Process of Elimination
Reflections on the world-making power of views
The experience of releasing this project and writing these weekly commentaries has brought up some old and unexpected feelings in me.
After devoting six years of my life to In Fragments, I feel it’s by far the most substantive work I’ve ever created — and yet, its initial impact in the world has been surprisingly sparse. In comparison to prior works such as 10x10, We Feel Fine, The Whale Hunt, and Cowbird, which spread instantly and naturally through the culture via social media, blogs, interviews, and invitations to speak, exhibit, and present, In Fragments hasn’t yet made the leap beyond my direct circle of family, friends, and newsletter subscribers.
The full film itself has so far been viewed by only around 200 people, and even the one-minute trailer by fewer than 1,000. Some of the few people who have actually watched the full set of films have written to tell me what a profound and powerful experience they had, unlike anything they’d seen before — but I’m not sure how to invite more people to make the time to have that kind of experience themselves.
Furthermore, each time I send out a weekly newsletter, 50–100 people tend to unsubscribe, including some longtime followers who I’ve known and respected for many years. It’s not the reception I expected for this work, and it’s brought up some musty old feelings of self-doubt, self-questioning, self-judgment, and confusion.
At the same time, I’ve committed to writing these weekly commentaries from now until June 20th, as a way of guiding people through the complex landscape of these twenty-one rituals. I’m mindful of the trust that each of you has placed in me by sharing your email address, and I feel a real sense of responsibility to write something that will be of genuine value to you each week. This wish to be of service has made me more aware of the many excellent writers that are also writing newsletters nowadays, and (coupled with the self-doubt mentioned above) has made me question whether the world really needs to hear from me each week, amid all the other noise. As an introverted virgo with five planets in his “twelfth house” (for you astrology nerds), it can sometimes feel uncomfortable for me to be in the spotlight, especially when those old musty feelings are present there, too.
I’ve been wondering if perhaps I’ve fallen out of touch with the zeitgeist (something I used to inhabit so naturally) — which presently seems to be consumed with NFTs, DAOs, cryptocurrencies, vaccine debates, identity politics, social justice, climate crisis, artificial intelligence, the metaverse, etc. In contrast with newfangled topics such as these, perhaps the notions of “ritual” and “Life Art” come across as quaint and old-fashioned: ironically out of touch with reality.
Through all of this, I’ve been trying to find and discern my authentic voice. What is the right balance between humility and confidence? Between vulnerability and power? Between student and teacher? Between the personal and the philosophical? Between the I and the We?
All of these concerns have been building up within me like a dark pile of powder, burying my natural clarity in a mound of disparate voices and views.
And so we arrive at this fifth ritual, Process of Elimination, in which the pile of pulverized linestone powder previously produced in Not a Single Point is funneled through a homemade viewing apparatus, until the image of me has been totally obscured by this dark collection of stone. Perhaps this image illustrates the mental state that can result when we are bombarded by too many voices and views, whether they come from within or without.
By removing a stopper at the base of the viewing contraption, the powder naturally begins to fall away, revealing my face once again — now with a bulging mouthful of glass marbles, which I spit out one by one onto the cold slate floor.
As the marbles bounce around and collide with one another, each marble reflects the distorted image of all of its neighbors, which in turn reflect their own reflected images, ad infinitum. Each marble is like a spherical world: just like those we create through our voices and views. This ritual asks: What remains when our opinions about reality have all been released? What new forms of freedom suddenly come into play?
I came across this passage in Stephen Mitchell’s Tao Te Ching, nestled away on the bookshelf of the tiny casita that I’ve been renting here in New Mexico:
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.
Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.
And then, later in the same text:
Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.
The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.
There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;
a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;
a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;
a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.
The Master sees things as they are,
without trying to control them.
She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.
After viewing this ritual’s film, you can read about the origins of the so-called “Holy Grail” and the symbolism of the “V” shape by exploring its associated essay.
Perhaps “Holy Grail” is a name for this process of eliminating voices and views — and perhaps it’s really a process of radical inclusion: learning to accept reality just as it is.
See you next week,