The Edifice of Thought*
Technological thinking, institutionalized, taught thinking, what we call rational thought is shaped entirely by an Edifice of Thought. It never looks at, is blind to, even the existence of Thought as an edifice, a bounded world. It takes its sense of bounded-ness as being the result of essential limits on what is possible; what is realistic, in its terms. But, even when we question thought and take forays outside these boundaries thought is still exercising control, in the sense of giving a particular shape, to how we think.
This acts in a way analogous to the way the wrinkles in a slope will effect how falling water gathers into rivulets, streams, and rivers. On a virgin slope small variations will lead to the development of a particular pattern of channelization. Once this process has begun it reinforces itself. After a while the resulting channels, having deepened and coalesced, come to seem inevitable and, once established, they create a powerful momentum that both maintains their form and makes major changes seem impossible. While from the initial circumstances many possible patterns of channelization were available this particular pattern has resulted from a dynamic of self-reinforcing events in which chance and variability over time lose their ability to direct the outcome.
At this point change comes to seem as only possible in small, incremental steps. This insistence that what we refuse to take in cannot possibly be continues to build-up pressure until some major perturbation leads the stream to jump its banks, leaving its old channel and quickly establishing a new path that then seems equally monolithic and stable until the next major shift.
This dynamic plays out in revolutions and counter-revolutions in Thought. Each change is imperceptible until it arrives at a cascade of events that then leave us with another different, but essentially similar system of apparent stability punctuated by chaotic instability leading to another apparently stable state.
Each channel carved into the slope by these contingencies can be seen as a form of damage done, an erosion of the virgin slope cut there by an act of violence. It can be seen as an instance of trauma, affecting everything that comes after it. So long as we fail to understand this connection between our found condition and a series of long-unfolding traumas we are unable to see over the banks built-up by their effects on our landscape. We are stuck reacting to the results of these compounded cascades of trauma.
We can never recover or return to the conditions of the virgin slope. We cannot wipe the slate clean and simply start over, hoping for a different result. The only reason this has ever appeared to be an option is because we are stuck within these existing banks unaware of the greater dynamic that has produced them and, in our frustration, we insist on forcing a change. We either knock down the existing bank or we build a dam in our desperation to change the course of our stream. All this does is increase the perturbations that lead to the next chaotic restoration of a new relative stability still mired in the patterns of Thought, in this Edifice of Thought we have built over time and that we inhabit without realizing that its limitations are not necessarily ours.
If we look at our condition as resulting from a series of compounding traumas it becomes clear that adding further traumas, tearing down dykes and building new dams, will only make matters worse. We can begin to see how our desires, as well as our conceptions of how things work, are confused and ultimately no more than reactions to our traumatized condition. It becomes clear that compounding trauma can never do anything but makes matters worse.
This is a realization of futility. This realization is what our defended selves, resulting from our traumatized states, will not allow us to see.
The only way out of this defensiveness is to pass through a process of uncovering the nature of our deepest wounds. This path moves us towards a recognition of our vulnerability. Our refusal to accept vulnerability not only keeps us from realizing and accepting futility when we run into it; it also drives our violent reactions taken in the mistaken expectation that we can change our situation by forcing reality to come into line with our misshapen desires. It blinds us to the nature of frustration and keeps us trapped in it. Never allowing us to let futility wash over us and, in acceptance, for us to change.
These cycles of reaction are not just reflected in the Edifice of Thought as it exists. They have built this Edifice of Thought itself. Once this becomes apparent we can begin to see our situation differently.
Misery & Suffering
The difficulties arising from the constraints represented by the banks and bounds of our present channels; as well as the violence done to us by us in this chaotic transition we help force into being; brings us much misery. What turns our physical, temporal pains and discomforts into suffering is our refusal to pass through futility and reach a point of acceptance. This acceptance is not a passive state of pseudo-spiritual mellowness. It is a descent into the pain and anguish resulting from loss. We must pass through tears to arrive at a recognition of our vulnerability. This can only take place when we allow ourselves to be changed by accepting the futility of continuing to deny some significant aspect of our reality. In this recognition we do not eliminate misery; but, we do dissolve suffering.
It is our reaction to this self-inflicted suffering that leads us to compound misery, not only by adding the griefs of suffering itself to our woes; but because in our suffering we lash out in frustration and worsen the conditions that bring about misery. Not only that, but as much as we try to hide behind our self-justifications we cannot lose a sense of our complicity in the violence done and its continued tearing at the fabric of life.
We experience the Edifice of Thought as the world around us. We cannot differentiate between what is there and our projections so long as we continue to resist and defend against accepting the futility of our condition. Caught in structures wrought of Thought we continue to fuel destruction that can only end in the destruction of Everything. All of our energies go into feeding this edifice. All of our physical and psychic energies go into maintaining this desperate scramble. This energy is lost to us; lost to life itself as it goes into shattering us and destroying the living world on which this edifice depends even as it strives to destroy it. Each new layer of suffering and the frustration unleashed draws more of the energy available for life and creation into its destructive maw.
This is how deep change becomes possible. This energy is not only taken away from destruction it is added to creation. This, while it does not lessen misery directly, or shall we say, automatically; does significantly change the dynamic behind destruction. A process that cannot do anything but compound misery and destroy creation, leading to further dissolution and greater suffering.
The recognition of our vulnerability is a recognition that misery is a part of life. No life can exist without confronting its vulnerability and the clashes brought about by this confrontation are what we experience as misery.
The difference between trauma and injury.
These two conditions are not identical. They grade one into the other. We can have an injury without it becoming a source of ongoing trauma. We use the term injury to refer to an event, a point in life when interacting forces larger than us collide in a way that has a violent effect on us. A trauma is a psychic scar such an event can leave on us if we have no way of metabolizing the experience, as by passing through the tears of futility and being changed by the event.
What makes one injury pass without leaving a traumatic scar while another leaves us traumatized for life is a complex dynamic, but overall, it is influenced by the stability and resilience of the ways we are positioned to understand our situation. We make assumptions about our place and how we can act as the result of the form inherent in the culture we find ourselves in.
Thought has a history. It began at a certain point and was effected by its circumstances throughout its development. We could suggest that there was a shift at some point from a state in which most injuries were metabolized by the individual and their local culture without inducing long-term trauma. These injuries made sense to people in ways that let them metabolize the results without becoming traumatized. Or, their injuries were fatal. Either to the individual or to their local culture so that no lasting legacy of trauma was left behind.
We can easily imagine how these conditions could have evolved into our present circumstances where misery is compounded, leading to an ongoing heritage of trauma, creating an Edifice of Thought that holds us within banks cut so deep into the slopes of time and existence that we can no longer see any other possible landscape.
We enter a changing energy dynamic when we begin to dissolve the suffering this state of trauma has unleashed. This happens not because we create lists of enemies and keep all of our past grievances alive. It happens by looking at what happened to our ancestors with compassion and humility, seeing how each incident of trauma unrelieved led to the next and has led to the construction of this Edifice of Thought. Blame, ultimately is a form of denial of our inescapable vulnerability. We insist on finding scapegoats to convince ourselves that if not for their culpability we would be whole. Following this path we end up becoming the cause of a next generation of victims of the violence we want to believe belongs to some Other. This cannot end without our recognition that wholeness is dependent on metabolizing our past traumas and accepting our mutual vulnerability.
Imagination arises from our instinct for caution.
Imagination arises from our capacity to perceive our vulnerability and to see, to imagine, how an existing condition might lead us into danger. Imagination arose from this ability to see our vulnerability, to see it in detail, in the moment, and then come to a response.
The defended, traumatized, fragmented self cannot even notice its vulnerability; let alone see how one’s actions might make matters worse. We simply react. The changes wrought in us by our encounters with futility bring us to a point where our powers of imagination are recovered.
The legacy of action through time is the creation of meaning.
This brings us to is the point of awakening our courage.
Imagination, Meaning, Courage, once these are brought to bear we are no longer trapped within this Edifice of Thought born of trauma, feeding on misery to produce and compound our suffering.
Together these three underpinnings of life change our condition. We can begin to see what we had been blind to. We can begin to find meaning in relationship-through-action. We can begin to act with courage and disarm misery’s capacity to induce further trauma in us. At this point instead of remaining prisoners in a ruin, trapped in this Edifice of Thought, we begin to participate in the creation of a living culture.
We are still here, still feeling the results of the Enormity brought about by this Edifice of Thought, but we are profoundly changed and no longer stuck.
*This essay grows out of my confrontation over the past several months with the works of Doctors Gabor Maté and Gordon Neufeld. I’ve resisted attempting to produce a scholarly work here, laying out in detail what they have done and then making forays into some sort of synthesis. I am no scholar and it is not my place to pretend to such a work. What I’ve done is to feel out how my exposure to their thinking has created a new place for me to stand. I’ve written what I see from here. This is to acknowledge how profound an effect their influence has had on my thinking and how contact with their work has brought many of my long-term concerns to a new point of inflection.
It should also be clear to anyone who goes back over my writing for the past decade that I’ve long been interested in the dynamics of futility and the importance of recognizing deep trauma, not only in individuals but in our culture and civilization itself. Maté and Neufeld’s work has also fit in very powerfully with what I’ve found in the work of Jiddu Krishnamurti and David Bohm. The concept of an Edifice of Thought comes right out of their thinking and is also influenced by Peter Kajtar’s work in progress, The Order of Thought.
My own musings have been shaped by an ongoing dialogue of many years duration with Jeppe Dyrendom Graugaard and my correspondence and conversations with Jeffrey Shampnois.
Lastly, the felt need to append this note stems from a realization that this essay brings my work to a watershed. It feels necessary to make these acknowledgements at this time.
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17 thoughts on “The Edifice of Thought*”
This is tremendous. Very clear. And it synthesizes a great deal. And offers new visions of connectivity. And I think it does something else that is hard to identify. It warms my heart you might say. The Edifice of Thought is in some sense an ice cold structure, a generator of its own icy pathways, luring us into the deceptions of a war against its very structure, which generates the cold comforts of an illusion of independence, which is really isolation. The cold is generated by a constant fury of activity, which is really escape from trauma, which generates suffering. To stand back and notice the interesting shape of this puzzle is to begin discovering stillness, which is warmth, which begins to melt this structure, which has so deeply fused itself in our body and soul, like a predator. But it’s a predator that can’t be dealt with objectively, aggressively, because it is part of us, and requires warmth not hatred to heal. But what I wanted to say keeps eluding me. It has to do with writing itself. In isolation, writing is cold. And especially in this culture, against the tone of these distracted times, and given the fact that the Edifice of Thought can so easily hijack writing into another form of escape from trauma, another distraction or show for show’s sake. But when it’s not in isolation, when it finds its true audience, and begins to make mycelial connections, it becomes part of a conversation, a dialogue perhaps, a true art that is communal, and may be the very thing, the anti-body of warmth that melts and cracks the ice. Many people think these are only words you’ve written. But if we are initiated by communion they are profoundly powerful white magic. They remain susceptible to the black magic of the Edifice, because they are made of its very minerals. In other words, every art is vulnerable to becoming another avenue of suffering. Then it ceases to be art and becomes a corrupt thing. But together, in real communion, as part of an invisible tribe, real individuals working in harmony, but not in unison, adding new tones to an ancient symphony, then writing has real meaning, and is a propellent of right action. Writing is not dead. I take this offering you’ve made and consume it whole-heartedly. I feel its transformative power. Thank you.
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You’ve not only heard what I had to say; you’ve added tremendously with your observations about the coldness of the edifice and the warmth of what can melt through it. What we’re arriving at is…, not optimism. Not hope. Maybe this is what courage feels like?
Your point about the way writing, or Art, can become just another distraction reminds me of my realization recently that we can take any avenue that might lead us clear and turn it into a personalized prison. This is as true of a practice like Qi Gong as it is for any Art, anything that we approach while attempting to slide by without acknowledging what is at stake. This is a form of defendedness. We fail to take things seriously. Not in the business sense of the word. Not as a way to pledge allegiance to some power we wish to side with. We wish to avoid a brush with futility and the scent of our own vulnerability. A vulnerability that cannot be avoided when we approach a practice with sincerity and an openness to its necessities, a willingness to set aside our own desires and risk….
I had thought it curious that this piece seemed to want to get out yesterday and not sit any longer. You bring up independence. Reading your response I can see that this is significant. That I needed to contribute something to this Jingoistic season that talked about true independence and its connection with integration. Integration of the self and integration through relationship with each other.
In one of his talks Gabor Maté mentions that if he feels that a situation, someone he’s talking to, an audience, is closed to him he just can’t find the words to go on. It’s a symptom of his trauma. It’s a symptom of mine too. I cannot find the words without some confidence that someone is ready and willing to hear what I have to say. This is like a back-door into writing beyond isolation.
This is where your presence in our conversation has been so essential to getting to this point.
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Beautiful response. That last paragraph about not being able to find words when there is no audience is precisely my predicament also. And why writing is so necessary and so difficult for me. The need for an “audience” is not the need for a group of admirers, but for a common mind — an invisible tribe of harmonious (but not necessarily like-minded) people. Without this sacred other (as opposed to a confrontational other) we can’t fulfill our own potential. I never thought of this inability to find words without the sacred other as a symptom of trauma, but that’s interesting. This issue is a pregnant block (not a sterile problem, but a fruitful mystery of sorts) that is keeping me temporarily mum on my blog for now. I need to understand this relationship to the reader before I can shift into a new gear.
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The need for a “common mind” is much more than a symptom of trauma, as you point out. It’s just that, as with other “pregnant blocks,” it provides an entry, a “back door,” into what otherwise might become a long battle; a struggle pitting will and stamina against futility, of the sort that those who are also damaged but might be seen as “higher functioning” individuals are prone to. I’ve been fortunate in this regard in a number of ways. For instance, my low-tolerance for alcohol made it hard for me to go too deeply into alcoholism. The same with cigarettes…. Sometimes the wall of futility is strong enough and visible enough to stop us in our tracks in this way, saving us from worse harm.
Beyond this, what you say gets into the need for silence, giving ourselves room, space, time in which to let things steep and come to their own point of momentum. This is the seemingly paradoxical struggle with trying that precludes our finding what we think we are looking for. Without silence and the time, the space in which to steep in it, we can never reach what is abiding. So long as we think we must push after a result we are in disequilibrium. The truthful response to this is to withdraw into silence and trust that this acceptance of an immediate truth, “I am out of balance, reaching beyond my grasp.” will move us toward being able to notice other truths about whatever preoccupies us.
Of course, as we talked about earlier, we can turn this (in)activity into a problem too. Silencing our inner dialogue as well as our outer pronouncements can help, as again, trusting that what abides will eventually find a way to present itself, we don’t waste energy propagating suffering, in this case our own, as we get lost in self-doubt and self-recrimination.
Vulnerability, if we allow ourselves to feel its presence, keeps whispering to us, that we have better things to do with whatever time we have left.
This gets to what is essential about practice. When we remove our actions from the linearity of quid-pro-quo and expected-results-from-typical-motions we learn to sit with questions and become aware, not only of what appears as their external forms but also how the question sits with us. We act, but our actions are not purposeful in the usual sense. This allows them to hold us in relationship with our questions over time so that we can interact with them more deeply than any single moment of reaction to stimuli would ever allow. This involves a silence that is neither passive nor intentional. It does not carry an agenda.
What is beginning to show itself is how this way of practice is both a metaphor for and the essence of what it is to live. If being trapped in the Edifice of Thought, suffering and compounding suffering, is a cold form of being Un-dead then this is what it is to be alive.
One final point: You talk of understanding the relationship with the reader.
In a funny way this brings me back to how this essay began. Sick with a head cold and unable to paint I lay down and emptied out, looking for nothing more than a release of pressure from my sinuses. The first line, “Thought shapes thinking.” just came to me. I took the effort, instilled by practice and embodying respect for wherever creativity comes from, to get my notebook and write it down. At that point the statement was both the inception of what came and also the undercurrent, the stream on which it rode as the rest came into view.
At that point I had no “understanding” of much of anything. All there was was a feeling that there was a current running in whatever those three words might point to. Not to pin you down to any crude meaning of understanding, but what that word seems to expect is a precondition of certainty that has nothing to do with what we have been looking at for so long.
Stepping into a current, and not being overwhelmed, has to do with having an embodied feel for the way the current is acting on us/through us. Maybe this is what understanding could mean, stripped of contemporary assumptions?
What drove this piece, and what I feel to be the source of its warmth, was this double-sense of riding a current of there being a trajectory that is implicit in all thinking and that gets stripped from our awareness when we fall into an acceptance of Thought in all its Enormity. This removed, dissolved, any need to feel myself confident about what was coming out on the page….
This is so easily caricatured as some reliance on channeling and listening to voices from beyond…. It is much more subtle, and without being trapped in either self-imposed ignorance or cynicism that pass as poses of authenticity, we can see that.
To come back to your last line, I would suggest that we don’t need to impose any sort of expectations as gates through which action must pass to be acceptable. We find the new gear when the new gear appears. All we can do is free ourselves of assumptions, of preoccupations, of what Thought expects from us and be open to the Quality that, as Jeppe mentioned in our most recent conversation, “rushes in.”
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Right. In other words, the direct effort to rationally capture a new perception (to find certainty) is too positive in focus. Yes, under the word “understanding” a negative movement is also happening, a rushing in — all sorts of currents are active, a sense of some new possibility, moments of negative awareness of overreach and its implications. It’s a jumble, often overwhelming, but active, like a primordial soup bubbling with new strands of amino acids that seem ready to combine into some new form of admittedly lively perception. It’s not about writing as much as it is about that relationship to “the audience”, which is that self-consciousness staring us in the mirror. Writing is a way of accessing that more fundamental enigma.
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Reblogged this on Navigating the Tangible.