It was a world of luxuriant decline.
The old mills where people used to work were abandoned, transformed by bankruptcy and neglect into gutted and glorious hulks. They seemed to us like the last few dinosaurs, standing still, silhouetted against the evening sky.
But, like lights switching on in the darkness, some were coming back to life.
That was where we built our dojo. The rent was cheap, the parking free and the view of the evening sky unobstructed.
Life goes on.
The neighborhoods, where the people who worked in those sprawling brick mills lived, were still there. The families seemed smaller and more fragmented and less sure about the road ahead then a generation or two before. But there we were.
The rising tide of enterprise and hope that kept the hands at the machines for a hundred years had ebbed. Some became accustomed to the decline. There was romance in the rubble.
Once there was connection with the things of this earth and the people nearby and there was faith that work and dreams could make life good. The landscape looked different then.
Now, if images and recordings, the internet and cars dominate your landscape you will suffocate, look for a way out, get lost, and maybe just find more of the same. You may not have a clue that it was not always this way, or that there is another way, right now.
There was a time when a man could walk out into the mountains or the desert and stay there. He knew enough to feed himself, find water and a place to sleep. He knew what to do to stay alive. He was out there because there was something urgent he had to do, with his heart and mind.
Because of his experience with the rudiments of daily life, and because he was accustomed to the exercise of character and will, he could endure despite the difficulties.
Heat and silence, solitude and hunger, vanished in the magnificence of the land and the infinity of the sky. He was free to achieve his purpose. Even if he had to sacrifice his life to do it.
There was a time when a man could walk across the world, explore it, face danger and delight, persist, prevail and sail home to tell the world of Xanadu.
We have progressed.
Now we have cars and comforts and bodies that don’t feel quite our own. We have dope and porn and dump trucks full of data. Roads that are clogged, jobs that degrade, finance instead of business, schools in chaos and an elite that is vain and addicted to the belief that there is an arc of history and they are, if not masters of it, at least are riding upon it.
They are not. There is no arc. History is what people do. Right now people are confused.
Mastering material makes machines advance. This is not better for people.
What do we do to stop the decline of the body and the spirit, the leaching away of meaning and purpose, the sense that we are carried along by circumstance, delegating our choices to experts and our will to… who?
What do we do to recover our dignity, and rescue the people around us?
The things around us – the tools and intoxicants, the cars, computers, dope, porn, credit, and sugar – surround us because people wanted them. We thought this would be a way to be happy.
Some of the people who brought them into being were exploiters. Some were exploited. Most were both. Some were convinced that material would come to the rescue because they saw poverty and misery around them. Now around the world there is an abundance of poverty and the powerful are sure they can find a way to overcome the unintended consequences of the things they were sure of all their lives.
They are confused about what matters and what could make life good.
You have a big neo-cortex. Be proud of it. You grew it for a reason.
Why default to your amygdala? Though all around you people are overusing theirs, why live like a dinosaur in the sunset?
If we are deceived by our media, our schools, and our leaders then where do we turn for guidance, how do we learn to use our own senses, reason, love and insight?
What is it we can do with our big cortexes and the rest of our miraculous lives? We can imagine. We can plan. We can see clearly. We can restrain our harmful impulses and unite with good people in a common interest, for a common good.
What do we make in our factory?
We challenge each other and collaborate, focus intently and exceed our boundaries; cultivate our will, strengthen our minds and make our bodies more intelligent. We build the things we need to bring strength into our lives and into the world.
That is what makes a place, any place, a dojo.
Posted by Jeff Brooks