The Pattern That Connects
Meditation is dynamic, full of surprises, compatible with the whole range of human emotion, and positions you to engage your life in ways you never would have anticipated.
I have designed these meditation programs with two core purposes: to support inner peace, and to inspire action. I often find that peoples’ impressions of meditation are that it’s all about “being calm.” That’s nice but would be so incredibly boring (I promise you I wouldn’t be involved in meditation if that were all it’s about) and I’m so happy to tell you that is not the case.
On the one hand my approach does resemble “typical” meditation programs. They are very much geared toward learning techniques for stabilizing the nervous system and establishing practices for emotional regulation. I am committed to supporting myself and others in the journey of peace, and if peace or relief is all you seek right now, that’s perfect. There is not much in life that fulfills me more than playing a role in the dissolution of somebody’s anxiety. So the meditations are tools for creating that “resting space.”
On the other hand, but not in conflict with the first hand (I let my hands know what each other are doing) my purpose is to excite: to encourage inquiry, to stimulate creativity, and to point out new possibilities and narratives for your life. There is a great need for creative action toward a reconfiguration of the way humans live on this planet. So within my meditation programs, I endeavor to illuminate pathways whose qualities and destinations are unclear. I encourage inquiry as a pathway for change.
Yes--sometimes you need to spend time healing and resting before approaching the liveliness. Sometimes this liveliness is just what you need. Listen. Ask yourself.
We can become skilled in both establishing stability and stimulating transformation, finding contentment and taking action, being at peace and raising energy.
So the context that you will next read may not seem to fit with your conventional notions of meditation, but I assure you it is relevant and intrinsically important to your practice. I include it not only because it belongs with meditation, but because I think it has the power to make the journey very exciting and rewarding. I encourage you to give it a read and, if you have questions, bring it on!
Mind, Nature, and Projects
The idea of "The Pattern that Connects" was presented by the late anthropologist and ecologist Gregory Bateson. Bateson was interested in processes of evolution, culture, the nature of mind, the patterns of nature, and perhaps most of all, the connections between all these. He coined the term “The Pattern Which Connects” (which I have adapted to The Pattern That Connects for a grammar reason that I will only explain only upon request).
His specific question was “What is the pattern that connects all the living creatures?” How is everything connected? He suggests that containing or connecting all patterns is The Pattern That Connects. Though it is not a “thing,” it can help to imagine it as a connective weave through all life. I suspect it’s closely related to if not synonymous with the Tao but I’m not sure (maybe you can help me find out?) The problem is when we try to apply our minds to this problem in the ways we are used to solving problems, we get in our own way. This is because we are approaching terrain that is not "symbolic," it does not "represent" something the way words or numbers do--it is not an idea. We are trying to get at reality, or the nature of things, or "suchness," and because language is necessarily symbolic, whatever we say about it is going to be off the mark. Perhaps exploring states of consciousness and creative expression are more promising when it comes to understanding the Pattern that Connects.
According to Bateson, The Pattern that Connects is lively:
“We have been trained to think of patterns, with the exception of those of music, as fixed affairs. It is easier and lazier that way but, of course, all nonsense. In truth, the right way to begin to think about the pattern which connects is to think of it as primarily a dance of interacting parts and only secondarily pegged down by various sorts of physical limits.”
–Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature
This means that there is no fixed code or reference point for us to uncover, but rather, a continuously unfolding process. This creates a situation where the imagination and eternity intersect. Something ever-shifting is bound to give rise to creativity, and we are both receivers and shapers of the patterns that make up the present moment. Consider the patterns of thought, the wavelengths of brain activity, the rhythm of your heart, and so on. This liveliness, interestingly, may contrast with descriptions of the Tao as unchanging stillness and emptiness. (What is the relationship between the Tao and the Pattern that Connects?)
We can either interfere with or get with the patterns of nature. Currently our human affairs seem to depend heavily on patterns of our own creation that do not accord with those of nature. Imagine there is a large circuit network, and you zoom in on just a piece of it so you can’t see the bigger pattern it is part of. For example—you find that you can cure illness with antibiotics, but that achievement operates in a bigger system, all the parts of which were not considered, and so we get superbacteria. When you engage with just that one segment you can see, that’s the "conscious purpose" mind, the analytical, divisive, self-interested mind. It’s a very useful and powerful form of consciousness, but if we are so zoomed in we forget to see the forest for the trees, this perspective is liable to lead us unwittingly into illusion, and therefore suffering. We're missing important context. We need, from time to time, to take another perspective, to transcend the self-imposed restrictions of the ego. We may say we need to take on the perspective of Mind with a capital M, which would be the total mental process of nature. This perception has no attachments, for it is devoid of a self.
It’s not that as humans we have truly departed from the Pattern that Connects—it’s just that if we start acting out of accord with that which supports the conditions needed for life, we end up with unexpected consequences (e.g., climate change). Eventually nature’s deeper patterns break down the ones we built if we did not build them in such a way that they are not destroyed by the forces of time and change. Bateson considered awareness of the broader patterns in which smaller patterns operate to be “wisdom.”
Meditation is one method for recognizing at least the fact that we are embedded in much broader patterns and that our most familiar forms of knowing are incomplete. The following insight was a lucky accident in a conversation with my philosopher friend: we can allow ourselves to be informed by the broader patterns. It took me several weeks to realize he didn’t mean informed in the sense that nature explains to you how to be, but rather, you allow the patterns of nature to arrange themselves within you—within your heart, mind, and body. This kind of experience presents insight into a larger set of possibilities of how to live simply because you have opened yourself to something other than your usual habits of attention.
...You position yourself in a way that you let go—so that those patterns can arrange themselves within you—within your heart, mind, and body. This kind of experience presents insight into a larger set of possibilities of how to live, simply because you have opened yourself to something other than your usual habits of attention.
Meditation brings us into states of consciousness that may often be dormant during the day to day activities of our lives. We can take these new perspectives and bring them together with our familiar ways of knowing for a clearer picture of what is taking place in this life. Then, we are still responsible to make decisions on what to do, who to be, and how to live.
I will refer to The Pattern that Connects in my meditation programs. For deeper understanding, I recommend reading Bateson’s “Mind and Nature,” and “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.” But if you don’t, it’s fine. I’ll be providing context along the way.
The project I invite you to join me in is first: how will you tap into connectedness, and second: how will you manifest it? How will you bring Awareness to Action?
Foundations: 21 days of inner exploration.