So, What Now (or maybe So What): What Am I and Art Earth Tech Up To?

NOVEMBER 22, 2019

Preamble

So, what now? Or, maybe: so what?

A way of living that evokes living. A way of being that evokes Being. A way of working that evokes Presence.

It starts to write down “our goal” or “our purpose” and I hesitate. The very thing I’ve seen is the attachment to getting somewhere. Only when you have discovered there is nowhere to get to, nothing to be done - can you “go” anywhere, “do” anything.

A precious thing – and reassuring to “it” – I read yesterday in Speaking Being: that one is always in the process of “getting” and “losing” it. I can trust that the presence of discovery is not lost, just breathing in and out, in and out.

So … I can trust myself with goal-oriented words, at least for a moment.

The Stuff

Yesterday, in speaking with Sylvie, I was saying that we are not flat on the intention of Art Earth Tech, nor are we flat on the path to fulfil on that (even less so in fact).

For myself, I now have a sense, inarticulate though it is.

Everything is zen. That is, an expression of Zen, an evocation of Zen, and just Zen. zazen is Zen. It is not a way to get to Zen. (And replace Zen with transformation, or awakening if you like),

So Art Earth Tech, that is the living, the doing of Art Earth Tech is it. Just it. And an evocation of it, a practice of it. A becoming of it.

At the same time we need to speak into the listening of the world. This isn’t what you put on your calling card, this isn’t what you write on the website.

So the being of Art Earth Tech is awakening, the doing of Art Earth Tech is awakening, the making of Art Earth Tech is awakening.

And so … the question, not an idle one, a very sincere one, a very important one (“am i sure?"): why not plum village or landmark or … Why create something. First, a simple answer. Any act is a creation – joining each of those institutions is a creation. However, that is not the essence of the question. Institutional creation is a big deal and it is freighted with traps of the ego.

Again, though, there is no answer. No question has an answer. Not an answer, like an argument, a persuasion, a justification. There is only an opening up. A possibility created from nothing. At the same time, there is an unmistakable presence to good answers. A sense of them. An arising in the sitting with them. [And, once again, at the same time, we can create “reasons” like “reason for the existence of the enterprise” which is out there in the listening of people, that connects with people, that evokes something with people.]

And what I see, is the possibility of a space, a way of living, a way of working “in the world”, or more specifically, interconnected with the dominant mode of social organizing, pulling at the leading edge of that, that is practically embedded in the way people live and work in their lives.

This is still poorly articulated.

I am loath to do differences, but a difference, perhaps better a distinction, is useful.

So compared to Plum Village (PV)

PV exemplifies two distinct things: retreat centres and monasticism (plus maybe engaged buddhism). On both items other than monasticism there is plenty of overlap. Let’s start with monasticism though. We are distinct from monasticism. Monasticism is great. It’s extraordinary. And I want a different path. And not just for me, but for others, I suspect monasticism is a relatively narrow option practically and socially. In terms of retreat centres: Art Earth Tech may run retreat centres (who knows) and aspects of Art Earth Tech living may be retreat-like but we aren’t “doing” retreat centres. That is, because we aren’t “outside” of the conventional world. We’re in it. We aren’t a retreat. We’re an advance.

Also while we practice meditation and other practices I think we are “being” them, not teaching them – we aren’t qualified to teach them in my opinion. It just isn’t our essence, it isn’t our expertise. Our expertise is being a demonstration (more than that: a prototype, a becoming of the future) that you be awakening and live and work in what seems close to “conventional” ways. In that sense it is anti-monasticism (I don’t mean anti here in antagonistic but more like anti-matter, an opposite complement, something that completes the other, and which together generate a lot of energy. In fact, in this sense (or energy and complementarity), quite specifically and practically: for example, Plum Village would benefit hugely from something like Art Earth Tech – and contributes massively to it. The monastics do not want to become a lay community, they want to exist in symbiosis with it – and practically that means (physical) spaces distinct from the monastery. They can’t have too many people living in caravans in the car park.

Then finally let’s look at engaged buddhism. Big overlap again: Art Earth Tech as a natural expression of “doing in the world” and will “engage” with broader society politically and socially. (This is now clear to me: politics comes not as an in order to (or just as that) but as a natural reflection that “politics” is what “conventional” society does.) The difference would come in what was possible. PV are unlikely to create a political party or participate in one, to write a policy platform or execute it – Art Earth Tech may well. PV perspective is one of right view, of expressing opinions, of sharing the teachings.

So compared to Landmark

Landmark are interesting in themselves in that Erhard created something different from classic Zen and Zen training. Meditation is limited [in Landmark]. There is much more language etc. In essence est and Forum are an extraordinary Zen theatre (or exercise in ontological rhetoric if you like your Heidegger). And i think it is worth looking at why this was (or, rather, guessing about it). My sense is that Erhard, like the Buddha, was concerned with speaking into the listening of his audience in the landmarkian phrase (or “skillful speech” in more Buddhist terminology).

Looking at the US in 1971 what he saw was a society which was consumeristic, experience-oriented, impatient, (relatively) highly language / intellect based (largely epistemological though albeit flavours of new-ageism etc). Consumerism meant people would value something they paid for – and could understand the concept of something paid for, they would get the conventional seminar setup, they were impatient so 2 weekends was realistic. Everything about est was designed around fitting as closely within the “frame of reference” of the society whilst still delivering awakening (transformation/satori/….). Sure, some people would go to Zen monasteries or even Esalen but way more would go to downtown NY or SF for a 4-day weekend based “seminar” (even the name “seminar” reflected this “being in the listening”!).

And this approach was truly brilliant, genius really. It was extraordinarily effective not only in its reach, but the depth of the experience – which is still much greater IMO than most mindfulness work. Today (Zen) meditation/mindfulness is gradually breaking through to the mainstream but no way was it there in 1971, or, more importantly 1981 or 1991. And I think there was even more to Erhard’s work than simply skillful speech. I think (a bit like TNH) he was probably thoughtful and aware of the potential to use modern science and technologies / techniques to enhance and evolve the practices that could lead to awakening. Yes, the conventional approach is 10d silent sesshin done over many years – but maybe we could improve on that. That is the kind of thinking there. And therefore Erhard in his methods borrowed eclectically from everywhere. He looked at sports coaches, he looked at neuroscience, he borrowed from scientology etc etc. He just wanted stuff that worked and that was highly effective. His attitude was: “I’m not going to resign myself to this takes years sitting on a cushion, I’m committed that people get this in a weekend.” And if he could get it down to 15m he would!

Aside: Erhard / Landmark does face the problem of how to keep alive the breakthroughs and awakening. This is common to all traditions. Awakening is not (necessarily) a one-time phenomenon. You get it and you lose it and rediscover it. It is a constant creation. In this area I think the classic Buddhist tradition is both richer and still limited. It is richer in that there is an elaborate structure and practice, at least for monastics. Regular meditation maintains something. Landmark just has the weekly seminars and further courses. I think this is a significant gap. My own experience – and that of others – is that (just like meditation) without regular practice the awareness dulls and the machinery comes to the fore again (we dwell once again in the world that “I am what is going on with me internally”). I suspect the answer (in the background) from Erhard/Landmark, would be that if enough people started “getting this” and, specifically, the conversation(al domain) around this became widespread then a shift would occur and a new self-sustaining equilibrium would be in place (“a new possibility for being for human beings”).

This is one, critical, way that I think Erhard / Landmark complement classic Buddhism: there is an articulated view of the collective, and of how to achieve “critical mass”. That is, how we would go from isolated awakening, and a “personal is political” type of view (just wake up yourself and your being will touch others) to some sense of how this “individual” awakening interdepends with the collective awakening (what even collective awakening means). (cf my point that even TNH does not seem to have a very clear socio-economic view: what would a “Buddhist State” look like? What would right livelihood look like at the nuts and bolts level?) [I will come back to this in how Art Earth Tech fits in]

To come to the similarities and differences. The similarity is that a) we are committed like Landmark to ontological breakthrough / transformation b) we wish to innovate in methods. I also want to emphasize the massive complementarities (a la PV case): just as we don’t plan to be in the retreats business, Art Earth Tech does not intend to be in the breakthrough seminars / experiences business, at least not like Landmark yet we need that. Just as we need meditation, and deep dharma we need Landmark not just in the fact that makes present / makes available the very essence of what we are up but also in what it provides in pragmatic “getting stuff done” side (“integrity”, “cause in the matter” etc etc). I mean, Landmark is just extraordinary and I don’t think we could exist without it. However, all that said Art Earth Tech is not landmark. How? Landmark is specific trainings and an enterprise. It is not somewhere you live, or a set of businesses, or a microculture you reside in day in day out (unless you are on staff!) – and this is what Art Earth Tech is.

What is Art Earth Tech (doing)?

We are not a middle way in being or awakening. We’re “all in” on that. They are all the same and we are one with all the traditions pointing to that.

We represent a middle way in terms of living and working relative to the current dominant mode.

Specifically, Art Earth Tech provides living and working environments, networked together and part of a coherent culture founded on the possibility of awakening. Those living and working environments are designed at a practical level to be highly proximate and engaged with the current dominant mode of operating and discourse.

Putting this concretely: hubs are in the centre of cities, not in some remote location of remarkable beauty. We participate in politics both conventionally and unconventionally (rather than staying aloof). We create and start businesses – and not just yoga studios. At the same time, these are all founded on awakening, and their very essence flows from and represents awakening (which is distinctly unconventional and different from the current dominant discourse).

We are bridge of Zen awakening into the lived experience of 21st century capitalist, consumerist democracies.[cf the connection with Landmark: that was a bridge of Zen Satori into 1970s US].

Put simply, in 2020 you probably aren’t – and don’t need to – to become a Zen monk to discover and sustain awakening.

And conversely, in 2020, the convergence of abundance and technology, epistemology and ontology, mean we are in a position to try out weaving awakening deep into the practicalities of daily life.

So why Art Earth Tech? The answer there is that being able to do that is still difficult. The equilibrium of this is hard. It is hard at the practical level e.g. going to work and remaining present, or finding work that pays enough and has the hours that permit presence to be maintained, or the living situation that supports community and balanced living etc.

It is also hard at the level of the machine / being: if you engage a lot in “conventional” discourse or work it is easy to get lost in it (or the machinery to get triggered). Whilst Buddhist monasticism has been around since the Buddha and demonstrably stable and sustainable (if not massivley growing), it is not at all clear whether one can create this new “middle way”. In addition, living (deeply) engaged1 / interwoven with conventional society / every day life brings specific challenges.23

Being a demonstration that we can surmount those challenges, that we can forge a new middle way, that we can find satori in the city. That’s a goal worth living for, worth standing for, worth giving my life for. So that’s what I’m doing.

Summary

We are up to awakening / transformation / Zen.

The path is Being whilst practically living and working highly engaged with conventional society.

Asides

The truth believed is a lie. The going to somewhere, goes nowhere.

Acknowledging the incredible righteousness, the domination, the anxiety, the frustration. That my whole life has been for nothing, has been a whole lot of getting somewhere, when there is nowhere. I think I need to sit for six months. I am a clearing.

Art Earth Tech is a clearing for life to show up in.

Colophon

This was written in the week following participation in Landmark’s Being a Master of Life - What it Takes, led by Werner Erhard and Joseph DiMaggio. That profound experience not only created the space for this, it’s influence can also be felt in the language and ideas. My debt to them and Landmark in general is immense.


  1. I don’t want to imply that e.g. Plum Village is not engaged with conventional society or that Landmark is not part of every day life. But there is a substantive difference. The difference of the lay community (who e.g. need to earn livings etc) to the monastic community. Or of being in a landmark seminar and being at home or at work. ↩︎

  2. in a later post i can go into these in more detail. ↩︎

  3. not for self for the future: What conversation are we engaged in? What conversational domain are we in? What reality are we shifting? ↩︎