Announcing: study circles

Welcome to 2023, all. Much of my past year has gone into a complete overhaul of the reverse side of Turning Signs, culminating in the publication of TS 2.2, which is now online. After a few years of focusing mainly on the transition, and trying to make sense of this time of our lives, i’d like to dig deeper into some of the basic patterns of sense-making and choice-making that have evolved on this planet.

This is what Turning Signs is about – especially the patterns that we don’t usually pay attention to, because they are as familiar as the air we breathe, and therefore unnoticed. But after 22 years of gathering information and inspiration from a wide range of sciences, arts and worldviews, and sharing the results online, i’m hoping to engage in some live conversations with other people who can bring their own ideas to the dialogue, using the book to focus the discussion.

So i’m starting a study circle which will meet periodically (mostly via Zoom) so that small groups of us can exchange views on the basic concepts developed in Turning Signs. It’s all explained on a new page of this blog, which contains a link to my email so you can let me know if you’re interested.

The opening session will be Saturday morning, January 7, at 10:30, and will introduce a special kind of meditation that has emerged from Turning Signs. I’ll be using this blog to notify subscribers of upcoming study circle sessions, so you might want to subscribe even if you’re not ready to join the circle this week.

A simple way to understand what’s happening … and what to do

We are living in transformative times. The title of this blog post is the title of an essay by Richard Heinberg which is exactly what the title says. I can’t think of anything else i’ve read that says so much that is so important right now in so few words. This is truly essential reading.

Inkling of the day, and Richard Heinberg’s

final point: life is about more than survival.

The fundamental point

Now, if a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place. When you find your place where you are, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point. When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point; for the place, the way, is neither large nor small, neither yours nor others’. The place, the way, has not carried over from the past, and it is not merely arising now. Accordingly, in the practice-enlightenment of the buddha way, to attain one thing is to penetrate one thing; to meet one practice is to sustain one practice.

— Dogen, Genjokoan (Tanahashi 2010, 32)

The present encounter will change your mind now or never. Noticing that is has changed would be another change.

What are you supposed to do?

Cut off learning and there will be nothing more to worry about.

Dao De Jing 20 (Ames)

Suppose you have no mission to accomplish,
no reason for being here,
nothing to learn from it all.
What difference would it make?

You still have things to do, places to go,
obsessions to absorb your energy,
just nothing to be proud or guilty of.

You play your part unwritten,
unlearn your lines,
dissolve your problems.

Suppose this is it.
Can you stop supposing?

The primal point

Arthur Green points out that in Kabbalah, wisdom (Hokhmah) is also primordial teaching (like Buddhist dharma) which is a ‘twin process’ with God’s creation of the world.

As the primal point of existence, Hokhmah is symbolized by the yod, the smallest of the letters, the first point from which all the other letters will be written. Here all of Torah, the text and the commentary added to it in every generation—indeed all of human wisdom—is contained within a single yod.

— Green (2004, 40)

Knowledge is a single point, but the ignorant have multiplied it.

— Islamic hadith (“tradition”) attributed to the Prophet Muhammad or the Imám Alí

‘The ignorant’ here includes you and me and all sentient beings subject to explicit knowledge, whose complexity conceals the implicit knowledge by representing it as multiplex. As Voltaire is said to have remarked in a different context, ‘the multitude of books is making us ignorant.’

Another hadith quotes the Imám Alí as saying that

All that is in the world is in the Qur’an, and all that is in the Qur’an is condensed in the first chapter of the Book, and all that is in the first chapter is in the basmala [first verse], and all that is in the basmala is in the bā’ [first letter, ب], and I am the point under the bā’.

(Lawson 2012, 102)

We might read this as a reference to the extreme compression of meaning found in turning signs. They seem to have a magical quality of turning meaning inside out, as it were, so that a single verse says it all: rather than serving as one of many particles in a vast System, it seems to be the point around which the System revolves – the I of the cyclone, in which Author and Reader are one with Scripture. As Northrop Frye puts it (1982, 208-9), ‘Ideally, every sentence is the key to the whole Bible … every sentence is a kind of linguistic monad.’

The Zohar (1:21a) speaks of ‘primordial light prevailing on the first day’; in the Babylonian Talmud, Rabbi El’azar said that ‘With the light created by the blessed holy one on the first day, one could gaze from one end of the universe to the other’ (ZP I.159).