Quillwood Podcast

QP8: Deep Time, Discernment, and Generative Catastrophe, with Cliff Berrien

April 01, 2022 Eric Garza Season 1 Episode 8
Quillwood Podcast
QP8: Deep Time, Discernment, and Generative Catastrophe, with Cliff Berrien
Show Notes Transcript

Cliff Berrien is a drummer, percussionist, DJ, and music educator who uses music to develop creativity, catalyze connections, promote cultural dexterity, help to heal trauma, and deepen contemplative somatic awareness. In this episode he and Eric talk about the deep time perspective, contemplative practice and dissociation, and generative catastrophe, among other things.

Outline

  • 00:00 - 06:12 — Episode introduction
  • 06:12 - 17:13 — The deep time perspective
  • 17:13 - 23:33 — The influence of Race and the Cosmos
  • 23:33 - 39:54 — Contemplative practice and dissociation
  • 39:54 - 55:34 — Exploding stars and generative catastrophe
  • 55:34 - 56:25 — Episode wrap-up

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Eric Garza: Welcome to the Quillwood Podcast. I am your host, Eric Garza.

Today's episode was inspired by a recent discussion session that I had with some folks who signed up for a reading group that I'm doing through Quillwood Academy around the book The Ministry for the Future. It's a sci fi book written by Kim Stanley Robinson. We found ourselves reflecting on how long, in terms of years, it took to get us to the place we are in the world today where we're worried about climate change, and fossil fuel depletion, and cultures of violence, and a lot of other things that go along with this. That conversation inspired me to reflect on some of the material that I've read and listened to about deep time. Today's guest is someone who spent a lot of time, probably a lot more time than I have, reflecting on and studying deep time. His name is Cliff Berrien, he's a personal friend of mine, I'll give him an opportunity to introduce himself in a moment.

Before we go to Cliff's introduction and the conversation he and I recorded, do know that this podcast, this episode of the podcast, is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. Through Quillwood Academy I offer a range of different types of events to help people just like you learn to navigate today's rapidly changing world. No events are open for registration at this moment. I've got a couple reading groups going on, but nothing new on the docket quite yet. If you want to find out when the next events open up, when their registration opens, you can do that by heading over to the Quillwood Academy website, quillwood.org. You can sign up for the Quillwood Academy newsletter, which will come out once or twice a month. You can do that on the main page at quillwood.org.

If you enjoy listening to these episodes, episodes of the Quillwood Podcast, I encourage you to leave a five-star review for them on whatever app you use to listen. That helps them rise in search rankings and makes it easier for folks to find them. I also encourage you to share episodes with friends who you think might enjoy listening.

So with that introduction to the episode out of the way, I'll cue up the conversation I recorded with Cliff Berrien, and I hope you enjoy it.

Eric: Cliff Berrien, welcome to the Quillwood Podcast.

Cliff Berrien: Thanks, Eric.

Eric: We talked about this beforehand, and you mentioned you wanted to introduce yourself so I invite you to do that.

Cliff: Thank you. It's good to be here, Eric. I'm an African American, cisgendered, heterosexual, relatively able-bodied man, married 30 years to Danielle, and I am currently living on the living being of planet Earth on unseeded Tewa land in Albuquerque, New Mexico, under big skies and in the shadow of mountains that are habitat to abundant wildlife and several endangered species, including the pincushion cactus, white sands pup fish, willow fly catcher, and Mexican gray wolf. I live very near the Rio Grande River, which flows south to its confluence with the Gulf of Mexico and into the Atlantic Ocean. The biodiversity of the beautiful land here includes cottonwoods, spruce, and aspen that provide shelter for many migrating birds. And I was born and raised in Washington DC. My background includes over 40 years of experience as a drummer, percussionist, DJ, and music educator. I've primarily use my degree in psychology to focus on studying cultural expressions of collective joy as transformative ways to develop creativity, catalyze connections, promote cultural dexterity, help to heal trauma, and deepen contemplative somatic awareness. My teachers and inspirations include Dr. Barbara Holmes, Bayo Akomolafe, Walter Fluker. Rasmaa Menakem, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Radiance Sutras, and the living Earth. With a recognition that we're all kin, however odd, I hope that today our conversation will be pleasing to our ancestors and descendants, and will be beneficial to the flourishing of life. Thanks.

Eric: Cool. And I love your mention of odd. You and I originally met—I'll toss this out here—you and I originally met in what were at the time called kinship groups of one of Bayo Akomolafe's iterations of his We Will Dance With Mountains class. And we were in a kinship group again, this past iteration, but he called them Oddkins. I've got a lot of good memories from both of those groups, I've got to say.

Cliff: Me, too. And it's a great name to call a kinship group, to start off by knowing that you're going to be connecting with people who are possibly odd.

Eric: Yeah. And I'm definitely very odd. As as one of my previous guests made it known, I'm an odd duck.

Cliff: In a wonderful way.

Eric: You mentioned you have an interest in contemplative practice, and one of the places I would love for the two of us to start, which overlaps with your interest in contemplative practice, and this is something that you and I have talked about before, is bringing in a deep time perspective to help us make sense of what's going on in the world today. I have a sense that you and I share a fairly common understanding of what's going on. I'd love for you to talk a little bit about your interest in deep time perspectives. What brought you to that? I suspect things will emerge that we can talk about from there.

Cliff: Thank you. What I will try and do, at some point, connect the first part of your question about contemplative practice and the deep time perspective, but I'll start off with a deep time perspective part. I have discovered, in my own life, that there has been a thread—and I didn't know that was a thread until relatively recently. The catalyst for that was discovering and reading a book in 2008 by one of my dear friends and mentors, Dr. Barbara A. Holmes. She wrote a book called Race and the Cosmos. It was reading that book that helped me connect the dots that had been taking place throughout a lot of my life. There's something about the cosmos, there's something about the universe, there's something about cosmology that is important for me, and for us, as humans. And I didn't know exactly all of what it was until I was able to connect the dots, as I said. And what that beautiful book, Race and the Cosmos—it's subtitle is An Invitation to View the World Differently—what it helped me to do was exactly that, to start to view the world differently. And Dr. Holmes, in that book, was doing that with one of the hardest subjects that I had dealt with in my life, which was race and racism, racialization. That whole topic was just so hard. It was something I always tried to deal with, to work with, to learn about, but I felt I was always under the very heavy weight. And, Dr. Holmes—actually Barbara doesn't mind being called Dr. B, so I'm going to refer to her as Dr. B—Dr. B's book, Race and the Cosmos, helped me to see through a wider lens, and I think, to come to the point, this expanded lens is what I needed. But I feel it's also an important lens for us to as humans to start to look through. We have to think about the fact of the matter that in the 20th century, some amazing things were found out in science, were discovered, but most of them didn't wind up in the news. The moonwalk wound up in the news, and a few other things, but some of the really subtle things that were happening, some of the things that were discovered around the time of the Hubble Space Telescope, we're still just barely understanding, and are barely able to talk about... When I say "we", I mean scientists are just able to start to talk about what we discovered, and what it means. But that wider lens has helped me with—I'm going to call them the four denials that Dr. Vanessa Andreotti talks about in her work—and the four denials are denials of the structures that uphold modernity. This cosmological story, this deep time story that I originally learned from Thomas Berry, and then from Brian Swimme, and then expanded the story with what I learned from Dr. Holmes, Dr. B, it helps expand the story so that you can deal with each of these denials. And the first denial is the denial of systemic violence, or what David Graeber and David Wengrow, in their book, referred to as systems of domination. There's a denial that systems of domination are used throughout our world today.

Eric: They're ubiquity is definitely a piece of that denial.

Cliff: Yeah. There's a denial of the limits of the planet. And there's a denial of our entanglement, and a denial of the depth and magnitude of the problem that we face. And a deep time perspective speaks to each one of those because it's a story, it tells a story—it's a narrative, really, the deep time perspective is a narrative based in cosmology and mathematics and astronomy, and now, more and more, quantum physics—and this story is telling a much more complex narrative about what we are as beings. And that story begins with our entanglement. It begins with whatever we want to say the originating... And we don't know, but what little bit we do know, what was discovered from that Hubble Space Telescope, was that there's this background radiation that seems to be the signature, if you will, of the Big Bang, or the primordial event that started this universe. From that moment, which is hard to describe, but from that moment, everything that there is in existence was connected seamlessly. And we're still part of that. We're still entangled from the very beginning. And the planet that eventually, 4.5 billion years ago, the planet that we are sitting on, talking on right now, from the time it developed, it was a part of that seamless beginning that happened 14 billion years ago. To start to consider those timelines that are really almost impossible to wrap our minds around, but to start to consider them is what helps us to not be in denial. At least that's what's helped me to not be in denial. Because there's a, I don't know what to call it Eric, a truth about that story, a truth or about what happened, what we're part of that, I'm not sure how to say it in a way other than how Thomas Berry said, it's a new story. It's a new story, and it's a new story that really developed a lot in the 20th century, but still most humans on the planet aren't aware of it.

Eric: In your discussion there, you brought up entanglement. And it's interesting to me, for a lot of reasons, bringing up entanglement, that denial of entanglement, because in the same way that our emergence as a species on Earth is caused by entanglement, and we engage with entanglement now, our end on Earth is also going to be due to entanglement and the fact that we can't separate ourselves from the consequences of our actions, and the limits of our ability to adapt to places, and to our place. Really great that you brought up the four denials that Vanessa Andreotti and the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective talks about a lot, because I've been playing with those quite a bit. Entanglement and limits to me are intimately tied. You listed a whole bunch of books already. Have you ever read the book Limits to Growth?

Cliff: I have not.

Eric: It's about a dry read as you could ask for. And it was also profoundly prescient. And there's some interesting gems in there. You've probably heard of it, but they predicted the peak and decline of global civilization sometime probably between 2000 and 2050. A lot of people have been writing over the last few years about, looking back on their predictions and the output of their model, how shockingly relevant it is starting to feel. A lot of people dismissed it—that denial cropping up—a lot of people dismissed it when it was first published in the 1970s. And now people are revisiting it and saying, Oh, crap.

You also brought up Barbara Holmes and her book Race and the Cosmos. I wonder if you wanted to elaborate any more on particularly what it was in that book that you found so compelling? Because I've read that book as well.

Cliff: Okay. Thanks. That's a good question. You know, I had not been introduced to the work of Rasmaa Menakem yet, as you and I are familiar with. I was in a stage of my life, I was trying to figure out some things about racialization, because everything I was learning, and everything I knew, was very painful to consider. And I didn't yet have the language that Rasmaa uses for a lot of his work in somatic abolitionism and working with trauma. I didn't have the language of expanding the frame, expanding your frame of reference. But a lot of his somatic practices, that's what they are designed to do, to expand your frame of reference. So as an example, say you're in a situation that you feel like there's a microaggression, let's say. Resmaa would recommend ways to literally look around the space you're in and start to feel a sense of safety. Knowing that there's a window, and there's a door, and just saying to your soma, saying to your body, I'm safe. I'm cool. I can do this. Well, years before I was introduced to that, I was reading Race and the Cosmos. And I would say the main thing that Dr. Holmes did for me in that book was help me expand the frame of reference in a kind of ultimate way. I mean, I don't know if i can expand the frame of reference bigger than the universe. Perhaps we can, when you think of some of the theories of multiverses. This is almost hard to explain, but just thinking in a way that was expansive, beyond what I could even imagine, really helped me to know that I was held in something mysterious that neither myself or any of the smartest humans that had ever lived on the planet would ever fully understand, and that was therefore beyond—I don't know how to say this—some of our worst problems, and finally to understand something else too.

And again, some of this was understanding that came through just being given some of the mathematical and scientific things that we know. Like, for example, we know that this universe is approximately 14.5 billion years old. The other thing we know is that by looking at that, and by looking mathematically at what the projection into the future is, it's very possible that this universe, at 14.5, is a teenager, literally a teenager. It's still growing. It's still developing in its slow way, and could be going for another 500 billion years until entropy and the other forces of physics change it into another form or whatever happens at that point. But 14.5 billion years may just be the teenage years, and knowing that this is an evolutionary universe connected me back with something that Dr. Holmes brings up, which is Dr. Martin Luther King's statement of There's a moral arc to the universe, and that arc bends towards justice. Well, when I was growing up, that arc towards justice seemed like, my biggest question was, How long is this arc? Because it seemed to be taking forever. What little I knew when I was growing up about our history, it was taking well over 400 years to bend towards anything that looked like justice. But when I looked at these things from a more cosmic perspective, of how long it has taken things to evolve—and I want to say it the way I'm learning it deep time, deep time talks about subjects, everything is a subject—so how long it takes subjects to evolve. It just helped me with something like patience, to understand that if the universe itself is just a teenager, humans who have been here less than an evolutionary blink of the eye, we've obviously got a ways to go. And just being able to have a little bit of that patience about our journey, that has helped expand the frame in ways that have helped me, and I think have helped a lot of people who read her book, and consider what she's trying to say in it, given us a little more space to breathe around these issues that are very difficult issues of how we work with these systems of domination, and etc.

Eric: You mentioned this before, and I wonder if we can return to this, you mentioned contemplative practice. And I get the sense, we've known each other for a couple years, I get the sense that that has played a pretty important role in your life. And I'm curious, if you feel inspired to talk about what brought you to contemplative practice, and what your contemplative practice looks like at this moment now, and maybe some way points through your life, as I'm sure it's evolved.

Cliff: Thank you. It's a great question, and I appreciate it. And not many people asked me, and even though you and I have talked to about it, I don't know if we've talked about it this directly. I discovered contemplative practice to be the way that I started to be able to shift my consciousness, my awareness, when I was growing up living in Washington, DC and was finding myself in situations that were very hard and very challenging. Living in an urban setting where, at the time when I was going to high school, I was the third class of black students that were starting to integrate what was otherwise an all white school. And so my youth, and my high school experience, there was a lot of racism at the school I was in. There was what we called race riots, but was more like cafeteria fights, where chairs would be tossed and thrown, because of racism. And I experienced that so much when I was growing up, and trying to figure out what to do about that, that I was starting to lean into the ways that a lot of people in those urban settings do to just try to escape, which was being introduced to drugs and things like this.

But I was very, very fortunate to meet a man, who was the father of a young woman who was my girlfriend at the time. And I'm old enough to be of the generation that, Oh, if you want to date me, you have to talk to my dad. So, I did talk to her dad, and found out that he was a yoga teacher. And he said, I know you're at that stage, young man, where you're being introduced to drugs and things, but A, you're not going to do that around my daughter, and B, you won't live very long if you live a life that goes down that road. So he advised me to learn about meditation. He said this is a much longer path, but you will be glad you did it. And I have never stopped being grateful to him for his introduction.

I just started off with learning yoga, and then eventually Qi Gong, and Tai Chi. And with him, this yoga teacher became so enamored of the many, many paths of meditation that meditation kind of always accompanied what I was learning as musician. I'd go to some tradition, and they'd have a contemplative practice. They didn't call it contemplative practice, they didn't call it meditation. But it was very much about focusing your attention in a way that you could hold different types of awareness at the same time.

As an aside, you and I have talked about contemplation and meditation. And you have said before something that I think is fascinating, and also very, very accurate, which is you've said that there's a tendency for meditation, contemplation to be dissociative. Can you just say a few words about that?

Eric: I was going to bring that up, and maybe that'll lead to something productive. My introduction to contemplative practice started when I was probably in my early 20s—and I'm a bit younger than you are so this is different eras—but I started out in a couple various Zen traditions and then migrated to other things, but one of my takeaways from the years that I spent in the Zen traditions was that the particular ways that meditation was taught made it so that it was a dissociative practice for the people that were doing it. And for our listeners, what I mean by dissociation is that it takes people out of their thinking mind, but it also takes people out of their feeling body and tries to invite them into this space of no thinking and no feeling. And I suppose in that space, if you can train yourself to go there, you'll find an absence of pain. But you'll find an absence of pain because it's an absence of everything. You're surrounding yourself in nothingness, which is valorized in those particular Zen traditions, but it's not clear to me what benefit that is. That's what I mean by dissociative, it is that it takes us out of our thinking mind, but it also takes us out of our feeling body. And as such, I feel like it's it's a defense mechanism of sorts. That's what I meant by that.

Cliff: Thank you for sharing that. And I appreciate having that in the space as I try and make this connection. The practices that I learned starting pretty early were influenced by practices I was also engaging from the African diaspora, which were very embodied. Let me give you a quick example. West African drumming traditions have what I'll just refer to as parts, like the ensembles are given parts. And those parts are something that you hold on to, you focus on, just like any other orchestra, except this isn't written down. And the second part of it is, it's also responsive to what's happening in the community. So here's a practice of holding a focus, like you would in a meditation, you're holding focus, but your focus is on your part, then your part is in a context woven in with other parts. And all of those parts are very different than your part. And they're designed to be woven together, almost like a quilt or something, but a patchwork quilt where they're so different that you have to really concentrate and focus to hold on to your part. Then on top of that, there's this thing called the master drummer. And the master drummer with the whole ensemble is responding to the dancers in the community, who are responding to the music. So there's this very alive and organic, almost organism that happens in the context of that kind of practice, where you have to hold on in a way that is not tense. Just like in meditation, you're supposed to be relaxed, and also flexible.

So those kinds of practices that I learned as a musician, and that I brought and learned, were connected to these other meditation practices I was learning. It's kind of the thread that has stayed throughout my journey meditating. So I guess one way I would say it is, if it wasn't embodied, I wasn't that interested in it. And even though I did try practices like Zen, like you, I felt that it leaned more towards something that didn't feel embodied to me, over a long term practice of it. Vipassana I felt a little different about because that, for me, was very embodied. And it was more of the thread of Vipassana awareness of what's happening in the body, of what sensations were taking place, moment to moment. That was more of the thread that I kept with me through until the present, when again I come back to a time now when my meditation practice, if you say, Well, what are you practicing now that would give me an example of your deep time studies and contemplative practice that you talked about in the beginning, Lama Rod Owens is a black Buddhist who I learned to practice from called the seven homecomings. And I'll just use them as an example, that practice of the seven homecomings is an invitation to somatically experience yourself being held, so that a lot of these practices, especially in Buddhism, grow out of an intention or a desire to be compassionate in the world. But this practice is saying, You can't be compassionate to the outside world, or in the outside world, until you know how to feel that in yourself. And so the seven homecomings is an example of a practice that you feel these different ways you're being held. And one of them, I won't go into all of them, but one of them is the feeling of being held by the earth. And it's just profound to get to that part of the practice where all of a sudden you're literally feeling your feet on the ground. So here's where the soma starts, the somatic starts, feel my feet on the ground, and I feel the weight of my body. And then I feel that weight of my body, not as myself being held in the chair, not as just me, but as this thing that science calls gravity, but which I think of as the hug of the earth. The Earth is literally holding us to it. But I think I experienced that holding not in just a kind of metaphorical way. I experienced it as, What if the Earth is really caring for me right now?

What the deep time story does for me is take the sense of caring, take the sense of, I'm going to use a word that is not necessarily used in science, but is used in deep time studies, especially as Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme have developed them, of saying that initial impulse and the way the universe developed afterwards seems to have had care in it. And if you look at every evolutionary change throughout the history of the universe, you can see care. And so in some of my meditations quite regularly, I try and experience that care, that care that the Earth has for me, and more and more, especially as we're moving into... You and I have been studying with Dr. Vanessa Andreotti, and she invites us as well to notice, to try and learn, to try and have experience of what does the Earth want from us in these dramatic and changing times? And one of the ways that I practice that is by literally trying to be in touch with my own soma. What is happening on the planet, what is happening on the earth right now?

Eric: And as you were speaking, it seems to me going back to those four denials, that it's almost an invitation to feel entanglement.

Cliff: Exactly!

Eric: To build our capacity to directly experience that entanglement.

Cliff: Exactly. That's the thread I would tie that, I would say, goes through, like you say, Race and the Cosmos. She was trying to do an entanglement move. She was saying, We were entangled. It seemed like I started off with something that might be considered negative, these denials. But same thing about race and racism, it seems so negative, but we have to understand the way it's entangled, and the way we're entangled, and maybe the understanding of the way we're entangled can help us to heal some of these wounds of separability, of separation from each other, that are represented in things like racism, sexism, gender inequality, all of those things.

Eric: Yeah. And when you were talking about drugs a while ago, having that put forward as an option by your peers when you were in high school, you mentioned the word escape. When I was talking about how I came to the conclusion that a lot of the meditation techniques that I was learning had a strong dissociative element to them, one of the things that brought me to that conclusion is just getting to know the other people that I trained with, and learning and realizing that many of these people were using this practice, both the techniques but also the retreats and the practice sessions, as an escape. That was what kept them coming back is that this was their escape from all the stuff that was going on in their lives and in the world.

And thinking about people's nervous systems and how they work, I want to try very hard not to demonize dissociation as a thing, and I don't want to demonize different ways that people escape because sometimes those are useful. But I also think that a really important component of all of this is learning discernment, and recognizing that sometimes it's absolutely necessary for us to withdraw ourselves from a situation so we can temper our responses, and sometimes we need to learn to stay with the trouble. We need to learn to discern when it's uncomfortable but we still have to stay with the trouble, and when we're really uncomfortable and maybe it's time to step outside, do the escape route thing. Another another little fun bit of complexity to toss into the mix.

Cliff: And I appreciate that you tossed it into the mix, because what it brings up for me is another thing that the universe story tells us is that the universe, the development of the universe, the reason why we're able to sit here and talk, is not because of a kind of pretty development. If it wasn't for the fact that stars exploded, we wouldn't be here. I mean, Carl Sagan said, Oh, we're all made of star stuff, is one of the really famous things he's known for. But what that means, what that refers to, is the fact that in a supernova explosion at the end of a star's life, it spills its contents, spills its guts, all over space. And in doing so, something else happens, something new happened, something new is created, including all of the elements that are in our bodies. And the other thing it's made me do is it's helped me to stay with the trouble, because I feel like that deep time story, that cosmological story is about how the universe has stayed with the trouble. The catastrophe of a star exploding is a transformative event. And it makes me at least wonder about the catastrophes that have happened, and that are happening in the human realm. It gives me something like, I'm going to use the word trust, that transformation is still possible, transmutation from one form to a new form, is still possible. And I can have a trust in that, because that's what the universe has done for 14 billion years.

Eric: Yeah. And thinking of Earth—we're talking about the universe, but thinking of Earth—maybe a fun term is generative catastrophe. You're talking about supernova... I would have to go back and find a link to find the exact date when this happened, but there is a time on earth when all of the life forms on the planet would have found oxygen to be completely toxic. And a form of life emerged, some kind of probably photosynthetic bacteria that took in carbon dioxide, in the presence of sunlight, did photosynthesis, and started releasing oxygen. And for a while that oxygen got tied up in inorganic carbonates, and so it never built up in the atmosphere enough to become toxic. But eventually—and again, I'd have to go back and look up the exact date—but eventually, the carbonate rocks were saturated with oxygen and oxygen started to build up in the atmosphere. And so those photosynthetic organisms basically committed mass suicide. They poisoned themselves with their own waste product, leading to one of the first, if not the first, global mass extinction. And if they hadn't done that, oxygen breathing organisms would never have been able to evolve, like us. So yeah. Generative catastrophe.

Cliff: Generative catastrophe. I love that word, generative. And just a few weeks ago, I heard you speaking with Bayo and he used the word generative incapacitation. And that may be what we feel like we're in right now. But to your point, the point that you're making, the generativity of that, is that something new is possible. And it's something that we can't imagine right now. As we find ourselves in it, it's hard to imagine what it might be. But for me, the deep time perspective helps me look a little bit, as I get comfortable looking backwards in really quite ridiculous time periods that I can barely hold on to, I can imagine forward, imagine the life of our descendants in ways that are generative. This is really strange, but I mentioned Bayo, and he had a very interesting take on what's going on right now in Ukraine. He had a very interesting take on it. But part of his take on it was how it might be generative. Because something is playing out that is so beyond what we can imagine as what could possibly be a good outcome of this. And as Bayo often does, I feel he's teasing us towards trying to imagine it though, trying to imagine an outcome.

He reminds me of, I often go with hearing Bayo in the direction I go with Alexis Pauline Gumbs. And in her beautiful essay that she had in the book Octavia's Brood, where she has future self write a letter back to her self that is living right now here in the 21st century. And it's beautiful. I think the first words that her future self says to her present day self is, The first thing I want you to know is, we won. With the "we" being these people who are trying to listen to what the planet needed, and trying to live ecologically, she was saying, they we won, and she starts describing what the future is like. And for me, it's only partially fiction. I do feel that a lot of what I'm given with the deep time story is trust that an outcome that we can't imagine right now is possible. I was going to tie it in with Bayo, he tells the story of this ant, and how this fungus—I don't remember the name of the fungus, beautiful name, some kind of cordyceps fungus—they infect these ants, and then they go and take over the life of the ant. And they basically take it over. Even National Geographic says it turns into a zombie, it just walks around, going to where the fungus wants it to go. But I reflected on the fact that the fungus doesn't do this to the whole ant colony, and I'm wondering right now, in a deep time way, if that speaks to anything about our future as well.

Eric: And thinking about what's going on in Ukraine, and armed conflicts on a smaller scale, and the possibility for generative catastrophe. Obviously it is catastrophic. I've seen, and I'm sure you've seen these too, you might not even be able to get away from them, but imagery of photographs of neighborhoods that have just been annihilated. And chunks of the United States looked like that after, for example, the Civil War, after the Revolutionary War. And so there was space on the continent we live for that generative catastrophe. This whole thing has inspired me to ponder what skills and what capacities must we bring to bear so that we can move forward from that in a useful way?

Cliff: For me, a deep time perspective will be at least one of those skills. Eric, I know you have a lot of respect for the things that one can do for one's body, to make sure that one's body is able to have skills to be able to encounter changes. I think that's what the deep time perspective does for our minds. From the very, very, very, very beginning, it does that to our minds just to start to expand our frame of reference, beyond Oh, my God, everything's in collapse. To expand ourselves beyond that idea, even just looking as close as the moon and realizing that it was a piece of rock that hit this planet Earth and then, Oh, let's actually stay in relationship with each other, and that that's what happened. And onto our neighborhood, how fascinating it is just to consider the planets in our neighborhood, starting with the sun. Okay, my first meditations on the sun where, The sun can fit a million Earths, that's how big the sun is. Actually, that kind of hurts, I'm getting a cramp in my brain even trying to think about that. But over time, it's like lifting the weights. You lift the weights, and I can't lift this more than eight times, and I'm done. But after a while, you could do three sets of eight. And I feel it's the same way with the deep time perspectives. The more I keep jumping back and forth to this longer, larger picture, the more my mind, my imagination is able to hold things that I didn't think I could hold, and that are almost countercultural to try and hold.

Eric: It sounds like what you're saying is that it it invokes, and I totally buy this, it inspires heightened levels of cognitive resilience. Which is different than emotional resilience. It's being able to wrap our heads around bigger and bigger things. You brought up collapse a little while ago, and one of the things that I reflect on a lot, as I read different people's collapse narratives, read about different people's collapse narratives, is how so many people are trapped by, what is a good word for this, just a poverty of the imagination about what is possible. The ways the world works right now is not going to last, and if that can't last, nothing else is possible. The world is going to end. And I just find that so poverty stricken. And it seems like what we're both alluding to here with his deep time perspective is learning to bolster our cognitive capacity so that we're not stuck in a binary like that, that many things are possible, the generative catastrophe is a very potent and a very real thing, and opens a lot of doors, opens a lot more doors than it closes.

Cliff: I couldn't say that better. That's really beautifully said. And with that as a possibility that almost everyone could agree on, there may be some folks who don't want to look up, metaphorically. But that's all it takes is to just to look up and say, okay, at least at the very beginning, I have to start to wonder, what is this moon thing? In other words, being in relationship with the deep time story is not something that is asking people to believe something that they couldn't experience themselves, starting almost immediately. It seems like the entire humanity is invited into that story. One of the things that we know about most indigenous cultures is that all of them have a cosmology that also connects them, that speaks to their entanglement with this cosmos that we've seen as outside of ourselves and that they have experienced as being entangled with them in every way, in their lives, in their communities, in every way. And we can all do something like that, and whether we base it on a more secular scientific way of making that connection or something that has a spiritual dimension to it, whatever perspective that you are looking from, you can look in wonder and go, What is that star? What is that planet? Where is it that we find ourselves? How do we find ourselves this way?

I was told by one of my teachers long gone, Dr. Brugh Joy, I heard him once say that actually, the most profound spiritual question you can ask is, What is this? That's really, to me, the core of the deep time question. It's a curiosity. It's an openness to explore What is this? And I think that I have experienced that openness that curiosity is so helpful in how we live our lives, and how we live our lives with the possibility of of making some kind of beneficial contribution.

Eric: Cool. Thanks so much for agreeing to sit down and record something this was generative, and not catastrophic.

Cliff: Yes, it was generative, but not catastrophic. Yeah, I will celebrate that.

Eric: Awesome. Yeah. Thanks a bunch, Cliff.

Cliff: Thank you, Eric.

Eric: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Quillwood Podcast. Again, this podcast is brought to you by Quillwood Academy. You can find it on the web at quillwood.org. Sign up for the Quillwood newsletter while you're there.

Until next time, this is Eric Garza, your host, signing off.

Walk softly, and take good care.