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September 2004

The unbearable heaviness of ideas

- by Alan

The predictability of the reconciliation meeting called by the Auroville Council caused Alan to reflect.

 

Call it premature senility. Last week I was driving through an Auroville forest when I suddenly realized that I couldn't remember what I had been doing for the past two hours. Panic, a moment's panic, before the synapses flickered again: Ah yes, I'd been at a meeting at the Town Hall.

On the face of it, there was no reason to forget this. I rarely go to the Town Hall, this was my first community meeting since returning from a visit to the West and the topic was a heavy-duty one: the need to create a new spirit of reconciliation in Auroville. So how could I forget such an important occasion? Clearly my mind was on the way out.

Or was it? As the details of the meeting started wandering back, I began to realize why it had been so forgettable. Not that it was a bad meeting. There was no obvious discord. On the contrary, it was attended by well-meaning Aurovilians who, having agreed that Auroville was in a precarious state, then proceeded to state what they thought was going wrong and how this could be remedied.

The problem was that my attention kept wandering. I noticed that B had had a haircut (not bad), that C looked as if she'd had a tough summer, that D seemed to have found a new girlfriend, that E… ‘Pull yourself together,' I told myself sternly, ‘This is an Important Meeting.' But no sooner had I screwed myself back into the thread than I was unravelling again.

At one moment something flashed before me: it was a televised image of a British Trades Union Congress. As a boy I was fascinated by these meetings. There was that moment at the end of a debate, for example, when the chairman would call for a show of hands. Then he would total up the votes. The strange thing was that, while there might be no more than 300 people in the hall, the final vote-count would be something like eight and a half million votes for the motion and six and a half million against. It took me some time to realize that one man's raised hand stood for the three million members of his trade union.

But why was I remembering this now? Then I recalled something else about those Trade Union Congresses, and that was their absolute predictability. Year in year out the unions – or, should I say, the union leaders – argued and voted the same way, so that if you knew the topic beforehand (and the topics were endlessly recycled) you knew exactly what each union leader would say when he (I don't think there was any she in those days) clambered up to the podium. It was all rather like an elaborate ritual.

Now, perish the thought that Aurovilians be compared to unreconstructed British union leaders, but I suddenly realized that, almost without exception, I knew what each Aurovilian in that room was going to say before he or she spoke. A was going to talk about the need for more inner work, B was going to complain about the lack of leadership, C was going to propose that we look again at Mother's messages for Auroville, D was going to suggest that all parties to the dispute sit down and have a quiet rational discussion etc. etc.

So what's wrong with that? Well, if you've had an epiphany, a profound moment of enlightenment, I can understand that you might keep restating it at every opportunity. But if you're still waiting for that moment and yet you keep on repeating the same arguments at every meeting you go to, it begins to look as if you've been ambushed by an idea (or, rather, an Idea). Ideas are rather like super-leeches. They perch on leaves and hang from trees, waiting for passers-by. Then they fling themselves onto exposed flesh and start gorging themselves on juicy red corpuscles. However, unlike leeches which eventually fall off, Ideas clamber up onto your back where they dig in their long, dirty claws and gradually get heavier and heavier. Until finally...finally all that is left is a stooped, desiccated shadow of a human being staggering under a huge weight towards a premature grave.

All right, I'm laying it on a bit. But I was depressed by the realization that the meeting in the Town Hall was so predictable. I wanted to shout out, “Surprise me”, and forthwith ban anybody repeating anything they had ever said before in an Auroville meeting. Childish? No doubt. But I think there's a more profound point here. And that is that as long as we lock ourselves up in our Idea or Perception (which, just to seal my unpopularity, I'll suggest are often not much more than projections of unresolved personal issues) we're not available for anything new to come knocking at our door. The difficulty (ah, you see, this is my Idea!) is that we become so identified with our Idea that we don't think it's possible to give it up without doing some terrible violence to ourselves, whereas it's the Idea, that damn Idea on our backs, which is doing the violence by stopping the fresh air getting in.

So why don't we make the next community meeting a bonfire of Ideas? We'll tear the horrid things off each other's backs, fling them screaming in the fire and then...wait. Just wait. Who knows? Something interesting might come strolling by.

 

 

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