TGU on following our bliss, and on the virus and society

Sunday, April 4, 2021

4:40 a.m. So I posted a short piece telling how Papa’s Trial came to me – all at once – and then took nine years to be worked out in practice. That’s the 3D/non-3D predicament in a nutshell: Non-3D says, “Say, here’s a great idea, take care of it for us, will you?” and 3D groans and says, “You really don’t have any idea how hard it is to do anything down here, do you?”

But, I’m kidding and yet it is also more or less true. They provide the inspiration, we provide the perspiration, whether we’re talking about a work of art, or dealing with a life-situation that somebody decided would be productive even if challenging. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t a case of us spending a certain amount of time as non-3D gadflies (or coaches; pick how you want to see it), and at some point life says, “Oh, you think it’s so easy, do you? Here you try it for a while!” and off we go again.

What if life is an alternation of having bright ideas and then having to remember how it is to try to execute them, a sort of series of episodes of, “Here, hold my beer and watch this”? It would explain so much!

Seriously, though, I remember one Sunday afternoon in 1967 or ’68. I came down to the living room of the fraternity house I was living in, so pleased with myself. I had spent several hours wrestling with a term paper of some kind, for the hardest-marking history professor in the school, and finally I realized, all I really needed to do to make it come out right was move two paragraphs around. The time and efforts spent, the mental exercise involved in taking the raw material and fashioning it, the aesthetic pleasure when I knew I finally had it – it was so delightful, and if I am not mistaken, it was the first time I experienced that combination. Why did I not know immediately that this was the bliss that Joseph Campbell would later advise us to follow?

I suppose a closer look would reveal that indeed I did know it, and knew it in advance. Nothing that others did, be it tinkering with cars or playing sports or anything you could name, ever was more “me” doing what I do best than me manipulating words. Then it was only a matter of learning to have something to say. (Pretty big “only,” though!)

So, my friends, I get the feeling that the 20 minutes I just spent writing this hasn’t been merely self-indulgence, but has a wider application. True?

Nothing wrong with self-indulgence when it comes in the form of retrospection and introspection. In fact, in a way that is one of the main purposes (and one of the main satisfactions) of your lives in 3D, even if you do tend to cast the blame upon us.

Very funny, and it isn’t like you don’t deserve it. But seriously, I never had something come to me the way the idea for “Papa’s Trial” did, complete with beginning and ending scenes, and title. That by itself would have been enough to get my attention.

And yet that sort of thing happens often to you all, it’s just that you don’t so often recognize it.

No, can’t say we do.

That’s what “following your bliss” looks like close up. It doesn’t come with bells and whistles, as you sometimes say. In the first place, you take it as your own idea (and nothing wrong with that), and as the logical outcome of your own train of thoughts, or of a long-standing preoccupation.

Wilbur Wright and the cardboard box.


He was standing at the counter of his bicycle shop, talking to a customer, and in his hands he was holding an empty flexible light cardboard box that a tire tube (I think) had come in. Unthinkingly, his mind on the conversation, he was flexing it back and forth, each end now twisted up, now twisted down – and something went “Click!” and right there he had solved the problem he had been obsessing over for a good while: He had the wing-warping method of turning airplanes in flight. Because of the content of the conversation? No. Because the conversation was occupying his surface-mind, allowing the idea to connect with the deeper layers, to connect with the answer to the question he was continually pondering. The idea came to him via the unconscious motion of his hands, playing with the carton, but you can scarcely say it was the hands that solved the puzzle. Neither can you say it was a random physical motion that did it. It seems clear to me, it was the long mental preoccupation, plus the keeping the surface-mind out of the way, plus the non-3D part of his mind suggesting to him that he unconsciously make such movements, plus his receptivity to the spark that suddenly leaped the gap.

As we said, it happens more than you recognize, because only a few such incidents get recorded, like the scientist whose dream gave him the key to figuring out the structure of the benzene ring.

So I guess we’re not going to discuss the virus and society today, huh? Given that we have burned half an hour on this?

So you’re saying, “That would have been important; this was a waste of time.” You all do that all the time. But how do you know? Or rather, what makes you think you could ever know?

Like Gurdjieff saying maybe the doodling we do while talking on the phone turns out to be more important than the conversation.

Exactly. Not the product, either, necessarily. Sometimes it is the process. But in fact there is no reason we cannot segue to the other topic. It’s up to you, as much as anything. After all, you could choose to close the book and do something else.

Well, let’s talk about how the virus may be attacking our society’s weak points, which is where we paused yesterday.

It would be more careful if you said how society’s response to the virus attacks society’s weak points. The virus itself merely provides the opportunity for weaknesses (and strengths) to show themselves.

I am put in mind of young Jack Kennedy writing during the war that it seemed to him Americans operated best only when things were very easy or very rough, not so much in the middle.

He was perhaps describing something that he (and you) saw as an American trait, but that others might see as a characteristic of any heterogeneous society.

So you sign off on that?

It is a truth, yes. Not the truth, of course.

It doesn’t seem that our society has gotten any less heterogeneous since 1943.

But focus on the question at hand. That heterogeneous nature: How does it manifest in your society’s reaction to the challenge the virus is?

I can feel a couple of ideas stirring, but why don’t you save us time and energy with a series of bullet points?

We can try to do it that way, we’ll see. Here are a couple of fault lines that are obvious.

  • Belief or disbelief in science as an explanatory principle.
  • Or as an establishment that is or is not politically or economically corrupted.
  • Belief or disbelief in government as well-intended, transparent, and/or competent.
  • Belief or disbelief in life as making sense or life as being a meaningless chaos.
  • Gnawing fears as to whom to trust, what to trust.
  • Belief or disbelief in what sources of information may be believed as both knowledgeable and honest (i.e. not tendentious). This almost overlaps the previous point, but not entirely.
  • A sense or an absence of a sense of, “We’re all in this together.”

Now, none of this ought to be new to anyone, but it may be that it hasn’t occurred to you to consider these points not separately but together. Separately, each point may seem more like pathology than

That sentence was getting out of hand. I think you meant, we might look at certain positions in any of the bullets and think, “That’s crazy, how can they believe that?” but we’d be better off to see that all of the positions, taken together, can give us a better understanding of various people’s worldviews.

Yes. Thank you. Nobody is only his or her economic or political or ideological beliefs, nor are any of these unmixed with one’s beliefs about science, metaphysics, etc., even if one doesn’t realize that s/he has such beliefs. In fact, such beliefs are most powerful (and potentially most destructive) to the degree that they are unconscious, hence beyond the individual’s awareness.

I see the connection. The more homogenous the society, the narrower the spectrum of opinion.

Let’s say, the less range for widely shared extremes. We realize that sounds like saying the same thing. But you can see, perhaps, how difficult it is for your society to arrive at a meaningful consensus about diagnosis or response.

Yes. We’re inclined to blame other opinions on malice or ignorance, and there is no shortage of either quality.

There never is, but they don’t always wreak such havoc. That is the example of a weak spot that the virus situation is probing, and revealing. Don’t assume that just because a condition becomes obvious, that it is therefore dealt with. But we can say that if it does not become obvious, it cannot be dealt with.

We can only deal with whatever we are conscious of.

Well – you can only deal consciously with whatever you are conscious of. You’ll deal with unconscious content one way or another, but not consciously, and therefore probably not very well.

And there’s your hour.

Our thanks as always, and see you next time.


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