Human beings once lived within extended networks of families and neighbors. Our ancestors used to rely on those around them for survival, coming together to build shelter, find food, and so on. Now, many people live in apartment buildings or among others they never speak to.
Is this alienation the result of the supercomputers in our pockets? At any moment, we can replace the voices in our heads with that of a favorite author or artist. However, a phrase often attributed to the Buddha reminds me of the meaning and necessity behind the urge to absorb far-off voices:
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears. Likewise, when the teacher is ready, the student appears. “
In other words, your interests, fascinations, and inclinations are meaningful. When you follow them, you’ll learn lessons highly particular to your unique level of awareness. In 2021, this ability to easily absorb content unbounded by space and time provides immense learning opportunities that are a fair trade for the isolation we sometimes feel. Here’s why.
A cybernetic loop for everyone
“When the student is ready, teacher appears” and its inverse forms a cybernetic loop that speaks to the inherent order within our interests. Cybernetics is the study of systems that self-regulate, and a cybernetic loop illustrates the flow between these self-regulating systems.
Every time you feel drawn to a book, podcast, or song, it’s because you’ve gone through a rite of passage that orchestrated your finding it. And you’re not alone: the teacher, the person who created the content, also traversed a series of incidents that prepared him or her to meet you at this particular juncture.
So, although you listen to songs or podcasts by people who don’t know you exist, there is an invisible string tying the two of you together. An idea often attributed to Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung is that the future manifests itself in the things that interest you. Our favorite cybernetic loop gives this idea further credibility. It reveals the order and purpose behind that which draws your attention. You’re not blown about by random strokes of intrigue. There is a path behind you and a path unraveling in front of you that is carefully orchestrated by the phenomena that captures your attention.
“Think of everything you do as part of your calling. It will rid you of extraneous judgements you have about your life. You are on purpose.” -Wayne Dyer
Below are three strategies to plug you into the utility of this lovely cybernetic loop so that you always get the most out of the content that finds you.
Remember that you’re not just reading a book: you’re taking flight on the wings of an expert
While reading or listening to audio, I often pretend that the author is sitting beside me, informing me about a topic that I’ve become ready to hear.
Envisioning an author speaking directly to me, in the flesh, sitting cross- legged beneath a tree at my left side or in my living room with a chair turned toward me instills a profundity and innate sense of motivation to absorb. At the same time that I feel I’ve invited the author into my space, this framework also invites me to the author’s desk, where I assume the role of the reader avatar he/she had in mind while writing. Doing so, I bond with the author. From there, the words impress deeper upon me, and it becomes easier to see how even seemingly unrelated ideas apply to my current circumstances.
Employ the power of others for an upgrade in your point of view
The book of wisdom from the 6th century BC, the Tao Te Ching, offers a number of powerful, paradoxical insights about living. One especially impactful line occurs in chapter 68:
“Those who are good at employing others put themselves beneath them. That is called the virtue of non-contention. That is called the power to employ others.” -Translated by Patrick E. Moran
Seeing the content that intrigues you as coming from a voice of a teacher with good timing helps illuminate the power in this line. When you ride the urgency employed by an author while writing, you can use it as the basis for your own willingness to create.
This point also speaks to the value of morphic resonance. This theory, put forward by author and biologist Rupert Sheldrake, suggests that when one being takes an action, it becomes easier for all beings to do the same. Next time you want to create but feel unmotivated or stuck, pick up your favorite book or play your favorite podcast. Feel into the emotions of readiness, inspiration, and healthy productivity active within the creators of the content. Use it as fuel for your own willingness to proceed.
The creators you admire represent permission
“In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
In one of his final interviews, philosopher, ethnobotanist and mystic Terence McKenna said that his real function for people was permission. He represented a kind of freedom that was untapped yet already present within the psyches of his followers.
This is true of all influential creators. No one can evoke a feeling inside of you that you didn’t already have the machinery to produce. The artists that move you enable your access to the parts of yourself previously lying dormant.
When you absorb information that moves or intrigues you, the author is unearthing for you modes of being that you can access at any time. When you know how to trigger them, the power is in your hands.
There is a principle of order animating the trajectories of your interests and hobbies. When you treat that which interests you with respect, believing it’s there for a good reason, you cooperate with it.
In that cooperation, your life assumes directions possible only because of that alchemy.