Reading an Orphan Wisdom newsletter by Stephen Jenkinson the other day I came across Gregory Hoskins’ blog and specifically a blog post he wrote about his description of making a music album . Gregory Hoskin and Stephen have been making music together now for many years and while I know Stephen’s work fairly well and have been influenced by it for years I know much less of Gregory’s. Therefore, I was delighted to discover a description of Gregory’s transformative and creative process to create music from a deeper well-spring. It got me thinking, might this provide some insights into how we might re-wild ourselves? Can this process help to dissolve the cultural conditioning of the industrial mind  to rediscover who we really are and tap into a sense of self beyond industrial conditioning?
With that in mind, in this article I’ll explore his Implode, Explore, Unload, Reload creative framework, its relevance to my life and its potential to support those seeking to unlearn thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to the exploitation of the natural world and the wider community of life to which we belong, as well as seeking ways of thinking, being and becoming that are more likely to provide meaning, purpose and belonging in the 21st century as industrial civilisation unravels.
“To begin, you set charges at the foundation of what is comforting and comfortable in your understanding of what you have built in the past. Lean on the detonator. The idea needs to come down so that something new can take its place. That is, if you want to make something you haven’t already made” .
How do we ground this profound and deliberate attempt to consciously undermine the socio-cultural foundations on which our psyche has been built?
Industrial society often describes this complete experience as a ‘breakdown’ and most of us are taught to avoid anything that sounds like it. I was also taught by society that breakdowns are individual failures of the psyche resulting in the inability of those affected to cope with reality. Breakdowns are typically characterised by a state of overwhelm, where the current ‘system’ is no longer fit for purpose and stops functioning as it has - the system stops playing out the same pattern behaviours resulting in a system ‘failure’ - and is ultimately the result of a system in need of recalibration.
However, consider that maybe the first step to recovering from industrial society is to ‘breakdown’ - for the current (internal) system to stop running for long enough to re-assess, re-evaluate and re-organise. It may be the last thing we want to do but just what we need.
Decades of research supports the notion that humans are fundamentally comfort seeking, pattern forming and generally habitualising animals. And really, how many of us actually want to create the space for something we haven’t yet imagined? Who is willing to intentionally pull the rug from under our conscious selves in search for a deeper source of inspiration or richer sense of self? I don’t know the answer to these questions, especially not when generalised to an abstract and assumed group of people like Aucklanders. All I can do is ground this for myself - am I willing to deliberately throw my crutches away? Will I actively seek to ‘detonate’ the foundations that have formed at least part of my identity? What I know about myself is that typically, without a significant disruption, I continue to do what I have done in the past. Significantly dislodging my entrenched industrial mindset and pattern behaviours is very likely the only way for me to explore fundamentally different ways of living and being.
How would I even go about doing that? Well, reflecting on it, I already have - several times.
I have had several experiences so far in my life where the foundation of what is comforting and comfortable in my understanding of what I have built in the past came down. These experiences have arisen from quite different life circumstances, contexts and drivers but have all resulted in a detonation of my understanding of the world.
My first ‘implosion’ that I remember was when visiting Japan for the first time as a thirteen year old know-it-all. I was immersed in a cultural context that was so different from my own that my worldview and personal narrative about the world were completely challenged - to the point at which the foundations of what I thought I knew came down. In short my immediate experiences forced me to question and fairly quickly adjust my worldview - what I thought I knew about the world was incorrect, or at least incomplete and only partially reflected in my current reality. My state of mind and my meaning making schema about the world changed very quickly in response to totally new perspectives and information. It also created space for new ideas, information and possibilities to emerge, and began my journey as an active life long learner, curious to inquire beyond what I think I already know.
One more example of this cognitive implosion that comes to mind is my first experiences of becoming consciously aware about power and privilege and how my status as a white ‘entitled’ male in the various social environments and societies I have lived in impacted so profoundly on my own experience of the world as well as those around me. With the detonation of the stories I had built about myself in the past I had to re-evaluate and re-interpret a lot about my life experiences including my unconscious behaviours, ‘choices’ and even ‘achievements’ in ways that were confronting. This experience was so profound that it led me to question what I thought I knew about myself and who I was in the world.
In another instance, I remember an ayahuasca journey where I was confronted to honestly own up to the fact that I regularly and at times even somewhat consciously lie to myself about reality in order to avoid psychological discomfort . Without a defensive ego to resist the process I was able to systematically challenge the lies I had been telling myself. I could see myself for who I was and see myself more fully nested within and participating in the larger systems around me - and there was nothing to protect or pretend, without judgement or deceit.
This was an incredibly liberating as well as healing experience as the process for reflection, re-creation and re-integration provided the foundations for something new to emerge. By seeing the lies without pretense or shame I had a new freedom to choose as to whether to keep pretending or to seek a new ‘truth’ for myself and go beyond what had been comfortable. This has also resulted in being less sure about my own ‘truths’ and willing to regularly reflect on and re-evaluate my values, beliefs and goals.
Other experiences I can draw on that feel most relevant to Hoskins’ imploding is through conscious personal development processes. In my adult life I have chosen to invest time and effort into participating in programmes and experiences that were designed to interrupt habitual pattern behaviours, challenge fundamental assumptions and shake the foundations of my current understanding of the world for the purpose of dislodging thought patterns and behaviours that hold me back, and freeing me up to take on new and more fruitful ways of thinking and acting in the world. Often through intellectual exploration and dialogue, but at times through biophysical processes, these experiences have successfully ‘detonated’ ideas and habits that needed to come down so that something new could take their place.
Also, more recently during our first lock down starting March 25, 2020 I had to confront the truth that despite all of my talk and even action related to preparing for this scale of global disruption, the idea of security and ‘I’ve got this sorted’ needed to come down quickly in order to respond to the realities of the situation - I needed to lean on the detonator and fast! The honest truth was that I had no certainly and only very modest confidence that I would successfully surf the waves of change and adaptatively respond to an emerging new global threat. As it turns out the significance of the impact for me, my family and my lifestyle, has to date, been relatively minimal but at the time the threat of immediate significant disruption was very real.
While in some of these examples I choose to go on a journey of self-learning and discovery (and therefore chose to detonate what was comfortable), in none of these situations did I consciously choose the details of where or why to lean on the detonator - the circumstances decided that. However, in each situation I temporarily let go of what I thought I knew in search of something new, something that was more relevant for my current situation - new meaning, new purpose and new insight into how things actually are. These experiences were incredibly confronting and profound, and led to new awareness and lasting changes to my mental models of the world. They also helped me see that I am more than a temporal collection of thoughts and ideas that filter how I see the world - I too can adapt and respond - I can evolve in response to changing circumstances and information.
For others exploring what implode might look like questions that have the potential to set and/or help you lean on the detonator include:
What am I afraid I might lose if I lean on the detonator? What am I most afraid of losing - or finding out?
What beliefs about the world, and the way things are, am I most attached to? What core beliefs about myself, my society and my worldview am I most unwilling to challenge or explore alternative ways of understanding? Why does questioning these make me so uncomfortable?
If I am honest with myself, do I really believe that humans have dominion over nature or that our consumer civilisation can continue to grow and prosper into the future? If so, what makes me so sure?
If the future is uncertain, and there is no guarantee that science and technology will ‘save’ us from all the bad things we keep hearing about, how can I possibly be a responsible guardian/steward of those things I care most about? How aligned are my goals, priorities and day to day behaviours with stewarding the things I care most about?
What might I have to give up or relinquish in order to nurture what matters most to me?
“You take that rubble and apply an unearthly force to it so that all the pieces are suspended, and more importantly all the spaces between those pieces can be wholly accessed” .
To explode as described by Hoskins requires presence and skill. There is an awareness required to understand the pieces, the spaces between them, and the whole system in which it all exists. What might that (un)earthly  force look like? What kind of force can render one’s previous understanding to rubble?
Does knowing that our ‘enlightened’ worldview is built on false assumptions about the world constitute a sufficient unearthly force to ‘explode’ our personal and shared paradigms about our societal industrial worldview?
Is science starting to provide this for the industrial/mechanistic psyche? Science as a practice and belief system, arguably the key religiosity of industrial society, is no longer internally consistent or coherent. We now know from contemporary scientific fields of inquiry like quantum physics, ecology and depth psychology that most of what we thought we knew up until recently through reductionistic scientific inquiry is inadequate as a representation of the way things actually are. And yet as a society we still view reductionistic science, a paradigm largely based on a dated Cartesian and mechanical world view, as industrial society’s superpower to address 21st century challenges and what makes us (industrial society) superior to all previous civilisations. Therefore, does knowing that our ‘enlightened’ worldview is built on false assumptions about the world constitute a sufficient unearthly force to ‘explode’ our personal and shared paradigms about our societal industrial worldview? Either way, as a reductionist worldview, science is unlikely to be able to provide much help in making ‘all the spaces between those pieces’ accessible! So we probably need to look more subjectively and holistically to access those pieces between the rubble.
I have observed an intense dissonance between what humans allow ourselves to know at a surface level and what we know to be true at a deeper level. However, psychologically and socially there are good reasons to maintain this dissonance if we want to be 'normal'.
Could the courageous and unflinching exploration of the incompatibility between how we currently live our lives as ‘normal’ industrial citizens in a consumer society and the impacts we know this causes to our life support systems suspend all the pieces of our reality in a way that provides new opportunities to see and understand?
Is there a pathway for us individually and collectively to suspend normality in a state that allows us to have a good look around to assess the reality of things without the need to be defensive or fearful of losing what is most comfortable? As Rousseau put it 'to be sane in a world of madmen is in itself madness’ and yet there is a strong human drive to fit in and be ‘normal’ even when we recognise at least some of the cultural lies for what they are. Hoskins’ explosion requires us to be willing and able to see ‘normal’ for what it is - to take a good hard look at the foundations on which our sense of self, purpose, and meaning are built.
Again, I need to look to my own personal experiences to explore this in any meaningful way. Reflecting on my life there have been several mental ‘bombs’ that have managed to temporarily explode my reality.
At times when my own personal (physical or psychological) ‘survival’ seemed most threatened were the times when I was most open to taking a good hard look at reality, as it actually was, in search of deeper meaning or truths.
My global travels have facilitated several experiences of being immersed in completely foreign cultures and some of these (like my experience as a thirteen year old in Japan described above) were confronting enough to my worldview and sense of self that deep reflection and re-evaluation of what I thought I knew were required. These explosions have led to new ways of seeing and thinking about the world to emerge which in turn provide new insights and understandings about reality. At the time these experiences were confronting and felt dangerous simply because I felt psychologically unstable or fragile - in the moment I was unable to make sense of what I was experiencing - my previous worldview was insufficient to explain what was happening. And possibly most importantly, there was nowhere to hide - my situation was such that I could not ignore the experience, run away from it, or pretend/ lie to myself about what I was experiencing. The only way forward was to confront the limitations of what I thought I knew and actively and deliberately assess all the information available to me in the hope of finding new meaning or understanding that could make sense of my immediate experience. In those moments I experienced a lot of my previous beliefs and schema of the world as rubble and the spaces between that rubble provided new opportunities for meaning making - the spaces in between provided the clearest opportunity to make sense of the world so I focused on those spaces and their connection to the whole experience.
The explosion that resulted from awakening to my own privilege and entitlement, provided a sufficient force to my worldview to ultimately create the cognitive space to see history more clearly, more fully and to have a new awareness about myself in relation to the larger systems in which I live and benefit from. As I started seeing the larger social system, and its structures and norms more clearly I became present to many things I wasn’t aware of before. This in turn has impacted how I see and interact with the world and those around me.
Digging a bit deeper it is worth noting that my state of being changes significantly in explosive moments - I shift from being a fairly passive recipient of sensory information, processing that information through my existing beliefs and understanding about the world to an active meaning seeker, questioning everything and taking all information in with a strong sense of novelty, trying to work out how it is all related, how it all comes together. Typically there is a sense that my previous worldview, now in shambles, was only part of a larger reality that I might now be able to discover. These explosions require a strong sense of curiosity and genuine inquiry in an attempt to make sense of the world.
Also, ayahuasca and other psychedelics have been very effective at applying an earthly force which disrupts the default mode network  of my brain, allowing my mind to suspend the rubble and access the spaces between the rubble of my day to day perceptions of the world. These experiences often allow for new connections to be made and information to become available that my ‘normal’ consciousness filters out or has been unable to ‘see’ through social conditioning. In turn these novel connections and junctions have provided many profound insights and realisations about deeper truths and have led me to re-organise thought patterns and make changes to previously unconscious and typically patterned behaviours.
Major illnesses and afflictions in my life have also proved quite useful in forcing me to re-examine my own beliefs about reality and facilitate significant long lasting personal transformations. In fact, general hardship, challenge or adversity seem to be key characteristics in most of my experiences of exploding. This makes me wonder whether, for the majority of Aucklanders, the fact that the current industrial systems in which we are nested appear to be mostly stable and reliable means that we will continue on with our current industrial worldview until a significant enough disruption renders many of our cultural beliefs as rubble and forces us to confront the realities of our situation.
“A kind of editing convinced you are right, you go fully down one road, get lost for a time, refuse directions if they are offered, and finally return to start again. You let go of more than you keep, hoping that you’ve discovered what is useful” .
Unloading seems to require trusting your instincts and trying on new ways of doing and being for long enough to work out whether they help or hinder and whether they lead to something useful. This involves trying on something new - really giving it a go, surrendering to what reveals itself after the explosion and only picking up the bits of rubble that feel essential for the journey ahead - those parts that feel integral and part of the core.
But how practically can we tune in to a deeper source of wisdom and trust that inner knowing to guide us to try on new ways of acting in the world?
Human mythologies are full of stories of those who transformed awakenings and revelations into bold new ways of being and becoming in the world suggesting that this journey is not remotely new to the human psyche.
I believe this requires courage, fortitude and conviction that the task at hand is worthy of the effort required to think and act differently, even if we are unsure about the journey ahead. Human mythologies are full of stories of those who transformed awakenings and revelations into bold new ways of being in the world suggesting that this journey is not remotely new to the human psyche - in a sense, at least as a species, we have been here many times before. However, to be sure this is an individual journey, and while it can be shared with others it requires commitment, surrender and conviction of purpose. This is not the time for seeking advice or guidance from others about the path to choose, let alone assessing the potential social ramifications of doing things your own way. At this stage it may be worthwhile to assume that others will think you ‘mad’.
Again, coming back to my own experiences, I have walked this path many times before, and in my own way I feel like this road has become quite familiar. Dark Green Auckland is one such form of unloading for me. I don’t have answers, but there is something here for me to unpack, pull apart and put back together in the hope of finding a deeper, richer sense of self that will ultimately guide me to new ways of being and becoming as industrial society unwinds.
What might an industrial unloading look like you ask? Examples that come to mind include:
- Simultaneously exploring and expressing one’s thoughts on ‘uncivilising’ through poetry, prose, art or other creative processes. E.g. Dark Mountain Project;
- Decarbonising one’s lifestyle, starting with clothing, transport or diet. E.g. 100 Mile Diet, Slow Fashion and/or adopting cycling as primary mode of transport;
- Spending time with elders or other people who know what it is like to live contently without abundant and cheap energy (to subsidise ‘wellbeing’);
- Embracing frugal hedonism as a lifeway. E.g. The Art of Frugal Hedonism; Artist as Family;
- Developing a practice of systematically replacing language from everyday use that assume a mechanical worldview with language that reflects the primacy and importance of natural systems and processes in supporting life;
- Unplugging from digital technology and/or adopting a regimented digital diet;
- Rediscovering old, as well as creating new cultural narratives and mythologies that reflect the central importance of the living world in maintaining our health and wellbeing and giving our life meaning; E.g. Mother Earth; The Universe Story; The Great Turning;
- Embracing meeting as many needs as possible through the informal economy. E.g. Mark Boyle - The Moneyless Man; RetroSuburbia;
- Regularly culture jamming and challenging common industrial expressions and phrases that normalise the exploitation of nature and the assumption of human control and domination. E.g. Using the term fossil carbon to describe sources of fossilised sunlight instead of fossil fuel (if we relate to it as fuel we will almost certainly keep burning it) .
Hoskins’ implies that whatever industrial unloading might look like for you, you need to find it for yourself, convinced you are onto something meaningful, and go fully down that path.
However, I cannot help but share a word of warning here. If my own experience is anything to go by, while unloading requires conviction it is very easy for conviction to turn to righteousness. I think for the unloading process to be truly effective at burning away what no longer serves me, I also need to be mindful of the fact that I don’t really know what I am doing or where I am going - I am following my own lead - and I think is also quite important to do my best to give others the same generosity of spirit.
I know from my own experiences that when unloading turns to proselytising I have usually lost my way and there is still more for me to let go of before returning to the start again.
“Reassemble the pieces. This may be the hardest part: Agree to repeat the above steps until enough is burned away and what is left is something that is recognizable by you as the idea you didn’t know you had” .
With new insights, a lot more space, and clutching a handful of golden rubble, explore new patterns of reorganising your life in a way that makes sense, can be sustained, and that maintains a vitality and source of inspiration and well-being.
This requires commitment - a discipline - otherwise what is predictable for me is that I default to lifelong industrial ways of experiencing the world and they are so familiar that I slip back into them, often without even realising. There are some simple metrics that I have developed to gauge whether reload/reassembly has translated into rebooting the same industrial ‘operating system’ or whether something recognisable as the idea I didn’t know I had has come to life. Some of these metrics include the size of my carbon footprint, my reliance on and expectation of convenient (daily) access to centralised infrastructure (i.e. energy, water, sewage, transport, internet etc.) and industrial food and healthcare, the hours I spend living in purpose/mission aligned with my core values, and my experience of contentment and gratitude at the end of each day .
This framework is clearly not a formula whereby you simply work from A to B to C and back again and voilà, you are now free from industrial addictions, behaviours or assumptions about the world. This process feels to me more like the peeling of an onion, layer after layer with each skin leaving me feeling more raw, more exposed, but ultimately more free - more ‘me’. The ancient Greek mythical phoenix also comes to mind, obtaining new life by arising from the ashes of its former self.
The more times I reassemble the pieces the more that gets burned away - and I am entering into territory now where I feel like a significant shift needs to happen - a whole system ‘burn off’ is required to truly release many of my remaining and entrenched industrial addictions and pattern behaviours.
And the thought of this terrifies parts of me, to the point of not wanting to write these words. I can hear a voice in my head whispering, almost pleading “if I don’t admit this to myself here then maybe I won’t have to confront my deepest desires for industrial conveniences”. Finding ways to confront and make peace with that voice seems to be some of the work ahead for me.
Connecting Implode. Explode. Unload. Reload. to resilience theory, it seems that this framework focuses particularly on the benefits and opportunities associated with the backloop phase of the adaptive cycle . Release (α) and Re-organisation (Ω) phases of the adaptive cycle of living systems appear to be key to ‘burning away’ what stops us from accessing deeper well-springs of creative potential and recalibrating and reconnecting our life choices and lifeways with the life support systems and processes which continue to support and nourish us.
Is therefore creative destruction a cornerstone of uncivilising the industrial mind and creating space for something new to emerge?
I will complete this thought experiment with a question framed as a personal invitation for reflection and inquiry. Does this framework offer a possible methodology for you to ‘breakdown’ in a way that provides a breakthrough to consciously hospice cultural attitudes and behaviours of an outdated and ultimately palliative way of life? I encourage you to at least consider giving it a go.
- The Dark Road Diary: Part 25. September 9, 2020. https://gregoryhoskins.com/2020/09/09/the-dark-road-diary-part-25/
- For the purposes of this article the industrial mind can be conceived of as a human psyche socialised to expect that science, technology and the mechanised exploitation of nature is the primary and most obvious means of meeting human needs and continuously improving the human condition.
- In psychology the term cognitive dissonance refers to the mental conflict that occurs when a person holds two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes or when their behaviors and beliefs do not align - a phenomenon well described in psychological research.
- I have issue with Hoskins’ use of the term unearthly here, at least in the context of its relevance to uncivilising the industrial mind. I am quite certain that a very earthly force is in fact what is actually needed to reground industrialised humans as ecological and earthly beings intimately connected to Earth and her community of life.
- Recent research has identified the default mode network (DMN), which is active during internally oriented cognition and social processing, as being a core functional network within the brain that carries personal narratives and an individual sense of self (separate from others). The DMN is down regulated during intense meditation and through the use of psychedelics. The effect of this is to limit the ego's role in controlling and filtering sensory information and determining ‘reality’.
- Other examples include correcting people when they talk about energy ‘production’ from non-renewable sources (energy extraction is a more accurate description) or science fiction (most of what constitutes science fiction today is actually science ‘fantasy’ as it typically does not reflect our scientific understanding of the world, and naming contemporary economic growth and the aspiration for it for what it is - the exploitation and diminishment of nature’s wealth and life supporting functions for the purpose of human expansion and profit.
- Note the use of both qualitative and quantitative measures.