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There and back again.
Reflections on the Spring 2023 Metamodern Spirituality Retreat
Everyone seems to want to ask: “how was the retreat?”
My dear, silly fellow human——I’m not so sure I’ll able to tell you.
I know what I’m supposed to say: “it was good!” A more honest answer might be “I’m in a weird place,” but even that feels terse and lacking depth.
How about this: I’m in a weird place. Or rather, I was in a weird place.
A weird place can be a very good thing——especially when that place is a quirky property peppered with statues of angels and tomes of Kierkegaard and Campbell. I considered sitting this one out, but I suppose something in me longed to be nestled in the Northeast Kingdom with a bunch of oddballs that share my niche intellectual interests. I assumed the plan was that we, the self-appointed Metacrisis Mitigation Brigade, would discuss all things relevant to our shared goal of Saving The World. What happened instead was, in my opinion, far more glorious——and not even particularly opposed to the goal in question.
Layman Pascal’s phrase for whatever it was that happened during that magical six-day wild rumpus is “advanced hanging out.” I’m on good enough terms with Pascal to openly cringe at this phrase without consequence, and yet I take simultaneous delight in its seeming accuracy. My Liminalist colleagues know where I stand relative to the conflation of metamodernism with stage theories, levels of cognitive development, or intentional progression toward some kind of post-competitive protopia; despite our differences in this department, I can only say that I had a singularly metamodern experience during this retreat.
I’ll give some examples of what I mean by that.
What started as a circle offering our initial impressions of each other became a three-hour spiritual practise in exaltation of the lovably flawed human other. I spoke the words “I really want to fight you” and I received the words “I want to see you thrive.” Everyone was given a chance to receive and be received in such a way, with the practise calling us deeper and deeper into an almost brutal kindness with each iteration.
Here’s another example: an emergent ritual featuring postironically ordained “Element Captains” inspired five oddly ordinary (or perhaps ordinarily odd) humans to build respective “shrines” to the elemental spirit of their choice. The practise relied solely on each Captain’s subjective impression of what it was like to flit about as the wind, to chant like the water, to take silence on behalf of aether. Each realm wasn’t just a representation of some abstract esoteric concept. It was a peek into each of the captains’ inner worlds——and as such, a peek into everyone’s.
So many other memories emerge now and again like wisps of smoke across my still reeling mind, their edges blurring and blending into each other. A jaunty Canadian smiling behind me like a contented child as I struggle my way through every song I’ve ever learned on the ocarina under a willow tree. A fatherly bear hug from one of the greatest metatheorists who has probably ever lived. A circle of initially light-hearted confessions in the sauna growing more solemn with every share. Hot tears rolling down my cheeks in a moment of bittersweet authenticity between myself and a straightforward Sagittarian stranger. Questions of solidarity and intersectionality arising in the form of “Redneck Integral” memes, neatly wrapping real critiques of Postintegral shadow in ribbons of humorous love. A black cat rolling about in the dust of the road as unsuspecting strollers stumble upon the carcass of her latest prey.
To me, metamodernity calls for an inhabitation of Self far deeper than the modern and far more real than the postmodern. It calls for those pearly gates guarding the heart to collapse. It calls for the child within to spread its paint-covered fingers across the walls of the world, making damn sure you don’t get your security deposit back. It calls for actions that are decidedly “undevelopmental.” It calls for “nonsense-making.” That’s exactly what happened a few weeks ago—and it certainly wasn’t on purpose. It didn’t happen because “something, something, metacognition.” It happened because now is the time for these kinds of things to happen.
Sky Meadow isn’t just a weird place—it’s a wyrd place. The land itself somehow seems to be summoning us, calling us deeper into relationship with each other and with it every year. Despite the plethora of catchy and marketable names we may have for this controversial scene of intellectual and spiritual eclectics, I posit that no one truly knows what’s emerging——or why. We might think we know, but I bet we’re wrong.
It’s hard to choose my fondest memory of all, but I’ll leave you with these last few in the form of a proposition. If we’re gonna do metamodern spirituality, let’s get drunk in the woods and talk about God. Show me the corniest hymn that you can think of, and let’s sing it at the top of our lungs; let’s mean every word of it even as we cringe. Let’s have a barefoot dance-party-meets-drum-circle on a dirt road where everybody gets a chance to offer the most epic expression of themselves, no matter how silly it looks (and hey——the sillier, the better).
The world might be falling apart, but it has been since before I can remember. There’s a good chance these meta-problems of ours can’t be solved by will, strength, and logic. I’ll still want my morning coffee on the eve of the apocalypse, and these are the kinds of folks I’d want to sit beside and talk to while I’m having it. Make no mistake—I’m not hopeless, I’m “hopefulless.” My hope is that these Liminalist spaces become increasingly wyrd in the most mundane and relatable ways possible——perhaps to the point of becoming mythic vehicles for culture-wide transformation. But we can’t try too hard. The miracle of this life is participatory, and what exactly we are participating with is not exactly always clear or within the realm of our control.
I’ll get off my soap box before I get carried away. In any case, Jeff Mangum said it best: “how strange it is, to be anything at all.”
I can’t believe I’m actually saying this, but…amen, Jeff. Amen.