Where is our future?

As it is supposed to be the way of tracking my pace through the time of pandemics, inevitably there will be some ups & downs. Let’s say the latter is the case this week, although I’m not sure anymore how to discriminate between these poles exactly. Even if I somehow managed to upstart (to some extent) my writing process and got gradually invigorated again with what I had put aside a few weeks ago, there are some days when sustained attention does not come easy or is utterly wrecked. Or, I’d rather say, it’s being diverted to some kind of an internal process I can only get a glimpse of. Actually, I’ve always felt my research and writing process seem more a creative endeavor than a properly structured and disciplined inquiry that can be properly designed and managed. This is not to say that I work on a whim or endlessly wait for an inspiration to present itself right in front of my face. However, to some extent, the whole process of playing with concepts, combining different theoretical perspectives and backgrounds, tracing the histories and lines of thoughts, analyzing the media objects or cultural phenomena is not without its pitfalls as well as sudden revelations and insights. Granted, in most cases, the latter is brought by the whole weeks of the ideas being developed behind the scene and arduous work going on in the background – so on the surface, I might be as distracted and absent-minded as any stereotypical academic.  In a way, I always hope that falling again in this distracted mode of being means something is going on behind the curtain of my consciousness. Usually, it is, but you just never know for sure.

So I hope that in reality, I managed to really kickstart this process. Also, it may be unpleasant and really difficult at times. Like when for weeks you can’t find conclusions that would sound relevant enough or adequate or coherent, or you don’t see how to develop some argument beyond the obvious, or you have the impression of going in circles. A bit like a koan practice, I was reminded this week, while attending another class of the course on emptiness by Roshi Paul Genki Kahn (How Empty is Emptiness? – I can’t help but see here a dash of a very specific, barely discernible sense of Zen humor along with a sincere way to study how the concept of emptiness has been developed starting with early Buddhist scripture through philosophical schools of Madhyamika and Yogaćara and then reformulated by Chinese Hua-yen all the way to Zen Garland Order). So this kind of practice provides me with yet another vantage point to better understand my work.

It dawned on me that the most difficult part of it is to let things unfold in their own time and manner, which may sound nice on the surface but requires a lot of courage (as well as trust and patience). And because this week I was again desperately missing my permaculture garden located on the Slovakian side of the border, in a beautiful village Lechnica, gardening became the focus of the week. I stumbled upon a quote that suddenly rang a bell when I was sitting in front of my screen listening to Roshi Genki:

“Change is one of the few things in Nature that is constant – the continual flow of unknowable and unpredictable relationships, which lead to choices, which in turn lead to actions, and which then become events laden with consequences. Thus everything is in constant process of becoming something else. […] In this way one of Nature’s great lessons is revealed if we observe closely and participate consciously in life: knowledge represent our notion of the historical surety of the past; change flows as the ongoing current of the active present, and uncertainty is the womb of future possibility, whether in my garden, a farmer’s field, a forest, or the world at large.”

It comes from this small book:

Chris Maser is better known as an author of The Redesigned Forest, an unconventional forester and designer of sustainable communities. Still, in this book, he manifests his gardening passion and links gardening with a much broader perspective on life, much like I was prompted to do some time ago. (And let’s leave aside, for now, “Nature” here as a construct). Apparently, the part of a process that comes as the most difficult is coming to terms with uncertainty as “the womb of the future possibility” – it has to resonate with this difficult time as well, where so many ordinary, everyday routines and structures we knew and took for granted are suddenly falling apart. Staying with this kind of trouble, to borrow from the famous title, is all about patience, trust, and perseverance. And a supportive community. This reminds me of the reason why I wrote this post in the first place – apart from the fantastic community of fellow Zen practitioners, I have the privilege to belong to a few others.  One of them became invigorated with the discussion on where our future is and how to start imagining it, where the ideas are or why there are not so many ideas about how to proceed and what to do next. Well, I would say there is no shortage of ideas around, but that is not the point. And what my point is, I’ll explain next, maybe earlier than next Sunday.

For now, I’m watching this womb of uncertainty where future possibilities grow:

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