The Compass of Trembling (Intentions Part 2)

I’ve been using the tool Year Compass to reflect on my 2020. Over the past four years, it’s been a useful container for summarizing, for picking up surprising and resonant threads. 

Year Compass also has a section dedicated to looking at the Year Ahead, and I noticed in myself a nagging resistance in committing to any concrete achievements, goals or resolutions. This was strange for me: While I’m not into goal-achieving, I take a lot of pleasure in the exercise of goal-setting. Then I was writing to my Spiritual Innovation Sangha in response to an email that Peter sent about the foreboding synchronicity of his two I-Ching divination readings: 

“The cards threw the hexagrams 28 (Excessive Pressure) and its change to 27 (Nourishment). Excessive Pressure is “When the roof is collapsing, run first, and then fix the roof later”… 

The actions indicated were very similar – do not take major actions of any sort, there is looming crisis, be prepared to hunker down and be careful.” 

Reading his email really resonated. And I wrote the following in response: 

Thank you for sharing these divination readings Peter – I shivered when reading them. It also aligns with a sense of restlessness and weird resistance about “planning” my 2021, which a lot of my reflection exercises and journaling has guided me to do. Perhaps it’s sourced from an awareness that what is ahead of us remains to be deeply mysterious and disturbingly liminal – even if so many people are excited to leave 2020 behind them. 

I sense that the personal and sangha work we’re cultivating together is a vital part of the bridge-building… even if the bridge might take 200 years to cross (the Great Conjunction is making me think on more cosmic epochal scales). I’ve been thinking to myself: Given that this “liminal” time may not promise stability or “knowing” in my lifetime, what are the seeds that I plant for future generations to reap from? And perhaps my role isn’t even in foresight or seed-planting, but the mycelial work of breaking down and composting. So I wonder, how do I support hospicing the old system, guiding the parts that need to die so that we might compost towards emergent potentialities that we do not yet know? 

This seems like critical but humbling, ego-dissolving work – requiring me to let go of deeply buried attachments to service the collective. But there is something also beautiful about letting my wave dissolve into the ocean. 

Three days later, the Capitol was stormed, and we witnessed what to many felt like the shocking desecration of a sacred symbol of Western democracy. 

So here is the part where the obvious must be said: It’s 2021, and the world is still ending. We’re in a liminal space (or what Charles Eisentain pithily describes as “space between stories.)

We’ve been in the state of transition for a while now. The fascinating thing about liminality are the ways at which it is experienced at different spatial and time scales. There are the liminal thresholds in one’s personal life, which might be marked by rituals and rites of passage: a new year passing, a graduation, new birth and death. On a collective level: the dissolving power of political institutions, Global Liberalism, Modernist paradigms of time and causality, perhaps an epochal shift in consciousness. 

Something that’s been useful for me as a sensemaking heuristic for change is Stewart Brand’s pace layers, where interdependent layers of change occur at different speeds: rapidly patterning trends and memes (e.g. “this is fine” and the expanding brain memes are perfect snapshots) are poignant signals in Fashion/Art, but policy/governance change moves far more slowly, and human civilizational scales of culture change usually occur over centuries. And then there’s vast and mysterious Nature, not outside of us, but of which we are part: she moves at glacial speeds on geological, cosmic time scales. 

When I sense my(our) place in this time, waves of feeling crash against me at different levels: are we in the liminal in-between of COVID-19, where a vaccine will bring back stability and groundedness? Of the building pressures of tremendous post-Capitalist inequity towards a violent class war? Of a massive cultural shift towards ecological civilizations in relationship with planetary boundaries? Of a quantum shift in human consciousness towards the entangled, the integral and the non-dual? Or the liminal becoming of groundless ground – of the only thing that endures, the deep current of constant change? 

Will this liminal period be for the next decade, or the next 200 years? I don’t know. How could we possibly know? How do we possibly plan, set goals? Don’t make me fucking plan in the unknown. 

But when I slow down, and I close my eyes, what I do know is that my heart is racing, and I am trembling. And this makes me feel alive. 

I’m trembling because I’m standing in a dark forest and the flashlight in my hand has been flickering for a while – it’s running out of batteries. I leave it behind and allow myself to become fully lost in the dark. With time, my eyes begin to adjust and my other senses, animal senses, come alive. I start to see the shapes and shadows of other looming and lurking bodies – fellow fugitives. We nod at each other in recognition, share food and stories, and take slow steps of aliveness through the dark forest together. 

It’ll just be day by day, breath by breath. This is what living is, what being lost is, what making sanctuary is. We’ll go for long walks, make delicious meals, cry from confusion, care for kin. I’ll notice the way a conversation, an email, a line in a book, meowbot falling asleep in my lap, takes my breath away. There is something sacred in this.

Even though we’re not doing much, something is happening.

Bonitta Roy shared something once that has been a compass for me ever since: 

When facing the edge of the great Mystery, the trembling that overcomes us is related to seeking. Fear is the contracted form of this tremulous energy. On the other hand, the expanded form of seeking is awe. 

So I’ll trust the trembling, the seeking, the strange attractor of resonance– and follow the awe that guides us. All this, from the wise, wild compass of our collective body.