Saturday, October 2, 2010

Getting to Zero

My dear friend Makasha is one of the permanent residents at Hummingbird Ranch, the intentional community where I'm spending the week in spiritual retreat. This morning, as I was walking through the community's five hundred acres of pristine mountain wilderness, feeling the first rays of the morning sun warm my face and tapping into the sounds of the nearby bubbling stream, I contemplated the meaning behind one of Makasha's favorite phrases, "getting to zero."

It occurred to me that whenever we're headed in the wrong direction, the first thing we need to do is cease going forward before we can even begin to consider turning around. That's what Makasha means when he speaks of the importance of getting to zero. When we grant ourselves the time to be still we find ourselves in position to select a brand new action from a whole range of possibilities; possibilities that aren't open to us when we're focused too intently on forging ahead.

It also occurred to me that perhaps what modern society needs most at this point in time is to rest for even a short while at its own zero point. For some time now we've been rushing forward in a highly focused manner: exploring, expanding, designing, competing and creating new products and processes. While our inclination may be to continue to forge ahead because stopping might feel a lot like admitting defeat, what we seem to be missing out on is a crucial opportunity to evaluate what we're doing, how we're doing it, and - most importantly - why.

What we're invested in these days isn't so much the stock market, or the housing market or even the consumer marketplace. What we're invested in is maintaining the structure and integrity of our basic social system - whatever that structure looks like and no matter which culture we're in. Every adult alive today has already invested a tremendous amount of personal energy learning about, adopting and adhering to our many shared social agreements. To therefore drop the agreements that no longer serve us can feel threatening to our sense of who we are. Those who have succeeded within the system feel they've earned the right to profit from their efforts. They also tend to blame those for whom the system isn't working for their inability to succeed. Likewise, those for whom the system isn't working still hope to find some way to make it work, and blame those for whom it is working for creating problems that make it hard for them to succeed.

Order - even the kind that is destructive and causes suffering to the human spirit - feels comfortable, because it's known. To accept responsibility for the chaos that may ensue, knowing full well the risks we may be taking by stepping into the abyss of the unknown can be terrifying.

But is it any more terrifying than plunging heedlessly forward when we haven't stopped to consider whether we're headed for nirvana or disaster? If the system we're invested in, the beliefs we've been trained to accept without question and the rules we've been taught to obey cause harm to life, isn't the more reasonable choice to practice moral disobedience? For instance, since we have literally millions of foreclosed homes and empty hotels in this nation, why are we still embracing the belief that just because someone can't afford to pay for shelter they don't deserve a safe place to sleep at night? Why, when thirty percent of the world is either overweight or grossly obese, are we still clinging to the belief that because people can't pay for food they have to to starve? Why, when our oceans and lakes and streams and rivers are choking from pollution and overfishing, are we still shrugging our shoulders and accepting that it's just the way it is, the unavoidable result of for-profit enterprises? Why are we content to watch the destruction of delicate ecosystems, species being driven to extinction, our air fouled, our topsoil eroded and our resources consumed to the point of vanishing, and call that "business as usual?"

Insanity has often been defined as doing more of the same thing and expecting different results. The only way out of insanity then, is to first STOP doing more of the same thing. Getting to zero therefore becomes the first sane step toward reversing any state of affairs when that state of affairs is detrimental to our health, our emotions and our spiritual well-being.

The nice thing about getting to zero is that it doesn't require immediate (fearful or reactive) decision making around what we need to do next. By definition, zero is the still point, the silence, the state of inaction out of which intelligent choices and creative new responses are free to begin to emerge. That very stillness allows for the rising of an intelligence far greater than what is available for us to draw upon when our panicked mind has begun to doubt its own capacities or our body - frightened for its very survival - reacts out of instinct. When accessing that deeper dimension some people call it the heart centered choice, others call it tapping into intuition; but whatever we call it we all know that when we shut down our internal chatter, take a few deep breaths and stop to notice - genuinely notice - what's going on all around us our receptive apertures open wide enough to gather the necessary input to enable us to make much wiser and emotionally satisfying choices.

Some people have died of hypothermia in the wilderness while carrying a pack of matches in their pockets. Others have gotten lost and pushed themselves deeper into the wild instead of waiting for help to arrive. What all such people had in common was a fatal inability to "get to zero." For whatever reason they stubbornly clung to beliefs that didn't serve them, and acted them out. We can learn much from these cautionary tales, or we can collectively act them out on a larger scale. My suggestion is that we take a lesson from my very wise friend Makasha, and grant ourselves the gift of time to rethink what we're doing and why.