“I am a finger pointing to the moon. Don’t look at me; look at the moon.”
I go for a walk in the bush near my house, it is near the end of summer. The sound of cicadas is deafening. It demands attention. I sit down to listen to the rhythms, the throbbing and pulsing and clacking. I look at the bark on the tree, many flakes.
As I continue on my walk I pay mind to the stretches of time that can go without any words in my awareness, just presence with what is present. These stretches are getting longer. They are stretches that are free of words and their associated concepts completely.
When I am not concept-free in a particular moment I am learning to be free of concepts; to be able to utilise them as objects, and not be caught by them, not be subject to them.
A Shaman in the bush in Peru, in The Last Shaman, tells James that the plants approached him and his people and told them how to use them to heal people. I wonder what plants might tell me, if I developed the capacity to listen? James soaks in these plants from head to toe, the plants have told them that they remove bad energy from the body. James was suffering from severe depression, and the Shaman helped him to unlearn and decondition many unhelpful things from his highly privileged, western education. The village helped him unlearn these things too: he started to play soccer with them, something he used to love but discarded in the ultra-pressurized, self-instrumentalising quest for academic achievement which his family conditioned him to priortise at the cost of all else. He saw mothers and children lying in hammocks together for hours, and how children were allowed to just be, just play, there wasn’t a strong idea of what they needed to become imposed on them. Pepe has him spend more than a hundred days in isolation, and at the end a few hours under the ground, with only his nose sticking out of the earth, to heal, to uncondition.
We could analyse the Shaman’s way of being, compare his very relational way of being with the relatively individualistic way of being that is normal in the “developed” world. We could study it anthropologically. But I don’t think the Shaman is doing those things. He seems to be living, listening to the plants, being in relation with his people and environment.
Transformation sounds exciting doesn’t it? Social Impact too. It excites the kid in me who enjoyed Mech Warrior. Let’s get a big Mech, create a big impact!
If you have a big enough positive impact, maybe you can save the world! Thich Naht Hanh wrote a book about saving the world. But in all honesty, I think it was a bit of a trick title. He was pointing to us healing our own hearts. This is something that James came to realise too during his journey. So little do we need, some food, a community, a way to tend our hearts and our environment. It would be very simple for us to come back within planetary boundaries with just this. Maybe, as Schumacher supposed in 1973, small is beautiful.
In the organisation where I work, many people probably think of me as Mr. Participatory City. I have been quite the champion for this approach for some time, and greatly enamored with it. When I read about it I can feel my self falling in love every time. I think it’s because the approach seems expedient in facilitating the shift back towards that relational, connected, village like way of living that we’ve all but lost in many communities in the “developed” world. But, a most wonderful, rich, and compost-like kōrero with Mark Kroening this morning helped me see what look to me like aspects of the approach which are still caught in Western instrumental thinking. I still think that the approach will be useful and expedient in our work, but, I’m starting to see around it, and beyond it, or before it. Buddhism suggests that we think of it like a finger pointing to the moon. Ultimately, the finger is extraneous, but helps us orient initially.
What might concept-free living, and living free of concepts, be like for us, as a collective, dwelling in the infinite relational compassion which exists before all words and concepts?