Posts tagged #Emerson

How to be an Optimist: See Life as a Dream

A young man wrote to me about his own pessimism (co-occuring with a scientific attitude toward life) and asked me what spurs on my optimism.  I wrote this reply:

Optimism and Transcendentalism

I guess a long time ago in my philosophical searchings I examined the kind of scientific materialist attitude you seem to be describing and.... utterly rejected it. I'm a transcendentalist - which means I see the world and everything in it (including my own self) as a kind of deep holographic dream projected by "my" consciousness (I put "my" it quotes because it's "mine" in the sense that I can make choices that influence it, but it's not mine in the sense that there ultimately is no me since "Carolyn" is just another part of the dream.... sorry if that's hard to follow, it gets a little complex).

Changing the Dream

The reason all this transcendentalism adds up to optimism is this: if everything is a dream, then it can change from a terrible dream into a beautiful dream. Whether the dream is beautiful or terrible depends on what angle of light, or motivation, I'm sending through the hologram projector (my brain). If I'm sending the self-centered motivation of gathering up pleasure and security and power just for myself, then I'm going to be faced with a hologram of an utterly ugly, difficult, barren and horrible world. I'll be in endless conflict with the people around me. I'll be miserable. I've spent years living in that "reality" and it's awful. I've also dipped down into that recently - I was hugely depressed and suicidal. I had lost my way and wound myself into a big mess of compassionless horror.

Generating Awake-heart aka Bodhicitta

On the other hand, I've found that if I'm sending the other-cherishing motivation of being committed to bringing all creatures into happiness (i.e., non-attached and unending bliss, freedom from addiction and craving) and I'm willing to project limitless loving-kindness (i.e., deliberately being willing to love and wish happiness for people I don't like and resent, being willing to delight in their triumphs and to work to spare them from pain)...

...well, then the hologram becomes beautiful, synchronous, full of joy and meaning and connection.

Life becomes easy and I find I can fulfill my basic needs and my big aspirations without much worry. I mean, there are still so many challenges - but the challenges are fascinating instead of frightening. It's not like hunger and war and tragedy and sickness and misfortune disappear from the dream - but they don't oppress me in the same way. Instead there's a light within me that is willing to take responsibility for healing all that pain in the world and in myself.

And ultimately, I think, this process of lightening and en-blissening just goes on and on until the dream becomes very transparent and dissolves entirely, leaving the consciousness in Nirvana or the Kingdom of Heaven or what-have-you.

My optimism is essentially this: that it's possible for everyone, including myself, to dwell in ecstatic happiness, and that there are things I can do to bring that about... and the very process of working to bring this about is incredibly fulfilling and fun. It's basically Mahayana / Vajranya Buddhism but I like to spice it up by thinking a lot about Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

I don't know if those are flavors of Buddhism that you've investigated, but I sure love them. I've also been influenced strongly by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Don Miguel Ruiz and Byron Katie.

Man, I could go on and on. I'm sure I've used some shorthand in explaining this that doesn't make sense and sounds very fluffy. But I assure you, it all makes razor-sharp sense in my mind.

Warmth,

Carolyn

image: [seyed mostafa zamani]

3 gifts of radical transparency + Poems rewired my brain

 

I have a philosophy of radical transparency which sometimes gets me into HOT hot water.  But painful as the scalding is, I keep doing it.  I keep trying to tell as much of the truth about myself as loudly as I can to the people around me because I've become constitutionally averse to the practice of hiding anything about myself and my true nature.

 

Sometimes I overstep bounds and end up oversharing-- which sucks, and I'm learning to have more finesse with that-- but in my heart I know I would rather err on the side of too-much-truth than too-much-hiding.  In fact, I highly recommend it to all geniuses.

 

Here are some of the rich benefits of not hiding:

 

1. More space on my dance card - The folks who can't cope with what I have to say and the truth I have to tell leave.  This is really scary-- but also really freeing. Because once they're gone I no longer have to spend time persuading or appeasing them. I've lost a few friends this way-- and I'm glad I did.

 

2. More energy -- When I'm transparent, I let go of my control over other people's opinion of me.  Since I'm just being who I am as honestly as I can, I'm not manipulating or managing anything. This frees up my creative and emotional energy.

 

3. I find more people to collaborate with. The people who genuinely like who I am and what I have to offer can find me and know me because I'm letting my freak flag fly. They can walk right up and say "Hi!" and feel confident that we're on the same page-- because I'm being really open about what page I'm on -- even though that page is rather weird and far-out.  It's my page, damnit, and I'm on it.

 

4) Less stress -- I don't have to jump through the mechanical performance of trying to be someone I'm not--  when I'm truthful about my real limitations and my real beliefs right from the get-go I don't let people peg me with false expectations and I therefore don't unconsciously try to meet their expectations.  I just show up and I give what I can as freely as I can.

 

Because I enjoy the benefits of radical transparency so much, I've decided to be radically transparent with my students in my Reading Poetry class this semester about who I am and what I really think.  I'm not selling the university's agenda or any notion of academic literary studies any more.  I'm offering the real way that I allow poetry on the page and in life to read and change me.

 

So I put this little list of things about myself and my views on the syllabus for this term, and I'm kinda proud of it, so I'd figured I'd share it here:

  1. Poems are like hits of acid and can massively alter your consciousness. This means they need to be treated with respect and ingested properly.
  2. I think our entire educational system is corrupt; I expect most of the things you’re offered in college won’t actually help you in life at all; I’m trying to make this class an exception to that.
  3. I haz a blog which you are welcome to read: www.awesomeyourlife.com.
  4. I haz a Facebook and a twitter, too: @carolynhoney.  You’re welcome to friend me.
  5. I don’t really read new poetry unless it’s by a friend of mine. I think most contemporary publishing poets are bores and charlatans. (And yes, I know that’s mean and I’m working on letting that go, but there it is—that’s what’s true today.)
  6. Poems completely rewired my brain (see point #1) making it impossible for me to write a conventional doctoral dissertation, which means I won’t get a degree and that has made me sad a lot but also might be kind of a good thing because conventional doctoral dissertations in English kind of suck and also I like my rewired brain better than the old one I had.
  7. My book is on ending suffering genius but somedays I still suffer, a lot.  I think that’s because not suffering as a genius is sort of a day-by-day , moment-by-moment thing like not smoking cigarettes as a former smoker.
  8. I’m part of a group which throws big conscious art parties and hosts other rad events, called Evolver Pittsburgh.  Perhaps you would like to check our stuff out on Facebook.  I’ve been thinking maybe I should start a chapter of Evolver right here at Pitt—what do you think?
  9. I really love parties—but not beer-soaked ones— I like strange and mysterious ones, preferably with costumes and fire-spinning.
  10. I sometimes pray to the spirits of Emerson, Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman.  Emerson and Dickinson have stained glass windows in Heinz Chapel so that makes it easy.

Shift to Poetic Perception

Dear Reader, Today, let's continue to consider what it takes to be honest with ourselves and ditch our kitsch.

The Eye Altering, Alters All: Poetic Perception

It can be difficult, if not entirely impossible, to ditch our kitsch when we are in the midst of it, because it doesn’t look like kitsch to us—it looks like the unassailable way things need to be in order for us to be okay.

This is true even if that dubious “okay” is really miserable.  Our calculating minds would still like to call that misery “okay” because at least it’s known, and what we know we think we can control.  Actually, we can’t, but the illusion that we can is hypnotic.  In order to break out of it, we have to be willing to alter our perception.

One of my favorite mad poet-prophets, William Blake, observed that “the eye altering, alters all.”  In other words, when we change our perception, the whole world around us changes.

Abandon the Brain that Divides

I suggest that our ability to cling to shit and live in kitsch 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 poets, but school and society beat that out of us right quick.

Our culture is dominated by “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 kitsch can spring up, because kitsch 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.

Poetic Perception Sees Wholeness

In order to end the reign of kitsch in our lives and see our shit for what it is, we need to begin cultivating poetic perception, a mode of seeing from the heart which acknowledges connectedness and interrelation amongst ourselves and everything in existence.

When we are able to see ourselves and life from the poetic perspective of wholeness, we are better able to recognize our shit, to stop telling ourselves and the world that it’s gold, and instead allow it to be simple fertilizer for awesomeness.

This recognition is enabled by the wholeness of poetic perception because we create our shit in the first place in an attempt to deal with the fragmentation and alienation we perceive.

I clung to my lousy boyfriend and my socially respectable position as an academic because I felt lacking, estranged from the flow of life.  I didn’t trust that the world might have better things in store for me because I felt as if the world and me were two separate things, and why should the world care what happened to me?

As long as I saw myself primarily as an isolated little ego and not as an integral part of life’s unfolding who could be uplifted and blossomed by the same force that blossoms flowers, I was unwilling to ditch my kitsch; I still felt I needed it to survive.

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.

Yet in order to start on a project of poetic inquiry, 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, I think it's necessary 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.

Dwell in Possibility

The shift to poetic perception requires the willingness to enter, at least temporarily, the condition which I call “Possibility," after a poem by Emily Dickinson.  Dickinson wrote:

I dwell in Possibility—

A fairer House than Prose—

More numerous of Windows—

Superior—for Doors—

 

Of Chambers as the Cedars—

Impregnable of eye—

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky—

 

Of Visitors—the fairest—

For Occupation—This—

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise—

The house of Possibility is a symbol of a  condition of profound openness: it’s a  a house which abounds in thresholds (More numerous of Windows-- / Superior for Doors—“) and it’s also a house which declines to provide shelter from the elements (“And for an everlasting Roof-- / The Gambrels of the Sky”).

Yet for the very reason that the house of Possibility gives so little shelter, it leaves its inhabitant open to receive the fairest visitors and to practice the gathering of Paradise. And that's what we do in poetic perception.

It’s of course significant also that the house of Possibility is one which Dickinson compares to the house of Prose—implying that Possibility is identified with Prose’s opposite—poetry.

Possibility vs. Imagination

I find the term “Possibility” to be a useful word to describe the condition which it’s necessary to enter in order to begin seeking and creatively expressing truth, even more useful than Emerson's term, Imagination.

Possibility, perhaps because Dickinson figures it as a house, suggests to me a state which one can readily enter or depart without undergoing a complete transcendental enlightenment-- which is a connotation that Imagination carries for Emerson and his friends, the British romantic poets and German idealists.

This distinction is important to me, given that complete transcendental enlightenment is notoriously tough to come by.

I envision my work as a teacher of awesoming not as a project of leading you into the life of  a realized sage but rather as one of inviting you to experiment with an alternative mode of being, perceiving, and expressing truth.

The ultimate end of such experimentation could be that you decide to commit to “dwell[ing]” full-time in Possibility as Dickinson herself did, but I’m pleased if it simply lets you admit your shit, to live more compassionately and bravely.

Though I envision Possibility as a state which can be easily entered or exited, to enter it at all nonetheless requires accepting a risk, because it is a condition not only of enlarged receptivity but also of increased vulnerability.

It's a condition of increased vulnerability because when we open ourselves wide to the fairest of visitors -- truth and beauty -- we are simultaneously loosening our grip on our defenses-- namely, our kitsch.

Stay tuned for our next post, in which I discuss explicit instructions for entering Possibility.

Love, Carolyn

 

 

Virtualize Your New Universe - Part 1

Dear Reader, Yesterday we talked about how it's possible to travel to a whole new universe through the power of Throbbing, Extra-rational Optimism and hops.

Today I want to talk more about exactly how this travel is accomplished.

Why Virtualize

Virtualization is a process in which you vividly imagine the fulfillment of your authentic preferences, drawing upon all five senses and upon your emotions. Let's say that I'm working on manifesting some roly-poly pigs.  I would relax, lay back, and spend some time seeing myself hanging out in a pig pen, feel the soft squishing of the mud, hear the sweet grunts of porcine oinking, smell the fragrant shit, feel my heart swelling with joy. Why do this?

Because in order to jump to a better universe, you've got to get the feel for what it would be like.  This works because imagination, as my hero Ralph Waldo Emerson realized, is not just making stuff up. It's actually a kind of insight, or what Emerson called "a very high form of seeing." It feels like "making stuff up" at first because our imaginative light is dim to begin with.  As that light gets stronger and stronger, we begin to see that when we're imagining the fulfillment of our authentic preferences, we're actually not just making stuff up-- we're perceiving a possible world, and the act of vividly perceiving it with our imagination draws it into physical manifestation.

Virtualizing your new universe is itself a hop-- a hopeful optimistic practice -- and a very powerful one at that. When practiced regularly (every day is best) it alters your resonance.

On Morphic Resonance

What does that mean? Allow me to explain: the biologist Rupert Sheldrake posited that the development of life forms doesn't just depend on the information in their genes. The development of plants and animals also depends on something he called organizational fields, or morphic fields (meaning "fields that influence form").

Sheldrake offered that these fields work by creating order in otherwise chaotic or random patterns of gene-instructed activity. He said that these fields are not static, but constantly evolve:

The fields of afghan hounds and poodles have become different from those of their common ancestors, wolves. How are these fields inherited? I propose that they are transmitted from past members of the species through a kind of non-local resonance, called morphic resonance.

That is to say, morphic fields are a kind of collective memory which each individual of the species both draws upon and contributes to. Thus if one member of the species learns to do something unprecedented for the species as a whole (say, a cat in Pittsburgh learns to flush toilets), the rest of the species, due to an alteration in its morphic field caused by the advance of its individual member, thus instantly becomes more easily able to learn that same new thing (cats in Japan, unacquainted with the original Pittsburgh cat, are now figuring out how to flush toilets at a rapid rate).

Sheldrake proposed that religious rituals are a way in which "the past becomes present" because the people enacting the rituals, by the very act of the ritual, thereby enter into a morphic resonance with the people who in previous centuries performed the same rituals. Thus they partake of the wisdom and strength of all those ancestors. Also,

The morphic fields of social groups connect together members of the group even when they are many miles apart, and provide channels of communication through which organisms can stay in touch at a distance.

This phenomenon of non-local communication is very interesting for us folks on the path of awesoming our lives, because it implies that  through entering the morphic field of a certain group by adjusting one's resonance to match it, one can gain access to that group's implicit knowing and force of developmental organization.

In his book Power vs. Force, the psychiatrist and spiritual teacher David R. Hawkins claims that Sheldrake's theory of morphic fields and morphic resonances offer an explanation for why 12-Step Recovery Fellowships work so well to heal members from life-threatening compulsions and addictions: the frequent meeting attendance and repeated ritual behaviors which these fellowships encourage align suffering newcomers with the morphic field of those who are already successfully recovering from the illness.  Through the morphic field of the group, the newcomer who on his own could not stop abusing substances becomes capable of getting time away from active addiction just by simple actions that align him with the sheer power of the group's non-local field of recovery.

So if your life is kind of sucky right now, you're a newcomer, in a sense, to awesomeness.  You need to get aligned with the morphic field of an awesomed life. And virtualization is one important way to do that.

By spending time virtualizing a universe in which your authentic preferences are fulfilled, you alter your own morphic resonance so that it's in harmony with the group of people who have previously achieved those preferences. In doing this, you thereby access not only the collective group knowledge of people who know how to achieve those preferences but you also come into an organizing field which shapes the whole landscape of your life (including factors well beyond your conscious control) into the morphic pattern held by that field-- into the pattern of success.

Stay tuned for How to Virtualize Your New Universe Part 2!

 

Poetic Inquiry - from my diss

Dear Reader, What follows is an exciting preview-- the first two pages of my in-progress dissertation!

Love,

Carolyn

Poetic Inquiry

Who can doubt that poetry will revive and lead in a new age, as the star in the constellation Harp, which now flames in our zenith, astronomers announce, shall one day be the polestar for a thousand years?Emerson, “The American Scholar”

The long way leading to the poetry is itself one that inquires poetically. – Heidegger commenting on Rilke, “What Are Poets For?”

By Way of Introduction

Very simply, poetic inquiry is a process of contemplative truth-seeking followed by creative expression of the truth discovered. This dissertation explores poetic inquiry as a potential avenue of literary education.

Like philosophic and scientific inquiry, poetic inquiry seeks to discover and communicate truth. But while both philosophic and scientific inquiry deploy systematic and rational approaches to their projects and largely emphasize objectivity, poetic inquiry is nonsystematic and intuitive in its approach and  emphasizes subjectivity rather than objectivity. In other words, poetic inquiry attends primarily to the existential and subjective dimension of truth.[1]

Expression in poetic inquiry is “creative” in that through the use of poetic strategies it creates for the reader or audience an extra-rational experience of the author-inquirer’s discovered truth (i.e., it does not communicate the discovered truth via rational argument or proof.  Somewhat perplexingly and confusingly, there is also a sense in which the actual act of expressing truth via poetic strategies creates such truth or brings it into being – as in the case of an intuition which is at first only dimly realized by the author-inquirer but becomes clear as she articulates it. In this sense we might say that poetic inquiry can not only discover but can also “make” truths. “Making” is of course the original meaning of the Greek word “poiesis” from which our English word “poetry” derives.  In the context of poetic inquiry we would say that what poetry “makes” is the experience of extra-rational truth.

Because poetic inquiry is an essentially intuitive and extra-rational process, it resists being articulated in any systematic way.  There are very many fantastic examples of the fruit of poetic inquiry. There are far fewer fantastic explanations of the process.  I have attempted to articulate and champion the process of poetic inquiry in this prosaic dissertation form because I have desired to teach it to myself and to others, and because many people (including myself) resist doing something when they cannot understand just why and how it should be done. Thus the following work attempts to reasonably explain the detailed application and essential value of an endeavor which exceeds reason. I have sought to do this rather difficult task because I believe poetic inquiry to be very important work indeed, work which we have perhaps been neglecting for the very reason that it is difficult to rationally or systematically explain and justify.


[1] There are figures who are hailed as philosophers—Nietzsche, Emerson, and Kierkegaard come prominently to mind—whose work may be said to rely more heavily on poetic strategy (gesture, fiction, drama, trope—see the discussion of these later in this dissertation) than on rational argument and who value existential and subjective truth. I would count these figures as poetic inquirers rather than philosophers.

Posted on February 28, 2011 and filed under Poetic Inquiry.