Inherent conflicts discovered in a moment of stillness during a process

My title is a word salad. I can sense and feel and perceive what I mean but cannot yet grasp it. Finding the words to be sung by thinking and writing.

Since March, I’ve been documenting my intention and then process of making significant changes to my inner vision – call it a mental model, a mindset, a world view, a perspective, or a lens whose focal length I must change. The journey has neither been a linear nor continuous one, but the process has never paused nor reversed its direction or changed its goals. Today it struck me that I was in an interesting point in the process that I cannot describe. Let me work with examples.

Imagine changing yourself from the colour blue to the colour yellow and at some point you’re the colour green because its the exact moment the change when the new colour yellow is fully formed but the old colour blue has not yet left. Maybe. Physicists, I’m sure, will have a thousand and one arguments with me on this example. The duration for such a change does not matter as long as one is able to take a snapshot of that moment when aspects of the past state still exist but aspects describing the new state have begun to exist.

That is, one is at an interesting phase of change that can only be described as a moment full of inherent conflict – elements of the old state may contradict with aspects of the new state.

I’ll try a more complex example, the one that caused me to pause and reflect on this inherent conflict. I’ve been making sweeping observations on changes in design on this blog since 2005 with nary a thought or a pause. As y’all know, I’ve been working to develop the academic writing style in my new role as a doctoral scholar. The new style is diametrically opposite the old one, it does not allow sweeping generalizations, and requires a citation for most claims or empirical evidence, unless qualified as conjecture or hypothesis.

After my last post on the blog, I tried to write further on the changes I was perceiving in design practice, from the industry observer’s perspective, which has long been the focal point from which I’ve written, whether for print or websites (eg. Core77, BusinessWeek, NewDesign etc). I found I could not write those sweeping generalizations anymore, given that I’d already completed over 16000 words of journal article writing, particularly in the design genre. The new mode and style was conflicting with the old, since it was cautious and incremental and built on past works, completely unlike a random blogpost blathering on about design.

I cannot go back to the old mode. I do not know for how long. Because I need to be in the new mode to complete my PhD. And, as I discovered in my struggles over the past week or so, the two modes cannot co-exist, they are inherently incompatible and in many ways inherently conflict with each other in their underlying logic and philosophy of approach.

That implies I’m in an interesting moment in transitioning from one state to another. One month ago, on 26th of June 2021, I wrote:

The wrenching shift in my perspective from the outcomes of a project to its process – forced by circumstances of scholarship less than three weeks ago – has kept me preoccupied with reams of paper. I can sense the difference in slowly reading through printed out versions of selected journal articles, annotating their margins and underlining, in the old ways of scholarship, than the perceptually faster scanning that occurs with text on screens. On the upside, I believe I have managed to reorient my thinking towards the processes rather than the content.

Today, I recognize how rapidly I’ve progressed in the process of shifting perspective and reorienting thinking since then. The old mode of perceiving sweeping changes still exists, but the new mode of writing does not allow for it to be captured in words. In a way, one could say that even the old focal length might be blurring since its less clear what it is I’m sensing. If I could see it clearly, I’d be able to write it out. Since I can’t, one assumes I am either unable to see it clearly, or, that the focal length has indeed changed perceptibly enough that I had to sit up and think and write this out today.

o yay, as I used to say.

It should be noted, because this blogging has become as much a documentation of my journey as thinking and writing to look for the music of my words, that this is neither a midpoint in the process, though it may imply it is so, nor is it the dancing in between of liminal space I’ve been releasing myself from. I’ll use Schaetti’s definition of liminality because that is what I’ve thought and written about extensively in the past mode. “From the greek word limnos, which means threshold, liminality is a threshold time, when what was is over but what will be is not yet. It is a time of ambiguity and creative fomentation.”

This space I am in now is most clearly neither ambiguous nor full of potential for many possibilities – the fluidity and flexibility of creativity that attracted me to live in liminality for more than a decade and a half. The destination is clear and I am already evidencing aspects of the new mode of being required for the destination. If I was not, there would not be a conflict between an old mode and a new mode.

And, the reason why its not a midpoint, though the co-existence of the old mode of seeing and the new mode of expressing, is that a midpoint implies the transformation is still ongoing. Whereas, if I reflect on the inherent conflict I experienced, I can clearly see that its more of a matter of decision making rather than a process of transformation that is still ongoing. That is, if I commit now and here onwards, to focusing wholly on manifesting the new mode – academic style of writing, for instance – then I will have to focus on it to the exclusion of all else in order to gain proficiency in thinking and writing in that style.

If I do not, and allow it to continue to evolve organically, and without conscious thought beyond the originating intention, such as I have been doing since the end of June, then there’s no guarantee that a) I’ll ever become wholly proficient in the new mode as rapidly as I require it, nor b) that the old mode of seeing won’t continue to create conflicts during the manifestation of the process. It makes sense then, to take this moment of stillness to pause and reflect on the losses, if any, that may occur if I change gear manually instead of waiting for automatic transmission to do its job.

The silence that I’m experiencing right now, which I interpreted as a sign of struggle with writing, is thus actually a part of this transition from old mode to new. Its not that I have nothing to say, its that I’m learning a new language with which to say it, and the old language I used to say it with isn’t fit for purpose anymore. The silence, thus, has a purpose in this stage of the process. Silence for one reason cannot always be distinguished from silence for another, very different reason, hence the misinterpretation.

So, I have a choice to make now. I can break the silence by choosing to practice the new mode to improve my fluency and versatility. Or I can break the silence by trying to write in the old mode, but will that harm the process of continued development of the new mode of thinking and writing? There is a third choice, that of doing nothing. Of allowing the silence to continue, assuming that its doing its job.There is a risk in that since it does not further the progress of the process in any proactive way, assuming that my facility with the new mode will magically emerge without practice. Instead, if we recognize the silence as a signal of timing for phase shift, then there is conscious acknowledgement of the need to continue the process towards it desired outcomes.

In this light, the losses are all on the side of doing nothing.

On my 55th birthday, 4 short months ago, I wrote on the need to shift gears out of neutral. Today, I reflect on whether the dissonance between my embodied sense of growing roots and my farseeing mind’s eye that I wrote about back then was simply word song and its the same one now, or has there been a deeper shift that has taken place?

Inca architecture, Peru

Its undeniable that a very deep alignment has taken place. One way to say it would be that my perspective and my roots are not misaligned anymore. The very process of writing and thinking has played an important in bringing clarity and focus to enable the necessary alignment. Another way to say it that the tolerance of the fit is now so well adjusted that the parts have not only been put into place but they are so well balanced as to be one. A classical example is that of stone blocks used to construct walls without mortar that have held their shape for centuries due to the tightly calculated tolerance of the fit. It is said a knife cannot be driven between any two of them. Or a piece of paper.

So, where is the hesitation to let go of the remnants of the old mode and dive headfirst into the new? If I do feel as though I’d be losing a part of myself – the design blogger of a decade ago or the painter of word pictures – then what has the months long search for the magic of word song led towards? Had I not already lost the old magic? Did I not already acknowledge that whatever emerged might be some new form of music? That the music of the keyboard that the old way of typing and writing on the blog was but tendrils of memories from so long ago, on a different continent, in a different world, that whatever emerged now could never be the same simply because everything, including myself, had changed.

Can I continue to live with the inherent conflict such as that I experienced today struggling to capture something distantly perceived with newly emergent modes of thinking and writing? I am either a scholar at the moment, bent on successfully publishing journal articles towards my dissertation, or I’m not. I can’t be both. Nor am I truly comfortable with allowing the organic process to continue. There are risks in that approach, not the least that it might not allow for a healthy emergence of the quality of academic writing I strive to acquire.

So, this is not silence. It is a silencing. Its a nuance, but an important one.

I’m going to practice a new skill that will only enhance and refine what was originally expressed in blogging, but its practice requires silencing its expression in the old ways for a while. Deep and focused first, before wide and varied. Later, I’ll be able to work on integrating both approaches. Right now, it must be sequential. This exercise has been inspirational and I am getting up from my chair feeling motivated in a very deeply moved way.

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