What is ‘society’? Image courtesy of Free-Photos at Pixabay

How do You Know You’re in Society?

Leading a discussion on The Individual in Society last week, there was a lot to say, and things that I might write, or talk, about down the line, but one thing that stayed with me.

Regularly dismissed, under-valued, derided in some circles, and sometimes not even noticed, there was a feeling which seems to be the basis for anything that we call ‘society’ and that, I think, is where we should be looking, as the source of all of the outcomes we are searching for in our desire to be, and do, better.

Step Away From the Intellect!

I wanted us to step away from the intellect, just for a moment, or for as much of the hour and a half we had together as we could. I chose to guide us in the direction of what lies beneath this ‘thing’ we are labelling and creating or changing, that we are calling ‘society’, so that we could start to glimpse what it is made of and, I was hoping, see something new and fresh for ourselves.

It was a rich discussion.

We all knew when we were in society and yet none of us could quite put words to it, beyond describing it as a feeling, and then going on to talk about how that feeling showed up for us.

It’s like music — we know there is something there beyond the notes and the emphasis and the pauses, we can discern it, we might even prefer one type over another, but can we describe it?

The same with ‘society’.

I didn’t, but if I had asked the group to take a photograph of ‘society’, there would be nothing to photograph, only the whisper of something left behind, the evocation of an image that stirs something inside us.

We can feel it, and therefore we recognise it, and can share that recognition with someone else. But the experience is our own.

And it occurred to me that we pay too little attention to the fact of discernment, rather than our efforts to draw lines and put words and boxes to what it is we think we are describing.

Naturally so.

If we have boxes, we can move them around, if we have words we can constantly seek something that gets is closer to the feeling. But they are not the feeling.

Leaning to Good

I also noticed that most people wanted to lean into a good feeling.

They talked about community being easier to describe than society, which felt amorphous, distant. There was a warmth and a joy that was there in the description of a connection between two people that was missing when we looked to something outside of ourselves and (seemingly) outside of our control.

The Light Show

And yet, our experience is variable. Not good or bad, simply variable. That seems to me to be a fact of life — the fact of life, one of our fundamental principles of being human.

It’s like we are living inside a constantly moving and randomly programmed northern lights spectacular. A giant pinball machine of emotion that looks as if it is flashing and dinging in response to the ball hitting a lever, and maybe it is, but the connections are too complex and rapidly changing for us to comprehend.

We are that we light up; not what colour the light appears to us, or what we imagine that light to mean.

It was delightfully exemplified by Matthew on the call, who described the children playing outside his window — they were disturbing his engagement with and enjoyment of the call, he told us. And he laughed because, in the describing of it, the irritation had dissolved, he was with us in the moment, in body and in feeling.

Settle in for a Minute…

I wrote a much longer piece and then deleted it, because it seems to me that the only moment that matters is the one where we are together.

I saw it on that call, and I see it everywhere, again and again, strangers become intimate with other strangers, opening up with hope and desire, demonstrating and also describing a depth of connection and presence that is the magic that causes the lights to come on.

This is society.

It isn’t in the structures and the regulations which come after, like drawing lines between the stars to create an astrological map. First comes the spark, the moment of connection that leads to something being created in form.

And then…

… there would be a flip.

Yes but…

…if only we could roll this out to…
…if only I could do what I expected of myself…
…if this, if that…

It was as noticeable to me as a skateboarder falling off the board, a jarring ‘back to reality’, like waking up from a dream. We are so used to being in the noise of the intellect that I don’t think most of us notice the shift. I know I didn’t, for years.

We expect to be in the part of the discussion that makes meaning and takes action. Who knows why. I can speculate it’s safer, or it’s conditioning, or we got misled along the way. It doesn’t matter, only that we jump to,

that’s all very well but…

Like black and white, chalk and cheese, the moment of being with another person, flipping to a moment of opinion, self-judgement, generalisation and boxing of others; trying to make sense of something ‘out there’, so that we can change it, we can create it as we think it should be, not as it is.

Yet, in those moments of purity, those fractions of seconds that were easily created and just as easily disregarded, I could feel that we already had everything we ever wanted.

What if we didn’t disregard them? Or rush away from them? What if we saw that we already have the discernment to hear the music and did not rush to judge the pitch of the oboe in ourselves and others?

What if we saw that there is a different compass to life? What if we used it to draw different lines, or to be kinder with the lines we did draw? Or could see that all of the lines were only there because we drew them, they were none of them real in the first place.

What if we didn’t label, opine, or pull back from what clearly feels real and true in those moments we feel it. What if we could see that we have already created from nothing? Like Matthew who was already in connection with us even though some of us only heard the noisy children he was describing.

Everything is Perfect in the Moment

I make it sound like something metaphysical rather than intellectual, which devalues it in the eyes of some. And I can go in the other direction, I can put smart words around it, put it into language that sounds like a leadership text-book. I can play that game too.

But in those moments when I heard people describe how they weren’t the parent they thought they would be, I only heard how they were being a perfect parent. When they despaired of how impossible it is to have a deeply engaged discussion across a ‘political divide’, I had heard them describe exactly that level of engagement between two people in the same breath.

If only we could see that we are already doing what we think is impossible, or difficult, I think we would find that compass we are looking for.

It seems to me that when we can see that everything is perfect in the moment, then there is no need to rush anywhere else, we are already experiencing the music of the soul.

When we fall back into the connection that is already there, a connection that is pure and perfect by itself, we can enjoy the light show, we can appreciate the beauty of the colours, and then we can draw lines and make meaning when we wake up. Or not.

With love,


Originally published at https://cathypresland.com on May 25, 2020.

What if making an impact was part of your everyday? Stories to light up your soul. Read more and free courses: https://cathypresland.com/find-out-more

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