Radical Acts of Quietude.

Also available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube.

Ever heard of Nigel Saunders? Let me guess that you haven’t.

I mean, the guy runs a Youtube channel about making bonsai trees, a niche subject if there ever was one. Many times a week, the scruffy haired giant posts videos of himself working on his trees while wording out his thought process on his quest for miniaturization. Every branch he cuts, he tells you why. He’ll tell you when he’s hesitant, too. “If I cut this branch, that other one will get more sunlight but maybe it grows too vertically. So maybe that’s the one I should cut. Hard decision!” is the kind of thing you might hear him say. Personally, I relate to his content because some years ago, I did try my hand at bonsai making. Although I’m pretty much done with arboreal serial murdering (!), I still religiously watch the man often called the Bob Ross of tree dwarfing.

Now, this post isn’t about bonsai making per se. In fact, I’ve been triggered to write it because, as you might already know, I recently created a Twitter account. As I’m not entirely new to the platform (I did occasionally visit some years ago), I wasn’t really surprised by the tone and feel of the place. Plus, as unhinged as this platform can be, it is where a lot of the cool kids exchange and debate ideas, but this time, something immediately jumped to my face. As always, maybe now more than ever in fact, so-called rebels and counter-culture figures wage a war of words, which is, when stepping back, the normal way of doing things. Whether they realize it or not, most thought leaders are essentially behaving as perfect apostles of thinkism, that is, people who actively enact the belief that thinking, and maybe thinking only, is salutary to mankind. That said, I’m reminded of the cool kids of teenage years, the supposed outsiders who saw their binge drinking as rebellious acts…even if the most conformist, clean cut jocks partied just as hard. Different package and vibe, but same action.

To this day I believe that, maybe sadly, the truest of true rebels have often been the most silent. The solitary, the recluse, those who walk away from Omelas. The one’s who walk the line that can’t be talked. They probably wouldn’t think of themselves as rebels either. It’s generally the ones who just do their thing.

So, what does Nigel Saunders and bonsai making have to do with the twittersphere? Or, what does social media share with anything requiring focus, connectedness? On the surface, basically nothing. What is way more striking is that the commonly observed differences in their usage can be summarized using one word: apprehension, as in, “the grasp”. More precisely, the grasp of time, or rather, of “timeness”. Temporally speaking, tweets are rooted (no pun intended) in an immeasurable, ADHD inducing, torrent of ephemeral thoughts and events. “Centered actions”, be it pottery, cooking, origami, meditation, yoga, and of course bonsai making, are exclusive acts. The focus they require pushes away most of our shared reality, thus ― forcibly and artificially ― keeping the intellect from wandering.

Woah! Now at this point, maybe you’re a bit confused. Usually, in this kind of essay, people glorify an idea over the other, generally advocating for the most “calm” of the two. I mean, I got the beard and the “mystic” label after all. I should be pushing the belief that anything considered meditative is in essence superior to social media ramblings, right? Allow me to go all zen-like on your ass: is lightning ultimately superior to the breeze? I mean, really think/feel about it… archetypally, animistically even.

Two spirits, two colours. Fast flow, slow flow. In time, around time.

Still remains the very title of this essay, namely Radical Acts of Quietude. It does implicitly relate the idea of mindful, calm actions to at least a form of rebellion. All right, let’s get into it.

Generally speaking, rebels aim to change things. They (re)act counter-culturally. They fight for the wind to turn, for the mutation of the status quo rather than its eradication. Depending on where the dominant pole is, they go for either conservatism or progressivism, for more chaos or more order. And also generally ― if their quarrels didn’t drive them madly paranoid ― they get soft and comfortable when things end up going their way. This might in fact explain this weird tendency for the noisiest protestors to eventually end up in expensive suits, asphyxiated by a heavy mortgage, a move often attributed to so-called maturity. That said, are rebels truly fighting for change, for an absolute revolution? Or rather to muzzle and shut down the enemy, whether this foe is a person, an organization or, most likely, an idea? At the end of this type of war, nothing has changed. Opposition and alliances breed enmity, and the snake keeps biting its own tail. Real change maybe, but no true change.

… and Twitter grows, as do bonsai trees. Databases overflow with the sap of our schizophrenia, and penjings don’t give a tweet’s ass. So what would a true, total revolution look like? How can rebels selflessly rebel, without keeping humanity spiralling endlessly in the wallows of duality, of binarity? Wouldn’t stepping out of this mechanicalness represent actual progress? It is, after all, something we haven’t yet experienced as a species: mass jungian individuation.

But let’s get back to my explanation of the title, and try to frame it in the simplest way. To understand what that quiet rebellion is all about, we have to define the term “revolution”. Quite simply ― or I’ll admit, a bit simplistically ― it means transformation towards something new. It implies also change that is profound, fundamental even. And so, what change could be so deep for humanity as a subtraction from dualism, and therefore, from timeness? Note that I didn’t say “duality”, nor am I speaking of “peace on Earth”. What could be as radical as being free from our maniacal obsession for control? Of our hatred of death?

Let me put it this way: at this point, the greatest act of rebellion one can undertake is to step into timelessness, not because it’s the “right” thing to do, but because it’s the new thing to do. Pushing this even further, not “new” because it hasn’t been attempted before, but rather, because by stepping into timelessness, one also enters newness. You know… that old expression “beginner’s mind”. This is what we haven’t collectively experienced. Damn… it feels like we haven’t even tried!

And so if my theory that true rebels don’t adhere to and much less promote any form of ideologies, why should they embrace a particular practice or behaviour like spending quiet moments of focussed attention? Are all bonsai enthusiasts non-dualist radicals? Of course not, but some activities absolutely require becoming oblivious to the passing of time, even for short periods. Maybe you’re thinking of dozens of activities demanding this quality of attention… and you’d be absolutely right. True presence isn’t split into specific categories of occupations: believe it or not, even scrolling through Twitter can be done in this expanded state of awareness! I mean… maybe it’s Jedi master level stuff though. Still, often do people experience timelessness in quietude, especially on first occasions, and as our lives and thoughts and feelings spin faster and faster, those moments become exceptionally rare. Thus, to calmly subside in eternity is one of the most radical and revolutionary act one can make.

Ok but then, why using the example of bonsai making?

Bunch of reasons. Firstly, I tend to talk about things I’ve experienced. I could’ve used occupations I’ve never done like woodworking or building ships inside bottles, but the metaphors would have been much weaker. I did indeed spend countless hours sorting out root systems and defoliating maples. More specifically though, I used bonsai making because it doesn’t only require to step out of time “locally” while doing the activity. It also has to be done ultimately, in a very paradoxical way: the bonsai artist has to develop a very long term vision for the tree, so long in fact that he or she might not be alive when the plans come to term. In fact, one tree can outlive tens of custodians this way, as some trees reach ages of many hundred years. They have to lay every decision and every cut on the structure of space/time, while simultaneously completely let go of what will happen with the tree when they reach the end of their own road.

As I was writing the words “mass jungian individuation”, I heard critics accuse me of utopianism. Do you see now how it’s not the case? Just like a bonsai artist working on a young tree, there’s no way for us to know how humanity would strive in an individuated civilization. Therefore, there is no utopia to strive for, no criteria… only Nature to follow. A formless ideal, ever-changing in qualities, with an intangible core thats truer than true. And so the consequentially rebellious adept awakens not to find solutions or strategies for improvement, but to find out what has always been there, hidden in the egoic machine. And just like every single branch of a bonsai contributes to the tree’s health, harmony and longevity, all of our individual developments shapes humanity, hopefully, towards the blooming of our divinity. Each grows selflessly, for posterity.

Ok moving on from this… grandiosity.

So, why this guy Nigel? I mean… I just like him! I like how he just does things. He’s both serious and playful, not overly dramatic. Despite his decades of experience, he’s always starting anew with each tree, experimenting, learning. Watching him is also taking a break from all the fighting, the politics, the tricks and lies, the only reminder of looming tragedies in his videos being the occasional police siren in the background to which he’ll lightly comment “here’s the zombie apocalypse”. Other than that, just the trees and the moment. The radical acts of quietude. Like I said, serious and playful: marks of a true rebel, in my book. You can visit his YouTube channel by clicking here.

All this makes me wonder… how does Twitter look from a timeless standpoint?
Where and how does it stand against eternity?
What is the ontology of a tweet?

They are, after all, ideas kept small, like bonsais are. I guess. Kind of?
That said, I very much doubt there could ever be such a thing as an 800 year old tweet. They… tend not to age very well.

Meh… words and trees…
The lightning,
the soft warm breeze.

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