Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Purpose of My Life

myLife’s Purpose – Half-Time Reflections
18 February 2004 [written 10 years ago]

Today, the words of postmodern philosopher Richard Rorty in “Philosophy and Social Hope” (1999) sprang to life in my mind.   He had asserted that "… there is a potential infinity of equally valuable ways to lead a human life, and these ways cannot be ranked in terms of degrees of excellence, but only in terms of their contribution to the happiness of the persons who lead them and of the communities to which these persons belong" (underline mine).

In our passage through this brief moment in time, which is called “life” for want of a better word for ‘hope’, it is always so easy to be tempted and lapse into ordinariness – a state I consider as just above mere existence.  

As I contemplate deeper about life today, ironies abound ….

Conceived in Love,
          Incubated with Love,
          Nurtured by Love,
A person takes his first steps as a teenager into the adult world with an intense pursuit of selfish interests!

Where, and at what point did the message of Love become convoluted and embrace the ingredient of the Self?  I often ask.   The answer beckons, but I was not looking.

The journey through life is essentially a journey of love.  It is a journey along visible milestones of errors as one struggle to escape the end of otherwise meaningless existence. The marvelous poet Jorie Graham in her collection, The Errancy (1997), sees error as a heroic method in finding one’s way — “a wandering toward truth.”  

Yet, my journey towards the mid-century of life’s existence began as one who is uncertain about things, who sees paradox, ambiguity, chaos, absence and silence as central to the human condition.   But for the certainty of Love, one could easily have become insane.   Insanity as a therapy for navigating through ambiguity must surely be Nature’s best guarded secret!

We are all subject to some degree of experiential uncertainties and have acquired the sense where the central role of love’s frequent absence points to its own hypocrisy.   And we lapse conveniently into the comfortable understanding of the human condition as one where we are all in a perpetually suspended state of incompleteness, in an endless search of that elusive Happiness.   The urge for “more” and “better” becomes quickly the justification for the pursuit of selfishness, thinly disguised as the noble accumulation of material wealth and prosperity in the hope of locating the happiness which satisfies the ultimate true meaning and purpose of life’s brief moment.  

Sadly, but expectantly, “more” and “better” did not deliver the promised Happiness.   The pursuit for life’s purpose hence degenerates into itself as the end; this is quite inevitable really, having already availed and tasted the sweet addictive juice of the self as its bedfellow.

Samuel Beckett the philosopher fought back at “more” and “better” with the notion of “Lessness” (1970), a taking away rather than “moreness” and “adding to”. His is a philosophy, or ‘tao’, of subtraction.  He was of the view that “anyone nowadays, anybody who pays the slightest attention to their own experience, finds it the experience of the non-knower.” The more one gets, the more one wants; and the more one knows, the more one realizes that he knows only so little of life’s infinite wisdom and knowledge. Understandably, a deepening sense of impotence, ignorance and a sense of failure inevitably follows increasing education and learning! We need to throw away intellectual solutions and move away from the destructive need to dominate life and others.  

The common experience of many is thus one of waiting and struggling with a pervading sense of futility in the face of receding from the reach of happiness as one progress in years. The skeptics shouted, “It’s not even possible to talk about the Truth”.  The frustration of finding Truth is the integral part of his painful anguish in the loneliness of the man seeking Love.   The anguish of loneliness lies in one’s persistence in a meaningless world without any significant others to love and share his Life.

Quite clearly,
“We shall not cease from exploration;
And the end of all our exploring
          Will be to arrive where we started
                             And know the place for the first time.
By T.S. Eliot (1942) “Little Gidding”

True love has always been before us, just after the tip of our noses.  God said, “You (are able to) love because I first love you” (1 John 4:19).  

So, does one first develop the capacity to love before being loved?   What then is the human state before loving and being loved?   A love for Self, of course.

It is the realisation that one has already been loved, by God no less, that the bondage to the Self is broken.   One then breaks free, to enjoy the liberation that empowers care, concern and the privilege to love another human being.   This privilege will soon experience and embrace much wonderful and silent pain …. What contradictions! and what beauty is the foundation of eternal wisdom!   The nourishing feeling of being loved feeds to drive the daily meaningless activities of work and existence.   And the only response of being loved is really to love those who love us … as well as those who have not yet known us.    

True happiness, like true love, is found only through contributing to the enhancement of happiness and love in other people.   

A new day has dawn.  Thank God for the privilege of another Day.

Michael Heng

18 February 2004


SOLITUDE - The Art of Being Alone

A Self-Mastery Skill.
“All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” ~Blaise Pascal

Do you ever feel lonely? Who doesn’t? We’re mammals after all and we were made to touch, dream, and be together. The older I get, the more true that feels to me.

But we live in a time when many of us feel more alone than ever. Why is that? 

I think there are a lot of valid reasons that are bigger than any one of us.

Of course, it really stinks when you feel lonely and isolated. But it’s important to know the difference between being alone and being lonely. Because there’s a big difference.

I’ve found over time that you can learn how to be happy when you’re alone. In fact, being alone can be incredibly nourishing. It can help you to be at ease with yourself. That might sound simple, but for many of us it’s not.
When you are truly alone, it can be creative and regenerative. And more importantly, it can help you connect to the profound silence that lives within you. Practicing meditation is one way that I learned how to be alone.
So what is the difference between being lonely and being alone? And how does meditation fit into this? I’ll answer that, but first I want to tell you a quick story about the Rocky Mountains, where I confronted my fear of being alone.

Confronting The Fear of Solitude
I discovered the difference between loneliness and being alone when I was about 20. I had driven 2000 miles across America to camp and mountain bike in the Rocky Mountains. I’d never seen big mountains before and the Rockies didn’t disappoint.

I made this pilgrimage alone, camping and mountain biking in the remote Colorado backcountry. I was a seasoned camper. But there was one thing I hadn’t planned for. And it caught me off guard. Can you guess what it was?

Solitude. And it scared the hell out of me.

I’ll never forget that first night when I was alone at a place called Lost Man’s Reservoir near Independence Pass high above Aspen. Framed by granite peaks, the dome of stars above seemed infinite. I, on the other hand, felt small, alone, and scared. I was far far away from everyone I knew and loved.

And I found myself asking, “How the hell did I get here? What am I actually doing?”

That night, I was more alone than I had ever been in my life. I felt like the last living person in the universe. Somehow, the truth of my aloneness penetrated all my defenses. It just cut through me. Being so alone scared me like nothing before. I felt like I was standing on the edge of a vast chasm about to fall in.

This was my first genuine introduction solitude.

Over the next several days, I veered back and forth between feeling scared and lonely to feeling a sense of promise in the solitude. And then something changed. As if the solitude was exerting an unseen pressure on me the whole time, the loneliness gave way like a damn breaking. A tide of ecstasy swept over me from some inner source, and it lasted for months. In truth, it changed me forever.

That was a turning point for me and the beginning of my meditation practice. Since that time, I’ve come to respect and appreciate the transforming power of being alone.

Discovering Wholeness In Being Alone
My life changed after that. I had closed some deep gap between me and my own self. It was a division I didn’t even know was there. I know, that sounds really weird. But another way to say it is this. I discovered wholeness. I realized that I was totally alone in the universe.

But in that aloneness, I also realized directly that life was pulsing with a goodness that was so extreme it couldn’t be contained. It was infinite. And I knew that I was connected to that goodness. In fact, I was filled with an overwhelming certainty that I was made of that goodness.
Whatever energy animates our awareness, I became convinced that it is eternal and positive beyond measure.

So how does this relate to being alone? For me, being alone in this way showed me that I was a sovereign human being in control of my own future. And more importantly, I found that I was happiest in my own company. It’s not that I didn’t need or love others, but something was different now. I didn’t need others in the same way to be whole and happy.

Being alone became a source of creative renewal and it put me in touch with that rich well of silence and wholeness I discovered in the mountains.
If you haven’t have discovered the power of solitude for yourself, meditation is one way to find it. But first, let’s look at why we avoid being alone.

It’s Hard To Be Alone
For many of us, it’s just hard to be alone. First, it can be hard to find the time, the place, and the circumstances to be alone. You have work, family, and all sorts of obligations. So there’s all that.

But also, we aren’t used to being alone. It requires slowing down. It means you aren’t looking for distraction (where’s my iPhone??). And because we tend to be a culture of hyper stimulation, that can be hard.

We’re so used to binging on just about everything. Many of us don’t embrace being alone. We’re just not that easy or content in the company of ourselves without distractions. In fact, for many of us, being alone makes us feel lonely.

Often, but not always, that’s because we don’t know ourselves very well. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface for each of us, and we don’t always want to know about it. But that’s the thing about real solitude. You can’t run from yourself. It’s all right there…all of you. Embracing all of yourself can be scary and daunting.
Historically, solitude has always played an important role in culture. It’s helped us to embrace both our strengths and weaknesses. Whether it was prayer or church or quality time in nature, we’ve had cultural institutions and values that supported spending time alone, removed from the buzz of life. Not so much any more.
So how can you embrace being alone?

How To Embrace Solitude Through Meditation
There are a few ways to think about this.

First, being alone can help you discover parts of yourself that you can’t connect with during your day-to-day. When you are focused, alone, and free from distraction, you can think more deeply and engage in the art of contemplation. You can sit with meaningful questions and let them unfold in the fertile field of undistracted awareness.

That’s very different than the kind of hyperactive thinking most of us are engaged in.

Second, I’ve found that meditation is a great way to cultivate a love for being alone. I believe the kind of aloneness you find in meditation can be transformative. Through meditation, you encounter a deep well of silence.

That silence lives within you.

And the truth is, we all need to periodically connect with that silence. I think its’ a big part of who and what we are. And if we neglect it, it can be hard to feel whole.

I’m sure that’s one reason why my life changed so dramatically 20 years ago. I discovered that limitless silence within, and it was like an existential puzzle piece clicked into place. Of course, I had no idea it was missing until I found it.

These days, meditation is the primary way that I experience and commune with silence. Slowly, you let go of external stimuli. As your attention settles down, you then let go of internal stimuli. And that’s the whole journey.
You keep letting go on more subtle levels until there’s no more intermediary—not even your own mind. Then it’s just you and the universe. And eventually, even that distinction dissolves.

Eventually, it’s just you. There’s no inner and outer. There’s just being. That’s the deepest kind of solitude.

Mastering The Art Of Being Alone Through Meditation
Meditation is a deliberate way you can embrace solitude.

But it can also confront you with the parts of you that don’t want to be alone. And you need to be ready for that. It’s not a problem at all, but it’s part of the picture.

And if you’re like me, it might catch you off guard. You may have to go through a process of really slowing down like I did. But then you may find that it fills a hole and satisfies something that’s been missing for a long time. You see, many of us have lost our spontaneous connection to that rich source of inner silence.

Maybe you connect to that source in response to an amazing musical or theatrical performance. Maybe you find it in a piece of music or your creative process. But it’s also possible to cultivate a direct relationship to that solitude and silence.

When you let go in meditation, you are really alone. But not with your neurotic mind, which often reinforces loneliness and cuts you off from that nourishing silence. No, meditation can help you master the art of being alone.

Sitting there with nothing between you and totality, you encounter yourself, stripped bare, and whole. That’s what I love about it. Meditation is an act of radical self-acceptance and wholeness.

Do I still experience loneliness? Yes. But it’s different. It used to scare me and I’d contract. Now I know there is more to the picture. And that makes being alone–really and truly alone–a very different thing.


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Interesting Life in The P2P Commons

Living in The P2P Era

It is through our contributions, and no longer through our social role in the labor-capital system, that we find the meaning of our life.

An interesting life, in the era of peer to peer relational dynamics and engagement in peer production communities, must be an intersecting of three interlocking circles.

1)  The first circle is that of our passion and purpose. Each of us has to find, and that is not always easy, what energizes us. Of course, it can not be the only motivation, as life and society asks us to do things that may not always be pleasant, but nevertheless must be done. But in a happy life, surely, we must find an activity that makes us happy, that gives our purpose, and this often is something that makes a real contribution to the life of others.

2)  The second circle is that of our skills. Passion alone is not enough, we have to learn the necessary skills to operate effectively in the circle of our purpose and passion. But the chance of learning is so much greater when we are actively and passionately engaged. When we are in the flow, indeed, learning is easy and comes very naturally.

3)  Finally, the third circle is that of social need, the needs of others. If we have one and two only, we may have an interesting life, but it will be nearly impossible to make a living. Thus somehow, we must engage in a skillfull passion that also fullfills a social need.

So what does that mean in practical terms? We must find a common good producing community of our peers, where we can meaningfully engage our skilled and passionate engagement. Through our contribution to such a commons, we earn our social standing as well: social capital that comes from recognition, educational capital that comes with the engagement with the project; relational capital that comes from an integration in a community of purpose.

It is through our contributions, and no longer through our social role in the labor-capital system, that we find the meaning of our life. But p2p is pluralistic, we can engage the different aspects of our being, in one project if we want, but we can also engage with different communities, which each represent a facet of our being. P2P is therefore based on equipotentiality, the recognition that people should not be compared to each other as being better or worse, but that each of us has skills in which we are better than others, and others in which we are not. The new social system, based on stigmergy (the social language of insects, applied to mutual cooperation through signalling), allows us to see where we are needed, with which skillset.

Once we have found it, we can think of turning this into our livelihood, by creating cooperative engagements, such as the lasindias community is doing, along with many others!

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Monday, 10 November 2014

Life in The Commons

G Paul Blundell, a member of Acorn Community, has written this article for “las Indias” answering the question, “What is an interesting life?” This article is one in a series of short essays where various well known P2P-oriented thinkers, including Kevin Carson, Neal Gorenflo, and Michel Bauwens, answer the same question.

You can browse through the series of Articles HERE.

If you like his account of day-to-day life at his income-sharing egalitarian community, you might also enjoy this recording, where he reflects on his recent tour of European communes (also income-sharing and egalitarian), including his fascinating visit to las Indias in Bilbao.

“For us, sharing, cooperating, and trusting has made us incredibly wealthy, just not in money.
Wealth, really, is an experience: the ability to always get what you need and often get what you want.”

What is an interesting life? That’s something I’m in the process of figuring out. In fact, for me, an interesting life is the very process of figuring out. It is the freedom to act, to try new things, to experiment, to explore your life and your world. But this freedom necessarily includes the symmetrical freedom from fear and from want; freedom from the things that might stop me from making those leaps and taking those roads less traveled by.

I live in an egalitarian commune of 30 adults called Acorn Community where we share everything we can, including our land, labor, and income, and where we govern ourselves by consensus. Our economy runs on personal initiative and responsibility and is organized as a strict adhocracy. On the other end of it, all members have free equal access to all the community’s resources and can take from them as much as they need. We have both of the freedoms I described above and we have them in spades. We are each forging our own path and making our own life but we never want for anything and when any one of us stumbles the other thirty of us are there to catch them.

For me, life is interesting in its vast diversity. Most interesting and diverse of all are its free people, each with an internal life at least as rich and complex and idiosyncratic as my own, and each free to pursue and explore their own fleeting whims, bizarre passions, crazy theories, and mad schemes. And so I find that to enrich myself I must enrich my world, I must tend to my people that they might be as free and interesting as they can be. This is my true work and it is endlessly fascinating.

The commune is an incredibly supportive place and easily the most effective educational institution I have ever been a part of. There is a great diversity of valuable projects to undertake and all the tools you need to undertake them. There is enthusiastic support for personal experimentation and the development of new creative pursuits. There are many insightful and experienced people to help you with self-exploration and political development. And people take advantage of these resources constantly! A constant parade of self-transforming communards marches past me year after year, to my never ending delight.

Opposing my project and keeping me busy is the very world in which I work. Accidents, shortages, disasters great and small, unintended consequences, neglected problems, and the thousand competing desires and plans of my beloved people. A variable but never ending challenge. The project is hard enough with just that but I also find myself opposed at every turn by a bunch of deeply uncreative people. People who have such a lack of imagination that the only way they can see to meet their own needs is to use violence to shut others out of the negotiation or to horde all of the toys to themselves.

The deep project at Acorn, highlighted and honed by our use of consensus, is the continuing challenge of finding the creative solutions that work for everyone; the process of figuring out how to meet your needs within the context of the needs of others. It is the utilitarian project realized. Knowing how successful we and others have been in running complex and diverse micro-societies with the principles of consensus it becomes clear that violence, as Isaac Asimov was fond of saying, is the last refuge of the incompetent.

Violence, whether taking someone’s home away or denying medicine to the sick, is an admission that you’re not clever enough to figure out that creative solution. The market, based on the sanctity of private property and the myth of the independent self-made person, has become a Procrustean bed on a global scale forcing a mind-bogglingly diverse humanity to squeeze into or stretch to fill a narrowly defined economic format or suffer the consequences. Should our ideas and ideologies stretch and scrunch to fit our people or should we refashion our people to fit our ideology?

At Acorn, and in all the communes in the Federation of Egalitarian Communities, we cast our economy instead as a collective project that we are all responsible for maintaining. That project needs all sorts of labor and resources to do what we want it to do and all of that labor is necessary. And so we treat all labor as equal and expect of our members an equitable contribution, based on ability. An hour of order fulfillment is equal to an hour of programming is equal to an hour of accounting is equal to an hour of auto maintenance is equal to an hour of child care is equal to an hour of cooking is equal to an hour of policy making etc. And from the riches created by our labor, whether money, food, knowledge, or what have you, we take whatever we need to be happy, healthy, and satisfied. We have achieved the old dream: from each according to their ability to each according to their need.

But what of the Tragedy of the Commons? What of the supply and demand curves? Won’t collective property be destroyed (or never purchased in the first place)? Won’t a pile of free things be instantly snapped up and horded by the first person to come across it? Luckily humanity is more complex than that and has evolved for a long time as a social species. Numerous studies and histories show that the true tragedy of the commons is its privatization and the loss of social control that it entails. Deforestation, pollution, over grazing, over hunting, degradation: all these ills have come in spades with privatization. And a rational person only hordes or over consumes if they fear for a future lack. Calm fear and secure supply and hording become costly and irrational in addition to being anti-social.

For us, sharing, cooperating, and trusting has made us incredibly wealthy, just not in money. Wealth, really, is an experience: the ability to always get what you need and often get what you want. To want for nothing would be the ideal, would make you truly wealthy. And we want for little. We are always fed well and housed, we are cared for when we are sick, we have friends and entertainment, we have meaningful work and flexible schedules, we both travel and receive visitors, we raise our children and pursue our passions. And yet we do it all working only 40 hours per week (income and domestic work) and with an annual income well below the poverty line.

My commune is a bubble within which we have rewritten the rules of our economy and our society, keeping the violence and cruelty of the mainstream at bay with a sturdy but permeable membrane. I have lived here and it is beautiful. For me, I could spend an interesting life as a blower of such bubbles.

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This entry was posted at P2PFoundation on Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 at 1:51 pm and filed under CommonsCulture & IdeasEthical EconomyP2P CollaborationP2P LifestylesPeer PropertyPoliticsSharing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

An Interesting Life - Articles

Conversations on An Interesting Life

“Las Indias” is the Transnational Community behind the blog and the cooperatives that make up the Las Indias Cooperative Group (web-site in Spanish) since 2002. On this Post, Learn where our conversation comes from, how it led us to understand that organizations can be based on fraternity, and to the insight that the marketplace can allow the small to flourish in a globalized world.

The Goal of “Las Indias” is to open conversations and to show new helpful ideas for helping you in your effort of making your life more interesting. To the “indianos” as they called themselves, life has become meaningful through the passion for learning. That is why Friends are regularly invited to write a post on their own approach to an interesting life.

In this series, you can find fresh thoughts of interesting people as Michel BauwensNeal Gorenflo or Kevin Carson who have also written on other kind of subjects.

But is there any subject more interesting than the meanings of life?

It is through our contributions, and no longer through our social role in the labor-capital system, that we find the meaning of our life.

For us, sharing, cooperating, and trusting has made us incredibly wealthy, just not in money. Wealth, really, is an experience: the ability to always get what you need and often get what you want.

It’s those who tell the stories that shape society. So what kind of person do you want to become and what kind of world do you want? It might depend on what kind of conversations you’re having.

The best way to learn is not by being shown, but by doing. And that’s something that games and fun allow us to incorporate into our efforts to cultivate a new world. They create unique and powerful avenues to engage, excite, and energize people about our movements.

An interesting life is not far away in exotic lands, nor is it going to happen next weekend. It’s right here, right now, waiting for us. It doesn’t require advanced degrees, or vast wealth, or even a lot of spare time. All it requires is an alert mind.

An interesting life gives us the opportunity to develop our skills, interests and affinities and finding our most rewarding productive niche in the community, for the satisfaction of contributing to the joint efforts and happiness of our peers.

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