“That’s what I like about you Julien… you are always able to show me the futility of everything. Well, the futility of everything except Nothing.”
Reading this line Julien has posted on Mirrors of Encounters brought a smile. I’ve never been complimented, even sarcastically, for doing this. I have been accused of it, even in so many words, over the years. It has cost me friendships and closed off acquaintances before they could develop. For decades I felt this as a curse, part of the corrosive self-criticism and aggressive disappointment that fueled a chronic depression and its underlying anxiety. It was another cudgel I could grab hold of and use to beat myself – and others – “…whenever my hypos (got) such an upper hand of me….”
Over the years I’ve found my need to chase down futilities has not abated. It outlasted the depression and the anxiety. It has become indispensable. It has reached a point where if someone were to ask me what I do, I would claim just this,
I point out futility.
This quirk can be described another way. I’ve long been fascinated with the dynamics of what it takes to be effective. Effective being a term with a very different meaning from its near homonym, efficient. To be efficient all we need is to be monomaniacal. By shutting our selves off from the greater context of an activity and soullessly, obsessively increasing our efforts we can be efficient. It happens all around us. It is the motivation for so much mindless action. It is killing us.
To be effective is something else. We cannot be effective without examining context. While efficiency is a show put on by Ego playing at Willfulness, to be effective has nothing to do with trying, striving, acting out in any sort of dramatic fashion. Most often what is effective is almost invisible. It touches an inflection point and turns events from some seeming inevitability – we like to call these accidents or unintended consequences – and we slide by. It’s the iceberg un-hit, not the daring failed rescue.
We confuse effectiveness with getting our way. Caught-up in an over-simplification we call cause & effect. We think we know what’s wrong. We know what to do to make it better. We know how it will turn out. Until we try and none of it works out as planned. So long as we flail in a loop running from desire through Will to reaction and on to accident and unintended consequences, failing to see this for what it is; we balk at any suggestion that our modus operandi might be flawed. That would be pessimistic!
The mine-fields of countless double-binds feed the roots of depression and anxiety. An example of how we cannot easily divide our experiences into good and bad, positive or negative, having this history has served me well. Discovering the depths and range of the futility surrounding us seems so alien and unfair to the so-called well-adjusted. To me it was nothing new. This was a trial by fire. I don’t recommend it! I’m lucky to have survived. Many do not. But even here, what kills is our fear, not the binds themselves. This is perhaps the most valuable thing I have to offer. There are ways to go on when all we see are impenetrable double-binds. A capacity to respond is available to us. We can integrate practices into our lives that allow us to alleviate our despair and discover Joy.
Misery is unavoidable. Suffering is a choice.
Futility is our greatest pitfall if we want to be effective. Especially as we discover how so much of the ground we walk on is compromised. How much of what is customary and accepted is delusional and horribly destructive. If we cannot recognize the futility of yet another attempt to improve outcomes by doing the same things that have never worked before; we are fated to just continue to make things worse.
The complaint aimed at Julien comes out of a silent desperation. We’ve been conditioned to avoid whatever frightens us and nothing frightens us more than having the ground beneath our feet pulled out from under us. Yet, when that ground is not stable as we expect; but, instead a morass, there is nothing more beneficial than recognizing it.
What was missing when I abused this talent was context. That context came into focus as I followed the relationship between power and strength. This is a big topic, and I won’t rehash it all here. Essentially it comes to a realization that power is an illusion and seeking and wielding power is the ultimate expression of futility. Strength, on the other hand, is the capacity we have to act with compassion. Whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, our strength is something we can hone and develop. Strength works on what we can actually influence. Strength cannot lead to delusional over-reach. Strength is aware of itself and its limits. As opposed to the delusion of power that always leads us on with the fantasy of the “Next big thing!”
When we combine developing our strength to act with compassion with a capacity to discover where futility hides in plain sight; we find ourselves in another realm. Atomized individuals we are mired in a bleak Realm of Negotiation. Trapped within a death-worshiping culture driven by a thaumaturgy of destruction hell-bent on the end of everything. Discovering the extent of futility we enter into a realm of dialogue. A realm of creative response. We can appreciate limits instead of blindly beating ourselves against them at the cost of so much devastation.
So, today I proclaim,
This is what I do.
I uncover futility.
Not to punish. Not to make us feel bad.