February 11, 2015
We’re all familiar with the words “sunrise” and “sunset”; yet no accurate term exists for what’s really happening. Earthturn? Well, why not?
Science works, at least in part, to teach us the difference between what appears to be happening and what actually is. So also does art. Some of the least prosaic of our languages — music, mathematics, color and the various geometries of line and shape — do a better job of describing the world and telling its story than does spoken or written language. This is why I say that masses and sermons in church should emphasize such non-verbal languages, rather than the comparatively arid and tedious intellection of words. Why drone on about the commandments and dead miracles of a tyrannical God when you can allow a purer voice of God to speak through your sermon — Pythagorean mathematics; fugues of Bach or Nocturnes of Chopin; fractal geometry; the visions of Da Vinci and the colors of Van Gogh; quantum mechanics and Maldacena’s theory of the holographic universe? Or a sermon on Time and the diurnal mystery of the Earth’s natural revolutions?
I have been present for more than 21,000 earthturns in my life; yet how many have I experienced — for how many of these have I been present and awake? This is a valid question of the self-examining life, for it can lead to a resolution, or at least a deeper understanding, of what Krishnamurti called the “crisis of consciousness” of post-modern society.
Krishnamurti’s great virtue as a teacher and visionary was that he was never pedagogical about what exactly the “crisis of consciousness” was — he wanted to awaken people to its presence and allow them to perceive it via a process of critical self-exploration (see the video below). The universal can only be distilled with the water of individual awareness. If you understand this principle with your whole being, then I have nothing to teach as to substance, but only perhaps on the matter of approach or direction. Then learning becomes far less a matter of transferring knowledge and far more a sharing of impressions and experience.
That is to address the natural question: where might I address my energy, my attention, to reveal the character and dimensions of this crisis of consciousness? My answer would be: point your being towards those aspects of yourself, of human nature, which are the most actively, stridently repressed or demonized among all traits. Let’s try an exercise in this approach with a very common one, anger.
Most ideologies, especially religious belief systems, tell us that anger is bad, even evil. As a result, they compound evil by making it into some demonic part of our nature. Buddhists urge us to somehow transform anger into a different or purer energy. This approach is not entirely off-target; but it still misses the essence by beginning from a point of confrontation. How can you overcome anger via confrontation? Alan Watts used to compare such an attitude to the idea of “smoothing rough water with a flatiron.” It only creates more disturbance.
Christians are encouraged to seek absolution for their anger. That is, to be angry is a sin; something for which you must beg forgiveness. Yet there is no record in the Gospels of Jesus remotely regretting his angry assault on the money-changers’ tables, an incident in which he actually let loose some physical violence. Would that he were on Wall St. today.
Yes, even Muslims preach this nonsense: Allah loves those who repress their anger.
And so, because it is repressed via catechism and commandment, anger is indeed transformed — most frequently into blind, violent, malevolent ego-rage, usually against others defined as aliens or enemies of the true belief. This is the history of Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions. This impulse has poisoned the histories of many other religions and nationalistic tribes as well. Indeed, tribal ideologies tend to become demented via a repression of the very thing that they should be most open to exploring. Taboos against and the demonization of natural sexuality become the breeding grounds of perversion; beliefs that deny or denounce the reality of anger open wide the door to a raging and unceasing culture of global violence, whose madness now threatens the continuance of our species.
So the responsibility for restoring a clear, truthful view of our universal nature falls back again upon the freethinking individual. A simple exercise could make a good starting point from which you may build your own view, your own earthturn, a way to your own truth that resonates with the universal truth. Krishnamurti used to tell his students to overthrow their desire to be non-violent and instead go deeply into one’s own violence, one’s impulse towards destruction. For there, beneath the crusted layers of repression and humiliation and self-conscious dread lies the gleaming ruby of anger.
I think we need a good deal more of pure anger in our world — the kind of anger that fuels Occupy Wall St.; the environmental movement; Anonymous; and the activist journalism of people like Amy Goodman, Laura Poitras, and Rachel Maddow. Anger is a spark in the fire of transformation — go into most any great artistic, scientific, cultural, or psycho-spiritual revolution in human history, and you will find that much of its energy is anger.
In our personal lives, we have this choice: freely express anger, let it loose; give it room to dance. Or, put a cover of self-conscious, ideologically-driven inhibition on it, and let it stew. Then watch it explode like a nuclear bomb, whose fallout will enduringly poison the ground of your life.
Eckhardt Tolle has a delightful reflection in one of his books, in which he compares the expression of anger in Nature with what we commonly find among ourselves. He draws a picture of a pair of ducks on a quiet pond, who bump into one another, snap in anger, and then withdraw, going on as placidly as they had been before the moment’s encounter. Then he imagines how they might behave if they had the same hangups and carried the same grudges as we do in our social lives.
The point here is that natural anger is an aspect of presence. If we can practice living within the moment — and never mind its temporal length; it can be a second, a day, or a decade — then grievance has no air to breathe within us. My old cat used to teach me this constantly: she would do something sure to set me off, such as running back from the toilet and onto my bed, scattering litter and whatever else was on her all over the blanket. I’d spit some fire at her, chase her off, and she’d glare at me as she trotted off to a corner. But in minutes, sometimes in seconds, she’d be back, sitting beside the bed as I cleaned up, her eyes alight once more with trust and compassion.
Let anger be an aspect of your life’s art, its creative spirit. The world of art is replete with instances of people who were inspired, moved, or otherwise energized by anger. These are people who developed a relationship with anger, because they saw no other option. They understood that you cannot deny or repress what is natural: you may as well ban breathing as abolish anger.