Emerge – Day 2: Research Questions

Thursday, 7th October 2021

Trust the fancy hostel lobby.

My roommate Mikkel lets me in on the ‘sacred secret’ purpose of his journey to Berlin: he just had one of his thighs adorned by a resident tattoo artist. The result looks impressive. A very specific purpose, I think. How specific is my purpose? I am here for the Emerge Gathering, for reconnection with J and W, and for a trip to Hamburg to co-create Mindful Researchers things with Annika. And there is more. There is something I want to lean into, something I want to give myself to, and it is more specific now than it was in June. It has to do with energies and transitions, with developing a certain sensitivity to different worlds and a growing awareness of their inherent inseparability. I know that my journey here supports this revelation. I know it is purposeful. Yet can I be more specific than that?

Trust the bridge across the river Spree.

I check out from the hostel and stow my luggage in an empty storage room. On a long morning walk across the river Spree I am taking in first fresh glimpses of this vibrant metropolis called Berlin. The Coffee Lab café offers three tiny tables inside and some larger tables and benches outside. I am taking a seat inside near the glass front, inhale the scent of freshly ground and brewed coffee, and start journaling while observing the comings and goings around me.

Sometimes I fantasize that I might be a 'bringer of revenue': I sat down with a salmon bagel and a double cappuccino, and a legion of customers has since trickled in: two young blonde Berliners engaging in lively conversation to my left; a short-haired brunette in a rose-brown-ish coat that reminds me of the Dude's morning robe, now sitting outside and sipping coffee while reading a tome about women's rights; a tall blonde-haired dude with an epic beard; a dark-skinned lady in a red jacket with several bright-skinned folks, now standing outside with their liquid takeaway loot; a guy with a grey cap checking things on his phone. (...) 

A wasp comes greeting me at the table in this tiny coffee shop. (...) what I truly care about is connection, not the particular form of connection. I want to hold this affection lightly, without need to give it any label or story. Love flows on its own terms, spontaneously, "a braided and networked process that is fundamentally unpredictable, embedded in situatedness / interrelationality / mutuality / non-explicit reciprocity / adaptivity ..." to paraphrase qualities that Roshi Joan Halifax elucidated vis-à-vis compassion; it is fundamentally enactive. I anticipate that the 'enactive view' is the most profound cognitive update in my life since my spiritual heart-awakening. The unfolding and enfolding of meaning holds the frame, like a 'non-view', to give context to all views. Knowing everything to be enactive, how can one hold views as if they were absolutes?

– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021

I pause and think back to an image from Dune showing several moons. How would life on Earth be affected if two moons were circling around it, even at different revolution frequencies, causing quite distinct tidal patterns? Yet surely such more complex cycles would also have stabilizing effects. Cycles lead to iteration, to renewal, to establishing patterns of life, to the flourishing of life. While the cappuccino is beginning to affect me, I make a highly unsuccessful attempt to weave a thousand thought-threads into one tapestry.

Life finds ways to accommodate to circumstances. On a planet with a different gravitational field, different composition of elements, different sets of moons and suns, it finds its own ways. Cyclical processes support its flourishing: tides, day-night cycles, seasons, eccentricities of orbit around the central star. Too much variation too quickly can be detrimental. But on our planet, the 24h-cycle seems rapid too. It helps to have several cyclic processes at once, another 'braided and networked process', on different scales of time and space and amplitude. One of our biggest mistakes as humans has been our ignorance and denial of these cycles. Any system that has fundamentally grown based on regenerativity needs supporting conditions to maintain such regenerativity. A logged forest cannot easily regenerate. Extracting too much, converting it all into different forms – coal and oil and gas into energy, wood into ships and houses and paper – is by design a one-way street. The ideology of capitalism demands such short-term gains though; it has no value-system that accommodates for the long term, nor for the genuine care for the flourishing and diversity of life. 

I've read an article by George Monbiot this morning, and I agree with his assessment: you cannot tame and temper capitalism – it seeks profit. It is its own 'paperclip maximizer'. Regulations only incentivize the exploitation of loopholes, and they invoke an army of libertarians. No, it is the value system itself! Streets and cars can never solve the 'problem of transportation'; a 'green economy', a 'green deal', a 'sustainable form of capitalism' can never solve the problem of perverse incentives. It is a band-aid, perhaps necessary to stop the blood loss, yet it can only be a precursor to a deeper healing transformation. And we must take care to not have it shield off our view, lest it conceals the heart of the matter.

– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021

I chat with the barista and learn that this gentle young man intends to leave this family-owned café and enroll in a military or police academy. Then, heading back to the hostel to retrieve my luggage, walking along the river and crossing underneath a bridge, I catch a first glimpse of the living conditions of the homeless in this city. This is someone’s home. No shelter from cold winds, nor from unwanted attention. A seed of realization is planted in my mind that will take its own time to trickle in and merge with further experience.

Trust the kids.

The luggage weighs heavily on my shoulders. I pause at a bench facing the river. Gazing at the cars, trucks and humans passing by at a distance, a dawning insight has me pick up the journal again. I’m seeing something, an intuition that both traverses and transcends time, yet the verbal expression on paper is one of intellectual grasping, spiraling in on an elusive moment of redemption.

Sitting and resting in half-shade across the Mühlendamm-Schleuse, pondering the undeniable aesthetics of Teilhardian visions for the evolution of mankind. I've seen the 'flaw' in it with a felt-sense of certainty, not too long ago. Was that conditioned by the cognitive frame I've held, or inhabited, at the time? How could I claim for it to reflect absolute truth? And now I'm seeing the aesthetic value, akin to that of a symphony, of exquisite art, of profound scientific discovery, of spaceflight, of genetic engineering. Engineering. Engine. Mechanics. It exploits the mechanistic lawfulness of our universe, our cosmos. It exploits. Lawfulness. Law. Regularity. Plausible undeniability. Who can deny this? Who can stand in its way? Yet begging the question of emergent strategy: what is life? What gives meaning? Are we meant to send life to other planets? Are we meant to let them unfold on their own terms? Our quest for survival and flourishing does not 'prove' justification of our attempts to colonize. "Because we can" is not enough. Did we consider Wolf? Did we consider Life? Did we consider Spirit? Do we consider Source?

– Journal entry on Thursday, 7th October 2021
Trust love.

Ever so slightly missing the mark, I let go of pen and paper. The walk leads past Checkpoint Charlie and Berlin Anhalter Bahnhof where I am briefly sensing the intergenerational and cross-cultural import of their associated histories, the ever-morphing impact that keeps on flowing through our shared presence. I cross Gleisdreieckpark and watch humans of all ages play, skate, walk, realizing that parks too shape our histories. With the physical discomfort of heavy weight on my shoulders, beginning dehydration, and a certain cautionary closed-mindedness, I am still feeling somewhat alienated in this city. A couple more hours and this too will pass. And are there not little signs of love everywhere? How long will it take me to notice?

Irina welcomes me into her cozy Airbnb apartment which is located in the heart of a red-light district, as I will only realize later, being of slow wits in select regards. Irina is curious about the Emerge Gathering and I make a feeble attempt to explain what it is about – changemakers and visionaries of all kinds coming together to tackle our sensemaking / meaning crisis with a kind of metamodern-spiritual philosophy and practice? We share our professional interests and personal journeys, she tells me about Azerbaijan, I mention CERN and the Mindful Researchers. Our conversation quickly deepens and zones in on themes of spirituality. Given our immediate resonance and Irina’s strong curiosity, I find joy in sharing my spiritual journey with her; yet a stirring in my belly literally prevents me from speaking about some of the more recent experiences. Does the serpent protect herself? Even so, we are at zero risk for running short of topics. Only my rising hunger commands us to pause.

Trust polar bear.

I walk towards Nollendorfplatz, admire the graffiti artworks, and pull out my phone to search for hints on nearby restaurants. The almighty algorithms propose Bethe Ethiopia as the #1 choice, literally just around the corner. Ethiopia, of all possibilities! I follow the universal nudge and am generously rewarded with the most delicious food: Yetsom Beyaynetu and thyme tea, followed by Brilli Teji (homemade honey-wine) and a yummy dessert made of sesame, almonds and dates. The amiable chef of this lovely family restaurant, a bellied man with a hearty smile and sparkling eyes, teaches me some Amharic and enthusiastically proposes that I’m a natural when it comes to holding the Brilli Teji flask with my fingers and thumb. Of course, the body remembers! I smile as a crow instantly confirms my strange thought: sometimes you do a thing for the first time and yet remember that you’ve always known it.

Back at the apartment, still slightly affected by the Brilli Teji, I partake in a co-creative Zoom-meeting-dance practice with Annika, Mary, and Marieke, in which we sense into co-creating a Mindful Researchers event. Then I don my favorite black Anneke van Giersbergen T-shirt, and Irina and I have a short farewell conversation as I am getting ready to meet J while she too is preparing to leave. Before we part ways, I show her Mark Matousek’s book “Writing to Awaken” that I’ve lately been working with.

Trust this Ethiopian dessert.

J meets me at the Metropol and we hang out for a couple of hours at the nearby Hafen bar. With J being a director and writer, it is only natural that we land on the theme of storytelling. I tell him about my newly re-awakened joy of writing and my intention to blog about this journey. J shares some trade secrets about dramaturgy, proposing that in a good story the characters come first and the plot evolves from their inner and outer conflicts. What is the ‘research question’ that drives the story and the protagonist? What is an appropriate type of character to walk in the protagonist’s shoes? What is their perceived ‘want’? What is their actual deeper ‘need’? What’s up with the tension or polarity between these two, the ‘want’ and the ‘need’? I feel intrigued and challenged. Have I not sufficiently thought this through? Should I?

We carry on talking about life, love, relationships, heartbreak, healing, music, our coming-of-age years, psychedelic experiences, and recent elections in Graz. During his bio break I ‘secretly’ give in to my new drug of choice: Anneke van Giersbergen’s mesmerizing “Jest Oldu” cover version of Karsu’s cover version of Mustafa Sandal’s ballad. (The grande finale always reminds me of Anneke’s incredible vocal performance with Damian Wilson in Maiden UniteD‘s acoustic cover version of “To Tame A Land” at the Wacken Open Air 2011 – just imagine this song mixed with this vocal energy – and I should mention that said Maiden uniteD concert in Wacken ended with this epic cover of “The Evil That Men Do”, melting the iron hearts of even the most moshpit-hardened and wall-of-death-approved metalheads; and I don’t know what gives me greater chills: their duet or the lyrics?)

In the end I ask J whether ‘coming out’ is a multi-layered process, and he confirms this, saying that in his experience there are three possible stages or areas for coming out: an ‘inner’ (personal) realization, an ‘outer’ (public) declaration, and an ‘inter’ (relational) enaction. I sense that this has something to do with my journey and writing here, too.

Trust the … uhm … king!

On the way back to the apartment, I experience my life’s greatest density ever of being invited to sexy times via fifty shades of “Hast Du Lust?” – I automatically rush past all offers as if speed mattered, soon wondering whether there is also a way for me to relate more fully to these wonderful beings, hearts and souls in passing. After all, one can affirm “no” and still embrace this one human family in this one web of life. Can I learn this? What else is there to learn?

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