Since we are looking at one principle a month, we start the cycle of reflection all over this week — beginning the new year with the first of the principles of valid action. Also called “The Principle of Adaptation” it is drawn from chapter 13 of the book (The Inner Look). It says: “To go against the evolution of things is to go against yourself.”
We’ll start by focusing on the general structure and implications of the principle. This week’s meeting will give us an opportunity to discuss our thoughts, doubts, questions, and insights about this principle. As always we should remember the Principles are not meant as isolated bits of wisdom, any more than they’re meant as a conventional moral code. Rather, they are part of a dynamic meditation, the rudiments of a discipline that you can practice in every moment of your life. They are principles, general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life, aimed in a particular direction.
Some Reflections (that might be useful raw material for your reflections)
One of the first difficulties we might find with this principle is one we encounter repeatedly in this work – the principles are deceptively simple. However, in practice the principles do not prove to be so straight forward. I’ve found that it’s not accepting them, but precisely the wrestling with them, that elevates the principles from being a set of platitudes, and reveals them as a key for transforming your life. Remember they are only guidelines. The point isn’t to try and conform to some external code or set of rules. Rather, it is found in the register that is produced in me when I act. Does my action and the register it produces, move me towards greater unity, or toward contradiction? Do I feel more in agreement with myself, or am I more at war with myself?
So, the first problem I confront when I think about this principle provides an important lesson. One that I’ve learned to apply to all the principles, and my work of weaving them into a style of life that promotes internal unity, and serves those around me. That is, I have to think about them — a lot. For example, how do I know when a tendency is “the evolution of things” and when its just a possibility, an accident, a fashion? How can I tell when my acceptance of this tendency is just weakness, laziness or simply a mistake on my part and when it is really the appropriate course of action. Misapplying it by going along with something that does not really represent the “evolution of things” can be (at best) counterproductive. For example, people had accepted pain and illness as inevitable medical science would not have evolved. It may not be an exaggeration to say that every major human advance has arisen as a rebellion against inevitability. And there’s where the wisdom comes into play.
It’s always seemed to me that these simple illustrations from Rafael Edwards provide useful fuel for my considerations :
Consider the illustrations (above) of canoe being paddled up a waterfall or that of a chick cracking out of its egg. For the bird to try and return to its previous stage is to go against the inevitable evolution of things and very clearly to go against itself. A different aspect of the principle is revealed if we consider the case of parents who refuse to accept their children’s growth and changing needs and find it difficult to let go. They end up doing their children no service, hurting themselves and sometimes seriously imperilling the relations between them.
Or consider the following tale where the poor turtle (aptly named, Turtleneck) tries to avoid the changes around him and instead take extreme measures to escape from that situation into another. As the old saying has it he ends up going from the frying pan and to the fire (sort of literally).
Turtleneck, the turtle, lived in a beautiful and lush pond where he spent his days burrowed into the muddy bottom or floating about chatting with his good friends the geese who always summered there. Unfortunately for the visiting water birds a great drought had come, as it did every few years, and the pond was drying up. One day they said to their amphibious friend: “the water is disappearing so we must depart. We will return next year if the drought is over to pass the summer with you. If not we will certainly land to have a little chat before we fly on.”
Turtleneck responded: “I understand why you must go. I can easily live here, even if I have to burrow down into the muck of the small pond that will remain, but our needs our very different and it will not be enough water for all of you. However, life here will be very boring without you. I’m coming with.”
The geese answered: “But little wingless friend how can that be? We will be flying far and fast.” “I have a plan,” said the turtle, “let two of you pick up that stick over there and hold it fast in your beaks. I in turn will bite it and hold it in mine.” They replied: “There are two problems with your plan, hard shelled one. First, leaving here is for us a matter of life and death, while for you it is more a matter of whimsy. Secondly, while we, your friends, find your habit of always needing to comment on everything endearing, in this case, if you forget yourself and start to talk it could precipitate a catastrophe and end your life. Perhaps it is better that you remain until we return since you can easily adapt to the coming changes.”
But Turtleneck insisted and his plan was put into effect and, with great effort, the two geese carried their friend aloft. As they flew low over the nearby village the people ran out to gaze at this miraculous sight. In their astonishment they turned to each other and asked: “what could this be”? “Can you make it out”? “Is that a chariot pulled by birds”? The turtle, remembering the stones that the village children had thrown at her as she lay in her pond wanted to impress the people with her ability to fly. Suddenly, she cried out loudly: “It is I, Turtleneck”! Only, the geese heard her words as she plummeted to her death. And some of the villagers, who were very fond of turtle soup carried her home for dinner.
This week we’ll consider the general contours of this principle and its possible applications. We’ll ask ourselves whether it’s useful and in what ways. All of this is not just in order to deepen our understanding this particular principle, but also to begin to reflect more rigorously about our daily behaviour. Over the next weeks we’ll look at how I applied it or could have applied it in the past, how it might apply in my current situation, how I imagine it might in the future.
Stop. Read no further!
Received these comments before? Then you probably already know the following:
The Principles are not “morals” or “laws”. They are not meant as external guidelines but as aids to configuring a way of approaching life based on registers of unity (agreement with myself) and contradiction. Internal unity is registered when my thinking, feeling and actions go in the same direction and aren’t warring with each other. That’s why the Principles are sometimes called Principles of Valid Action. A valid action, is unitive, ends in others, and is something we want to repeat.
Every month we focus one of the 12 Principles. These can be found in Chapter 13 of the book, The Inner Look. Each week we look at a different aspect of that month’s principle. These principles, or guidelines, or however you think of them, are elements that we can form into a discipline which can be practiced at every moment and in every circumstance. They are a kind of dynamic meditation. With time and application these efforts will give all my activities a particular tone, mood, and mental direction. Our goal is to weave these general ideas that you can weave together into a coherent style of life.
In his commentaries on his Message Silo had this to say about The Principles:
Chapter XIII (of the Inner Look) sets forth the “Principles of Valid Action.” It deals with the formulation of a behavior in life that is presented for those who wish to develop a coherent life built on two basic internal registers: that of unity and that of contradiction. In this way, the justification for this “morality” is found in the registers that it produces, and not in particular ideas or beliefs tied to one place, time, or cultural model. The register of internal unity that is being sought is accompanied by certain indicators that should be taken into consideration. These are: 1.The sensation of internal growth; 2. Continuity in time; and 3. Affirming that one would want to repeat it in the future. The sensation of internal growth appears as a true and positive indicator that always accompanies the experience of personal improvement. Regarding continuity in time, it means that through comparison with later, or imagined, or remembered situations, one is able to confirm that the validity of the experience does not change, even with changing circumstances. Lastly, if after the act one wishes to repeat it, we can say that the sensation of internal unity affirms the validity of this action. On the contrary, contradictory actions might have some of the characteristics of unitive actions, or none of them, but they never have all three.
There exists, nevertheless, another kind of action that we cannot strictly call “valid,” but neither can we call them “contradictory.” While such an action does not prevent our development, it does not produce great improvement either. These actions can be more or less disagreeable or more or less pleasurable, but from the point of view of validity they do not add anything or take anything away. These types of actions are the everyday actions, the mechanically habitual actions. They are perhaps necessary for our subsistence and coexistence. But according to the model of unitive and contradictory actions that we have been examining, such an action does not in itself constitute a moral act. The Principles, referred to as “Principles of Valid Action,” are classified as: 1. The Principle of Adaptation; 2. The Principle of Action and Reaction; 3. The Principle of Opportune Action; 4. The Principle of Proportion; 5. The Principle of Acceptance; 6. The Principle of Pleasure; 7. The Principle of Immediate Action; 8. The Principle of Comprehended Action; 9. The Principle of Liberty; 10. The Principle of Solidarity; 11. The Principle of Negation of Opposites, and 12. The Principle of Accumulating Actions.
Want to know more:
Remember, you can always just ask. Either send something to me or post it to our Facebook page. You can also find The Inner Look and Silo’s Commentaries on the Message, along with the rest of Silo’s writings (in many languages) here And along with other activities, materials etc of Silo’s Message here.
Some of the English version of his works have been published and hard copies are available. See for example.
Parks of Study and Reflection:
There are (so far) 2 Parks of Study and Reflection in North America. These are Red Bluff in California and Hudson Valley. in New York. The Parks of Study and Reflection are projects built and paid for by individuals inspired by Silo’s teachings. More information is available on their websites.
These notes have been sent to the email list of The Community of Silo’s Message Toronto Annex, and posted on Facebook, as well as here on my blog.
We’d all love to hear your comments, thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by, any of this.