Composting Consciousness | Temperance in reasoning: Black and/versus white

Composting Consciousness is a column aimed at re-enchanting reality via harvesting humility and redefining reason, for anyone working on mindset. Enter this column like you would a theater: with a suspension of disbelief.

While containing many concepts close to my heart, this column is particularly inspired by the recent boom in shadow work I’ve been noticing. There are lots of folks out there using different definitions for ‘shadow’ with wildly differing practices they call ‘shadow work’ – and I think that’s awesome. I’m absolutely loving this radical retaliation against what was becoming the overwhelming army of love and light. But this column also applies to other sorts of mindset practices – any form of becoming aware of awareness, of thinking about thinking, of observing the observer.

I found the perfect journal excerpt of mine to introduce Composting Consciousness:

I am eternally grateful to my ancestors and fore-bearers for all of the consciousness-raising facilitation and work they put in. I profoundly desire to continue that work. I want to help cultivate the gardens of our consciousness. I see so many other folks spreading and planting seeds, but the ground is so toxic and infertile. The soil is choked with all these pre-programmed, invasive species. We must first cleanse this garden bed. We must purify it with fire, fertilize it with ash. We must first RAZE COLONIAL CAPITALIST CONSCIOUSNESS.

What does it mean to raze consciousness in order to raise consciousness? It means using what we presently have – even all the bits we hate and deem despicable – and composting it into a frame of consciousness, a mindset, that is liberated and happy.

I just want you all to be free and happy! Is that so much to ask?

Because mindset is so abstract, it’s easy to idealize and believe we can choose a frame we like and roll with it. But we’d all be automatically liberated if that were true. I’ve found it more helpful to imagine mindset as a garden. You don’t just walk into nature and plant what you want and, bam, you get what you want. You have to evaluate the land. What’s healthy and what isn’t. You have to put in lots of work – clearing, composting, seeding – before blooming.

This column is for all of us digging into the dirt of mindset work. We’ll discuss ego, thought work, bio-programming, shadow, emotional alchemy, duality, fractals, archetypes, and oh so much more.

Let’s begin with composting reasoning

Knowledge is the awareness of relationships. Reasoning is how we formulate coherent stories with those relationships. So what do we presently have in terms of reasoning? What equations, heuristics, systems are we engaging? What does the land presently look like?

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about thinking. What does my thought process look like? What do other folks’ thought processes look like? How are these processes serving or enslaving us?

Five years out of college and I’ve never stopped the cycle of reading, highlighting, annotating, and process writing. My Gemini Sun loves to learn and my Capricorn Moon loves being on a roll, always amidst a sense of progress. Among my many notebooks, I began to collate patterns of reasoning/logic/preferences I noticed. It was hard for me to socialize or participate in conversations, because I felt like folks were asking all the wrong questions and only ever ‘processing half of the equation’ – a frame of mind I’ve struggled to explain.

My notes developed into a dual distinction of reasoning I call the AND System and the OR System. These represent extreme ends of a spectrum of reasoning, not just two independent systems. Brackets not boxes.

Here are my raw notes…

OR System
a. every aspect of human identity (and reality?) is a separate and hierarchical (each is judged good or bad)
b. time is regarded as linear
c. anything above the absolute least needed to survive must be earned, because you are not inherently worthy (you are not enough)
d. organization is the opposite of / cure for chaos and must annihilate chaos
e. the mind and body are totally/discretely separate and mechanistic
f. success is defined by one’s ability to consume and climb, and authority is determined by one’s power-over status
g. we are all sharing a unified, singular, objective reality
h. feelings/emotions are opposite of / totally contaminate logic/reason
i. love is a finite resource with conditions
j. romanticizes terror, suffering, lament, shame, guilt, lust [to seem more tough] (grasping and aversion)
k. severe individuality and self-alienation (separateness)
l. obsessed with purity and perfection (objectivity)
m. control leads to happiness, love to weakness
n. having a mindset of scarcity is mature and responsible
o. your labor is your main/only value
p. if it doesn’t work, force it and push ahead

AND System
a. every aspect of human identity and reality is inter/intra-connected and relative (each is considered good and bad)
b. time is regarded as non-linear (in one way it’s cyclical, and in other ‘all time is now’)
c. you are inherently worthy and always have everything you need
d. in appreciating its function, chaos is seen as something to navigate (and to celebrate for keeping ‘the game’ going)
e. the mind and body are organically and energetically linked in reciprocal manner
f. success is defined by one’s level of happiness, and authority is determined by one’s..level of peace?
g. reality is fractal and holographic (hella subjective)
h. feelings/emotions are complementary to and broaden the scope of logic/reasoning
i. love is infinite and unconditional
j. works to acknowledge, satisfy, and dissolve grasping and aversion
k. severe unity and solidarity (all is one)
l. more interested in action/experience than outcome/reward (subjectivity)
m. love and surrender lead to happiness, control leads to being a slave of the ego
n. having a mindset of abundance is awakened and in agreement
o. your value is not tied to capabilities of your body or immaterial mind; you and your worth are far more vast and strange
p. if it doesn’t work, back off and review

OR / AND key terms
a. hierarchical / cyclical
b. separation / unification
c. linear / non-linear
d. literal / metaphorical/figurative
e. discrete / overlapping/ambiguous
f. conscious control / unconscious surrender
g. repress + resent / satisfy + dissolve
h. masculine / feminine
i. logic-based / intuition-based
j. binaries as boxes / binaries as brackets
k. absolutes / tendencies
l. judgment / agreement
m. doing (solid identification) / being (fluid identification)
n. concrete blame (cause + effect) / diffuse blame (synchronicity)
o. head brain (empathy as weakness) / gut brain (empathy as strength)
p. as ego / with ego
q. all-or-nothing / temperance
r. self-oriented / collective-oriented

It’s totally okay if this doesn’t make perfect sense yet! But I bet you already have a feel for it. I’ll be unpacking this as the column unfolds. The AND/OR systems have been simmering in my thoughts and throughout my notes for a couple years now, but I still didn’t know how to explain the ‘missing half of the equation’ I saw everyone ignoring.  And then just recently I read Alan Watts describe a cousin of my systems as “the Game of Black and White”:

“To perceive all vibrations at once would be pandemonium, as when someone slams down all the keys of the piano at the same time. But there are two ignored factors which… [are] the mainstay of the ego-illusion…

The first is not realizing that so-called opposites, such as light and darkness, sound and silence, solid and space, on and off, inside and outside, appearing and disappearing, cause and effect, are poles or aspects of the same thing. But we have no word for that thing, save such vague concepts as Existence, Being, God, or the Ultimate Ground of Being. For the most part these remain nebulous ideas without becoming vivid feelings or experiences.

The second…is that we are so absorbed in conscious attention…that we are fully hypnotized by its disjointed vision of the universe. We really feel that this world is indeed an assemblage of separate things that have somehow come together or, perhaps, fallen apart, and that we are each only one of them. We see them all alone – born alone, dying alone – maybe as bits and fragments of a universal whole, or expendable parts of a big machine. Rarely do we see all so-called things and events “going together,” like the head and tail of the cat,…

In other words, we do not play the Game of Black-and-White – the universal game of up/down, on/off, solid/space, and each/all. Instead, we play the game of Black-versus-White or, more usually, White-versus-Black. For, especially when rates of vibration are as slow as with day and night or life and death, we are forced to be aware of the black or negative aspect of the world. Then, not realizing the inseparability of the positive and negative poles of the rhythm, we are afraid that Black may win the game. But the game “White *must* win” is no longer a game. It is a fight – a fight haunted by a sense of chronic frustration, because we are doing something as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.

Because I run into OR thinking more times than not, I began prizing AND thinking (which led to the above journal excerpt). Later it occurred to me that kind of reasoning was hierarchical OR thinking! And I had to laugh at myself. We must learn to laugh at these moments, at this irony – it is the humor of the universe, not a bully.

I want to build and think and communicate with a system of reasoning that balances these poles. What do I need to pull and what do I need to plant for T/temperance to blossom? And even before planting, how do I compost what I pull up? How do I work from where I already am? Because let me tell you, this mind is already growing oodles of sets.

The AND/OR systems aid me in playing the Game of Black-and-White instead of the Game of Black-versus-White. I find them to be helpful in the same way that I find ‘learning what something isn’t to learn what something is’ helpful: it sheds light providing shadowy reference points. As brackets, the AND/OR systems act as a meter for finding balance, for achieving temperance, in this landscape.

And I use the word ‘achieving’ intentionally. In 78 Degrees of Wisdom, Rachel Pollack stresses Temperance as not a state of mind but a “behavior”, not a pose but a dance. Temperance is a doing more than a being. Though, aren’t we all?

Feature image: Beth Maiden
Decks featured: Rider-Waite-Smith, Mesquite Tarot, Mythic Tarot, Slow Holler

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  1. Alex says:

    Fabulous thoughts. Watts’ lectures on the Ceramic and Automatic myths of the world are very reminiscent of the AND/OR dilemma. I think that lecture can be found in his “Out Of Your Mind: The Nature Of Consciousness” series. I feel ya; AND people can be hard to come by. A beautiful thing about the AND mindset, though, is that it can be very accommodating of OR people. I suspect that the AND mindset arises from states of presence, openness, and a lack of judgment. However, it’s goddamn delightful to find yourself in the presence of AND company. I hope you keep exploring these ideas and cultivating your garden of consciousness. Looking forward to reading more from this column.

    • Thank you for this lovely comment!! And for bringing up the Ceramic and Automatic models!

      In Leonard Shlain’s *The Alphabet Versus the Goddess”, he (a neurosurgeon) traces the parallel histories of the invention of the written word and the rise of Patriachy, arguing that humanity shifted from right-brain dominant cultures (heavily mirroring AND thinking) to left-brain dominant cultures (which mirror OR thinking).

      And with that in mind, the Ceramic model (which separated the previous link between human & divine) and then the Fully Automatic model (which deleted the divine) seem to be further extensions of this left-brain dominance, that is, of OR thinking.

      Cheers to finding more AND company!!!

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