I suggest that our ability to cling to falsehood and generate stuckness and boringness in our lives arises from the fact that we’ve learned to use the opposite of poetic perception: fragmented perception. We all come into the world as perfectly honest and expressive young soul-makers, but school and society beat that out of us right quick.
Our culture is dominated by what the poet Walt Whitman called “the brain that divides.” We learn to see ourselves as isolated little egos who have to fight and scrap and scrape in order to hold on to our little drops of comfort or pleasure or power.
We feel threatened by the other isolated little egos outside of us who might try to take these things away. We have to push ourselves harder and harder to continue to win, to protect what we have, to get more.
Within this perception of fragmentation, we see everything, including our own bodies and talents and the natural world, as objects to be manipulated in order to attain some end.
It’s only in this fragmented perception that a life of untruth can spring up, because falsehood seeks to manipulate the vast and messy unfolding of our lives into a neat and pretty picture that we’re confident will gain the approval of others and thus secure us our comfort, pleasure and power.
When we are able to see ourselves and life from this perspective of wholeness, we are better able to recognize our untruth.
This honest recognition is enabled by the wholeness of poetic perception because we create our falsehood in the first place in an attempt to deal with the fragmentation and alienation we perceive.
A Very High Sort of Seeing
In his essay “The Poet” Emerson describes in great detail someone who has a solid grasp on poetic perception—namely, the ideal poet. According to Emerson, the ideal poet has an intuition of unity which is so total that it constitutes a kind of dramatic enlightenment, a state of higher realization. Emerson refers to this unitive insight as “Imagination.” He tells us that Imagination is
a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees; by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others. (298)
Yet in order to do soul-making, I don’t think it’s necessary to be fully possessed of this realization of underlying oneness, and certainly not necessary to “believe” in it—I think it’s only necessary to be willing to move towards it—in other words, to soften one’s sense of oneself as a limited, isolated entity, as a thinking subject for whom the world (including your talents and your body) is merely a mess of objects to be manipulated for socially approved ends.
We can enter poetic perception by ceasing to take ourselves and our lives so literally. We can start to take ourselves symbolically, instead. Tomorrow I'll discuss how we can interpret the letter we've written from our hearts to ourselves in order to accomplish this.