What is the best way I can contribute to (a) my well being and (b) the well being of our society? It is not by following the news everyday.
There is a lot happening politically. There are many people handling it all, in politics, news, culture at large. Some of this is good. Some bad. Some useless venting. It is up to each person to decide how to navigate this.
But one thing is seriously wrong: the idea, assumed by some on the left and right, that if one doesn’t have an immediate opinion on the latest news, then one is being complicit in the injustices of the other side.
This attitude forces all reflection onto the latest, newest issue. It equates stepping back to look at the bigger picture as caving to the other side.
Ultimately it is this need for instant impact which derails conversation and critical thinking.
I feel the force of this. Sometimes I log onto newsites or twitter every hour or half hour, needing the next hit of the latest reaction. Whether this is good or not depends on what one wants and one’s position. If you are Jake Tapper or George Conway, perhaps it is necessary given the role you are playing and the effect you can have.
But if you are me, someone just absorbing the news but without any outlet for what to do about it, it is harmful to my well being. I am not Jake Tapper. Or George Conway. Or Ta-Nehasi Coates. Or a modern day Hannah Arendt.
I have to ask myself what is my role in society. How does my well being coincide with the well being of society?
I am an intellectual shaman.
There have been shamans since the beginning of human communities. Their task is to look at the biggest picture possible about the direction of society and to create the intellectual, emotional and spiritual energies required help the society move in the best direction.
Shamans do this by first overcoming their own limited consciousness and so by detaching their immediate, local, personal concerns from the concerns of the society as a society. This detachment is transcendence.
The nature of thought is such that any person thinking assumes that just in virtue of thinking they achieve transcendence. Hence most everyone, minus those lack confidence, assume that they see the big picture, they see where society is and where it should be going, who is right and who is wrong.
Shamans though are the people who work on themselves to get beyond this surface feeling of transcendence to a deeper reality of transcendence. Who are able to separate immediate, knee jerk reaction from thoughtful, measured response. Who therefore might seem to the world as if they are being complicit or thinking too much or unconcerned about the immediate pain others are in right now or as if they just don’t care. But who actually are none of this, but are only a stand for a deeper perspective.
The shaman’s greatest work is the transformation of mood.
People usually fight, argue and don’t see eye to eye not mainly because they have different values or ideas or desires. It’s because they have different moods.
Giuliani is outraged by what Obama is unmoved by. Warren is horrified by what Pence is ok with. The moods function as spheres of protection which tell us who is our own and who is not.
Most people, even great politicians like Obama or Reagan, struggle to transform the mood. Their greatness lies in capturing the mood. That is what Trump did. He captured a mood and became its personification. The democrats are struggling to respond because they haven’t yet been moved by a single mood which can be personified by their leader. That leader will emerge in due course.
But even when the leader emerges, be with Warren or Biden or whoever in the next year or the next four years after that, they are still not aiming to shift the mood at the deepest level of human consciousness.
That hasn’t been the task of politicians. That we expect politicians to lead on all human ills speaks actually to the leveling of our human awareness.
Christ wasn’t a politician. Nor was the Buddha. Nor Lao Tzu. Even those who were more in the realm of politics in their day, like Confucius, usually weren’t successful in their day.
Politics isn’t the cutting edge of human consciousness. It never is. The cutting edge is always within oneself. Political gains or losses depend on chance and the shifting winds. Tying yourself to politics is like tying yourself to mad horse and thinking that you can control it. It is in its nature uncontrollable.
The shaman sees this. And so gains control by focusing on where the deeper levers of control are – namely, within ones own awareness.
Famous people look like they are controlling what is happening out in the world. They seem to have power. Whereas I don’t. Others listen to them. Not to me. They can afford great doctors and maybe even in the next century live for 150 years. I might get cancer or get run over tomorrow.
Is the big tree that is falling in greater control of itself than the small plant growing next to it?
Bigness isn’t a sign of control. It creates an illusion of control.
I can’t spend $10,000 on dinner. Jeff Bezos can. So he controls that which I can’t. I can list a million things like this that Bezos controls that I can’t.
I can’t call up generals or talk to world leaders. Trump can. Obama can. I can list an indefinite number of things like this that they control that I don’t.
Can Bezos or Trump control their emotions? Can they control their mood? Or grasp the unfolding of the human consciousness down the millennia?
Why would we think they can? Because they have money? Fame? Because their days are filled with important meetings?
Or due to this seeming asymmetry: Because their choices affect my life whereas my choices don’t affect their life?
This is an illusion. Which majority of people fall for but which the shaman overcomes.
The ordinary person sees Bezos, Trump, Obama, Modi, Brad Pitt and Einstein and thinks: they are better than me. More a person than I am. More fully alive. Leading more meaningful lives.
The shaman sees them and thinks: they are no different from me. The things they have are good but not necessary for a full life. They don’t give necessarily a bigger picture on life. Or an entrance into the heightened awareness which is available to everyone.
The non shamans define people by their outer appearance. The poor non shaman thinks he is poor, that is who he is. The rich non shaman thinks he is rich, that is who he is. The capitalist non shaman thinks this difference between the rich and poor is justified. The Marxist non shaman thinks the difference is wrong and the poor need to overtake the rich.
Of course the poor need help. But the shaman sees that the deepest engine of the help begins not out there but within his own heart and mind and consciousness.
What creates lasting change isn’t pushing the rock of change up the mountain of an uncaring world. It’s the shaman’s energy spreading from person to person so that new, previously unimagined possibilities arise and become second nature.
What needs to change primarily isn’t just our material circumstances or social institutions. But deeper beyond that, our very way of looking at the world and our perceptions and modes of awareness. And at the core one’s own way of looking at oneself.