On the Inherent Responsiveness of Observers

To be an observer is to be responsive. We can understand our lives as a collective response to a world brought forth by the responsiveness of its observers. This is analogous to the principle in A Course in Miracles that “projection makes perception” (T-13.V.3:5), which gives rise to critical insight that “our function is to work together, because apart from each other we cannot function at all” (T-8.VI.8:4).

Say that we place a single volume A Course in Miracles on the table.

A says that it is the holiest of all holy scriptures.

B says it is a fraudulent text aimed at scamming folks who are primed to fall for New Age grift.

C observes the disagreement of A and B and laments that both miss the broader point that A Course in Miracles has value according to the context in which it is read and understood.

We are observer D, a step removed, watching A,B and C enact their disagreement.

What shall we say? How shall we describe our observation? How shall we respond, if at all, to A, B and C?

We are tempted in these situations to make the case for right or wrong (sound or unsound, kind or unkind, et cetera). We are rarely truly neutral. We are choosers by nature.

So we want to prove that A, B or C is right and the others wrong. As a slight variant, we might try to broker a settlement in the interest of social harmony. Everyone is a little bit right and also a little bit wrong.

Can we start, though, by seeing that all observers accept as valid what they observe as they observe it?

[Including you and I – writing and reading – this sentence?]

That is, whatever view of A Course in Miracles one personally holds, it is valid for them. That is why they hold it. If and when it is no longer valid, then they will hold a new view that is valid.

If we see this – that whatever view one holds one holds because it is valid – and if we see that it is also a fact of our own living – then we can no longer coherently take a side or, through brokering, create a new side and urge everyone to take it.

A, B and C are no longer a problem to be solved by our intelligence or magnanimity or spirituality. They are no longer objects to be managed by our superior emotional or aesthetic distance.

We are right in the middle of the whole thing with them, whether we like it or not and, importantly, whether we see it or not.

That which we consider valid may yet prove to be invalid, and we cannot say when or if this will happen, and it is for this reason that we are called to incorporate considerable epistemic humility into our living.

It is important to go very slowly when it comes to the experience of “knowing-beyond-a-doubt.” Certainty, as such, is often a warning sign, a call to soften and open, to enlarge (through welcome) the reflexive domain we presently notice we presently live.

Going slowly means being dialogic (in the Bohmian sense), which is to say, listening carefully, speaking honestly, and remaining open to the direction the dialogue takes, and what outcome, if any, it brings forth. We don’t insist or resist; we just give attention, as best we can.

To be dialogic is to be vulnerable, meek in the old Sermon on the Mount sense, that we might better perceive the world we live as we live it, as it is given both to and through us.

In this space, our commitment shifts from being “right” to being open, non-judgemental, sustainable, nurturing, patient, and slow. This is easier on us, and on those with whom we live. We are no longer playing a zero-sum game; we have changed the rules to make it non-zero-sum. We are cooperating rather than competing.

This works better than the alternative. This is, to borrow Bill Thetford’s phrase, the other way.

Of course, “open, non-judgemental, sustainable, nurturing, patient, and slow” are not traditional characteristics of our patriarchal culture, which values progress, achievement, zero-sum outcomes, bottom-line analysis, emphasis on cost-benefit, indifference to observer/observed divides and so forth.

It is not clear to me that these characteristics – the ones I associate with patriarchy – have a place in our living. The outcomes they produce – certain technologies in health care, say, or shelter, or conflict resolution techniques – can be produced in other paradigms. Clearly one can be grateful for, say, toilet paper and septic systems, but those progresses have come with a price and too often we are not willing to examine that price, and to ask if there are other, less pyschologically and socially onerous ways to bring forth improvements in our shared living.

I am seeing the wholeness – the holiness, even – of that is always another way, almost always a loving context in which to think and work and play and heal, and that living that other way is what it means to live in and as love.

We want to be happy, and can be happy, where happiness is not a temporary elevated emotional state, but rather a sustainable and durable state of equipoise and wellness that is natural and serious and does not arise as a personal accomplishment that excludes others.

Happiness arises – happens – as a sensitive, tender and attentive presence to our living as we live, and it includes the whole world of objects and processes that appear in our living as if they were our own self.

This is a natural way of being human that has been occluded in our awareness, somewhat the way the sun can be occluded by the moon. Our work is to shift the blocks – the moon, in this analogy – in order to allow the natural light of love to warm and illuminate and inspire (in a literal, not a religious, sense) our living.

This work is neither easy nor (at this juncture anyway) familiar. Yet it is deeply personal and necessarily collective. It is dialogic in the sense that it must be consensual and it must be mutual. Its effects are local and global and cosmic.

It is unromantic and non-dramatic, in the sense that it happens here and now and not in the presence of a robed priest or expert guru, and not at a special workshop in Ojai, and not in a circle of Bohm dialogue adherents, all of whom broadly agree with one another and share the same general appreciation of method and model.

Rather, the dialogue happens in our families and in our grocery stores and our passing one another on Main Street and all of that. It is the ordinary work of being human as being human arises where and as it arises. The peak experiences of summit and desert are not excluded but their primacy is devalued. We don’t live on the summits and in the deserts; we visit the summits and deserts.

What, then, does this mean for us with respect to the original question about A,B and C? How shall we, as D, respond to or engage with them?

Well, I do not have a specific answer. I do not have the answer. Obviously your answer would be different – subtly or otherwise – from my own. There are many roads, none of them royal.

Yet I will say that over time the answer for me has included the call to give attention in order to remember – to presently realize – that a) I am not a neutral observer but an involved observer; b) that I am not a privileged or special observer but an ordinary and equal observer; c) the viewpoint I presently hold is valid for me but may not be valid for me going forward; and d) this is true for all the ones I observe, each one of whom could be my own self.

In that light, a creative and just response – one that is premised on equality and inclusivity, and on not succumbing to the absolute right/absolute wrong binary – arises on its own. When it does, it is not my accomplishment, nor even ours collectively. It merely comes forth through us, as if the cosmos were grateful for a chance to remember itself yet again.

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  1. The “ultimate” democracy! It’s helpful to me to see the worldy attempts at good as also ways to “own” and therefore invert the good (what just is) – “We can understand our lives as a collective response to a world brought forth by the responsiveness of its observers.” And then the worldly *take* is that the old right is might morphs into each person now being little judgment machines that have to collude to take sides to add up their “rightness” into the might of numbers. And when it’s a one to one dialogue, how fascinating that this observing platform can “own” its observation as valid (notice what just is! but temporarily experience it as “mine”). That that can allow another theirs, and maybe especially also the virtual reality of defensive conditioning coming up (as just “another’s”, “past”, perspective) is so simple (though not familiar!). The worldly/ego take of incorporating even this liberating defenselessness as a “right” view is the only certainty I have to become familiar with as a “warning sign”. And ““open, non-judgemental, sustainable, nurturing, patient, and slow” are beautiful landmarks in a stunning vista IF I accept the granted arising of that vista as/through (my) observership. Thanks for spreading the validity!

    1. Thanks, as always, Mike. Sometimes I feel as if my posts are just the soil for the lovelier blossoms your comments are.

      1. It must be the Dialogue!, like you say. I don’t get too many nods that I’m making any sense from most people, so your lovely compliment is quite appreciated. Thank you for the opportunity to play in such fertile soil (which of course from my perspective I describe as blossoms too).

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