“How do you know you are out of the matrix?” Gerald, a 38-year old vegan sports trainer with the smoothest skin, a tight, lean torso and eyes that crinkle up when he smiles asks me as we finish doing acro-yoga in a park near Avenida Ejercito in Arequipa.
“Good question,” I say, glancing at the billboards and flashing lights as we walk and trying – and failing – to ignore a growing sense of frustration at car culture.
Gerald goes silent, smiling as we navigate a series of crossings at rush hour. From permaculture, and years of thinking about urban design, I look around as we walk and it all just seems like a giant joke.
“You know you are out of the matrix,” he says at last, “when you see the trap in everything around you.”
Gerald says trampa to be precise, a word which means trap, but also trapdoor, pitfall, cheat, snare and wangle.
I laugh. “That’s so perfect,” I grin, “I would never have been able to have put it so eloquently though.”
I am suddenly reminded of jellybeans and infinite games. Niki Harré has a great ritual at the end of her games wherein she passes around a box of red and blue jellybeans and declares, So, at one point, Morpheus offers Neo two pills, saying, “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” Neo can take the red pill which will mean he is extracted from the Matrix and will now live in the complex and difficult world of reality, or a blue pill, which will mean he stays in the matrix and it is as if the encounter never happened.
She goes on, giving the workshop participants the gift of choice, so, today, we offer you red or blue pills. The red pill brings you into awareness of how you are playing these games in your organization and how they are being played around you. The blue pill means you would rather see the world through the pre-games lens that you came in with. The red pill does not force you to play either game, as that must always be voluntary.
However, if you take the red pill, you may choose to be careful about the finite games you play and to consider their place in the infinite game. You may even choose to use the language of the infinite game in your work place and invite others to play too in whatever way feels right to you.
Gerald smiles with a deep understanding and acceptance in a way that surprises me. He’s talking about collapse – the façade, the finite game, the unexamined assumptions and all the shame and judgment we have tied up with that – but he’s pouring with love.
“Yeah,” he says, “It’s because I’m out of the matrix.”
I’ve been thinking about unexamined assumptions for a while. Maybe it started at the Generation Waking Up summer leadership training, in the Waitakere Ranges, back in 2013, when I first heard the phrase as such. Maybe it was watching Zeitgeist Addendum, in 2012, gifted to me by a fellow ecology-student on disc, and watched with utter fascination and frustration at a global system failing to function. Perhaps it was further back, in English classes with Dana Livesay, considering themes of appearance versus reality in Macbeth and King Lear and following the letter of the law versus the spirit of the law in Merchant of Venice and Chocolat. Perhaps it started while reading the Dice Man, Jungian psychology, or Krishnamurti, who writes, ever beautifully, the mind must be empty to see clearly in stark contrast to the idea that we do not live in the world. We live in the stories we tell ourselves about the world. We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.
Perhaps it started when I was four, utterly fascinated and obsessed with Peter Pan – the boy who never grew up – only realising years later what innocence and forever young really means: being able to see the world anew, everyday, in every moment, without the lens of memory, judgment, opinion, story, world view, belief. With no lenses. At the age of 11, I read Peter Pan cover-to-cover, curled up in my wardrobe – forbidden stories and reading, even at that age – and cried and cried. Peter did not remember who Wendy was, who the Lost Boys were, what Neverland was. Peter did not remember much, to be honest, and it was utterly glorious as it was heartbreaking for those still living in the world of the mind, rather than living in the world itself. He would wake up every morning and everything would be magic, wondrous, the infinite game.
I’m amazed at how many bodies of work there are around un-learning these unexamined assumptions, from Augustus Boal’s movement-body work of Theatre of the Oppressed which we use to ‘sculpt’ and ‘un-sculpt’ postures representing humans enacting certain stories, ideologies or dogmas to the UNESCO 9th Youth Forum’s innovative Futures Knowledge Lab methodology, which I had the privilege to facilitate last year. And there is the GenUp work, too, of course, where we devote an entire quarter of the work to unexamined assumptions.
When I was running WakeUps in Bolivia, one of the things that frustrated me most was the lax attitude to time there. I would put in ten to fifteen hours of time to plan for a single three-hour workshop in a two-week series of intensives, only to find that approximately 80% of the supposed ‘top young leaders’ from eight high schools would turn up one hour late, even as much as 1.5 hours late. When I mentioned respect, honouring one another’s time and the fact that I was doing this from the bottom of my heart, because I loved this work and this country to bits and needing some mutuality and reciprocity to the office ladies at the Centre for Education in Rurrenabaque, they would just look at me, palms up in the air, and say, none too unapologetically, así son. Así son aquí.
It drove me nuts.
Yely tells me that on her trip to Israel, the men in the shops, the cafés and resturants would refuse to talk to her and talk instead to her mother. The conversation would always begin along the lines of, I have this cousin or I have a brother or I have a son…and end with a direct proclamation: I offer you [this many] camels for your daughter.
When one of the men offered Yely’s mother 1000 camels, she was torn between laughter and confusion. How much is each camel worth, she demanded.
$10,000 USD each, madam, he replied.
She whipped out a calculator immediately and began figuring out what that would mean. Ten million dollars was a lot of money for a Peruvian family.
Then she would declare that was insufficient or that her daughter was not for sale, with the two barging out of the shop and cackling at the top of their lungs, almost unable to breathe.
Así son, Yely said to me in Puno one rainy evening in her house by Lake Titicaca, the day before we visit the totara reed floating islands, that’s just the way things are.
I wonder: how many things do we take for being that’s just the way things are and let slide?
I know that when I was in India, poverty was ‘just the way things are’ so became desensitised to it. Westernisation there – likewise.
Deb Johnson explains it perfectly on her piece in the Pachamama Alliance’s UP2US GameChanger Intensive:
We all have a lot of unexamined assumptions. And the unexamined assumption is the way that there’s some idea or concept, and we think to ourselves, “that’s just the way that it is.” And the more that you can get people to accept something as just the way that it is, the less likely they are to challenge it.
So, for keepers of the status quo, for people who are in the positions or the power to be able to have control over the systems and the structures, it is within their interest to have people feel so disempowered that they can’t do anything about it. “It’s just the way that it is” becomes our convenient excuse to not take action. “It’s just the way that it is” becomes our “get out of jail free” card, so to speak. It means, I don’t have to assume any personal responsibility for whatever it is. It’s so big, it’s so great, it’s so grand. And no matter what it is that we do, it’s not going to make any difference.
That’s where we get apathy. And that notion, it’s just the way that it is, is the very fuel of the status quo. And you cannot change the status quo as long as you are still living in the paradigm of, that’s just the way that it is. In my head right now, I’m seeing Bobby Kennedy when he said, some people see things that have been and ask, why? Others see things that have never been and ask, why not? And it isn’t until we have that passion of the “why not”, do we ever take action.
What I contend is that if something really just is the way that it is, if it really is unchangeable, then it would be sustainable, and it would be beneficial to all. If it’s not sustainable, then ultimately, we have to do something about it. Pain pushes until vision pulls. So the only question, really, is, is what’s going to motivate us to make the change? Are we going to do it because we feel like we have no other choices, or are we going to wait until it gets so bad that we’re desperate? Or can we, out of vision, set an intent? You know, get it, get ahead of it, and make the conscious choice to make the change.
EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE LIBERATED
Everybody hurts whenever there are imbalances. Everybody hurts whenever there is oppression. The oppressor is actually oppressed by their own oppression. If you do not know that there is sufficiency, if you are living under that there-is-not-enoughness, which is a paradigm that seems to permeate a lot of consciousness around the globe, if you’re living fundamentally in that, you are in fear. And you’re constantly trying to do something to hedge, to secure your position, and to protect it.
But if you’re really believing in the not-enoughness, you’re never comfortable with whatever it is that you have. You can never have enough to feel safe. There always has to be more. There always has to be something else that you have to do, to make sure that you stay ahead, that you’re not going to fall behind. That’s a burden. That’s a burden. It becomes a malady of the soul.
One of my big mentors was Martin Luther King, Jr. And he spoke of this all the time, in saying that he wasn’t just there to liberate the poor, but that the very consciousness that it takes to oppress people is not a happy, safe, fulfilled way of being in the world. You’re living in fear. Everybody needs to be liberated.
The corner-stall lady selling emoliente in Cerro Colorado tells me the telephone girls at Claro talk in high voices, don’t look at you in the eye, talk on the phone while serving you because they are bored. I ask – why. She says, they don’t leave the house. They spend all their time in front of a computer screen or another screen. They’re overstimulated, desensitised and hence cosmically bored.
In other words – there is never ‘enough.’ They are not in awe, nor awake, open.
You’d think you’d travel and become more open. But actually, what does being more open really mean? Accepting different kinds of reality, different ways of life and flowing with them? Well, yes, but then we also hazard being accidentally and unconsciously stuck in this paradigm of this is just the way things are. So it can be so easy – especially when travelling this slow – to take things in stride, take things as they come, forget what matters to us and a wholly different way of being or the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. I’m amazed at how quickly I’ve gotten used to Arequipa traffic, for example. When I first came back from Europe, I missed it all terribly – the cobblestone streets, the bikes everywhere, the jam-packed roads buzzing with life and beauty and kindness – coming to Lima was horrible. Spaghetti six-lane highways, skyscrapers, casinos, billboards – it felt like being in wannabe USA. But – despite being mortified to leave the silence and nature of Chakapata Ecolodge in Colca Canyon – I can now walk in very congested areas of Arequipa in the sunshine quite happily. Why? Because I’m blocking it out. Because I’m accepting it. Because it’s just the way things are.
When people are in their 9-5pm office jobs, it’s harder to question. When you’re in the game, it’s harder to question the game – hence harder to fight and harder to leave. When you’re out of the game, you look at everyone who’s playing and think, gee, how ludicrous it all is. I walked through university after finishing my degree, confused, thinking what are all these crazy people doing with their lives? Andrew Saul says, in the film FoodMatters, “The only way to win is not to play.” So I refused to play the (finite) game of money, economics and even entrepreneurship for status, social stability, fame, power, and wealth. I couldn’t bear going to Management Consulting Club (MCC) sessions, where the whole goal – assumed from the outset – for any enterprise was ‘long term sustainability and wealth.’ However, MCC taught me one important thing, if anything – our golden rule: question everything. Don’t take anything for granted. Is there a difference, then, in being in conscious acceptance – where we have questioned, conversed with, and accepted – and unconscious acceptance, where we are simply letting things slide because that is ‘just the way things are’? Or is acceptance, well, acceptance, point blank?
When Gerald says that you realise you’re out of the matrix when you see the trap (‘trampa’) in everything, I take it to mean when you see past the masks, the walls, the barriers we have enacted.
Why struggle to open a door between us, when the whole wall is an illusion?
It means, on a certain level, to see the humanity in people, the depth, the reality or who we really are or our highest potential, as Otto Scharmer also writes of the process of Presencing and Theory U. Somehow, I feel that people sometimes see being ‘out of the matrix’ as scary, depressing or cold. As if they will lose touch with ‘reality’ (read: this version of reality, the finite game, whatever it may be), lose touch with the people and connections they have in ‘this world,’ be alienated, be seen as loonies, radicals, crazy. And of course, sometimes it can be a lonely path. Baksho says to me, one rainy Auckland evening, you know why people like you and I often feel alone? Because we don’t belong. We don’t belong in this world. We don’t fit in. But that is why we are leaders, Nalini. Because we are creating the world we can fit into.
There is this unexamined assumption that you have to ‘be in the game to change the game’ or ‘be in society (for society to take you seriously enough) to change society.’ I heard this one over and over from my father, growing up. To a certain extent, it’s true – the first three parts of Theory U are, after all, about observe, observe, observe, which means shutting up and listening deeply to what a community, an organisation or context is really thinking, feeling and wanting instead of jumping in guns blazing with your own idea of what revolution is needed and changing things top-down, as we see too many NGOs and volunteers working abroad attempt to do. It’s one of the big reasons I’m not here in South America to campaign or to fundamentally ‘change’ anything in a ‘project-based’ manner – I just want to sit back, eyes in eyes, and listen. To do that, I have to enter their world to a certain extent, and let go of whatever my ideas of a more beautiful world might be.
For me, being out of the matrix doesn’t necessarily mean being totally out of – physically and geographically Society-As-Usual – you can never escape. You can never leave the world; you are always in the world, in this world. It doesn’t, actually, even mean running away to live in the jungle – much as I am tempted to do this at times. So the first reason why I think that unexamined assumption that you have to be ‘in the game to change the game’ doesn’t make sense: we cannot get outside the system anyway – we are all interconnected. What we mean, perhaps, by being ‘outside’ is rejecting some key elements of the system which people think are fundamental and are the system. I still breathe the same air. I cycle on the same concrete. I use money to buy my organic food from the co-operative. So in a way, rejecting (or being outside of) ‘this’ system is about embracing the BIGGER system. The Empire sits within the Earth Community after all – we just pretend like it doesn’t. Niki Harré often writes that many finite games can exist within the infinite game (but not vice versa) but we could potentially argue all finite games actually, truly sit within the infinite game and that we just pretend like they don’t.
Second, being in the muck of the system stops us from reflecting, observing, presencing – we’re in the cycle of absencing – or, conversely put, presencing with the ego-system of ourselves and this economy. Being outside therefore means being more present with the future that is wanting to emerge. In some ways, it also means being able to therefore act faster and with more clarity – if we see the system behavior of Business-As-Usual as an entity with momentum, stepping outside of this system signifies moving outside of the behemoth of inertia that it also carries with it. So we can think, feel, create, imagine, design much more quickly, outside of the limiting system constraints or existing operational fabric (read: assumptions) of the current model. It’s why week-long GenUp trainings are in beautiful hills or oceans far away from the rest of humanity. It’s why MKPers take off to the woods.
Interestingly, Shaun Chamberlain writes on dark optimism and radical change:
And I think Dark Mountain addresses that to an extent. The argument we hear again and again in environmentalism is, “Should we be working for radical change, or should we be working within the existing paradigms?” So, people will say, “Well, you know, we don’t have time to wait for a revolution. Everything has to happen now, so we’ve got to work within the existing paradigms.” And then other people say, “Well, you know, if we don’t have a radical, fundamental revolution, then what’s the point, because we’re just addressing symptoms.” And both of those arguments, I think, are completely valid. Yet, you hear people arguing back and forth and back and forth about this and never finding resolution. They can’t admit that they’re actually both right.
There isn’t time for radical change, AND we need radical change. And so, if you can never accept that actually maybe they’re both right, and that we have to ask some really deeper questions about what that means, then you just end up with people over here having a nice career saying this, and people over there having a nice career saying that. And you never actually get to the deeper truth.
A question we often get asked is: will the shift happen fast enough? And if so, then surely we have to be inside the system to understand it and overthrow it. So I have well-meaning, compassionate, world-changing friends who go to work in big companies, high rise buildings and profit-hungry enterprises to ‘understand the enemy’ – and to do so well, really well, you have to be so utterly present to it that your own judgments, thoughts, opinions drop away: that is what presencing means, after all. And in doing so, they risk being caught in their company or non-governmental organisation’s version of this is just the way things are and the inertia that comes with that. I’ve heard it and then some, “Oh, I’ll get a soul-destroying job in this company/organisation to make enough money to do what I really want – travel, volunteer, change the world. When I understand how their brains work I’ll be able to fight them better.” But that’s the problem exactly: it’s Level 2 Listening, at the level of debate, and it’s not about fighting, it’s not about proving who is right and wrong, it’s not about convincing rationally. That’s the work of the jackal and of the head. It traps us. And it lulls us into a false sense of passivity that we can bide our time earning money or gaining knowledge in such organisations while we supposedly ‘plot our escape or revolt’ – which can often never happen. The truth of the matter is that you don’t need to enter their finite game to understand their heart and their humanity: it’s innate, it’s intuitive and it’s a kind of sensing every human, just by their being human, is already capable of. And the longer you play their finite game divorced from heart – or the language of the giraffe – the more you risk alienating yourself from your own.
But the question of fast change versus small steps becomes moot anyway when you change the system constraints or boundary conditions. What seems like giant leaps for mankind in the current system are actually very small, slow and simple solutions with a different set of boundary conditions, values or worldviews. When I think about permaculture or healthy eating or even just transitioning car-culture Auckland to a central city full of cycles, it seems unthinkable under the current system. But that’s the problem exactly: it’s actually decidedly straightforward practically and we forget that when we are caught in the psychological inertia of the current matrix. There is actually very little that is difficult about juicing and smoothie-making and salads and not eating anything out of a box, tin can, tube, plastic or bottle or that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise, but we umm and we ahh and we get angst because we’re still thinking from inside the current matrix. A friend and fellow change agent, Shruthi Vijaykumar, tells me of her experience going to the gamechanging Better World Ed in India and living and working with the core team. You mean, you don’t shower everyday? she asks the team point blank. They respond: you mean, you do? What seems unthinkable under certain conditions is the norm under others. And it isn’t that decidedly removed – or much harder – from the currently matrix anyway: we just pretend that it is to avoid changing.
Thirdly, being outside the system doesn’t mean you cannot relate to the humanity in people. Being out of the matrix seems scary because it seems like an utter disconnection, a voluntary dismemberment or amputation from what we value, love or what brings us joy. But this system crushes the humanity from people. So being out of the matrix means quite the contrary – it means relentlessly and unabashedly connecting with the depth and humanity and reality in people, no matter what the circumstances, no matter how many walls and masks we have to pull away to make it happen. It also doesn’t mean living in angry, bitter rejection of the way things are on the one end, as I write here on veganism and fundamentalism, nor passive acceptance of the way things are on the other – it means living in awareness, loving awareness, even. As Niki Harré says of taking the red pill, it doesn’t mean you choose to play only the finite game or infinite game, but that you live in awareness of which game you are playing at any one point in time…or which game you are being played in.
Fourth, when the shift happens, then we NEED people building parallel systems. That’s where I see in large part permaculture comes in – it’s a conscious and intelligent stepping to the side, a hey-let’s-not-try-to-unfuck-what-is-past-saving-and-just-create-this-beauty-off-to-the-side-instead so when they wake up – and they will wake up – there’s an alternative, there’s a well-thought out, designed, prototyped and iteratively improved context-based solution waiting patiently on the sidelines when the current matrix goes up in flames.
“In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.”
– Buckminster Fuller
Fifth, why do we keep using the language of ‘paradigm shift’ in a singular sense – shifting from THE old paradigm to THE new paradigm – isn’t that the definition of fundamentalism – being stuck in one heart, one mind, one will? In the UP2US Intensive, one of the speakers says we are living in a conversation, a story. And to change the world, we need to change the story we tell ourselves about the world.
And there’s a part of me, the storyteller, the artist, that loves this idea and that really feels that the story we have been telling ourselves about our own gifts and humanity is all wrong, as David Korten also writes:
The Story in Our Head
The primary barrier to achieving our common dream is in fact a story that endlessly loops in our heads telling us that a world of peace and sharing is contrary to our nature—a naïve fantasy forever beyond reach. There are many variations, but this is the essence:
It is our human nature to be competitive, individualistic, and materialistic. Our well-being depends on strong leaders with the will to use police and military powers to protect us from one another, and on the competitive forces of a free, unregulated market to channel our individual greed to constructive ends. The competition for survival and dominance—violent and destructive as it may be—is the driving force of evolution. It has been the key to human success since the beginning of time, assures that the most worthy rise to leadership, and ultimately works to the benefit of everyone.
I call this our Empire story because it affirms the system of dominator hierarchy that has held sway for 5,000 years (see YES! Summer 2006: 5,000 Years of Empire). Underlying the economic and scientific versions of this story is a religious story which promises that enduring violence and injustice in this life will be rewarded with eternal peace, harmony, and bliss in the afterlife.
To reinforce the Empire myth, corporate media bombard us with reports of greed and violence, and celebrate as cultural heroes materially successful, but morally challenged politicians and corporate CEOs who exhibit a callous disregard for the human and environmental consequences of their actions.
Never mind the story’s moral contradictions and its conflict with our own experience with caring and trustworthy friends, family, and strangers. It serves to keep us confused, uncertain, and dependent on establishment-sanctioned moral authorities to tell us what is right and true. It also supports policies and institutions that actively undermine development of the caring, sharing relationships essential to responsible citizenship in a functioning democratic society. Fortunately, there is a more positive story that can put us on the road to recovery. It is supported by recent scientific findings, our daily experience, and the ageless teachings of the great religious prophets.
But what of moving beyond story, beyond paradigms, beyond beliefs? What about stopping seeing the world through lenses and starting seeing the world as it is? Is it even possible? If so, can we do it? Isn’t that what being outside the matrix really means?
It’s clear, we are living in challenging times. Many people around the world are waking up to the lunacy of the matrix, and are realising that they are brilliant and the Earth is hiring and that we are wired to care and connect. But in times rife with conflict, destruction and renewal, it is the black jaguar who rules, and it is harder to chose the way of the heart (the giraffe, the infinite game, as it were) as Arkan Lushwala writes in The Time of the Black Jaguar:
I am of the opinion that talking about change is good, but does not create change. According to what I have seen, real change happens in three different ways. The first way is a gift from Spirit, an enormous blessing that comes to us unexpectedly, in a dream or in some extraordinary encounter with a being or an event that awakens our mind. I consider this kind of gift to be like a “loan” from Spirit, so we may have the necessary spiritual “capital” to start doing our own work. The second way is the way of the black jaguar, which comes and says “it is enough” and destroys the prisons where we feel safe and comfortable so we may wake up. The third way is what in the Andes we call Munay, the will of the heart. This is the path of will, that makes us persevere in the development of new habits and constantly seek for encounters with the sacred sources that support or awakening.
In times of renewal, like the one we are in now, I see that change happens for people directed from any of these three sources; but, given that we are running out of time, the prevalent way is the fastest: the one of the black jaguar. And even when I believe this to be true, I was instructed to always keep choosing the path of my heart’s will.
To be waiting for blessings to come and change me, or for an attack of the black jaguar to come and “kill” me, my ego and all my bad habits, leaves me like a leaf at the mercy of the winds; it makes my life swing from blissfulness to pain, over and over again. But the swings are less if I develop my own will. Instead of being at the mercy of the forces that come to wake me up, I prefer to choose to wake up and do my own work. Doing so will not stop the forces that bless or shake us, but I have experienced many times how different it is when these forces arrive and my will is in its place: I have the opportunity to do my best to dance with them, to feel a partnership and collaboration with them, indeed of feeling totally dependent on what they do to me. I feel this is similar to the difference between being a baby and being an adult. When we are babies, we totally depend on our parents to stay alive; when we are adults, we may still have our parents and receive their help and guidance, but in a very different way because now we are responsible for the condition of our own lives.
Responsibility. That’s all it comes down to. Choosing. Choosing the way of the heart. I have many friends who I would say are bright, intelligent, deeply feeling human beings. They are – or at least, have the capacity to be – extremely conscious and awake, also. They know about the matrix. They recognise it when I speak of it, and some of them can even talk passionately back about this feature or that feature of the matrix and how much more wonderful the world might be if we did things in this way or that way. But, as far as the Kübler-Ross model of the great shift that we are seeing in the matrix is concerned, they are living in denial. Even the ones working on great social projects in Europe, Oceania, you name it, say to me, “I don’t want to read the news. It’s bad, it’s always bad. I don’t want to know about how fragile the economic system really is. I don’t want to read another article on collapse. I am going to focus on the positives, and I am going to keep pottering away on this campaign, this conference with a big smile on my face because we can’t all very well be living in fear and depression and doom and gloom can we? We know that tactic doesn’t work – we already tried it, and scaremongering doesn’t help anyone.” It sounds both somewhat like ‘waiting for the blessings to come and change me’ or – if that doesn’t happen, then waiting for the ‘black jaguar to come and ‘kill’ me, my ego and my bad habits’ – in effect, that I’ll only change / become fully aware when shit really hits the fan.
I was recently sent an excerpt of Dmitry Orlov’s review of Baker’s Collapsing Consciously:
“The .. mind .. field in which many people are trapped defines happiness by positive thinking, which “…has become an integral aspect of corporate culture.” (p. 32) “I believe that since the end of World War II, positive thinking has become the quasi-religion of industrial civilization, and the failure to maintain it has become tantamount to treason.” (p. 33) This almost totalitarian emphasis on happiness and positive thinking amounts to a system of enforced stupidity. To Baker, what matters is not happiness but joy and not positive thinking but meaning: “Happiness comes and goes, but meaning doesn’t. The truth, of course, is that we can find meaning in experiences that are anything but happy…. Finding meaning doesn’t necessarily lift our mood or make us happy. But it does amplify our existence, making it less than completely trivial. To find meaning, we have to confront sadness, loss, and, ultimately, death. This is why the message of collapse is almost universally rejected: “To speak of collapse, peak oil, demise, downturns, economic depression, or unraveling is anathema, because it rattles the rice paper-thin bulwarks we have constructed around darkness and death.” This is rather at odds with the dominant culture: “It’s so easy to disregard death, especially if one is an [Anglo-]American.” (p. 55) (The English tend to regard death as the ultimate embarrassment, and their cultural baggage is unfortunately still with us.) Add to it a dollop of positive thinking and sprinkle on the “New Agey mindset,” and you get people who act “as if human beings are the only species that matter and as if the most crucial issue is that those humans are able to feel good about themselves as the world burns.” (p. 55) Such people will not fare well: “The collapse of industrial civilization will be challenging for those who have been preparing for it; for those who haven’t, it will involve massive trauma.” (p. 29)
When we move out of the matrix and watch it crumble, we don’t know how it’ll turn out. We don’t know how fast, how big, how far we will fall. But, as Joanna Macy says, it’s the knife edge of uncertainty that brings out our greatest power. There are no guarantees – there never were, anyway. So it is not certainty – be it of Business-As-Usual or the Alternative(-As-Usual) – but uncertainty that brings out our greatest potential, our greatest humanity. And confronting our emotions and needs as they are, head-on, be they grief or sadness or devastation and recognising these are two sides of the same coin – blessed be those that mourn – we wouldn’t mourn what we did not deeply care for, that love and sadness are two sides of the same coin.
Part of moving out of the matrix then, is also recognising this paradox.
And you? What is ‘the matrix’ for you? How do you know when you are out of the matrix? In what moments do you notice it most? What does it feel like?