Secrets of Pronoia | By Rob Brezsny | Issue 359 | The Sun Magazine

Secrets of Pronoia

How The World Is Conspiring To Shower You With Blessings

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I loved Rob Brezsny’s concept of “sacred eavesdropping,” a meditative practice in which we move our attention away from ourselves and observe others with compassionate objectivity.

I’m not a meditator, but I do something similar when I draw. As I follow the curves, lines, and edges of my subject, the images flow from my eyes to my hands, bypassing my brain’s judgment. Anything I draw, through the process of drawing it, becomes beautiful and awe-inspiring. It could be a piece of trash, or the wrinkled skin of an old woman. When I draw it, I am taken away from my own constructions, and I realize that we are all one, all blessed.

Antonia Blum Ashland, Oregon

Writing in response to Rob Brezsny’s “Secrets of Pronoia” [November 2005], Peter Nowell describes astrology as “inherently limiting and superstitious, a giving away of one’s personal power” [Correspondence, February 2006]. As an astrologer I feel compelled to correct this misperception.

Carl Jung said that what is not made conscious shows up in our lives as fate. The role of astrology, when it is employed as a healing art rather than as banal fortune-telling, is to illuminate unconscious patterns and behaviors, thereby empowering people to make better choices and take responsibility for the course of their lives. Jung — like many of the West’s great thinkers before him, including Plato, Copernicus, Galileo and Nietzsche — considered astrology an invaluable tool.

Mass-media horoscope columns, which correspond to Nowell’s limited concept of astrology, represent a bastardization of an art and science that has been practiced worldwide since the beginning of human history. Like Nowell, I find that Rob Brezney’s is the only horoscope column that I read. His writing offers a high form of astrological divination and is among the best in the field and not, as Nowell suggests, a radical departure from astrology’s essence.

Emily Trinkaus Canby, Oregon

Rob Brezsny’s “Secrets of Pronoia” is witty, subtle, and cunning in the tradition of the Sufi mystics or that revolutionary mystic, Jesus. Radical humor can topple empires. There’s one more step, however, that we “divine freedom fighters” need to take: liberating what Brezsny calls the “benevolent conspiracy of unknown people who are tirelessly creating hundreds of useful things you like and need.”

This includes the child slavery that taints one-third of all chocolate. It includes the Chinese girls who work seventeen-to-twenty-hour days, 359 days a year. It includes the three thousand children sold as slaves each day. If the things we like and need come to us only through money, is the conspiracy benevolent? And who is the “Chief Architect”? We can’t fall into the trap of thanking God for our wealth, as if it were at her command that the world serves us.

Tereza Coraggio Santa Cruz, California

Rob Brezsny waxes wistfully poetic on how we all wake up in a temperature-controlled shelter, with a bed both comfortable and soft, under warm blankets, with electric power at our fingertips. He assumes I have a functioning bathroom with “convenient devices” and running water, that I have at my disposal a closet full of well-fitting clothes and a kitchen full of appetizing food.

Millions of people right here in the U.S. have neither house nor bed, no electricity, no running water, no clothes except what they wear. Any discussion that ignores this fact is purely academic.

I am almost offended by Brezsny’s suggestion that we thank our adversaries for the lessons they teach us. A fine idea in the abstract, but when those adversaries are responsible for the deaths of our loved ones, it is hard to imagine their destructive acts as “riddles” for my amusement.

“Life is a vast and intricate conspiracy designed to keep us well supplied with blessings,” Brezsny writes. What does he say to people whose lives are not well supplied with anything? It is difficult, at best, for the cold, sick, hungry, and poor to “act as if the universe is a prodigious miracle” created just for them.

Stephen Harris North Yarmouth, Maine

I am tickled beyond measure by Rob Brezsny’s “Secrets of Pronoia” [November 2005]. He has scratched an itch somewhere deep in my subconscious.

I am what you might call an “underground artist.” I came of age during the great global renaissance of the midsixties and early seventies. Last year, however, I was feeling dismayed. There I was, in the prime of my life at forty-nine, watching what seemed like a bad science-fiction novel unfold in the news. I seemed to have slipped into an alternate universe where the corporations had taken over and installed a perpetual adolescent to run the empire. What ever happened to the renaissance?

Then it hit me. I’ve always wanted to be a revolutionary artist, to show people the cracks in the facade, to topple the icons. And isn’t President Bush providing the perfect backdrop for this drama of mine? After all, what could be better for the cause of revolutionary art than to have lawyers and accountants running the entertainment industry and the media?

Today the corporations ravage the world like the doomed dinosaurs they are. Tomorrow the next renaissance will grow and thrive atop their bones. Ah, sweet drama!

Christopher Brown Crystal Lake, Illinois

I have occasionally read and enjoyed Rob Brezsny’s astrology column over the years. His writing is poetic, thought-provoking, and insightful. “Secrets of Pronoia” was a delightful meditation on the positive, life-affirming events that occur all around us while we are focused on a few upsetting circumstances.

I agree with Brezsny that the universe is a “prodigious miracle created for your amusement and illumination.” It is this very point of view, in fact, that convinces me astrology is inherently limiting and superstitious, a giving away of one’s personal power. I find the universe too full of possibilities for transformation, love, and healing to consign my life’s course, even in part, to the relative positions of fiery gas balls and cold, barren moons.

So why do I enjoy Brezsny’s astrology column? Because he fills the empty vessel of astrology with wonder, beauty, and intelligent observations.

Peter Nowell Scotts Valley, California
Rob Brezsny responds:

I’m grateful The Sun gave its readers a taste of my book Pronoia Is the Antidote to Paranoia, but it’s important to note that the magazine’s excerpts comprised a tiny fraction of the total text. It took me 296 pages to unfold the full complexity of my ideas about pronoia, and there’s not enough room here to address the questions Stephen Harris and Tereza Coraggio raise with the depth they deserve. Still, I’ll attempt the beginning of a response.

Though my book extols some of the few blessings that come to us through money, I also make it clear that most of the countless miracles that occur don’t involve money or consumer goods — as I learned while I was living below the poverty level for nineteen years. One of the great gifts of the annual Burning Man festival, which I describe in the book, is that virtually no money changes hands there. For a week, more than thirty thousand people celebrate a culture untainted by commerce.

If Harris reads my book, he’ll find ample evidence that my vision of pronoia isn’t a delusional orgy of Pollyanna fantasies invoked to repress the harsh facts about the world. Here’s a snippet: “The earth is in the midst of the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Half of all species could be exterminated by 2100. The U.S. is the biggest arms dealer in the world, selling billions of dollars of weaponry, much of it to nondemocratic regimes and armies whose soldiers commit human-rights abuses. Over 8o million Americans live on incomes estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor to be below a ‘comfortable adequacy.’ ”

I’m not suggesting that everything is always sweet and wonderful for everyone, but rather that we’d be smart to aggressively identify all the ways the world is teeming with beauty and joy and mystery as well. To do so would counterbalance the hordes of cynical storytellers in the media and entertainment industries who relentlessly assure us that life on earth is a dismal hell. Urging people to appreciate blessings they take for granted isn’t tantamount to advising them to pretend there’s no suffering in the world.

At the core of pronoia is the exhortation to be a wrathful insurrectionary as well as an exuberant lover of life. As I write in the book’s opening: “We can’t let the ruling fools of the dying world sustain their curses. We have to rise up and fight their insane logic; defy, resist, and prevent their tragic magic; unleash our sacred rage.”

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November 2005