The Benefits of an Ecology of Mind
What follows was motivated by my attending a talk by Nora Bateson on "Systems, Contexts, Frames and Patterns," March 29, 2017 at the Players Club in New York City (To read my review of Nora's new book, “Small Arcs of Larger Circles: Framing Through Other Patterns,” go to Publications on this site; information regarding her film “An Ecology of Mind,” can be found at http://www.anecologyofmind.com/)
There is a commercial on TV, I'm quite sure you've seen where a bank robbery is occurring. A supposed security person is asked by the startled customers lying face down on the floor to do something about it. He responds much to their dismay by saying " I’m not a security guard, I’m a "security monitor" and then announces, "Yes there is a bank robbery going on."
My sense is that we encounter, in many forms, such examples of fragmentation in our culture which eventually lead to the above type of contradiction. These instances are what we call paradoxes, some of which can be humorous and depending on the context very painful. A good standup comedian or an improv group will use these paradoxes to entertain you. In everyday life, working through these contradictions, as Carl Jung used to say, can be a means to self-fulfillment. The problem is that if you avoid them, they can develop into “double binds,"-- those times that can damn you if you do or don't. For instance, if you encounter a statement directed at you like "Please disobey me, " whether you respond yes or no, you will conflict with that command. The dilemma is how do you get out of this unenviable predicament?
Some years ago, I was at a talk given by Nora Bateson's father Gregory, an anthropologist and multidisciplinary thinker who wrote, amongst many other things, the book "Steps to an Ecology of Mind." His talk that night was at the Cathedral of St. John Divine in Manhattan. It gave me hope and a path to overcome life's double binds. After his talk, I immediately went across Amsterdam Avenue to the famous Hungarian Pastry Café and imbibed his thoughts while feeling quilt free to eat an incredible piece of pastry. You see, his topic was " Love and Wisdom!" He had challenged the audience to describe "Love," of which just about everyone eventually agreed, had something to do with recognizing how we connect. He then pointed out how one could easily love, yet create havoc with those connections i.e. abuse, jealousy, etc. Gregory, in his slow pensive tone, with a slight smirk, followed by encouraging all present to use a wider lens to simultaneously view "Love" as being part of and in relation to wider contexts, i.e. family, community, schools, politics, economics, media, nature etc.
Gregory then, in a very soulful manner, within this massive candle lit cathedral with tall ascending stone columns as his background described how understanding these connections can create "Wisdom.” This powerful reframing was an “ah ha” moment. I felt it and could feel as it permeated the audience, as we collectively experienced the dissolving of the intense trappings of a double bind. However, with his distinct caveat smile, he emphasized that this word "Wisdom" is not necessarily all there is to understanding “Love.” His warning, and segue to this somewhat “satori”-like awareness, depends on how we participate in the relationships within those contexts that make up “Love.”.
Now, having read and heard Nora further elaborate on these themes, here is my sense of what Gregory meant when he often said, “make a difference that is a difference” in our quest to navigate these ever-present paradoxes to avoid stifling double binds. Firstly, as Neil deGrasse Tyson believes, we need to feel how “the universe lives within us and around us with a pulsating field of energy that connects to our very being and consciousness." Secondly, since there are two basic options of how we view our world, it would benefit us by making a choice as to which one will become our primary lens. One option is to be very “linear,” depending mostly on cause and effect reasoning. However, as demonstrated by the “security monitor” above, this can create behaviors and consequences that result in being more vulnerable to those inevitable paradoxes.
A second option is to see things in a part-to-whole ecological manner, which in my mind is more in tune with how nature works. If we choose the latter and understand our interdependence with each other, we can better manage the unavoidable linear realities of our culture (i.e. the very subject and predicate in our formal language). It also motivates us and gives us some tools, as Nora Bateson believes, to savor relationships and mutually learn from each other.
Why consider this? It is now recognized (even by the American Medical Association which previously had denied it for years) that all chronic illnesses originate from over stressing our nervous system Using an ecological perspective that emphasizes context over content makes us less stressful, more comfortable, and apt to flow with the natural patterns that exist. This is what ecology and nature are about. In this framework, imposed fragmentation, dichotomies, or narrow myopic views have little meaning without understanding how actions and behavior are interconnected.
This encourages, as does Quantum Physics, many different answers and viewpoints to help resolve problems, such as climate, poverty, education, international and general health issues. The above double bind for instance, about disobeying can begin to be resolved by using a wider frame such as inquiring how it feels to be disobeyed.
In conclusion, it comes down to being in the present, putting things in perspective, and simultaneously using some wisdom to synchronize with nature or to uninhibitedly enter the Hungarian Pastry Café and with a beginner’s mind, and see what happens.
Blog Entry no. 1, May 2017 ©