Storytelling

Storytelling plays a noble and historic role in our lives and in society. Stories can give us a narrative to guide and instruct us. They are crucial to our knowing who we are; they provide a sense of identity. Some stories, however, become the limitation to creating anything new ... We need to distinguish between the stories that give meaning to our lives and help us find our voice, and those that limit our possibility.

The stories we find useful and fulfilling are the ones that are metaphors, signposts, parables, and inspiration for the fullest expression of our humanity.

Limiting stories are versions of the past. They are stories about the conclusions we drew from events that happened to us. Other limiting stories are those that are rehearsed or make the point that the future will be a slightly modified continuation of the past out of which the story arose. Stories of this nature place us as victims of events or even fate.

Theater, movies, song, literature, and art are storytelling of the highest order. These are the mediums for building an individual sense of what it means to be human.

[Peter Block]
Community, p.35

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Leaving Home

[...] even the individuals whose initiation into certain secrets has marked them out in some way are fundamentally obeying the laws of group identity, though in their case the group is a socially differentiated one.

The secret society is an intermediary stage on the way to individuation. The individual is still relying on a collective organisation to effect his differentiation for him; that is, he has not yet recognised that it is really the individual's task to differentiate himself from all the others and stand on his own feet.

All collective identities, such as membership in organisations, support of "isms," and so on, interfere with the fulfilment of this task. Such collective identities are crutches for the lame, shields for the timid, beds for the lazy, nurseries for the irresponsible; but they are equally shelters for the poor and weak, a home port for the shipwrecked, the bosom of a family for orphans, a land of promise for disillusioned vagrants and weary pilgrims, a herd and a safe fold for lost sheep, and a mother providing nourishment and growth.

[C.G. Jung]
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.375

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Chasing the Horizon

By joining the race for better theories, more logical social relations, more immediate forms of expression and more authentic lives, revolutionaries only perpetuate the grand social myth of a final resolution and perfect unification; a myth which fixes our sights on an ever-receding horizon and prevents us from turning our attention to the here and now.

[Sadie Plant]
The Most Radical Gesture, p.143

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Life Amongst the Rubble

Baudrillard defined postmodernism as 'the characteristic of a universe where there are no more definitions possible'; a world in which everything has 'been done' and all that remains is to play with the fragments. 'Playing with the pieces - that is postmodern'.

The pieces with which the postmodernist toys are theories, ideas, and vocabularies in which the remnants of the lost modernist belief in the possibilities of progress, liberation, and meaning remain. Postmodernity is 'a game with the vestiges of what has been destroyed. This is why we are "post" - history has stopped, one is in a kind of post-history which is without meaning.'

It is more a survival amongst the ruins than anything else.

[Sadie Plant]
The Most Radical Gesture, p.155

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Diana: I don't want your pain, I don't want your menopausal decay and death! I don't need you, Max.

Max: You need me! You need me badly. Because I'm your last contact with human reality. I love you, and that painful, decaying love is the only thing between you and the shrieking nothingness you live the rest of the day.

Diana: Then don't leave me.

Max: It's too late, Diana. There's nothing left in you that I can live with. You're one of Howard's humanoids, and if I stay with you, I'll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything that you and the institution of television touch is destroyed.

You're television incarnate, Diana, indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death - all the same to you as bottles of beer, and the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays.

You're madness, Diana, virulent madness, and everything you touch dies with you. But not me. Not as long as I can feel pleasure and pain and love. (He kisses her farewell.) And it's a happy ending. Wayward husband comes to his senses, returns to his wife with whom he's established a long and sustaining love. Heartless young woman left alone in her arctic desolation. Music up with a swell. Final commercial. And here are a few scenes from next week's show.

Dialogue from the film "Network"

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I looked back on the past and recalled my people's old ways, but they were not living that way any more. They were traveling the black road, everybody for himself and with little rules of his own [...]

[Black Elk]
Black Elk Speaks, p.215

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The Real Thing

Life Is Too Short!

Life is too short! So much of the time we’re thinking about what we’ve done, and what we’re going to do, but we need to think about what we ARE doing! Right now! And how do we feel about it?

And do we want it to be something else—something better? And what is better? And what is the whole point anyway? And where do we begin? And why should we start now anyway? Because right now might very well be the last chance we will ever have!

We should push past the point that seems comfortable and easy! We should aspire to do the stuff that seems completely and totally impossible and insane and work towards it always! And never stop trying! Never settle for less!

You can always find a million reasons to say no—to wait—to forget it—to ignore it—when are you going to start? It is too late when it’s too late! When you look back and wished that you would have been a little less lazy and a little less scared and a little more driven?

Do it because it is the right thing to do! Do it and expect nothing in return—only the satisfaction of knowing that you tried your best! This is why we’re alive! This is our potential!

[Andrew WK]

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Progress

[...] we have plunged down a cataract of progress which sweeps us on into the future with ever wilder violence the further it takes us from our roots.

[...] it is the loss of connection with the past, our uprootedness, which has given rise to the "discontents" of civilisation and to such a flurry and haste that we live more in the future and its chimerical promises of a golden age than in the present [...]

[...] reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time than ever before [...]

[...] all haste is of the devil [...]

[C.G. Jung]
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p.263, 264

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There are many planes of Being — many sub-planes of Life — many degrees of existence in the Universe. And all depend upon the advancement of beings in the scale, of which scale the lowest point is the grossest matter, the highest being separated only by the thinnest division from the spirit of the All.

And, upward and onward along this Scale of Life, everything is moving. All are on the Path, whose end is The All. All progress is a Returning Home. All is Upward and Onward, in spite of all seemingly contradictory appearances.

[...] This Involuntary stage of Creation is sometimes called the "Outpouring" of the Divine Energy, just as the Evolutionary state is called the "Indrawing." The extreme pole of the Creative process is considered to be the furthest removed from the All, while the beginning of the Evolutionary stage is regarded as the beginning of the return swing of the pendulum of Rhythm — a "coming home" idea being held in all of the Hermetic Teachings.

[...] The Hermetic Teachings regarding the process of Evolution are that, the All, having meditated upon the beginning of the Creation — having thus established the material foundations of the Universe — having thought it into existence — then gradually awakens or rouses from its Meditation and in so doing starts into manifestation the process of Evolution, on the material, mental and spiritual planes, successively and in order.

Thus the upward movement begins — and all begins to move Spiritward. Matter becomes less gross; the Units spring into being; the combinations begin to form; Life appears and manifests in higher and higher forms; and Mind becomes more and more in evidence — the vibrations constantly becoming higher. In short, the entire process of Evolution, in all of its phases, begins, and proceeds according to the established Laws of the "Indrawing" process.

The Kybalion, Chapter VII: ""The All" in All"

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Oh, if only it were possible to find understanding," Joseph exclaimed. "If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn't there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?"

The master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said: "There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The diety is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught. Be prepared for conflicts, Joseph Knecht - I can see that they already have begun.

[Herman Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game

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It's true that biology and theoretical physics have brought us some fascinating knowledge about the origins of life and the formation of the universe. But does knowing such things help us elucidate the basic mechanisms of happiness and suffering?

It's important not to lose sight of the goals that we set ourselves. To know the exact shape and dimensions of the Earth is undeniably progress. But whether it's round or flat doesn't make a great deal of difference to the meaning of existence. Whatever progress is made in medicine, we can only temporarily treat sufferings that never stop coming back, and culminate in death.

We can end a conflict, or a war, but there will always be more, unless people's minds change.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.17

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Modern man likes the word progress. I think contemporary people are still dragging that idea around. It is easy to accept that logic which proposes a diagram of "progress," progress with stages rising in a line.

On this point, Jungian ideas are pretty flexible, while Buddhism is utterly open. There is no first and last, no beginning or end. Buddhism shows us the world of everything as it is, as a whole. No real change is going on.

[Hayao Kawai]
Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.61

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The oft-repeated doctrine of a progressive development of mankind to an ever higher perfection, or generally of any kind of becoming by means of the world-process, is opposed to the a priori view that, up to any given point of time, an infinite time has already elapsed, and consequently that all that is supposed to come with time is bound to have existed already.

[Arthur Schopenhauer]
The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, p.172-7, 184

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Fandom

Pet Hate?

How about my pet love? I love being a fan when I meet people who's work I like, books or otherwise. There's something so great about fandom. I remember the year me and five other friends went apeshit over OMD in 1980-something. It brought us together in a way that still feels intimate two decades later. If you like something, let people know it. Life is so short.

[Douglas Coupland]






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Cultivating Friendships

Friendships should always allow room for growth. We all change and grow over the years, sometimes in a way that’s out of our control, and sometimes in a way that we consciously bring about. If people choose to better themselves then those around them must allow them the room to maneuver.

To constantly reiterate what that person is, in the face of what they are striving to be, is to undo the positive change that they are trying to bring about; your reminders tie them down like lead weights, when really you should be helping them to cut free from the weights that they have already imposed upon themselves over the years.

Encourage the best and most positive within your friends. Don’t reinforce the worst.


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Community | Introduction

Intimate attachments to other human beings are a hub around which a person’s life can revolve, not only when he is an infant or a toddler or a schoolchild but throughout his adolescence and his years of maturity as well, and on into old age. From these intimate attachments a person draws his strength and enjoyment of life and, through what he contributes, he gives strength and enjoyment to others.1

What you’re about to read is a short meditation on the subject of community. Community may well mean different things to each of us, but for our purposes we’ll stick to a relatively loose definition: as a group of people who have certain attitudes or interests in common. This may strike you as a rather general description, but hopefully things will become clearer as you read on.

The breakdown of community is something we all may experience at one time or another. It is the motivating force behind this text, and in exploring the reasons behind it we’ll also be considering the value of community; should we be concerned when it breaks down? And if so, why?

To a lot of you, the importance of community may be perfectly apparent, and if this is the case then this text hopes to serve as an interesting reminder.

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Community | Individuation: Becoming who we can be

Community | Individuation: Becoming who we can be


Communities allow us to make up our own rules, and to live by them without the fear that we are doing something wrong or strange. By the time we reach our twenties we will have absorbed a lot of information about how to live our lives: standards that we should be upholding; things that we should be doing at certain times, or have done by certain times; things we shouldn’t do; paths that are foolish; paths that are brave. The list goes on. Much of it will be received wisdom, and a lot of it may be very well grounded and useful. However, we shouldn’t forget that these are our lives to lead, and they haven’t been written already. We are all free to make up our own rules; to paint whatever pictures we wish for ourselves, and in whatever colours we like.

Becoming what one is is a creative act comparable with creating a work of art. It is freeing oneself from the tyranny of one’s upbringing; emancipating oneself from convention, from education, from class, from religious belief, from all the social conventions, prejudices, and assumptions which prevent one from realizing one’s own nature in its totality.2

Throughout our lives we are constantly growing and changing, searching for an identity that we can call our own. In finding out who we really are – or in becoming who we can be – we sometimes have to make difficult decisions, or to take challenging actions. What we know of integrity tells us that in many ways it is good to remain the same; to have continuity in our thoughts and actions is seen as a virtue, and we admire those who have stuck by their views over the years. It is undoubtedly true that in many cases we are right to see this quality as a virtue, but this realization doesn’t mean that it should be taken as an absolute. The ability to abandon a viewpoint is often as virtuous as the ability to maintain one.

The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word … Why drag about this corpse of your memory, lest you contradict somewhat you have stated in this or that public place? Suppose you should contradict yourself; what then? … With consistency a soul has simply nothing to do … Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today.3

The ability to change is vital if we are to succeed in realising our potential. We start off knowing nothing and end up knowing very little: in between these points is our journey of discovery. Whilst many things we learn may have little impact upon us, there are also things – truths, ideas – that impact upon us so greatly that they compel us to change. We must always be open to this change, to be able to make ourselves available and ready for it. The voice of who we can be calls us along and sometimes it can be hard to follow, to take the next step towards it.

In becoming who we are, we may take paths that received wisdom or general consensus doesn’t approve of or cater for, routes that lead into unknown territory. Being surrounded by a community of like-minded people makes such routes easier to take, and can allow us to explore ourselves and the world in ways we would have found more challenging otherwise.

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Community | Perspective


Schemata, philosophies, religions, scientific theories, and even aesthetic prejudices, can all act as bulwarks against the basic, cosmic anxiety which we all suffer when we realize how large and how indifferent the world is, and how small and helpless is each individual in it.4

The passage above, from psychologist Anthony Storr, highlights some of the various structures we use in order to defend ourselves against what Storr refers to as ‘cosmic anxiety’. When thinking of yourself in isolation the world can seem a foreboding place, full of infinite possibility and choice; often too much choice.

One of the primary benefits of community is the comforting sense of perspective it provides. Like those defences mentioned above, it helps us to break the world up into manageable structures, and can provide closeness, familiarity, and meaning.

Part of the joy we derive from large-scale events comes from the sense of community that develops around them. Sporting events are a good example of this, particularly those that take place on a large scale, such as the football World Cup.

The World Cup creates an immediate sense of a global community, united through it’s interest in the event, and kept in contact through widespread televised coverage. Through becoming a spectator, or even through holding a passing interest, we are inadvertently creating a link with thousands of others who are doing the same. The festivities that surround the event help to further the sense of coming together, and an ad hoc community is created - community through competition, through celebration, through spectacle.

When we watch a game our eyes join with thousands of others all over the world and we establish a temporary common ground. This link may only be a peripheral awareness, but its impact can be significant, in that it allows us to re-assess our perception of the world - to reduce something large and unknown into something more manageable. Where before the world may have been a collection of countries and people we know little, if anything, about, now it is a large collection of football fans; wearing colours that we recognise, thinking thoughts much like our own.

Big Brother is another interesting example of an event generating an instant community. Not only does the show become a televisual feature through it’s steady broadcasting over a defined and lengthy period of time, it also becomes omni-present through extended media coverage. From it’s own satellite shows (Big Brothers Little Brother, Big Brother’s Big Mouth, etc) to almost daily coverage in newspapers and magazines: as a society we become aware of its presence.

By choosing to engage we enter into a community, one not too dissimilar to the sort that springs up around sporting events; there are programmes which allow us to publicly discuss the event, in which it is expertly and not so expertly analysed; and in the studio audiences of Little Brother and Big Mouth we have mini-communities created before our very eyes. For a defined period of time a community springs up, its eyes trained upon the same things, its thoughts in synch.

Through creating community on both national and international levels, these events allow us to enjoy one of its primary benefits; they make the world seem a smaller place. The effect may often be near-unconscious, but it is significant none-the-less.

Community | Morals and Codes

The growth of cities furthered looser, less intimate social relations; and, whilst the individual gained personal freedom by being emancipated from the intimate ties which characterize smaller societies, he became vulnerable to anomie, the alienation which results from no longer conforming to any traditional code.5

In living outside of a community we are subject to our own standards; of honour, justice, kindness and so on. Everyone has their own moral compass to guide them through the variety of day-to-day encounters and decisions, and we all attempt to live by the standards that we set ourselves. There are inevitably moments that test our resolve and through these moments we are able to define who we are.

It isn’t always easy to do the right thing, or to even know what the right thing is. For example, we may be required to invest our trust in someone else - if this trust is abused we can be left feeling humiliated, with our ego bruised. At this point we may be tempted to listen to the recriminating voice of our ego, to not make the same mistake again and leave ourselves vulnerable in such a way. This reaction would only be natural, but in causing us to build our defenses higher it is also a small defeat.

In being part of a community you are witness to the actions and standards of those close to you. Your moral compasses combine, and a group ethic can form. In such an environment, the honorable act of one person can create a precedent; when noticed, such acts can inspire equally honorable behaviour in others. Most of us want to be good people: often we need only the opportunity or the excuse.

Being part of a community that values ethics may lessen the humiliation felt from an encounter like the one mentioned above. In being surrounded by people who understand and value your actions there may be no need to feel humiliation at all.

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Community | Creativity


A person may have the will to create, but not necessarily the courage. The act of creating something and putting it out into the world is often an act of exposure; we become vulnerable and can risk ridicule. To become naked in this way requires a certain amount of courage, and taking this step can be a thousand times harder if we perceive ourselves as being isolated.

To be amongst a community of creative people makes us one of many. If everyone around us is exposing themselves then suddenly it isn’t so unusual, and after a while it becomes the norm. It’s at this point that we are ready to test ourselves again; to change and to grow a little more.

When emboldened like this we are more likely to experiment, and to play. If we go out on a limb, community normalizes us upon our return; it says, they can think you crazy, but we won’t; they can doubt you but we know who you are. When risking ridicule is no longer an issue, a world of possibilities opens up to us.

Being surrounded by others who are creating can also provide you with a sense of momentum; the force of their activity can carry you along with it; inspire you, provoke you, prod you. To embark upon something is often to take a step away from the default, from the necessities of day to day life. There can be a variety of justifications and insecurities that precede the decision to create, and if we are creating in isolation it may be a challenge to take this step.

This is one of the benefits of environments like art school - places where creativity is the default, where we are surrounded by people who are all doing the same as us and accepting what they’re doing as normal. Within the nurturing environment of the creative community the step toward personal creativity is a natural one, and is much easier to take.

Community | Play


Play can be many things, but we shall refer to it here as a celebration of being alive; it can be anything from climbing walls, to dancing and singing, to seeking adventure.

The play-mood is one of rapture and enthusiasm and is sacred or festive in accordance with the occasion. A feeling of exaltation and tension accompanies the action, mirth and relaxation follow.6

Most of us will get playful urges, and in capitalizing upon these we allow ourselves to enjoy the world in a unique way; we can step outside the flow of the necessary that tends to consume our day-to-day lives, and in doing so we regain perspective.

To be playful is to leave yourself open to possibilities; it may not necessarily be to seek adventure, but to be open to the idea. This is the playful mentality.

To seize moments and make play a reality we often need people around us who we can play with, in whose company we can be free. We’ve seen that to be part of a community that cherishes creativity can be a tremendously beneficial thing for the creative person, and this also links in with play.

It seems probable that there is always an element of play in creative living. When this playful element disappears, joy goes with it, and so does any sense of being able to innovate.7

It is of course true that we can make adventure on our own, but in doing so exclusively we are missing out on the benefits that the community can bring. Other people can open pathways within us; can allow us access to ourselves, affording us the opportunity to become someone different - or, more precisely, to become more fully who we are.

Amongst playmates we are emboldened. A group can generate momentum, meaning we needn’t rely on being driven by the engine of our own enthusiasm.

Being surrounded by playmates means that we always have the option to play, and through joining with others we are able to appreciate life in unique ways. The world is there for us all to enjoy and explore; often we only need an excuse, or the right company.

Community | Breakdown


The idea of community is something that most of us grow up with as a given; from early childhood we are surrounded by various forms of it: from family, to nursery, to school, to university. Throughout this time we are in environments that facilitate the forming of community, places that surround us with others of roughly our own age. And whilst the sizes of our friendship groups may vary, there is always the notion of other people on the periphery.

Pre-ordained community seems to end as we make our way into the world following the close of institutionalised education. We no longer have a place to go on a near-daily basis where we will be surrounded by our peers. Perhaps the closest equivalent is work-based community - in many ways this can resemble what we’ve known up until now, but there are subtle and significant differences.

Within an educational establishment we generally know how long we are to spend there and this realisation can effect the bonds we make with others; if we know we are to spend a lengthy period within a place, then we will be likely to invest more in the bonds that we make with others. Given enough time we’re also more likely to engage in or build a larger community outside of our immediate friends.

On the outside of institutionalized education things aren’t as clearly defined. It is now up to us to choose how long we wish to spend somewhere. The structure that we’ve known until now has disappeared, and it is up to us to make the rules.

Community | Re-Building


As we’ve seen, without the immediacy and comfort of community the world can become a larger and more foreboding place; we are less able to capitalize upon our playful urges, and our ability to create and to enjoy experience may become limited. It is perhaps tempting to see its breakdown as a natural progression, and received wisdom may have us believe that this is the way of things.

In our twenties we must define ourselves, and we do this in a variety of ways. Some of us seek to further our careers; to pursue excellence in a chosen field and to become all we can in this way. Some of us define ourselves through close relationships: through falling in love, and building a family. However we do it, we all end up following our own paths. The singularity of our choices and the demands they make upon us can lead to drawbacks in other areas, and can often contribute towards a breakdown of community that we may see as inevitable.

It is perhaps natural to see the kind of community that we knew in our youth as being lost to us; community based around play, creativity and shared ideals. In truth, this need never be lost, and if we are without it then it is first a matter of realizing that this is the case. If this realization comes as a sadness then it is up to us to do something about it; to re-build.

The adventure of youth is always within us. It is a trick of nostalgia that makes us believe that our good times are forever in the past, and it is a trick that makes us give in and accept less, in deference to ‘the natural way of things’. The world is full of possibilities no matter what age we are, and this is particularly true of those of us in our twenties.

We no longer fall into experience as easily as we used to; the demands of growing up and the responsibility that comes with it make opportunities for creative living fewer. But this need not be a point of regret. Now the burden is on us to create experience for ourselves; to invent our own lives in the form we wish them to take. In many areas of our lives we may have little control - we can’t all magic up an instant utopia for ourselves - but it may be true that it many ways we have more control than we realize.

Knowledge of experience - of what is possible - is crucial. We have seen some of the benefits of community; that it can provide momentum through combined will - momentum that can foster imagination, action and creativity within the individuals of the community. For us to be aware of the possibilities of living and of the experience that is available to us at all times is a start; but to be surrounded by others who share this realization is truly a liberation.