Organizing Dialogue, Experience and Knowledge for Complex Problem-Solving

Monks and Nuns (“Adam had them”)

January 29th, 2013

“There’s a context to this. When you don’t have a talent, wear something.”

~  Yossarian

It was the Human Sushi Platter’s birthday party. I had thought of suggesting we sing Hey Jude in order to spread a unique tradition, but admiration for the icing completely filled the space between singing the usual ditty and cutting the cake. This was just after the Chammak Challo, of which we were warned: “It’s gonna be fast, it’s gonna be hectic!”

"...to live in the company of wise people..." (from the Buddha's "Discourse on Happiness")

“…to live in the company of wise people…” (from the Buddha’s “Discourse on Happiness”)

Which pretty much summed up the party. The early round of appetizers and aperitifs accompanied spirited conversation on topics which ranged from climate shift (if you happened to talk with me) t0 whatever everybody else (the ‘normal’ people?) talked about. Next came the main dishes (a food extravaganza) and more conversations. Eventually this example of “smart partying” (thank you Greg Robie) morphed into

  • a collective reading of the discourse on happiness,
  • concern about who’s on the Human Sushi Platter’s mom’s list of people to buy clothing for (and, later, for whom John will bake),
  • a meditation on lovingkindness (interrupted perfectly by the late arriving Bulgarian and Israeli, about whom it was said, “Just when you’re trying to focus on one thing some lovely people come into your life!”
  • a discussion of socially engaged Buddhism,
  • extraordinary international cuisine (“celery raw drops the jaw”),
  • an Amherst Salon talent show,
  • exceptionally extraordinary cakes,
  • and gifts for the birthday girl. (There turned out to be a butterfly theme. If the game of #KRKTR ever takes off, some massive amount of points should go to the first person who identifies the five people who received butterfly plates from me. Perhaps that’s one of the entry gates for joining the actual competition?!  I’ve got Ready Player One in mind….)

I Got You, Babejack sparrow-attitude problem

The Sonny and Cher impersonation by Hot Mama and Alan followed the impromptu Beat generation-style interpretation by Knightly (fluent in English and French) of a series of satirical rhymes offered (in Spanish) by Rafael. We were treated to poetry from Ogden Nash, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, and The Cat in the Hat.  Not to mention belly dance gyrations, a cautionary tale to “never play with gypsies in the woods,” and the story of a beloved grandmother’s uninvited visitor who was “not only a thief but also a liar!”

Motivated Living

I love my friends’ ability to bring pleasure to each other; such a long night of laughter we had! Do they have the secret of Zizek’s “third pill?” Rather than the dualistic choices presented in The Matrix, Zizek says we need a pill that helps us “perceive reality inside the illusion itself.”

Our fundamental delusion today is not to believe in what is only a fiction, to take fictions too seriously, it’s on the contrary—not to take fictions seriously enough: you think it’s just a game? It’s reality, it’s more real than it appears to be.

Slavoj Zizek

Values and activities of  meaning-making on the verge of collapse

Values and activities of meaning-making on the verge of collapse

The art is to discern which fictions to perceive and thus make more real. Bringing joy in the now is a skill at which my closest friends excel. But the now is always in flux – not just internally (the sway of mood and emotion) but externally too. By external, I’m not just referring to the complications of social interactions such as problems at work, with colleagues, roommates, family members, etc. These constants persist within a larger frame, call it civil society, that is an example of the kind of social fiction Zizek implies. What storyline are we actually living? What function does a spiritualist approach to the now contribute in the aggregate history humanity is producing?

A Reprieve?

When I told Yossarian that I was in ‘semi-blog-mode’ after my initial conversation with John, she pounced. “Sortof? You’re already making our lives hell with these [Facebook] posts every three days – ‘Australia is burning!’” Her teasing validated my decision, although I still feel conflicted, torn between the desire to remain accepted and compelled to keep issuing the warning. After securing authorization from the host, I announced to everyone that I was in the blogzone. No one objected; a few who were new to this gig of mine wanted to talk more about it. Ginger, for instance, engaged me vigorously on the topic of socially engaged Buddhism, and told me about Chris Martenson’s crash course, “What Should I Do? The Basics of Resilience.” Bombi (who admits he is a Part-time Schmoozer) may have just been poking fun at me/my main question when he exclaimed, “That’s the question that needs to be asked!”

“When are we going to become a superhero team that helps save the world?”

Maybe we cannot, or maybe we will not choose to transform together, or perhaps the transformation will occur but in a less-overtly-connected way than I can perceive. Talking with John, who is confident he can survive for a significant amount of time when the grid goes down for good, I was struck by the pragmatics of his outlook, especially when he said that you/I won’t be able to help everyone, that sometimes—for the sake of our own survival—we will have to say no.

Weather. It's coming. (Photo of a supercell snatched from a weather geek's Facebook page.)

Weather. It’s coming. (Photo of a supercell snatched from a weather geek’s Facebook page.)

Not a prospect I am looking forward to, at all. John also reflected on the week-long power outage for many people after last fall’s weird “snowtober” snowstorm. “This was a massive storm,” he said, marveling at the anger of people who clearly did not understand the extent of the damage and expected their electricity to simply be back on already! He recounted what an adventure the extended power loss was at first, comparing it to his “best ever” experience when he was in college. Then he said, “After the sixth or seventh day, it wasn’t fun anymore.”

I understand that ‘the now’ is the only timespace in which our actions matter; and, our behavior in the present correlates with outcomes in the future. Not only this, but our actions now ripple into other beings’ present—their now is our now/our now is theirs, too. This simultaneous co-presence extends beyond “regular contact with monks and nuns [which] is the greatest happiness” to humans whose suffering is directly linked to our comfort, and beyond homo sapiens to all the organisms with whom we share the planetary atmosphere.

Love may indeed be all that’s left. And so the fictions we choose are most meaningfully evaluated by how they interact within this period of reprieve.

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