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Week of November 11th, 2021

Is Pronoia Real and True?

If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another.

—Sharon Salzberg

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In 2005, I published the first edition of my book Pronoia Is the Antidote to Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings.

In 2009, I published the revised and expanded edition, which has 55% additional new material beyond the first edition.

I am working on an ebook edition, which should be available in early 2022.

Herea are my meditations:

Is pronoia still a philosophy worth wielding? Can we justify its continued viability in an age when bigoted authoritarianism has hijacked so many imaginations?

Does it make logical or soulful sense to embrace crafty optimism and radical hope now that the climate crisis has degenerated into the climate emergency?

Do we dare celebrate anything at all in the face of the teeming mobs that proudly proclaim their support for the ever-more bloated malfeasance of patriarchy and plutocracy and militarism and science-phobia?

As I have contemplated these questions, my mission has been to embody humble objectivity. In the spirit of curiosity and discernment, which guide my practice of pronoia, I didn't want to automatically assume that my previous ideals should be my future ideals.

I even considered the possibility that maybe I should abandon my ebullient quest to propagate beauty and truth and justice and love—and surrender to the seemingly reasonable mandate of cynicism.

One set of evidence that influenced my ruminations is the cascade of progressive advances that have blossomed alongside the deterioration. The joyous upgrades are too numerous to list in their entirety, but I'll name a few.

• Same-sex marriage is now widely supported. Discrimination against gay people has declined precipitously.

• Breakthrough improvements in welcoming broader definitions of gender identity are far from complete, but they have generated significant shifts.

• Young people are extraordinarily liberal and progressive, to a degree that surpasses all previous generations.

• The traditional family, with its rigid gender roles and retrograde values, is in steep decline.

• More than half of newborn babies in the US are racial or ethnic minorities, as are the majority of K-12 students in public schools. And minorities are progressives’ strongest constituency.

• The #MeToo movement has been highly effective in checking sexual abuse and harassment.

• A robust majority of Americans wants the government to guarantee healthcare, is in favor of making immigration easier, and believes discrimination against Black people is still a big problem. Two-thirds of Americans express some support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

• There are well over a million organizations engaged in a global crusade to improve social justice, economic conditions, human rights, and environmental health. It thrives without centralized leadership, charismatic front people, or a fixed ideology.

• Author and activist Rebecca Solnit, a savvy critic of our era's sickness, nonetheless exults in "the tremendous human rights achievements" that have burgeoned: "not only in gaining rights but in redefining race, gender, sexuality, embodiment, spirituality and the idea of the good life."


For three weeks, I meditated daily on my questions about the ongoing usefulness of pronoia. I shed all my assumptions and theories so I could embody the innocence of beginner's mind.

Here's what I concluded. No matter what the state of the world might be, it's my pragmatic job and my soul task to perpetrate regeneration and awakening and inspiration and liberation.

Borrowing from Charles Dickens, I proclaim it to be irrelevant whether it's the best of times or the worst of times, the season of light or the season of darkness, the spring of hope or the winter of despair. My goals are the same in all cases.

And the truth is, I can't possibly know in any absolute way how terrible or wonderful the collective state of affairs is—not now, not 20 years or a thousand years ago, not ever. I'm not smart enough to accomplish that unachievable understanding. Nor can I ever gather sufficient information to do so.

I'll go further. None of us has the capacity to foretell the fate of the world. Not psychics, not economic forecasters, not doomsayers, not trend analysts, not interdisciplinary futurists, not indigenous shamans. No one!

A strong case can be made that in the next 100 years, everything will collapse into a miserable dystopia. A strong case can also be made that we are evolving, albeit with a bumpy rhythm, in the direction of paradise. And there is not a single genius anywhere on the planet who has the wisdom to formulate an incontrovertible prediction.

“Whether we are on the threshold of a Golden Age or on the brink of a global cataclysm that will extinguish our civilization is not only unknowable, but undecided,” said the founder of the World Future Society.

Anyone who asserts they do know is cherry-picking evidence that rationalizes their emotional bent. The variables are chaotic and abundant and beyond our ken.

In light of the fact that no one knows nuthin', the eminently practical and sensible approach is to do all we can to create a Golden Age—not just for ourselves, since that wouldn't be a real Golden Age— but for every human and every creature on earth.

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Now I'll bring in some helpers in to bolster and refine my thoughts about PRONOIA..

First, here's one of my mentors, progressive historian Howard Zinn: "An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

"What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

"And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."


Here's another one of my politically progressive mentors, Noam Chomsky: "Optimism is a strategy for making a better future. Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so. If you assume there is no hope, you guarantee there will be no hope."


Here's one of my heroes, whom I cited earlier, Rebecca Solnit: "Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency.

"Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal.

"To hope is to give yourself to the future—and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”


Another one of my heroes, author and activist Naomi Klein, tells a story about the time she traveled to Australia at the request of Aboriginal elders. They wanted her to know about their struggle to prevent white people from dumping radioactive wastes on their land.

Her hosts brought her to their beloved wilderness, where they camped under the stars. They showed her "secret sources of fresh water, plants used for bush medicines, hidden eucalyptus-lined rivers where the kangaroos come to drink."

After three days, Klein grew restless. When were they going to get down to business? "Before you can fight," she was told, "you have to know what you are fighting for."


Poet W. S. Merwin: "On the last day of the world, I would want to plant a tree."


Author and activist Helen Keller: "No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit."


Author Rachel Pollack: "We cannot predict the results of healing, either our own or the world around us. We need to act for the sake of a redemption that will be a mystery until it unfolds before us."


Educator David L. Cooperrider: "Almost without exception, everything society has considered a social advance has been prefigured first in some utopian writing."


Sociologist Fred Polak: "The rise and fall of images of the future precede or accompany the rise and fall of cultures. As long as a society's image is positive and flourishing, the flower of culture is in full bloom. Once the image begins to decay and lose its vitality, the culture does not long survive."


Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that."


Author and activist Rebecca Solnit again: "Hope locates itself in the premises that we don't know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes—you alone or you in concert with a few dozen or several million others.

"Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.

"It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand. We may not, in fact, know them afterward either, but they matter all the same, and history is full of people whose influence was most powerful after they were gone."


Author Agatha Christie: "I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing."

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Kai Cheng Thom wrote all the words in the essay below: "I think the major difference between a social justice and a white/colonial lens on trauma is the assumption that trauma recovery is the reclamation of safety—that safety is a resource that is simply 'out there' for the taking and all we need to do is work hard enough at therapy.

"I was once at a training seminar in Toronto led by a famous & beloved somatic psychologist. She spoke brilliantly. I asked her how healing from trauma was possible for people for whom violence & danger are part of everyday life. She said it was not.

"Colonial psychology & psychiatry reveal their allegiance to the status quo in their approach to trauma: That resourcing must come from within oneself rather than from the collective. That trauma recovery is feeling safe in society, when in fact society is the source of trauma

Colonial somatics & psychotherapies teach that the body must relearn to perceive safety. But the bodies of the oppressed are rightly interpreting danger. Our triggers & explosive rage, our dissociation & perfect submission are in fact skills that have kept us alive


The somatics of social justice cannot (i believe) be a somatics rooted in the colonial frameworks of psychology, psychiatry, or other models linked to the dominance of the nation-state (psychology was not always this way, but has become increasingly so over time)

The somatics of social justice cannot be aimed at restoring the body to a state of homeostasis/neutrality. We must be careful of popular languaging such as the 'regulation' of nervous system & emotion, which implies the control and domination of mind over emotion & sensation.

"Because we are not, in the end, preparing the body to 'return' to the general safety of society (this would be gaslighting). we are preparing the body, essentially for struggle—training for better survival & the ability to experience joy in the midst of great danger.

"In the cauldron of social justice healing praxis, we must aim for relationality that has the potential to generate social change, to generate insurrection. we must be prepared to challenge norms. acknowledge danger. embrace struggle. take risks.

"& above all, we must not overemphasize the importance of individual work (which is important indeed) to the detriment of a somatics that also prepares us, essentially, for war. somatics that allow us to organize together. fight together. live together. love each other.

—Kai Cheng Thom

Here's info about the author I've quoted here at length, Kai Cheng Thom.

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How does my spiritual practice and daily life serve the earth? How does my spiritual practice and daily life affect the poorest third of humanity? How will my spiritual practice and daily life affect the generations to come in the future?


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your wounds healed

your apologies accepted

your generosity expanded

your love educated

your desires clarified

your untold stories heard

your insight heightened

your load lightened

your wildness rejuvenated

your courage stoked

your fears dissolved

your imagination fed

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Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate, or despise, serves to defeat us in the end. What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind. Every moment is a golden one for the person who has the vision to recognize it.

—Henry Miller


All your life is a fever to be perfected.

—Marina Tsvetaeva


The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.

—Joseph Campbell


returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice

– Louise Glück


The treasure we desire most hides where we would never choose to go on our own.

—Michael Meade


The moment you come to trust chaos, you see God clearly. Chaos is divine order, versus human order. Change is divine order, versus human order. When the chaos becomes safety to you, then you know you're seeing God clearly.

—Caroline Myss


The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald


I find myself still softly searching
For my Delinquent Palaces—

– Emily Dickinson


Every act of genius, Carl Jung said, is an act "contra naturam": against nature. Indeed, every effort to achieve psychological integration and union with the divine requires a knack for working against the grain.

The 18th-century mystic Jacob Boehme recommended the same technique. The great secret to becoming enlightened, he said, is "to walk in all things contrary to the world."

Qabalist teacher Paul Foster Case agreed: "The basis of the spiritual approach to life, the foundation of the everyday practice of a person who lives the life of obedience to esoteric law, is the reversal of the more usual ways of thinking, speaking and doing."

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Experiments and exercises in becoming an aggressively sensitive, thunderously receptive, ethically mischievous Master of Mutant Intimacy

1. In American psychotherapy, the first question many practitioners ask their new clients is essentially, "What did your parents do to you to mess you up so badly?" One of my Japanese friends tells me that in his country, a therapist is more likely to ask, "What did your parents do for you? How did they nurture and support you?"

Without dismissing the possibility that your mom and dad did inflict damage on you, I'll ask you to concentrate on the Japanese-style inquiry for now. What are the best things that happened to you when you were growing up? What did your family and community give you that you've never fully appreciated?


2. Beauty and Truth Lab researcher Beth had a dream that she and her tribe were living peacefully at the foot of a mountain. Without warning, fiery ash and lava erupted. Everyone fled, desperate to escape. But before she had gone far, Beth heard a voice in her head say, "Run toward the volcano; it's your only safety."

Feeling an inexplicable trust in the voice, she turned around and started heading back, whereupon the dream ended and she woke up.

Soon after getting out of bed, she felt moved to face up to a certain dilemma she'd been ignoring in her waking life. When she solved the problem a day later, she felt gratitude for the dream that had spurred her to do the right thing: Run toward the volcano.

What would be the equivalent in your own life?


3. Visualize in detail your dream lover. Your ideal soul mate. The embodiment of everything you find attractive.

Imagine that although this person feels the same way about you, there is a very good reason why the two of you can't make love or be together as a couple for a long time. Feel the sweet torment of your unquenched longing for each other, the impossible ache of fiery tenderness.

Picture all the ways you will work on yourself in the coming years to refine your soul and perfect your love, so that when the two of you can finally be united, you will have made yourself into the gorgeous genius you were born to be—a pure blessing and uncanny gift for your beloved.


4. I hope you can obtain the Avatar Elixir stashed in the golden obelisk in the underground fortress beneath the glass mountain.

It will allow you to produce the "triple-helix" energy that will give you the power to cross freely back and forth through the gateway between universes. Then wild beasts will obey your commands. Rivers will become your allies. Every star in the sky will shine directly on you.

And if for some reason you're not able to get your hands on that Avatar Elixir, you may be able to achieve similar results by drinking a bottle of beer stashed in the lower left rear section of the beverage cooler at a convenience store within five miles of your home.

Magic might be wherever you think it is.


5. After rejecting proposals from many directors, Bob Dylan finally authorized Oscar-nominated Todd Haynes to make a film about his life, I'm Not There.

Five different actors and one actress portrayed Dylan, including Richard Gere, Cate Blanchett, Marcus Carl Franklin, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, and Christian Bale. "I set out to explode the idea that anybody can be depicted in a single self," Haynes told The Sunday Times.

Name the six actors and actresses you would choose to play you in the movie about your life.


6. Lewis Thomas was a physician who wrote elegantly about biology in books like The Lives of a Cell. I want to bring your attention to his meditation on warts. "Nothing in the body has so much the look of toughness and permanence as a wart," he wrote.

And yet "they can be made to go away by something that can only be called thinking ... Warts can be ordered off the skin by hypnotic suggestion"

Thomas regarded this phenomenon as "absolutely astonishing, more of a surprise than cloning or recombinant DNA."

Using your mind power, go ahead and shrink, dissolve, or banish a wart or wart-like vexation.


7. "I am a devout atheist," writes Tom of Ohio, "but I have to explain to my atheist friends that I do pray to the 'GodIdontbelievein.'

"My first direct contact with this Divinity arrived when I was coming out of anesthesia after surgery. I was somehow aware of my existence but totally sensory-deprived. As I emerged from total unconsciousness, a tiny flickering Tinkerbell-like creature in the form of a shimmering globe of light fluttered into my consciousness and hovered irresistibly before my internal eyes. I was in love with it and it loved me.

"In fact it was me, or at least the manifestation of cosmic energy that settles in me and is my being. It gave me a blessing of good will, then went about its business of operating my body. In parting, it gave me the assurance that it would always be there for me and with me, and would join me after it shut the body down for the last time.

"Since that first encounter, I commune with the little sparkling wonder every so often. I thank it for its presence and it thanks me for mine, though we are actually one and the same. I find myself praying to it, though there's really no need to—it knows me better than I do, and guides me toward my goals, though I know not what they are."

Inspired by Tom's report, write a love note or an expression of appreciation for the shimmering globe of wonder that animates your life.


8. Meditation teacher Wes Nisker helps students learn to calm the frenetic chatter of their minds. As earnest as he is in this heroic work, though, he also appreciates the importance of not trying too hard.

As you pursue your pronoia practice, call on his influence now and then. It'll keep you honest and prevent your anal sphincter from getting too high-strung.

Here's a blurb for one of his workshops. "This day will be of absolutely no use to you. Nothing will be furthered or accomplished by coming. Expect a time of effortlessness, relaxation, and poetry, hanging out, maybe a little mindfulness meditation—all for nothing.

"Some might understand this as a protest against our culture's speedy, goal-driven nature, but we know it won't amount to a hill of beans. Good intentions and purposefulness must be checked at the door."


9. "I usually solve problems by letting them devour me," wrote Franz Kafka. That's an interesting approach, I guess, and though it might work for a tiny minority of introverted, melancholy, hypersensitive artists, it's probably not a wise policy for you.

It may be better to fervently resist any temptation you might have to allow your problems to gobble you up.

Instead, why not be like a gargantuan sea monster in the midst of a perfect storm? Rise up as high as the dark sky and growl back at the thunder. Shoot flames from your mouth at the lightning. Become too big and ancient and wild to ever be devoured.


10. At New York's Museum of Modern Art, I brought my face to within a few inches of Vincent van Gogh's painting The Starry Night.

It looked delicious. I wanted to kiss it. I wanted to eat it. Its stars were throbbing and voluptuous. The night sky shimmered with spiral currents. In the foreground, the cypress tree flared like a shadowy flame.

I could also see that the artist had been less than thorough in applying his paint. Especially on the edges, but also in the middle of the painting, slivers of untouched canvas showed through. Fierce, innocent, nourishing, reckless, unfinished, this priceless work drank my attention for a long time, constantly refreshing my eyes with its ceaseless movement.

Can you be at peace with the fact that your masterpiece may always be unfinished?

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Most modern intellectuals scoff at angels, dismissing them as superstitious hallucinations or New Age goofiness.

But not all deep thinkers have shared their scorn. John Milton and William Blake regarded angels as real and as fully worthy of their explorations.

Celestial beings have also received serious treatment by literary heavyweights like Saul Bellow, E. M. Forster, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Leo Tolstoy.

Of course, just because smart people have considered the possibility that angels can have actual effects on the material world doesn't mean they do. Still, it might be interesting to keep an open mind.


For much of his career, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Merrill was renowned for work that was well-grounded, lucidly crafted, and formal in style.

But from 1976 to 1982, while assembling his sprawling mystical epic The Changing Light of Sandover, he used a Ouija board to solicit the input of disembodied beings, including several archangels and the spirits of dead writers W. H. Auden and Gertrude Stein.

It was a brave—some said foolish—career move. He pushed beyond what had worked for him in the past, capitalizing on the risks his success had earned him.

The Changing Light of Sandover won a National Book Critics Circle Award. Some critics compared it to the masterpieces of Dante, Homer, and Blake.

"James Merrill was one of the central American poets of the 20th century," wrote Harold Bloom in a retrospective analysis of his work after his death in 1995.

"He had profound affinities with the great artists in verse: Milton, Pope, Tennyson, and Auden. Like them, he was an absolute master of diction, metrics, and cognitive music."

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Truth is so rare it is delightful to tell it.

—Emily Dickinson

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What's the most beautiful thing you've ever seen in your life? It's OK if you can't decide between the three or four most beautiful things. What's important is to keep visions of those amazements dancing in the back of your mind for the next two days.

Play with them in your imagination. Feel the feelings they rouse in you as you muse about the delights they have given you. Regard them as beacons that will attract other ravishing marvels into your sphere.

Now here's your second assignment: Be alert for and go hunting for a new "most beautiful thing."

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