Tom Wolfe used the expression “The Right Stuff” to describe the necessary ingredients that went into procuring an astronaut during the early days of the space program. That expression may find broader appeal today than ever. Where once before, precious few professions demanded such degrees of excellence; today, you’d be hard pressed to find a chimney sweep, or a Starbuck’s vender, who can get by with less.
It’s not just that consumers have gotten more demanding, being unduly pressed for time themselves. Harried, and stressed past their limits, they are all too happy to vent on the first person who gives them any less than their mother did. And God forbid the door-to-door salesman not have the diffusing skills of a lion tamer the next time he rings a doorbell on someone looking to enjoy some quality time at home at long last only to find it intruded upon by unwanted solicitors.
Nor is it just that workers have had to do the jobs of ever more coworkers that have been laid off. The age of multi-tasking went right along with the age of “lean and mean,” the age of downsizing, the age of outsourcing, the age of automation – “I really need to replace that guy with a machine that won’t keep asking for a raise” – the age of “if we can’t figure out how to do it for less, the competition will – be they here, or in some far away land no longer so far away courtesy of the internet.” So while we used to mumble, “Maybe if they hired enough help around here I wouldn’t have to do ten things at once!” We keep such thoughts to ourselves, anymore, in lieu of an Orwellian reality now so oppressive not even Orwell could have dreamed it up. We are all just one paycheck away from the streets, and, from the looks of it, that’s the next paycheck.
Employers confess there’s “a sweet spot” that’s hard to find. Push people too hard, and you burn them out too soon, and high employee turnover nullifies all that expensive training. What’s more, if it takes six months or two years or longer to procure the ideal worker in the given profession, doesn’t do to burn them out before they’ve even hit their prime. Mind you, zeroing in on that “sweet spot” is like locking on to a target on a charging rhino. Because (and here I’m mixing my metaphors) if the pressure doesn’t stay dialed up to the limit of what the individual can bear, the second you ease up, they fall into a lower energy state. They slip into ruts, find they can do things with far less attentiveness, running on autopilot. It’s basic chemistry. For those of you who remember: an “s” “d” or “p” orbital – just how far and fast the electrons are spinning around the nucleus of an atom – has to do with how much energy piping through the system. The instant there’s less, the electrons sink into a lower energy state that is less frenetic. Do we as humans have equally discrete “quantum states of consciousness” that are not incremental but drastically separated from one another that can only be found under such duress? If so, it bodes well for sadists, or your typical employer.
Piaget argued for such discrete states of consciousness. Much as chaos theorists and quantum dynamical systems theorists argue today, he insisted that incremental change will suffice so long as the human brain’s wiring can handle the added throughput. However, overwhelm the individual, and he has one of two choices, crack (I do wonder what the stats are on sanitariums these days), or, transcend himself (“get over” himself, spoken in the vernacular). Basically the brain grows more neurons, finds ways to wire them together better, secretes more sophisticated brain chemicals, all in the name of superior information processing and decision making. Actually, no one really knows how this is done. But necessity, the mother of invention, waits not on philosophical or scientific approval, or even common sense.
So the good news is…
You need a job from hell in order to entice the Zen master to arise in you; or, for those who aren’t enamored by all things Eastern: to force Clark Kent into Superman mode. Even better if: The world is in chaos. In ruin even. With Armageddon writ large. The more crises the better. Thankfully, the daily news aims to please here. There has to be, in Pema Chodron’s words, a sense of no escape so we can begin to appreciate “The Wisdom of No Escape.”
The more the individual is kept off balance, the longer he is unable to cope at his existing functioning level, the more he has no choice but to “take it up a notch.” In fact in our age of continuous improvement we have all sorts of expressions to describe the requisite “get over yourself” psychology: “think out of the box;” “take it to the limit;” “pull it out of your ass (a personal favorite);” “Winners find ways to win;” “can’t touch this;” (ok, that may have some other meanings that don’t serve my purpose).
The world as a “pressure cooker” provides the impetus for the shift in the global mindset – that really big phase shift to an entirely discrete and higher order of integral consciousness – for everyone.
We can thank NAFTA. We can blame “the global economy” and “free trade” for knocking down the protectionist walls that formerly nation states enjoyed. We can pay homage to the fact that one percent of the best and brightest of the Chinese – is greater than our entire population in the U.S.! We can thank the collective stupidity and lack of consciousness of the human race that pushed us to the edge of self-annihilation as a species – in so many splendorous forms – from global warming to ritual genocides carried out on a daily basis. But the signs are there that the pressure is on – and mounting daily.
And thank God for that. Otherwise we couldn’t procure the greatest age of them all – the one that subsumes all the others – The Age of Zen Masters. Or, if you are unapologetically occidental: The Age of Superheroes.
Once the pressure has forged us from common steal into a Samurai blade, what then? Moreover, what will be the signs that we have been transformed? What is the meaning of having The Right Stuff in today’s world?
Primarily, it means no longer being stuck. We cease to be identified with a laundry list of personality quirks and labels: “I’m so dumb;” “I’ll never be able to do that;” “I just don’t like working under pressure;” “I’m really into Beamers.” To be ego-identified means to hold some limiting self concept about ourselves in our minds from moment to moment. Never mind the inconsistencies that crop up, which we consistently fail to recognize. Namely that the self-concept is never entirely the same from one situation to another, one social context to another. Whatever the context, you can bet we’ll have some sense of ourselves and our roles to play in it.
But in a pressure cooker environment, any self-image you would care to procure – no matter how self-empowering or, conversely, self-debilitating – is likely to be burnt off in no time at all. Like the Phoenix standing in the fire, you must learn how to rebuild yourself constantly.
And as the heat is dialed up on the stove, taking the pressure forever higher, guess what, only one solution ultimately works: the recognition that you are God-stuff. You are without limits. You are a perpetual arising. You are whatever you need to be in the moment, no more, no less. And you are whatever the job before you demands of you. Whatever your world needs you to be.
Now some caution is needed here. You can take on the role of a chameleon without entertaining any real change in your being. Some of the most talented actors I know are also some of the most fucked up people I know. They love to get into character to escape themselves and get outside of their own heads – because it’s such a hell hole. And that’s why they become such talented actors. Be forewarned: This psychology will not work in a pressure cooker world that will clean you of your dross psychic matter clear down to your soul.
But from a clearer light, one of the rules of the game is: “All the world is a stage.” You simply act or take on whatever role you need to in order to thrive within the given social context slash job environment. You do so not out of some historical attachment to roles you’ve played in the past. Nor do you do it out of trying to find whichever traits from a list of traits you’re attached to that best fits the situation, best allows you to cope, while downplaying the others, all the while being attached to the list itself. These are Ego-based solutions; and they simply will not work.
You don’t act what the situation requires in order to “sell out” or “sell your soul” – forgetting to use the light of your inner truth to guide you, becoming no more than a reflection of what others expect you to be. Because the instant you do that you lose all intrinsic value. Only your uniqueness is marketable.
But how can you hold on to your uniqueness without holding on to some sense of what sets you apart from others? The trick is not to hold on. I’ve heard it said that who we are is a function of memory, the unique patterns and associations we create up inside our heads from all the data points we’ve been exposed to, the books we’ve read, the movies we’ve seen, the meetings with remarkable men we’ve had, all that has left a trace in our psyches which we then data mine as only we can, using algorithms we’ve created as adaptive strategies… All this is fine as it goes for describing the phenomenon at the level of brain matter. In a reductionist, materialistic manner. But from where does that integral force arise? That ability to synthesize and make meaning of things; to integrate information from desperate fields of endeavor, and entirely disconnected thoughts and ideas.
It is the Witness state that is the eye of the tornado. Once we are no longer ego-identified, we shift our center to this amorphous shapeless consciousness that is without limits. That is calm, centered, and unflappable. And our mental activity revolves around it. And because it does, our thinking gets clearer, more efficient, more empowered, less twisted, and deformed, and limited, as a sign that we have been purified of ego-identification. We don’t give up our egos, we just cease to be identified with them. We are the god-stuff inhabiting the vessel; driving the spaceship. And now that we are identified with that God stuff, our ability to transform the vessel in keeping with "the transformer" is accelerated. So we escape the old fashioned "ghost in the machine" argument. There ceases to be any discontinuity between redeemer and redeemed.
Without finding this center; thought cannot be purified. Creativity cannot be fully released. Is it all or nothing? Of course not; for we are both becoming and being, forever lost in that yin yang duality. But through meditative practice we can train ourselves to self-correct and seek out the Witness state.
The beauty of it is, all this is so much easier in a pressure cooker world that will not allow you to stray far from center. So the Chinese were right with their I Ching – times of crises are also times of opportunity.
What has all this got to do with Singularity? Welcome to Singularity, son. You’re in it. You’re living it now. And that “pressure cooker” world – is the back draft of the Singularity engines firing up. But fear not being consumed in the jet exhaust. For you are the engine of creation out of which Singularity arises. You are: The Phoenix Rising.