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Jerry Wennstrom

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Meaning and Distraction
by Jerry Wennstrom   
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Last edited: Saturday, December 15, 2007
Posted: Saturday, December 15, 2007

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Are we happily distracted by information that is grossly sensationalized and designed to appeal to the least conscious part of our selves? This information grabs our attention and keeps it on the surface while deeper realities go unnoticed.

Meaning and Distraction

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T. S. Eliot (1934)

It is ironic that the more serious problems emanate from the more industrially advanced societies. Science and technology have worked wonders in many fields, but the basic human problems remain. There is unprecedented literacy, yet this universal education does not seem to have fostered goodness, but only mental restlessness and discontent instead. There is no doubt about the increase in our material progress and technology, but somehow this is not sufficient, as we have not yet succeeded in bringing about peace and happiness or in overcoming suffering.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama

Men have become the tools of their tools…
… improved means to unimproved ends.
Henry David Thoreau (early 1800s)

Are we happily distracted by information that is grossly sensationalized and designed to appeal to the least conscious part of our selves? This information grabs our attention and keeps it on the surface while deeper realities go unnoticed. Mindlessly buying into this seduction, we collude with the loss of our original knowing and discerning sensibility. Allowing ourselves to be irresistibly drawn into this distraction, our inherent wisdom is easily overridden by the barrage of glitz, half-truth and illusion competing for our attention. Without the determination, or even the willingness to consciously choose what meaningful information we take into our psyches, we are blown about, rudderless, by the winds of meaningless titillation.

There is certainly no shortage of deadening material coming to us through our worship and obsession with technology. Most of what comes, especially through the mainstream media, is what James Joyce would describe as “pornographic” “…that which arouses desire.” The end result of such an encounter is usually discontent with what we have.

When we are able to develop and exercise proper discrimination in deciding what information we take in; deeper meaning and synchronicity substantiates our correct choices. Even if what we glean from the information is dire, we are able to accept the reality of our situation, take responsibility for what is ours and begin to make changes. Intuiting the deeper meaning of things lets us know what is alive and moving in our lives at all levels. The meaning that comes to those with a well-developed, instinct becomes a culture’s living-breathing mythology. It grounds and empowers a culture in a way that withstands the test of time. Conscious, meaningful creation is efficient and self-sustaining. By its very nature it does not create the blind vulnerability associated with the arbitrary acceptance of meaningless information.

Clearly, we in America are being progressively blind-sided by perfectly predictable disasters, which we have chosen not to see coming. In our frenzied quest for material distraction, we are making bad choices that serve only our immediate desires. Included in these bad choices, is the choice not to acknowledge the looming, disastrous consequences of our actions. The industry of disaster that we are creating through our denial will eventually affect our lives in ways that will be beyond our control.

We are already beginning to experience some of the results of our bad choices personally, economically and ecologically. Twenty-plus years ago, Fr. Thomas Berry warned of looming ecological disaster. He posited that in all of our preoccupation with nuclear disaster, we were not seeing that

Thomas Berry

through our quest for industrial progress we were changing the ecosystems of the earth so radically that, in effect, the bomb had already gone off! We were not listening. Choosing not to hear something does not mean it will not have to later be dealt with as fate.

On an optimistically more twisted note – our salvation may ultimately be realized in the fate of an ecological or economic disaster. I have a personal mantra, “The gods whisper before they scream.” The scream-turn-disaster may be the event that ends our collusive involvement with meaningless distraction. Disaster is a strange god. However it is, at times, the god we get! It is the voice of our wild that refuses to be tamed, denied or ignored. When all else fails to penetrate the complex defenses of our delusion, disaster is the god that comes to humble and awaken us to a more simple and reverent creation.

The party atmosphere created by our collective frenzy of distraction doesn’t necessarily create a sense of security and optimism. Many of us are living with the dull feeling that, as a culture, we should be someplace other than where we are! There is a thin line between denial and optimism. The sleepy, guilt-tainted fog that overtakes us when we feel into the issues of our day is the insidious paralysis that denial creates. When we fog-over and seek distraction, it is often a subtle reaction to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. True optimism awakens and finds inspiration even in the lowlands. Anyone with any sensitivity, trying to make sense of our times, experiences some degree of this collective fog. It is an overwhelming force that we all must take some responsibility for. This doesn’t, however, completely make it our own. The question is; once we become aware of the destructive nature of the fog we have allowed ourselves to be enveloped in, what can we actually do about it?

When my own fog-bank rolls in, I have found it helpful to first acknowledge what I am feeling and then hold all that I perceive in a conscious state of unknowing. In other words, when we are overwhelmed by negativity or too much useless information, it is okay not to know what to do or how to do it. However, it is important to be consciously aware of what we are holding and why.

Carlos Castaneda
Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda’s shaman teacher said, “A warrior knows how to wait and he knows what he’s waiting for.” What’s important is that we learn to consciously wait without hopelessness or distraction, and that we do so with the intent to eventually move forward by taking inspired, effective action.

Always be ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope. -1 Peter 3:15
To unconditionally give an answer about your hope one would have to be living the reality of that hope under any and all circumstances. This is especially true in situations deemed hopeless by the limited perceptions of reasonable mind. To hold this paradox, one would also have to acknowledge the perceived limitation, while at the same time, see it as part of a larger perfection. It is in the unknowing and the trust in the larger perfection that the paradox is resolved. A wise elder and friend, Richmond Mayo-Smith just put a question out to a group we are mutually involved with. His question hints at this “larger perfection” -

“Do we believe there is a field of intelligence, a field of knowing, in the universe with which we can associate in reaching decisions and taking actions?”

It is important to look to inspired stories, as examples, when dealing with the dichotomy of paradox. Especially informative and revealing, are examples born of extremes. I personally reference some of the amazing personal stories that came out of the holocaust. In this worst-case environment there were people who found perfection and inspiration against all odds! They did so by seeing, acknowledging and holding exactly What Was without becoming victims of the external limitations imposed on them. When there was little food they shared what they had with those weaker than themselves; surrounded by ugliness, they created beauty. Some died doing this, which turned even the ultimate limitation of death into a statement of life. Isn’t that the death/resurrection template that was struck in the Christ story? It is also the underlying message of saints and mystics of all religious traditions.

Beginning in that place
that has no beginning-

Ending in that place
that has no ending-

Trying to add to that
which is already the truth

Only takes away from it
its real meaning-

What I have to say
is even less than nothing

Poem by Mud *

Article and Painting by Jerry Wennstrom

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