that is the answer to the question, what to do.


  1. Great post, and I'm quite familiar with Tolle. The challenge is getting the wheel to the steel train track and getting traction and momentum.

  2. The way Tolle has spoken to me is his call for thinking positively--embracing the positive--in interpersonal relationships of all kinds and also our political work--looking at the glass half-full rather than being cynical, always looking at the negative, and being self righteous. This is all a big challenge for me.
    For me, I want to make that thinking a part of conventional political action, including electoral politics. I don't understand political action on some other realm.

  3. It is hard to fight the cynicism, negative energy, and self righteousness. Some of my activist colleagues have simply "checked out" of the struggle, and have given up. Some have even stopped voting.

    As for me, part of me sees how easy it is to quit, and then just be a cynical, jaded old man who can go around saying, "I told you so." But then another side tells me I have to continue the struggle, not just because I put children into the world, but because it is the morally right thing to do.

    But, I'm telling you, the pushback is tremendous. Whatever new idea you propose or whatever forward step you take, you will be pushed back and argued down. Having been an environmental activist for much of my life, I can tell you that the pushback eventually takes away your passion, and even your will to live.

    Not to mention the extreme partisanship in our world, and the wacky religious extremism, which makes matters only worse.