A pillar of a vital culture is an active interplay between the forms people use and the meanings they contain.
A definite point on the road of collapse has been passed when these distinctions are lost. This happens in both directions. People lose track of what things mean to them and those who make things lose track of the meanings their products carry. This disconnection with meaning in two directions calls forth the violence of separation. Creates channels for the shadow – all that is being denied – to manifest itself.
Meaning cannot remain static. Meaning occurs at the point of connection where we meet the reality of our situation. It is only by carving meaning that we create a viable understanding of our reality; and only by the ways our meanings unfold in our actions and through the artifacts we engage in making and using that we may successfully inhabit our world.
Either what we make fulfills our meaning. Or, if we forget this, lose track of what has meaning for us, what has value – the quality of meaning we give to something – then our meaninglessness condemns us to destruction.
When we misplace value as badly as we have we lose track of what it means to be alive.
There is only one way out, back…, forward: Integrating our actions within the three broad realms of human experience: art, craft, and the realm of the sacred. It is through these practices and their embeddedness in what it takes, what it means, to be alive, that we discover vital meaning and find ways to populate our lives with actions and artifacts that hold and carry meaning.
This is so fundamental, so simple at its core, that it appears a truism. The gap between our behavior and these simple truths show us how far we’ve gone wrong.
Meaning cannot be imposed. If we do not understand the language of meaning: how it is forged; how it is embedded in every action and artifact – whether we understand it or even acknowledge it or not – it will come through. If we are fluent with the language of meaning and clear in the ways we make distinctions among values arising out of our search we are informed and invigorated by our immersion in an environment of meaning. If we are blind to the whole thing we remain trapped in a world of shadow-meaning, shadow projection, and shadow manifestation.
Trapped in a shadow-box, at war with ourselves and the world.
The language of meaning works with symbols, both above and below a threshold of awareness. Symbols are legible when we understand how they work. Symbols have their own languages underneath the language of meaning. Some of their sense can sometimes be conscious. A lot of their sense is always unconscious. This is part of the reason why there is no technique to be memorized, codified, repeated, or scaled; that can bring us into a meaningful relation with symbols. It is only through exposure to the various practices that engage with symbol and the development of heuristics and a navigational sense concerning symbols: how they work; how they lead us in particular directions or steer us in others; it is only through this prolonged interplay and relationship with symbols and their incarnation within our lives as we live them that we can keep from being victims of our delusions.
For this to happen we need to disabuse ourselves of the divisions we accept between the various roles involved in making things. We need to understand that we don’t simply make things. What we make embodies a way-of-life – or a way-of-death. AND, a way-of-life is not the end-point of swallowing an ideology or system of belief – badly remembered and poorly understood. A way-of-life is only visible as a trail, a wake to use a nautical metaphor, left behind us as we live our lives. This trail, this wake, does not show us some fixed point towards which we are willfully marching. It shows us where we have been and this awareness illuminates how we continue, discovering where we are, heading in this direction instead of some other, navigating….
This does not mean that we must each be artist, philosopher, and priest – along with builder, designer, and then user of all that we need in our lives. Some will gravitate to one aspect or another. Some will have gifts more suited to one role or another. What is necessary is that as a society, as a culture, we all acknowledge the interpenetration of these roles and aspects of existence. That we are all as aware as we might be of these interconnections. That we each maintain a relation to all these parts of what it means to be alive. It is in this awareness of how meaning is embodied that organic structures – not institutions, fossilized structures meant to capture a power-advantage and hold onto it – can come into being and act as vessels of our transformation, helping us navigate our lives.
If we weren’t as alienated from this entire process we would not be so enthralled by the hubris of invention, fantasizing that innovation without any thought to context will create a viable culture out of thin air.
We can no more control how and what we mean by imposing new structures on our way-of-life than we can be successful at re-imposing old ones. A viable culture comes into being. It is born, not manufactured.
As with so many of our difficulties it is essential that we come to understand how profound these limitations are. How fraught our position. How little we can actually control. It is only in this way that we can free ourselves of futility. Only by recognizing how much of what we’re used to doing is futile because it assumes a greater understanding, a greater effective volition, than is ever possible. We stand here attempting to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps. Like toddlers unaware of the impossibility of such a raw blend of ignorance and will. It is only by recognizing what cannot be done that we can begin to do the work of maturing into being able to put our energies into what can be done.
At the heart of such an endeavor is a realization that, Everything is in everything. That when we work towards any kind of invigoration we work on all of them. Each experience throws illumination on every experience. We exist within inexorable and enormous forces and that just as they can seem to be forcing us towards mega-death and destruction when we are lost in projection they can also align beneath us when we are working to further vitality and increase our integration with existence.
At this moment our situation can be stated as a choice between remaining stuck in cycles of chasing after power – either by active or passive complicity with the culture of death – or we can work on forging aspects that may cohere into a new culture. We’ve been stuck, fighting the old structures, believing in the power of external enemies, and aiming our efforts at defeating them. This only perpetuates the ongoing pattern. We remain trapped, reacting to shadows. Engaging in practices that bring us into relation with meaning and how it is found, expressed, embodied within the living symbols and representations of a living culture takes us out of reaction and puts us in a relationship with our realities. Over time this grows into a viable culture.
As clever primates with facile fingers we make things. Making is at the heart of who we are. For most of our span on earth we have made things out of our engagement with the totality of what it means to be alive. Our artifacts embodied our values and held our meanings and shaped our lives through a relationship with a whole world as it appeared to us through symbols. It’s only been a blink of an eye during the last ten thousand years that we’ve become enthralled by a power-chasing belief in arbitrary technologies.
Products resulting from technologies are not the same as artifacts created out of an active engagement with values. They cannot help but have meaning; but the type of engagement we have with making and meaning forced on us by our technological habit blinds us to what we are actually doing and why. We think we are chasing power so we can be better. Both the effects of the things we have made through our belief in technology and the way this process has allowed us to be tricked into believing that chasing after power can ever be a viable means to anything but escalating destruction have kept us on our present, suicidal course.
The attitudes and habits of thought and action that have arisen during this detour from living seem powerful. They are strewn across every aspect of how we try to hold ourselves together today. Counter-intuitively, our greatest gift is an increasing recognition that we cannot continue to hold it together this way. The way to further and build on this gift is to leave the old forms it attempts to impose on us and begin to work on developing our capacities through practices that re-engage us with vitality and what it means to live. Learning how to read our forms we can begin to see more clearly why the forms surrounding us today do nothing but sap us of energy and blind us to the destruction that is their only reward.
Reading forms, and taking meaning seriously again, we begin to participate in building a culture that transforms us and carries us forward.
Reading forms we see that going forward has nothing to do with the perversions of belief now aligned with a cult of progress.
Reading forms we tap into vitality, gaining strength from an integrating energy that realigns us away from our allegiance to a perverse destruction.