Archive for the ‘cause and effect’ Tag

E=MC(2): A Druid Equation   2 comments

No, not Einstein’s famous equation: effect = mastery X cause2!

Our weird, worrisome and wondrous world is among many other things a laboratory for working out cause and effect. (In many ways, that’s what evolution is. Trial and error, with lots of discards. False starts, dead ends.)

“As above, so below” — just how far does it go? Can I ever really know?

Try out any current headline, fit it into the equation, and you see the same thing: lots of causing, little mastery, and voila! — a cascade of undesired effects from what initially might even have been a halfway-good idea. (We’ll discount our worst ideas here out of compassion for our own human shortsightedness.)

We introduce a natural predator to bring down the population of a creature we label a pest, and our solution becomes the new problem. [Wikipedia notes: “Harmonia axyridis (the harlequin ladybird) was introduced into North America from Asia in 1979 to control aphids, but it is now the most common species, outcompeting many of the native species” and is a pest itself in many areas.] We warm and cool ourselves with splendid new technologies, and end up overheating our world. We choose leaders trying out their own causes, and we become part of effects they set in motion that we did not anticipate.

If we work with the proportions that this version of the equation suggests, even a little bit of mastery goes a long way toward manifesting more of the effects we wish. A dash of cause and a truck-load of mastery looks like the way to go. Fewer broken dreams, broken bones, broken planets.

Because when I try changing the proportions — lots of cause, just a little mastery — the equation definitely shows how the effect will still be huge. It just won’t be what I wanted in the first place. Like almost any kitchen recipe, there’s some leeway once you know what you’re doing. You learn workable substitutions, you pick up subtle touches and turns and tricks, and in the process you learn a great deal of lore. (What does “season to taste” mean in this case? How much is a “dash” of cumin? How much longer should that turkey bake, since it’s bigger/smaller than last year’s bird, which took X hours? What does the dough feel like when it’s ready?)

Until then, though, I can’t exchange proportions of flour and salt “just because I want to” and expect anything other than disaster. Yes, freedom is my birthright; yes, I shape my universe and create my reality. So does every other being all around me. We’re all still learning, and our realities and universes keep banging into each other as we work through the lessons. (Often it looks like the trees and the bees already know valuable things we’re still figuring out, or are in serious danger of forgetting.)

What does mastery consist of in such situations, at least from a Druid perspective?

Much of Druidry, at least at the start, is a practice of learning how to harmonize with the many other causes all around us, human and non-human, before we barge in out of ignorance and arrogance and try to be causes ourselves. (In the old Greek myth, Prometheus stole fire from the gods and brought it to suffering mortals. In addition to cooking dinner, we’ve been burning ourselves and everything around us ever since. But is the point of the story that humans should give up fire?)

Part of it is simple math: the number of beings around me also launching causes into the cosmos far outnumbers me. Part of it is the very real possibility that over time some of these same beings may have learned things I don’t yet know, things I need to know before I set big causes in motion myself. And a third part, because threes are cool like that, is that as I learn about causes and effects from these other beings, I’ll also learn what I need for my own growing mastery.

A part of our practice is that as we learn about causes and effects from these other beings, we’ll also learn what we need for our own growing mastery.

“Doing Druidry” means we perform rituals, small or large, unintentional or highly planned, simply because we’re ritual beings. We strive to acknowledge and participate more consciously in the cycles of the seasons and our own lives. We meditate and pray, dream and imagine. We talk with trees, listening to their “slow gestures”, as U K LeGuin calls them. We study herbs, divination, the lives of birds and beast, bugs and branching things, out of amazement and empathy and neighbourliness, and simply because we find ourselves here alongside them, dying and living and experiencing what it’s like to walk around in these shapes of flesh. Occasionally a spirit or god flashes across or onto our path, and we try to find out what that means, too.

We’re called, in short, to pay attention.

Refusing to acknowledge cause and effect, yielding up our training for mastery, invites its own effects. Among the Wise in several traditions, it is said that the earth has rejected the initiation of cause and effect. In several of the older maps of the cosmos, the earth is the outermost realm. Within is the realm of emotion and imagination. And within that realm is the realm of cause and effect.

Now we “get” the physical world in many ways. We’ve become quite adept at working many of its laws of force, mass, acceleration and energy to achieve remarkable effects. And look at our cultures, with all our many images and arts and crafts, our music and stories.

We also get much of the second realm: we’ve learned how to evoke in other minds whole worlds of feeling and sensation and possibility. What we’ve just begun to do is work with the third realm, and choose whether the effects we can create should be created, and how to unravel tapestries we’ve woven that no longer serve us. We may say of the “next generation” of a thing that it’s both “new” and “improved”. While we do indeed get much of the “new”, we still struggle with the actually “improved”. Rapidly multiplying imbalances abound, and ripple outward all around us — unintended effects we often try to wish away, rather than owning. (We’re still calling many of them “side effects”, even when they’re fatal.)

One great beauty of Druidry is that it empowers people to find strategies and solutions from the bottom up. We’re directed to look to “what works”, which is an excellent rule of thumb. Druidry, you might say, is a way of domesticating a whole set of “rules of thumb” as a spiritual technology.

Cause and effect, which is our “classroom curriculum” for mastery, is also the thing that teaches us why we need mastery in the first place. And Druidry, which is after all a set of human understandings like anything else we may use to make our way through the curriculum, is one source of help with the challenges of mastery that lie before us.

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Is all — or any — of this “true”? As many have said who’ve come before us, while we may never know if there “really are” gods and spirits, or magic (or a “curriculum”), the universe does often seem to behave as if they exist. I don’t know about you, but to me that’s well worth exploring for its own sake, far more interesting than spending time arguing whether or not it’s “true”. One test for truth is freedom; you know the old saying that “the truth shall make you free”. (Merely arguing about truth, without actually being free, doesn’t feel like freedom to me.) Part of my practice is acting as if I were free …

And “as if” seems right up there next to “cause and effect” as a important part of the curriculum.

Earth Mysteries — 5 of 7 — The Law of Cause and Effect

[Earth Mysteries 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7]

“Everything that exists is the effect of causes at work in the whole system of which each thing is a part, and everything becomes, in turn, the cause of effects elsewhere in the whole system.  In these workings of cause and effect, there must always be a similarity of kind between an effect and at least one of its causes, just as there must be a similarity of scale between an effect and the sum total of its causes.”*

Under the guise of karma, this principle is superficially familiar to more people, perhaps, than the other six laws.  Though not exactly what some people have in mind when they wish you “good karma,” as if it were the same thing as luck.  Where does luck fit in a world system of cause and effect? Worth considering.  A Wise One once remarked that it’s not always possible to be the cause in every situation — to initiate, to be the active force, to get things moving — but that if we must be effect, at least we can strive to be conscious effect.  Recognize the cause, and respond consciously, rather than be manipulated by it unconsciously.  Because who knows? — it may not have your best interests at heart.

That’s not to say that a cause is necessarily actively malevolent or is seeking you out to destroy you and unmake you.  But it may simply be a cause you or someone else set in motion at random, unconsciously, unintentionally.  If you’re its unconscious effect, it’s suddenly detour time.  Willing to go for a ride with a strange cause, one that beckons to you, flashing those stunning looks, that oh so beguiling smile?  Have fun!  Just don’t expect things to be the same when you get back.  Whenever that turns out to be …

You can be spontaneous and conscious too.  But be the cause.  Otherwise, what’s consciousness for?  I find that a fascinating, troubling question.

So many beings get along fine without the human excess of self-consciousness, that strange echo-chamber or feedback loop that tells us our thoughts, our feelings, our thoughts about our feelings, and our feelings about the thoughts we’re having about our feelings.  How often we long for pure experience, without that inner narrator who insists on supplying second thoughts, doubts, fears, insecurities, grubby little (or big) desires, and so on.  It’s like a bad voice-over in a film, a jangling mess that some spiritual traditions remedy with meditation to calm the “monkey of the mind,” so we can get at whatever of value may lie underneath the noise of consciousness.

OK, that’s human consciousness, and specifically self-consciousness, at its least attractive.  But what of consciousness itself?  It’s not all bad.  In fact, it seems to confer some evolutionary advantages.  A conscious being can make choices, react with more than instinct — maybe even live through challenging situations where instinct isn’t enough.  If you’ve observed animals, you can sometimes catch reflection and thinking.  Dogs and cats give evidence of it.  Both birds and mammals can learn and adapt, maximizing their ability to survive, and to pass on their genetic material to their offspring.  But is there more than evolutionary advantage to the species?  How about to the individual?

In more conscious creatures, play and possibly even pleasure are gifts that consciousness also seems to confer.  Otters play for hours, and birds — if you’re convinced by people like David Rothenberg — sing not only to defend their territory, attract mates and warn off rivals, but also to express joy. Is that too human?  Are we anthropomorphizing?

And creativity … to me that’s the greatest gift of consciousness. We’re problem solvers.  We love smooth sailing for sure, long for it deeply in the trough of trouble, but we’re often at our best when challenged, when pushed to grow.  Even our attempts at avoiding growth are frequently clever, creative, inspired.  We procrastinate, rationalize, justify, repress, suppress, distract ourselves, get addicted to something too small for the love we’re driven to express, and our suffering is outrageous, ridiculous, painful, outsized, exaggerated — often because we’ve made it just that way in our struggles to escape what we know we must do eventually.

And here’s the kicker:  even — and maybe especially — our avoidance just makes us stronger for when we finally do face down the problem or issue or challenge.  We’ve tried everything else, all the other options, and they’ve failed in some way.  So we bring to that eventually unavoidable moment of growth a head of anger and frustration, true, but also a chunk of wisdom and strength that we got precisely because we’ve resisted for so long.  That momentum, that power and wisdom with a glow of a little anger and a dash of curiosity under the fear — this very mixed package of preparation — may not always get us through the challenge.  It still may not be enough this time around.  Now we’re still effect, but we’re on the way to becoming cause.

The failure to meet the challenge this time, to pass the test, signals to us what we still need to do to be ready next time.  And the heightened emotion clinging to the lesson, the issue, and the events and people around it, flags it for us.  Never again will we completely be able to avoid it, to shove it entirely back into the shadows, and let ourselves slide into unconsciousness.  A tail sticking out of the box, or paw scratching at the door, or fur on the carpet, will be evidence of this animal self, our helper, our “trouble double,” that we’ve tried to hide.  We will be cause, even if we can’t yet pull it off.  Something in us knows this.  Our growth will seem to pursue us on its own — because we’ve made it ours by being cause even to a limited degree, and cause must, inevitably, unavoidably, have its effect.

All this time, we’ve not been idle; we’ve also been building up strength for our next attempt:  by more avoiding, maybe (if we’re really good at that), but also by a slowly growing awareness that growth is what we’re destined for, that we can actually work toward it, even if our own lives have to drag us there kicking and biting and howling the whole way, functioning as some of the causes we ourselves have set in motion.  There’s more strength building in us, and if there’s a cost, then we’ll pay.  (Another cause, another effect.)  We’re slow learners, because sometimes that’s the only way the lesson sinks in deep enough that we really get it good, get it down pat, and run with it.  One way or another …

And so the causes we absolutely needed to set in motion will become just the effects we need to experience down the road.  But because we grow as a result, the effects which were “everything we ever wanted” at the time will eventually come to box us in, because we’ve grown, and so they’re no longer enough for us.  Then they start to strand us, and constrict and blind and infuriate us, until we arise from them stronger and are again able to set new causes in motion.  Open-ended growth.  Our ideas of perfection often seem to involve stasis:  at some point we imagine we’ll “arrive” and not need to grow anymore.  Heavenly choirs and streets of gold, no telemarketers or spam or mosquitos or flu, and sitting around all day in Paradise Lounge, plucking at harps and sipping (virgin) daiquiris and margaritas.  Likewise our perspective on setbacks often doesn’t take in enough time to see the causes and effects playing out. Sometimes we can’t see them all, if they span multiple lives.  Or parallel ones, if you’re not prone to reincarnate like I am.

But back to perfection as stasis:  from what I’ve seen, that misses how the system works.  “Everything becomes, in turn, the cause of effects elsewhere in the whole system.”  No final perfection — that’s just another trap or sidestep.  Which is fine, if you’d like that experience: then it’s no trap or sidestep so much as interesting or even productive diversion.  (Having your cake is eating it too, after all.  Otherwise it just sits there.) We don’t arrive at long last at any unchanging endpoint.  That’s not perfection.  We’re travelers.  We may get rest stops, but the growth is endless.  “Eden bears those footprints leading out …”

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*Greer, John Michael.  Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. Weiser, 2012.

Image:  paradigm shift.

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