15. ON LIVING BRAVELY
Who is The Watcher?
You need courage to study each moment for its readiness. The moment for seeding intentions may come only after brutal contests between rival intentions in opposing self-states. It takes practice and training to set your interventions into the slipstream of time with minimal disruption during the disintegration of the personality. To accomplish these tasks requires the presence of a least-operative self, the Watcher. Only the Watcher can play all possibilities and yet be able to select one at the right moment.
To find the Watcher is an acquired not an inborn skill. You must seek out Who is left of me when I am lost in the turning drama. You must ask, What is it in me that feels the deconstructed scintilla of subtle sensations? Who does the intending? Who has perspective on a sub-personality while in it? Who recognizes a fantasy while having it? Who is the “me” that is there when “I” am gone? The answer: the Watcher.
I experience it as a bare center of awareness left over in the depatterning of the passing rules (See # 76-81.) Do not confuse this still-point for the part of you that makes the ego’s choices. It is smaller than that. I know it as a part of me that sits quietly by, observing other parts of me, small because it makes no claims and goes along with all changes, a kind of eye of calm in every storm, quiet but keen and alert, a way of being in the world characterized by equanimity, intelligence, dispassion, steadiness, imperturbability – a self but not too much of a self, a relatively selfless self, the least operative self still capable of attending, accompanying a decision and joining an action.
I first experienced the denuded I-sense in my teenage years. I discovered that when I was in a state of low arousal some part of me inside was always brightly awake, alert, energized, dancing with vigor and watching. Moreover, with this, I came to believe I had encountered the core, the inner eye, the place of the observer in me, and I called it the Watcher.
I noticed that when we focus on something and we are aware we are focusing on something, neither the thing we focus on, nor our focusing is the Watcher. But the part of us that is aware we are focusing on something is the Watcher. It watches caring, but it doesn’t care. No joy, no grief touches the Watcher. But the Watcher watches the joy and grief. However, the Watcher is not remote or indifferent; it is interested. Curiosity it has, and mild amusement. It is emotionally thin, uses few words, and mainly keeps quiet, but it can issue verbal commands and can intervene in action. In this least operative self, we have the clearest vision to recognize the shifting phases of the causal texture of our surroundings while having the least susceptibility to being swept away by it. It takes this small self to navigate the turbulence of the turnings and to seed intentions with proper timing.
When it finds the watcher, the I-sense links to presentness itself. But presentness is not a simple state. It too passes. The Watcher functions with the same state dependency as our other identity states. While it holds steady, if we are quiet in the turning drama, the Watcher can focus on the intention without panic or clinging, without presumption or resignation to mystery and authority, enduring its uncertainty. The Watcher can plant intention in the turning moment by electing it, and with slight amusement, even in trepidation, can empower the deed that comes next. The non-reactivity of the relatively selfless self, however, does not make it passionless, because passion may be necessary for choice. The choice is fueled by passion but aimed by non-reactivity. As the surgeon’s knife is steady but empowered by the fire of effort, so in our turning moments we are both passionate by virtue of our caring and yet, by allowing and observing this passion to flow, we are non-reactive.
Emily Dickinson was the American poet par excellence of the Watcher and the choices it could make. She celebrated it in many moods.
Of all the souls that stand create
I have elected one.
When sense from spirit files away,
and subterfuge is done;
When that which is and that which was
Apart, intrinsic, stand,
And this brief tragedy of flesh
Is shifted like a sand;
When figures show their royal front
And mists are carved away, –
Behold the atom I preferred
To all the lists of clay!
The Prime Doer
I know now that what I called the Watcher when I was young has no spiritual status. It is one among many of our modular personalities, though not one easily accessed. With skillful efforts, however, as part of a meditative practice, one can reach it in quiet moments. It surfaces on its own in extenuating circumstances.
In my youth, I didn’t understand the ontological status of the Watcher, or its special virtues. As I learned more about Eastern thought, I came to dismiss my experience as trivial, thinking that if Patanjali was right the Watcher would soon dissolve into a greater emptiness. But mine didn’t, so I figured I was stuck at a lesser place. For decades, I looked for the deeper ground and though I experienced many unusual states of consciousness that fit the descriptions I came upon in Eastern books none of them seemed necessarily deeper.
Eventually I came to understand that the Watcher was less a witness than an actor. Its depth and virtue appeared in action. It held the stage at the instant the intended action began. It was less the Watcher than the Prime Doer for whom life was an adventure in onceness. (I only got a sidelong glance at it from the meditative state when I was young, so it looked like a “Watcher” to me. However, when I was meditating, I was just “practicing”; I was not at the crux of change. So I did not comprehend its power as a doer.)
The denuded I-sense, I discovered, held the all-important spark of common sense in it. I found that when the chaos came and my will, passion, epiphanies, and intuitions were scattered, my common sense remained intact. Common sense is the mind of the Watcher/Prime Doer. However, that mind is only good for the simplest observations and the smallest choices. Yet when I look over my life those small choices have guided me best. The decisions I made, though softly enunciated, became the springboards for all subsequent action.
Having covered the basics, we can now devise a strategy for morally based worldly action on the following principles:
o Intention, imagination and imagery held in a stabilized internal sensory field, under the aegis of the Watcher, provide the materials the diminished I-sense needs to steer a readiness into worldly action.
o In this process, the imagination becomes the link between the soul and nature. Responding to the products of our own subtle sensory awareness, it decodes the chronobiological carrier waves generated on the mind/body edge.
o By the strength of its presence, imagination can tip the turning process in a desired direction at the right moment. But only then.
o The incandescent imagination, flaring with life in those charged moments, becomes the mightiest of the tiny neural agents that we can bring to bear to open the fan of our destiny.
The Romantic Poets understood the power of imagination.
The literary critic Frederick Pottle, though he acknowledged that “it is hard for us nowadays to understand why Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley made such a fuss about the imagination” goes on to explain that “Wordsworth and Coleridge were convinced that imagination was creative; and they wished to make imagination not merely creative but a power for apprehending truth.”5
In Book VI of The Prelude, William Wordsworth focused directly on the power of the imagery/intention complex:
in such strength
Of usurpation, when the light of sense
Goes out, but with a flash that has revealed
The invisible world, doth greatness make abode,
There harbors; whether we be young or old,
He is saying that there is a ‘flash’ moment in the turning process when the light of outer sense goes out, and in this moment, we get a sudden glimpse of a reality to come. Some of what we construe then, decoded from carrier waves by physiological processes I dealt with earlier, tells us about ourselves, about our potentialities, but some tells us about the possibilities in human nature more broadly, or about the historical moment and its promises and perils. Taken together, these revelations become auguries of the future.
In the flash moment, much happens. One’s model changes. One briefly experiences or rehearses what it would be like to live in the world in a new way. Nevertheless, we inhabit a joint field, filled with other living beings, so we do not have easy access to these elevated moments. To act and create in new ways in rare “spots in time”7 depends on subtle alignments of inner and outer rhythms.
The “spots in time”, because they are transformational moments, manifest in the hubs of turning points. In Wordsworth’s accounts, they hit when reversals impended; they popped up in scary and ominous times, particularly in events that touched on mortality, as in his youthful premonition of his father’s death.
Wordsworth believed that these experiences, if recollected appropriately on later occasions, would have the force of continuing epiphanies.
So feeling comes in aid
Of feeling, and diversity of strength
Attends us, if but once we have been strong.
Oh! mystery of man, from what a depth
Proceed thy honours.
In the concluding book of The Prelude, he makes clear that in our creative universe, imagination gives us our fullest link to the whole.
This spiritual Love acts not nor can exist
Without Imagination, which, in truth,
Is but another name for absolute power
And clearest insight, amplitude of mind,
And reason in her most exalted mood.
This faculty hath been the feeding source
Of our long labour…8
Planting the Imagery/Intention Complex in the Turning Moment
When the consensus world crumbles and the ties to the past break and the model dissolves, you enter a state where body and mind grow more intimate with each other (I do not say comfortable) by virtue of these downfalls. Though fearful and desperate, one feels put upon, extremely exercised, at a limit, down to a last extremity. Physical presence, intensified by internal sensations, commands the mind.
In the near-chaos conditions of the turning moment, our attending, our conscious awareness itself, when attached to an intention made vivid by imagery, generates a phase resetting. In the turning, your own intentions perturb you. The instant you rise to the perturbation, a choice point comes, a temporal pivot from which the rays of your potentialities extend in alternate directions.
With the right training and motivation, people can learn to etch volitional efforts into the autonomic circuitry of the central nervous system, utilizing their own neuroplasticity as an ethical and aesthetic medium for change.
The raw ingredients for change come up from the neutral traits. (See # 213-214) We develop them using the joined powers of the technical and ethical minds.
Without new tools for self-examination, however, we cannot walk the technical/ethical boundary zones, so we will not get far with our changes. Nevertheless, the upwelling from the neutral traits does push us toward self-examination and from it, we begin to build bridges between phenomenology and the world detected by instruments using the methods I have described here.
They produce effective action with the least expenditure of energy. They keep us from hitting dead-ends or running in circles. To push the levers of change we do best by employing low-mediated intentions.
In our highly charged, high power technological civilization, the whole notion of low-mediated intention with its architectonics of imagination must strike the reader as strange, self-deceiving, and even delusory.
What can we do with low-mediated intentions that we cannot do with brute force? The question hints at its answer. However, let’s push the objections further. Can we, for instance,
1) use low-mediated intentions to shift the bifurcation point between stress and aggression to bring more peace into the world?
2) Can we build up the interfaces between voluntary and autonomic functioning to change both how we perceive and act?
3) Will any of these alterations, even assuming we can learn and teach them to others, produce more than personal meanings and intimate satisfactions? Doesn’t cultural transformation require fundamental shifts that go far beyond the placement of low-mediated intentions?
4) Can we, in certain special moments at turning points in love and wisdom, send the power of self-directed change into the world on impeccable starting gestures that fire forth like Blake’s arrows of desire? Can we shape worldly events with intentions made vivid in imagination? Can we release them, precisely timed to enter the world by looping through two turning moments simultaneously, one inside us, the other in the surrounding environment? What access do we have to turnings in the world?
I say Yes to all four. We can learn to leap the gap between phenomenology and physiology.9 In fact, only low-mediated intentions can accomplish 1) and 2). 3) takes knowing each other in the fourfoldness of love, and engaging each other, and the tenderness and respect for this are greatly helped by low mediated intentions. As for 4), impeccable starting gestures, precisely timed, move more effectively as the deeds arising from low-mediated intentions than as grand heroic exploits.
Empowered intentions make an impact on the world when big changes come from small shifts in initial conditions. Turning points, even local, personal, intensely private ones, reset initial conditions in some small part of the world. They evoke indeterminacy.
By holding our intentions steady and making them apt, we play parts in resetting those initial conditions in venues inside and adjacent to ourselves. By swinging into action at the right moment with the right starting gesture, we open a fan of likelihoods in the world. Each radial of the fan points to different possible outcomes, indeed, to different future encounters, meetings, engagements, to different possible lives.
Though the vectors on the last long leg determine the way into the turning point, the way out is free. To use that freedom and to achieve the dramatic transformations promised in a turning crisis, takes a precisely timed starting gesture energized by the active emotions held in the imagery/intention complex. The precision of the timing necessitates the smallness of the gesture. Undertaken at the right moment, the starting gesture, only a baby step in the right direction, stands high as an affirmation, a “yes” that has a “no” in it because the hard choices in love and wisdom always require us to give something up. We not only do, we don’t do. What we don’t do becomes the road not taken. What we relinquish matters excruciatingly. In turnings of love and wisdom what we care about most is at stake. But the relinquishment brings liberation into action, a lightening of the load finally, and a streamlining of the delivery system by which values pass from the self to the world and from one generation to the next.
To get the right starting gesture you must inhabit the temporal world. When time is your principal abode, you can rest on the crest of the moment and watch space go by. When you do you see eddies in the flow, standing waves, rhythmic reversal moments, Wordsworthian spots in time that portend new beginnings.
The deeds we undertake in the turning moment count most when they fall closest to hand. Inevitably, they start in the moment and place we occupy. Their hold on the world comes first from their personal relevance. They go on from there, from that spot in time (# 247), by establishing rhythmic resonances with nature. These resonances link us with others. In certain social settings, our starting gestures generate entrainments that travel as memes. I explained the basics of mimetic transfer in # 215-219.
Since our turning dramas intrinsically concern love and wisdom, our creative deeds, when we time them well, ride into the temporal flow on the active emotions of empathy and sympathy. They may even spread far from their points of origin, though the great moments for far-reaching change come infrequently. But when they do, they always start small in the hearts of individuals. Of these times, turnings and persons, Lewis Mumford wrote:
“At rare intervals, the most significant factors in determining the future occur in infinitesimal quantities on unique occasions. Such behavior is too erratic and infrequent to lend itself to repeated observations and statistical order… This doctrine allows for the direct impact of the human personality in history, not only by mass movements, but by individuals and small groups… At a moment of ripeness, the unseen will become visible, the unthinkable thought, the unactable enacted; and by the same token, obstacles that seem insurmountable will crumble away. This experience has many parallels in human history. Suddenly, at what seems the peak of their efficiency and power, dominant institutions lose their hold on their most devout supporters or their most fa-vored beneficiaries; while at the same time, millions of people who seemingly conformed with docility to these institutions throw them off, like a dirty garment.”10
By being present to our own turnings, we increase our power and range of choices in them, and that amplifies our influence on events. If we conduct ourselves well, we can invigorate the life around us in wider ways than we ever supposed. This maximizes our usefulness in the evolving freedom of the whole and is a source of happiness to us, as Spinoza expected.
The starting gesture provides the jolt that makes the turning turn. The mildest of forces then works to reset initial conditions, producing a bifurcation, a forking in the road. Imagine that from this ‘Y’ two paths of potential diverge, though you have taken neither yet. You have never had to make a choice between them before.
After the turning, there’s no going back. The ‘Y’ has vanished. The spot in time it occupied gone. Alfred North Whitehead described this situation well when he wrote, “Locke’s notion of time hits the mark better: time is ‘perpetually perishing.’ In the organic philosophy an actual entity has ‘perished’ when it is complete.”11
Robert Frost deals with this circumstance in his poem The Road Not Taken.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
At the ‘Y’ in the road, the smallest step down one path negates the other. The road not taken effectively disappears. Frost in his laconic way intentionally understates the uncertainties of that moment when he says, “Oh, I kept the first for another day!” He immediately adds “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, / I doubted if I should ever come back.”
He meant to take the less traveled way, but whether the road he followed was actually less traveled, who knows? Frost admits this when he says “Though as for that the passing there/ Had worn them really about the same.”
To my way of thinking, all roads are new roads. The road not taken and the road taken both only exist as tokens of possibility, figments of the imagination rising in the moment of choice. The forking in the pathway is itself small, insignificant, inconsequential as viewed from anywhere but the path itself. The Taoist maxim that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step catches the feeling. However, the hidden truth is that the special conditions created in the region of the turning do not happen every day. The big thing is to make the choice and take the step when they do, and to know you have done so. That’s what Frost celebrates.
To make a real choice, to have the alternatives vanish, to move from the hub of a fan to its radials, you must achieve a full alignment of the hierarchy of freedoms. Imagining, intending, willing and acting all must come together in the moment. Otherwise, the indeterminacy in the bifurcation will not rise to freedom. When one or more freedom is missing, you make illusory choices.
In real life, the real transformational opportunities don’t appear on command. They’re not conveniently scheduled to meet your hopes. Nor does the alignment of freedoms present itself through an act of will. You seize the moment because the moment is ready to be seized. Tremulous and ripe, the seizing is a gentle not a rough act.
To some extent, an authentic previous turning sets you up well for the next. But past success is not a prerequisite or a guarantee. Life throws strange obstacles in our way. We are fallible, so we often fail.
It is all about doing (See # 1.) Behind the intention and the colorings and textures of its imagery, we are managing a biophysical event happening inside us. We manage it by bringing the legs of love and wisdom, approach, separation, withdrawal and return, into new momentary relationships. We try to line them up with happenings in the world. We want them to be apt. To get this alignment to happen, we alter the phase, frequency and amplitude relationships in our own bio-oscillatory systems (See # 19-22.) We bring them under partial voluntary control. (Illustrated in detail for self-directed healing in Chapter 15.) We use intention, imagery, timing, gesture and deed as tools, as techniques. On the mind-body edge, we employ the technical mind to ethical purposes. There, on that edge, at the vanishing ‘Y’ in the moment of choice, physics and phenomenology may touch. Intention – couched in imagery, observed by the Watcher, and animated by an impeccably timed starting gesture – creates the spark that flies the gap.
It takes a special courage of gentleness to find the right intervention points and then perform the right starting gestures in them from a place of immersion in the field of endeavor. To implement these tactics you need daily practice and a training that sharpens the skills and explores the neutral traits so that you will be ready in the real flow of events.
Sometimes starting gestures as slight as a conscious breath or the making of significant eye contact or the lifting of the telephone, or saying “yes”, especially that, can generate powerful Aikido-like low mediated follow-up actions. They move smoothly because in their unheroic rightness they use the energy of the world to move the world. Sometimes the actions emanating from the simplest low-mediated intentions seem more like the passing of volition from the world to the world – as if they don’t pass through a person at all. But that’s not so. No intention works without a follow-up gesture “peculiar” to the person, an idiosyncrasy, a temperament, a bent that adds a spin, a “body English” that makes intentions effective in the world.
Follow Up: The Template for Recognition
After the turning the game changes. The imagery in which the intention was framed provides an “almost complete gestalt“. It becomes a template for recognition. You hold it up to the world looking for a match. It’s like a puzzle with some missing pieces. The missing pieces draw us into the world. We’re searching for a corresponding reality. We know the shape of the missing pieces so we know what we’re looking for. We shine the template around like a spotlight. We seek confirming instances. (The template is not a static but a moving image, more like a film loop than a photo, a vivid imagined depiction of an event or process whose main emotion is an expectation of “something evermore about to be,” as Wordsworth put it.)
Every confirming instance strengthens the neural net that stores the intention. The template is refined by confirming instances; it gets better, its spotlight brighter.
The anticipation we carry in the template sticks with us as if it was memory, a future memory, the memory of a sensibility, a feeling, a wash of possibilities conjured in the imagination, a facultative memory of what it feels like to move into non-habitual mode, to overcome automaticity and get free.
Sometimes a person watches for obvious matching events and recognizes them by the ‘rightness’ of the moment, by the “ah, hah!” you experience when a puzzle piece fits.
The “ah, hah!” experience rivets our attention to events in the outer world. The confirming instances strike us as special spots in time, sometimes as mystical occurrences, as synchronicities or acts of divine providence. Love at first sight does that to us.
It’s not easy to see why a longed for event manifests in the moment it does. It’s not that the world presents us with startlingly different options. The opportunities that follow a turning point come mostly as chance events, or crossing points of divergent causal lines. They are part of the usual event sequences in the habitual arrangement of our lives. Nevertheless, they become opportunities for change because we rise to them; we see them as triggers for the doing of deeds. My general sense is that a new attunement lets you see what has been there all along. But the new attunement comes forth only from turnings in love or wisdom.
The template matching experience increases hope and diminishes fear. Moreover, when the biology of hope blossoms, its spreading roots firm up one’s connection with life. The neural coalitions cooperate better, the template gets clearer and the ‘Yes’ of life keeps one looking forward.
I can make it clearer: the world pricks the image/intention complex into wakefulness by presenting clues that seem to say “Pay attention now, I may be a puzzle piece.” On the occasions when a match comes, the “ah, hah!” experience affirms it. The template tells your body that you are pleased and you want more. It says you can solve the whole puzzle. It urges you to find the inner/outer resonance again. It poses this not abstractly but with a visceral rush of interest and excitement that feels like a prevision, an elation, and a memory of the future. Often empathy for another wells up in it. The mu wave in the sensory motor cortex is suppressed and the mirror neurons are activated.
The charge you feel has a biophysical character. It comes from rhythmic resonances based on frequency matching between an expectation and an event. It feels good because it intimates belonging. When your internal readiness meets a readiness in the world, it affirms your role in the cosmic whole. If these are mystical experiences, we all have them. We use them to guide ourselves along the bifurcating ways of love and wisdom. That’s how writing of this book is working out for me.
We cannot know which among our starting deeds will turn out to be the most relevant when they first enter the world. We cannot really plan our moves ahead of time, only in time. We cannot know for sure the exact intention we will frame in the heat of the turning until we do it. It may be different from the one you thought you would frame. Nor can you know in advance the exact instant you will put it into action. The uncertainty here is not regrettable. On the contrary, it’s the strong bulwark of our freedom. In it we hear our call to adventure.
Historical penetration may depend more on simple vivid intentions than on big plans. Perhaps the smaller gesture opens the way for the larger deeds by setting a pathway among the interconnections of the “infinitesimal elements of free will.” On the analogy with relay switches, the smaller will trip the larger.
Gandhi said, “There comes a time when an individual becomes ir-resistible and his action becomes all-pervasive in its effect. This comes when he reduces himself to zero.” One would like to think that even with a fractional self, a least intrusive presence, not zero but not all pervadoing egotism either, we can frame clear and sane intentions, human intentions, bright and caring.
But we live in a culture that highly values technological prowess, economic might and celebrity over delicate timing, refined intentions and unobtrusive presence. How can our inner work have any influence? It goes so much against the grain.
King Solomon told a story that illustrates these leveraged possibilities. “There was a small city, with few people in it, and a great king came upon it and surrounded it and built over it great bulwarks. And there was found therein a poor wise man, and he extricated the city through his wisdom, but no man remembered that poor man.”
What does he mean? Is Solomon condemning the poor man’s lack of recognition? Or is he telling us something about the workings of wisdom here, in which, as a technical offshoot, anonymity plays a part? The aphorism is really about aptness, courage, timing and intention. First, the city is saved on the initiative of an individual. Second, it happens in a small city where ethical memes fly quickly. Third, the wise person was poor and inconspicuous, not heralded, not celebrated, and not sought out. Fourth, the wise person saves the city by unspecified means that were in some way not memorable, maybe not even noticeable. Then he returns to his former life. He does not wait around for a lifetime achievement award. The deed matters, not the doer of the deed. Naturally, no one remembered his name, for few knew what he had done.
But that still begs the question. What did that wise person do? Does Solomon tell us something about effective action follows on timing here? How did the poor wise man bring his intentions into the world just then? What was the nature of the “extrication” that saved the city surrounded by great ramps and towers? If no man remembered that wise man, did he do nothing memorable, nothing stupendous, nothing involving weapons, armies, violence or treachery? The word “extricated” suggests something different. But what? Did he “reduce himself to zero?” That doesn’t happen.
Nobody attains the limiting case of pure selflessness. Not in the East, not in the West. Only a living, breathing person can seize the moment. The act asserts a personal presence. It gives model change its motive power, its arms and legs. The starting gesture sets up the sensorimotor pathway that connects the emerging new model to the world. What did the wise man do? He walked around, he talked, and he lent a hand here and there. Nothing conspicuous, nothing to make him stand out. Nevertheless, he saved the city. How we cannot know. To know, we would have either to be there with him, or be him.