489. Word Cluster

April 21, 2015

Knowing yourself flows from engaging yourself. That is, from your situated intelligence monitoring the actions you take in the role of subjective doer in engagement at the same time with sensory impressions you form in the role of objective perceiver.

At the core of each mind is the situated intelligence that seeks understanding as a state of mind in particular situations encountered during engagement. The understanding sought is to be found by examining the situation in which questions arise.

Those situations themselves are qualities of mind produced by the accrual of experience, which has broadly served as the subject of this blog. Situated intelligence is our agent for knowing the world by reviewing the situations our external environments stir up in us, those situations constituting the inner reality we actively engage with, no matter what else is going on around us.

What a marvelous system it is that we are given at birth and learn to use by living the life that we do. If we but question ourselves, we can trace an answer to how we ourselves frame the question under influence of the experiential situations that spur our engagements and experiences.

Others at our sides will do the same task their own way. Since questions do not pose themselves, the source of all questions is the situated intelligence at the core of our being. The essence of knowing is found by appealing to the interest and curiosity of she who wants to know. Where else can we look but to our own situations as we construct them in our respective minds?

This blog is probably as close as I will ever come to solving the mystery posed by my own mind as viewed by myself. One of my chief learnings is just how few people are concerned with the issues I raise here, most, apparently believing that answers lie in the material world, not their own minds.

I find that the dictum “Know Thyself” is dead to the world in which I find myself alive. As a culture, we are fixated on the brain as the source of all knowing, not the mind that works in conjunction with its own brain during engagements with nature, culture, community, and family to produce the miracle of consciousness.

But consciousness is more than a miracle. It is humanity’s cumulative response to the myriad challenges we are born to. The many facets of mind are the answer to the questions that Earth poses, not the material answer, brain. We have to earn our minds by applying them to the problems we face in just getting through the day, every day.

My chief discovery in writing this blog is a growing awareness of the quality of mind that makes my engagements possible with others and with the world we share together, a quality I don’t really have a name for. Sympathy and empathy are too overburdened already.

The word I am looking for takes the form of a word cluster that, as yet, has no heading. The cluster includes striving, hope, intelligence, wonder, confidence, durability, fragility, respect, responsibility, worthiness, persistence, and trust. These words refer to the mental tools I apply to myself every day. Gather them together and they all fall under the heading . . . what? What is the common denominator that makes effective engagement even possible?

Whatever it turns out to be, that missing heading captures the set of conditions that collectively enables engagement by self with non-self, first-person with world. It is a kind of regard that embraces self and others as being equally worthy and responsible at the same time. It balances durability with fragility, hope with despair, planning with spontaneity.

It is within the aura of that cluster of words that productive engagements can take place, that perception can spur meaning, judgment can spur action, action can spur engagement and subsequent perception.

Does such a word exist as would serve to head that cluster of terms referring to mental conditions? If not, I will have to invent one that fits the need I am alluding to. A word that defines the social contract by which it is safe, desirable, exciting, and gratifying for me to engage you—and you to engage me—in such a way that we will both be changed for the better. As Venus and Serena Williams engage their tennis opponents and take the game itself to a higher level for the benefit of all concerned. As life-long learners turn all experience into a positive good. As contests and rivalries blossom into win-win situations.

I am putting a positive spin on the heading I want because the cluster commonly refers to conditions that favor productive engagement, not isolation, violence, cruelty, distain, disaffection, and all the qualities of disengagement. Engagement enhances the survival of both parties in mutual interaction. It is positive and life-sustaining, not negative and life-stealing-away.

Enmity belongs in the cluster that is opposite to the one I am seeking, as does hatred, as does anger, as does violence. I am searching for a term that includes aspects of Earth, other planets, the sun, the whole shebang. It’s the old problem of a universe that contains both good and evil, angels and devils, heaven and hell. If they are polar opposites, I am emphasizing the pole that favors life and creativity, not death and destruction. Not ruination. Like Ozymandias, we all overextend ourselves and die in the end.

I am looking for a heading that is the opposite of entropy and “the universal heat death.” A term that opens the way to possibilities yet unachieved, not possibilities foreclosed.

The essence of the word I want is that it refers to a process that is ongoing, that has a future, that leads to hope, not regret, not despair. Clearly, I am not talking about using others for my personal advancement. Or about imposing myself on others. Or making myself dependent on others.

I am looking more for a sense of balance between respective durabilities and fragilities, hopes and fears, worthiness and failings. Trust and intelligence come pretty close, as long as they are mutual, and are joined in a process that evolves into a future. I am not seeking a gift that is given once and for all, nor for something either foolishly ventured or demanded.

Equality is of the essence here, between subject and object, so that both are not only taken into account, but can change places at any time. As sharing, turn-taking, and equality are the essence in sports.

Yes, I am looking for something that takes skill, cooperation, commitment, and concentration. Just like any sport you could name—baseball, soccer, track and field, cricket, speed skating, and all the rest (competition without needless violence).

Including everyday wayfaring, making our own way one step at a time. How does that translate to the situated intelligence in our minds that governs our ongoing engagements?

Mindfaring! Not wayfaring. That is, inside the mind, not outside in the world. That’s what I’ll call the heading I want. For, indeed, it takes properties of mind to run effective and ongoing engagements. We are all responsible for making our separate ways. They take place on the outside, but are governed on the inside of our respective black boxes. No one can do the job for us. We are all on our own.

How would that look as the heading of a word cluster (arranged in alphabetical order)?

Mindfaring

  • Action
  • Confidence
  • Desirability
  • Durability
  • Engagement
  • Equality
  • Excitement
  • Fragility
  • Gratification
  • Hope
  • Intelligence
  • Judgment
  • Meaning
  • Persistence
  • Planning
  • Respect
  • Responsibility
  • Safety
  • Spontaneity
  • Striving
  • Trust
  • Wonder
  • Worthiness

That’s my first stab at the clusters in my personal Thesaurus for the qualities of inner life that govern our engagements with the world. If I had another life to live, I’d work on listing the other 999 headings. But I don’t, so I won’t.

We all know the clusters of words that make life a series of failed engagements. We hear them on the news every day. That work has already been done.

It is the building of a platform for self-knowledge that requires doing. I propose that mindfaring is the way for those who choose the future.

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(Copyright © 2009)

 

Does the endless stream of consciousness add up to anything, or is it strictly momentary—this, then this, then this? Instant by instant, do we build a larger life? Or do we waste it second by second, day by day, year by year? If conscious life doesn’t add up, what is the point?

 

Blogging about consciousness is like sneezing into a paper handkerchief, then tossing it into the wastebasket. A dated blog is about as valuable as the contents of a trash bag bound for the dump. Useful once, perhaps, but who cares about it now?

 

Think of all those projects that seemed so important at the time. In recent years, I have given my life to studying eelgrass, horseshoe crabs, great blue herons, bald eagles, harbor seals, shorebirds—to what end? I have spent years writing up hikes on hundreds of trails. Before that, I spent more years tutoring students with learning disabilities, grading stacks of papers and exams, taking thousands of photographs. At the time, each moment at the leading edge of my conscious life was precious in and for itself. I couldn’t have done it any differently.

 

But aside from lost opportunities and entropy, what have I contributed to Earth’s welfare? Is this life a loser’s game? I went to work for the National Park Service hoping to protect woods, streams, ponds, and bogs from human encroachment—but what I really did was sit indoors at a computer for five years and put an endless stream of words on paper made from trees, words that few read and no one remembers.

 

We have all kinds of tricks to make our conscious efforts seem meaningful. Getting a paycheck for the time we put in is the most common. Even standing by the water cooler talking about last night’s Red Sox game isn’t wasted if we get paid by the hour. Putting our talents and energy at the disposal of others in exchange for money and favorable performance ratings can be cited as proof of our value to society. We are trained in school to this way of thinking, accepting praise and grades as true indicators of our personal merit. We learn early on that consciousness can be bought and sold—and should be put on the job market if we want to feel good about ourselves.

 

But does it add up? If our value is our usefulness to others, what do we get out of the bargain? That is, is money sufficient justification for selling our minds and bodies to others one hour at a time? Is that the highest and best use of our unique gift of consciousness? Can we truly be conscious on another’s behalf? That seems to be what society expects of us. We are supposed to convert our precious hours of wakefulness into enough money to keep credit card companies off our backs. That, in essence, is how the fine print reads in our social contract.

 

So we make ends meet by selling our consciousness to pay for food, housing, transportation, healthcare—which seems OK to us as long as there’s enough left over for CDs and videos, the latest high-tech gizmos, golf now and then, and a daily latte. Does that add up to a life?

 

Without being aware how we do it, sometime in our twenties, thirties, or forties we generally discover ourselves as conscious beings apart from the conventional world. Till then, we’ve just cruised along without giving much thought to managing our special gifts. We’ve probably taken some kind of job, gotten married, had children, and built a growing pile of questions. Reviewing those questions, we discover we have the option of reserving consciousness for our own purposes, or continuing to put it up for sale because we can’t see ourselves breaking free of the system.

 

This can precipitate a crisis, leading to estrangement from family and friends, a bout of self-indulgence, shopping binges, or even becoming a Buddhist monk going around in a saffron robe begging for a daily bowl of rice. Some people leave the city and move to Maine. That’s what I did. I spent two-and-a-half years living by myself on an island, throwing myself into nature, trying to gather my wits. That’s how I met herons, eagles, horseshoe crabs, and the like.

 

That was the smartest move I ever made. From a social or family perspective, perhaps the dumbest. Either way, I found myself dying in the life I was in, suffocating from lack of air because I had so walled myself into a cubicle to keep from seeing what life was about on the outside. Nobody but myself could save me from continuing to do the proper—the expected—thing. I’d backed myself into a corner, and it was clearly up to me to get myself out.

 

So, 22 years later, here I am, blogging about consciousness. Which puts me on the leading edge of my own life and awareness. And that, I feel now, is the right place to be. Risky, yes, even dangerous. But I maintain that life isn’t a living unless we use our native faculties to connect ourselves as best we can to the situations we place ourselves in. Dulling consciousness is not an option. I’ve been that route and it leads nowhere.

 

The land trust meeting is over about 10 p.m. I drive to the shore, get my rowboat, and head into the night. I strap a flashlight to the bow so I can see ice floes in time to dodge them. The tide is going out, bearing the floes southeast. I come to one so big that I can’t see a route around it. I don’t want it to push me into the tidal falls, so I head up-current to find a way past it. I row and row—does this ice ever end? It must be a quarter-mile long. Finally, the ice narrows, then gives way to open water. I row around it, only to find another floe in the dim glow of my beacon. I dodge that one, come to the ledge, which is at least stationary, and row around that. My light begins to weaken, then fades to black. But I know exactly where I am, and steer straight to the island from there. Well not exactly straight; first I have to dodge the mussel bank, that too a familiar landmark. Even though I can’t see it, I can feel my oars scrape on shells in the shallows. In another 100 yards I figure I’m at the mouth of the cove, and head in. I haul the boat up to the head of the cove, bungee a blue tarp over it, and that’s that, another adventure.

 

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