insight

Hannah Close

Think Slow: Cultivating Deeper Awareness In A Time Of Crisis

Going inward and working with, understanding, and just ‘being' with our thoughts and feelings allows us to cultivate the ability to respond to situations, instead of blindly reacting to them.

Society

20.2.2020
“Act now! There’s no time! This is an emergency!”

Desperation intensifies. Fear deepens. “We have to find a solution!”.

The collective ‘we’ ricochets around the internet and we’re left with the dull echo of an ‘I,’ glaring back tepidly from behind a screen. We share another Guardian article about the climate crisis and log off for the day. It’s too much to bear.

The world as we know it is calling for change so immense that in ordinary evolutionary architecture it would take hundreds, if not thousands of years to identify the fruits of such ambitious systemic adaptations. Change so enormous, so complex, and so time-sensitive that we simply have no other way to react than panic. Panic because it’s finally dawning on us that the cliff edge we were peering over many decades ago has long gone. We’re halfway down and the parachute we packed ‘just in case’ is jammed.

Our engineering prowess has failed us. We’re descending at an accelerating rate and we’re running out of options. No amount of technological innovation is going to liberate us from the deafening approach of extinction, because no amount of band-aiding the problem is going to get to the root cause of our collective pathology. There are no codes, mechanisms, or formulas that will stop us from enacting the behaviours that flung us off the cliff in the first place. 
Too often Western society tries to fight against the surface level manifestations of deep rooted problems.
Things like mindfulness and plant medicine - borrowed from other cultures, traditions and practises - might help, but too often Western society tries to fight against the surface level manifestations of deep rooted problems. Not only are we looking in the wrong places, we are charging ahead with the wrong tools. We treat traumatic physical injuries incredibly well, but fall short when we fail to look more deeply into emotional suffering and its ripple effect on our culture and collective being. 


Logic and rationality have reigned for centuries as the cognitive crown jewel of human consciousness. The two qualities have served us well in many ways, but now it’s time to move on, or rather, in. That’s not to suggest they aren’t useful in the applicable context, however the context of now, i.e. the context of an increasingly complex web of crises, demands a nuance of different qualities sourced from the faculty of wisdom as opposed to the arena of knowledge and reason alone. To look inward, in many ways, creates space for outward-ness, for showing up in the world so that our inner transformation informs cultural & societal transformation. 

It’s worth noting that one of the greatest logical minds of the twentieth century, Einstein, understood not only the limits of his own intellectual capacity, but also the limits of intellectual knowledge generally. His well-known reflection that ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them’ has seen a renaissance in recent times, indicating that perhaps we are starting to sense the periphery of our cognitive faculties on a much larger scale. We are awakening to the fact that we cannot reverse engineer the emerging (and converging) crises with our current sense making capacities.

The more we continue to distract ourselves with the symptoms of failure, the deeper our delusion grows. Temporarily alleviating the pain can be useful, and solutions like geoengineering provide a tempting ‘emergency eject’ button. However like all shortcuts, ultimately we will end up paying for it, probably in a bad way. We don’t know how because no one has ever tried it, and we can’t be so confident that we can 100% predict our own failure, but if history is anything to go by...
Whilst we might think the way we see the world is not a choice, because it is automatic, the reality is different.
Bypassing the condition at its source in this way is problematic. Geoengineering is technosolutionist and even if it worked it would not address the root of the problem which would still be there and continue to cause problems. It diverts us from the truth, reality as it is. It deepens the myth of progress. Things are going well, we assume, because changes are appearing on the surface, and our collective awareness is so impaired that we think change on the surface equals change beneath the surface. Again, that’s not to suggest these surface level changes are neither welcome nor useful in the applicable context, rather, wouldn’t it be good if we could rid our species of this pathology permanently?

So, what options do we have?

We know now that the climate crisis (or perhaps more fittingly, ecosystem collapse) is a symptom of system failure. In simple language, we know that system failure is a symptom of negligence, and that negligence stems from ignorance. Ignorance arises from a lack of awareness, and lack of awareness arises from disconnection. Disconnection, that is, from the truth of things as they are, in the most objective sense, rather than things as we think they are. We have been blind to the reality of our problem - one that mushroomed out of a fatal mismatch: ‘collective action problems were solved via culture and institutions (getting wiser). But our tech abilities (+ capitalism/growth) accelerated beyond that ...basically we got stronger faster than we got wiser’.

The trouble is, the way we think and the way we see things is broken, because what we see is a reflection of how we identify with the world through the lens of the ego and all of its embedded attachments to language, culture, identity and so on. Whilst we might think the way we see the world is not a choice, because it is automatic, the reality is different. Just because something is automatic does not make it natural, true, or reliable. The core mechanism of the ego is based on automatic, instant, and reactive actions, and thinking is an action.

We find ourselves in an individualistic, ego-driven culture that fosters instant gratification, and with that, instant thinking. As previously mentioned, logic, rationality, and the intellect have been considered our minds’ royalty in terms of their utility value, which of course seems fitting for an industrial growth economy, not, however, for a regenerative ecology.


There is no fast acting remedy for what ails us now. The world is calling for evolution. Not progress, not growth, not consumption. Collective, spiritual, and cultural evolution takes time, and the kind of qualities we need to evolve are nuanced and complicated, just to make things a little harder. They are also, despite colluding towards a common truth, somewhat subjective. This also makes things a little harder. Such qualities are largely ineffable. What we are aiming for cannot be depicted by language. Surely we don’t have time to grasp in the dark when there are clear, pragmatic, and empirical solutions being laid down such as geoengineering?

What we are aiming for is a spectrum of felt qualities. Qualities that are intuited and inspired by surrender and vulnerability, which is already problematic for the closeted Western mind. Qualities that connect us, to ourselves, to the wider collective, to the Earth etc. We know what we mean, and you know what we mean, but we can’t tell you exactly what we mean because you have to feel it for yourself beyond the boundaries of your palpable senses. 

To ask a collective mind so ignorant to its own collectivity, to sit with this kind of uncertainty and ambiguity, when it is so adapted to certainty, is somewhat audacious (and ambitious to the point of foolishness, to say the least). Still, what else is there to do but try?
We have to cultivate a deeper awareness in order to effectively deploy the appropriate kind of response.
Whilst all this loose talk of intuition and feeling can feel uncertain and oftentimes inaccessible to those who are unaware of their innate capacities, we are fortunate to live in a world that has inherited the ancient wisdom of those who were able to cultivate their being free from corporate culture, technology, and homogenous cultural fads. Practices like mindfulness are being resurrected, and whilst there is founded controversy around the commercialisation of such practices, we have to at least admit that widespread public interest in improving one’s state of being through increased awareness of self and other (and ultimately, the obsolescence of that in and of itself) is surely a step in the right direction.

Going inward and working with, understanding, and just ‘being' with our thoughts and feelings allows us to cultivate the ability to respond to situations, instead of blindly reacting to them. Due to the time sensitive nature of our problems, we understandably react. Reactions, however, are not going to solve our problems, not with any longevity.

Though we have been trained to operate in certainty, we have to learn to cope better with unknowns, rather than trying to patch up the holes in our understanding with falsehoods. We have to learn to oscillate between the rational mind and the intuitive, spiritual (or call it what you will) core that permeates each of us. We have to cultivate a deeper awareness in order to effectively deploy the appropriate kind of response, whether that’s a thinking solution, a feeling solution, or an intentional mix of both.


Allowing thoughts and feelings to really sink in, slowly, results in a kind of clarity that is invaluable to our individual and wider health. Once a thought passes the initial reactionary stage, in which we rise to our emotions and begin fabricating stories, it settles and works its way through our greater awareness. The emotion subsides, and we admit that perhaps we weren’t seeing/thinking clearly.

Emotions can be useful indicators of danger, and of course we are in danger, and so that’s not to say completely silence them. But we would do well to better understand the danger we impose on ourselves as a species through skewed awareness, and not just the oncoming ecological danger as a threatening outside entity. We would also do well to understand that the intellect is not to be demonised, like it has been in New Age circles, but instead it is to be held skillfully, along with the gut instinct, in order to think slow.

The next few decades will ask us to develop greater resilience in a myriad of ways. If our foundation, our consciousness, is weak, how can we expect to withstand the flood

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Words by Hannah Close
Hannah is a contemplative thinker exploring our individual and collective capacity for being, knowing, and doing in a fragmented world. She is the founder of Experimental Thought Co, an emerging thought community that seeks to develop sensemaking competency, coherence, and trust. She also curates the Human // Nature series, which asks questions about the relationship between ecology and consciousness.

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