Posts tagged #truth

Surrender Your Addiction to Suffering - Part 3

 

This is the third post in a series on Surrendering Your Addiction to Suffering.  You can read the first post here (wherein I give an overview of the nine commitments necessary to the process) about the and the second post (about the first commitment) here. Today we're talking about the second commitment in surrendering your addiction to suffering:

 

2) Understand that these judgments, though voiced by your own internal monologue, represent the distorted perceptions of a spiritual dis-ease and not “the truth”

 

The Buddha (one of my favorite dudes, along with Jesus, Byron Katie and Lao Tse) said that ignorance is the primary affliction of the human mind.  The two other afflictions he noted, desire and hate, are secondary manifestations of that ignorance.  The ignorance that makes us suffer isn't a lack of knowledge in the conventional sense -- instead, it's a fundamental misperception about the nature of who we are and how reality works.

 

Our misperception leads us to think that we're discrete, solitary individuals separate from the whole of existence.  We identify with the contents of our mind and emotion and mistake the aggregate of those contents to be "me." Once we've made that basic mistake, we have the sense, at a fundamental level, that it's "me against the world." Even if we're generally happy-go-lucky people, the moment something goes not-according-to-plan in a big way (we lose a job we depended on for our security; a relationship goes sour; a loved one dies; we get ill; we get old... on and on) we feel attacked.

 

This feeling of being attacked by things not matching up with our internal picture of how life should treat us is a symptom of our misperception that we're basically separate from the rest of life. We resent the people and situations that appear to be battling us (i.e., we experience hate) and we long for whatever circumstances we think would make it all better (i.e., we desire).

 

In the absence of the fundamental mistake of thinking we're a separate "me" we would be unable to see anything as going against us (because there would be no "us" for "it" to go "against") and we'd be unable to wish for anything other than what's already present in our lives (because we wouldn't be able to perceive ourselves as lacking anything -- you can't lack something if you are everything).

 

Ignorance, desire and hate are the dangerous trio that make up the spiritual disease of addiction to suffering, which we ordinary humans are all afflicted with to some extent or another.

 

Sometimes I think that Jesus said we must become as little children in order to reach the Kingdom of Heaven because very little children don't yet have a sense of themselves as discrete individuals; they don't hate; and while they sure make a fuss about getting fed and having their diapers changed, they don't desire in the sense that they don't mentally attach themselves to specific stories about what life should look like.

 

Enlightenment (or "entering the Kingdom of Heaven" in the Christian tradition-- a Kingdom which, by the way, Jesus adamantly stated could be found here on earth) is the state of consciousness in which one is totally free from the disease of addiction.  It's the condition of being free from ignorance, hate and desire.  Far from being a boring condition (some folks imagine desire-less-ness as a kind of numbness) it's actually a profoundly vivid state of joy, abounding love, and deep fulfillment.

 

I've long been putting in my petition to get hit with the enlightenment bolt, but until that happens in order to stay remotely sane I have to focus on letting go of my ignorance, hate and desire to the best of my ability. The second commitment in this process reminds me that my mind's stream of negative judgments just aren't the truth.  They're the product of my fundamental confusion about who I am and what life is doing. This commitment represents my willingness to be humble and to be aware.

 

When I keep this commitment at the forefront of my awareness I find that a bit of air and spaciousness comes into the dark, foetid chambers of my mind and makes room for truth and love to come in.

 

If you'd like some help on getting to spaciousness around your suffering, you might want to check out my low-cost life coaching.

 

Love!

Carolyn

 

Image by Dalbera. Borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.

The poetics of occupation: pressing reasons we need to "occupy" our own cities

The Poetics of Occupation

I've been thrilled and privileged to participate in the Occupy movement via Occupy Pittsburgh. While sitting out in the cold and rain, I got to having some deep thoughts about the poetics of the occupation and I figured I'd share them here with you.

 

 

The term "occupy" has obvious military connotations.  The poetic use of the term as a metaphor to describe a peaceful protest demands some reflection.

 

Currently, the U.S. military is just winding down a massive, costly and controversial occupation of Iraq. This occupation of Iraq is the  prominent cultural back drop in the minds of most Americans when we hear the term "occupy." "Occupy" in this sense suggests going on to foreign soil where we're not particularly wanted or welcome and ensuring that our interests are protected there.

 

Thus, the notion that we would need to Occupy Wall Street, for example, frames "Wall Street" as a kind of hostile foreign nation, a place where we need to send "troops" (of peaceful protesters) in order to control the situation there and to protect our interests.

 

But Wall Street IS American soil, right? Why should we feel we need to "occupy" it?

 

How Wall Street Made Itself a Foreign Land: Usury

The answer to this, I believe, lies in the spiritual dimension of our financial institutions and failing economy. The spiritual malaise of Wall Street, the banking industry, and the corporations has created a sense of alienation and violation so potent that those institutions can no longer be perceived by Americans as even belonging to their country. There's a sense of these institutions and corporations as alien and hostile.  This sense is not imaginary or paranoid.  It's completely correct, and it has its root in the alienating and hostile actions of those institutions towards the American people.

 

In order to make my point clear, I need to explain a few rather arcane (but fascinating!) points which I first learned from Lewis Hyde's brilliant book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World.

 

To begin, the banking industry's practice of usury is a practice that was recognized in spiritual traditions throughout the ancient world as an act which promoted division, suspicion, and alienation within a community. I think we need to reconsider ancient and indigenous attitudes towards usury in order to understand the extent to the unity and spiritual virtue of the United States has been violated by Wall Street.

 

Today, "usury" means "lending at unbearably high interest." In the ancient world, usury just meant charging any interest at all on a loan.

 

Lending at interest itself is now widely accepted and taken for granted as perfectly acceptable and normal.  Loan-sharking, or lending at really high and outrageous interest, is the only stuff that raises eyebrows now.  Loan-sharking on the part of the banks is a large part of what created the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

 

We can keep in mind that the banks have practiced the intense form of usury-as-loan-sharking and that this practice has led to the current widespread poverty and outrage, but in order to understand the severity of loan-sharking, I want to start by discussing the problematic spiritual dimensions of usury, period.

 

In order to understand why usury (which is now so widely accepted) would be seen as a spiritual problem, we first need to understand a little bit about the way gifts work.

 

The Increase of the Gift

An interest-free loan is a form of a gift. For example: if I give you an interest-free loan of $1000 dollars, and you are able to use that loan to invest in a business which then makes you money. A year later, you return to me $1000, but you've still been able to create an "increase" out of the loan that I gave you, an increase that you wouldn't have been able to enjoy if I hadn't loaned you the $1000 to begin with.  So the increase that you make on account of me loaning you $1000 is a kind of gift from me to you.  Theoretically, if I had held on to my $1000 and not given it to you, I could have used the $1000 to invest and thereby enjoyed the increase myself.

 

Gifts are really cool because they create relationships of community and connection.  There's something magical and in harmony with the natural growth and decay of nature in the increase that properly treated gifts can create.

 

In indigenous cultures which maintained gift economies, it was always considered imperative that the increase generated by a gift  be passed on or used up, and never hoarded or used as capital itself. This passing-on or "paying it forward" was thought to be necessary in order to keep the "spirit of the gift" moving. So, for example, if you were able to make $2000 out of the $1000 interest-free loan I had given you, it would be good form for you to spend that $2000 on necessities for you and your family or to throw a big party and share the wealth. It would be very bad form for you to keep that $2000 to invest as capital or to hoard in savings.

 

The idea behind this is that gifts in a community should be kept in circulation and not used to unduly benefit or to create an unfair advantage for any one individual. When gifts are hoarded or used to create only private benefit, the spirit of the gift dies and the nihilism of separation, meaninglessness and isolation arises. This nihilism of separation creates a general atmosphere of cruelty. It's the atmosphere we're living in now.  It's the atmosphere that the Occupy movement has arisen to protest.

 

The Spirit of the Gift

We can think of the "spirit of the gift" as a sense of gratitude that puts human beings in an attitude of reverence and love for each other, nature, and divinity.  When gifts are kept moving and circulating, no one person has giant storehouses of money or goods to use as "security." The "security" and "prosperity" of an individual is instead intimately tied to the security and prosperity of the community, and thus to relationships of good will, love, and interdependency. Furthermore, a person who is living in the spirit of the gift, rather than seeking to extract and hoard the riches of the earth in warehouses instead respectfully fosters and tends for the earth so as to continue to enjoy the bounty of her gifts in a sustainable fashion.

 

Living in the spirit of the gift is an act of faith.  It involves a surrender of control.  This surrender entails two spiritual attitudes that are largely unknown to our control-obsessed modern world: 1) A general trust that the community / nature / divinity will continue to provide and 2) A graceful willingness to accept death and suffering in the event that the community / nature / divinity does not provide.

 

The act of living in the spirit of the gift is something which my favorite poet and all-around-awesome dude, Jesus, pointed to many times, perhaps most memorably in his Sermon on the Mount, when he suggested that everyone live "like the lilies of the field."  The lilies of the field, J.C. pointed out, don't do any work or save for rainy days, and yet they're gorgeous and happy. The lilies live in the spirit of the gift, accepting the nourishment of the sun and earth and giving forth radiant beauty.  Then they gracefully die when it gets cold and they don't whine about it. They don't control or hoard anything.

 

The Nihilism of Usury and the Control Freaks of Wall Street

Usury, in essence, is an expression of fear and clinging to material existence.  It's a refusal to surrender control. Usury hears about the notion of living like the lilies of the field and says "screw that!"

 

Usury seeks to maintain control over the increase generated by a gift.  It thus kills the spirit of the gift and creates disconnection.

 

When I give you that $1000 interest-free loan, I'm letting go of my say over that money. I'm letting you "use" it.  In turn, in our little gift society, I trust that you will put your "use" of the gift (the increase you accrue from investing it) to benefit all of us.  But I'm trusting. I've surrendered control of the "use" of the gift.  Through my trust, I'm making space for the spirit of the gift to live and breathe.

 

When I give you a $1000 dollar loan with 20% interest, I'm not letting go of my say over that money. I'm not trusting that you will use the increase of the gift to ultimately benefit our community and thus me. I'm demanding that you put the increase that you generate through your "use" of the gift back in my pocket. Thus I am controlling the "use-stuff" or "use-ury" or of the gift. In my control, I don't trust you and I certainly don't love you.

 

Usury = commerce between foreigners

Lewis Hyde explains:

 To ask for interest on loaned wealth is to reckon, articulate, and charge its increase.  The idea of usury therefore appears when spiritual, moral, and economic life begins to be separated from one another, probably at the time when foreign trade, exchange with strangers, begins. As we saw in an earlier chapter, wherever property circulates as a gift, the increase that accompanies that circulation is simultaneously material, social, and spiritual; where wealth moves as a gift, any increase in material wealth is automatically accompanied by the increased conviviality of the group and the strengthening of the hau, the spirit of the gift.  But when foreign trade begins, the tendency is to differentiate the material increase from the social and spiritual increase, and a commercial language appears to articulate the difference.  When exchange no longer connects one person to another, when the spirit of the gift is absent, then increase does not appear between gift partners, usury appears between debtors and creditors. (144-145 The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World)

 

The key point that Hyde makes here is that usury begins when foreign trade begins.  It's an economic relationship forged between groups of people who have no necessary bonds to each other communally or spiritually and who do not trust each other.  It's a relationship of outsider to outsider.

 

Think about this: usury now colors every exchange in our financial institutions.  The banks lend to us, the people, at interest-- and in the case of the sub-prime mortgage crisis at insanely high, loan-sharking interest.  They might call themselves things like "Bank of America" but to them, we, their debtors, are obviously foreigners.

 

The Occupy Movement as a Gift Society

Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the movement against the banks, against our financial institutions and corrupt government and corporations calls itself an "Occupation" and takes the form of physical encampments.

 

We are occupying Wall Street and occupying symbolic squares and parks in our hometowns because the banks have made themselves foreigners to us through their usury.  We have no fellow-feeling and good-will for them because we have no trace of a gift relationship with them. They've destroyed the spirit of the gift through their rapacious lust to control and their absolute unwillingness to trust.

 

They've treated us, the people, their fellow citizens, like strangers.

 

To speak in biblical terms, our financial institutions have committed grave sins and the consequences of those sins are alienation and disunity.

 

It is absolutely no accident that the Occupy encampments in NYC and throughout the world are operating as communal gift economies with free healthcare (in the form of medic tents), free education (in the form of teach-ins, speakers, and lending libraries), free food, free shelter (in the form of donated tents, clothing, sleeping bags, etc.), and free entertainment (as people share their musical and artistic skills).

 

The Occupy encampments are modeling the living power of the spirit of the gift which the banks, corporations, and corrupt government of the United States had sought to destroy through usury, among other means.

 

Debts create suspicion, scarcity, distrust and death.  Gifts create love, abundance, trust and life.

 

Why doesn't Occupy need to articulate demands?

In the Occupy movement, the spirit of the gift is rising up and roaring through the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. This is what makes it enormously powerful and wonderful.

 

This is why it doesn't need to "articulate demands." The demand of the movement is implicit in its very existence.  The medium is the message.  Gifts, not debts. Consensus, not tyranny. Community, not commodity. The time has come. The spirit will prevail.

 

Check out this tour of the gift community at the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment, given by yours truly:

 

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTMvFWhjNq8

 

Love!

Carolyn

Genius Interview #1: DJ Nice Nate

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkZQs4CR4Fk  

Nice Nate is my favorite DJ / electronic musician and also a really rad guy.

 

In this interview Nate relates a death experience he had which gave him first-hand penetrating insights on the nature of the soul and the importance of doing your art, even if it kills you.

 

Check out a few of his transporting tracks:

Tremors

Asura

Samsara

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on September 5, 2011 and filed under Creativity.

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.

Become a Visionary

Dear Reader, Do you demure from expressing yourself creatively? Do you insist that you don't have the time or money to acquire the necessary training, skills, and materials requisite to being an artist?

Do you bemoan that whatever kind of work you do isn't fashionable, isn't desired, isn't wanted by the world? Is your name Carolyn Elliott? Because I do all that stuff, every day.

Ever since I was old enough to realize I could get attention with my artistic stylings I've been hobbled by chains of perfectionism and caring-what-others-think tempered in the hands of demonic smithys under the mighty mountain forgery of Self-Doubt.  It's a painful condition. But I'm getting over myself, in large part thanks to inspiration from visionary art.

The Art that Forgets Its Name

What's visionary art? According to the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, the term

refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." In short, visionary art begins by listening to the inner voices of the soul, and often may not even be thought of as 'art' by its creator.

So visionary art, much of which is so freakin' cool it makes me quiver (check out that mosaic mirrored egg!), is made by people who lack formal artistic training.  Indeed, it's very often made by people who are in some way marginalized by society and who lack financial resources. Hmmm.  As I consider the vast wonder of things made by self-taught and under-advantaged creators, I begin to seriously lose my excuses for not making more stuff myself.

The thing which really fascinates me about visionary art though, is that its creators often don't even consider it to be art. They just think of it as a necessary expression of their intuition. The section on the American Visionary Art Museum's website which describes the difference between traditional folk art and visionary art goes into more detail on this matter, and I find it so compelling that I have to share it with you:

The essential difference between the two [folk artists and visionary artists], though both may at times use similar materials and methods, is that visionary artists don't listen to anyone else's traditions. They invent their own. They hear their own inner voice so resoundingly that they may not even think of what they do as 'art.' Dubuffet's beloved Art Brut Collections, formed exclusively from the "raw art" creations of non-artists, such as street people, hermits, factory workers, housewives and psychic mediums, motivated him to say: "Art is at its best when it forgets its very name." It is this listening to one's inner voice with such focused attention that contributes to the unusually large number of visionary art works -many of which took decades to create. Yet there are still common threads. The most common theme of visionary artists worldwide is the backyard recreation of the Garden of Eden and other utopian visions -quite literally building heaven on earth.

On reflection, I think I have to agree with Mr. Dubuffet that "Art is at its best when it forgets its very name." I've spent many hours in fine art museums in America and Europe. I volunteered for years at the Carnegie Art Museum and the Andy Warhol Museum. And yet nothing that I've seen in the fine art category grips me as much as art brut.

And isn't it wild that the most common theme of this work is the recreation of the Garden of Eden? Knowing this reminds me of the trippy aboriginal greatness of Womb With Three Births, a work produced by two of my favorite (largely self-taught) geniuses, Sigh Meltingstar and Eliza Bishop, for a show I curated this past summer at the International Children's Gallery on Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh.

When I ponder the truth that art is best when it forgets its name, I get a little sad.  I remember all the times I forced myself to do something serious with words or paint or clay because I was indeed aiming to make "art." In my self-imposed seriousness, I've drained most all of the fun out of creating and often ended up with stuff that induced yawns rather than yelps of joy.

A few weeks ago I decided to surrender my conditioned desire to make "art" and instead relax into my authentic preference to produce cool stuff in accordance with the dictates of my inner voice and share it with others by whatever means necessary.

So far, the results have been really fun-- I've started making songs with my friend Jane for our freak folk project and I wrote and performed my first few minutes of stand up comedy.

In the coming days I'll be sharing thoughts and prompts on making the transition from stifled-by-seriousness to trembling-visionary-glitter-bombness.

Love,

Carolyn

 

Image Credit: Picture by LollyKnit of a sculpture in the American Visionary Art Museum, borrowed from Flickr under Creative Commons licensing.

Innocence amid the Zombie Apocalypse

Dear Reader, In a post on The Absent Narrative from way back in December, my deep-thinking friend Tait McKenzie Johnson reflects upon his life-long sense that there's something amiss in our modern world.

Johnson considers that this something amiss is a set of actions and values which colludes to either steal our souls or, if we ascribe to the romantic Coleridgean / Keatsian idea that individual souls are not inborn but rather made as we go through life, that these actions and values collude to prevent our souls from taking shape.

I do, by the way, ascribe to romantic notion that individual souls are made rather than born.  As Keats suggested in his letters, I think we're all born with sparks of divinity, and then by means of poetic inquiry (aka alchemy) we learn to read the world through our hearts and thus forge our own individual souls as distinct aspects of the divine.

And I think that Johnson is on to something when he offers that there are anti-soul actions and values at work in the world.  He writes:

Granted, I’m not entirely sure what a soul is or where it resides – this has been contended for centuries – but I do know from experience that there is some part of ourselves that, if intact or developed, enables the only honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life beyond our most immediate animal interests. Without this, life grows meaningless and absurd, and we bury our heads in the sand avoiding anything beyond the struggle to pleasurably survive from day to day, and even that with far less pleasure than we would like.

Johnson is right to suggest that the soul is the part of ourselves which "enables the only honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life beyond our most immediate animal interests." I never thought of it that way before, but it sure rings true. It's a definition that also coincides with my experience about how the soul is made through a process of contemplative truth-seeking and the subsequent creative expression of those truths discovered-- a process which might likewise be described as the "honest, free, and responsible response to the totality of life."

Wherein Zombies Devour Our Brains

Johnson goes on to offer that the symbolic weight of the soul is made legible in our culture through the representation of its absence in images of zombie apocalypse, images which continue to grow in popularity. And of course, he's right: what better depicts soul-lessness than a glassy-eyed ghoul trying to eat your brains? Heck, what's a better metaphor for our American consumerism than a ghoul trying to eat your brains?

Finally, Johnson offers what is for me a very thought-provoking list of the actions and values present in the world which deny or suppress the soul. Here I offer just a selection of items that resonate especially powerfully with me from the full list:

- The objectification of our own bodies and desires

- The quantatative monetization of all ideas/values/objects

- The exploitation of the natural material world as something corrupt and given to our dominion

- The dogmatic demand for a literal and singular Truth

- The glorification of violence as a problem solver and form of entertainment

- The embarrassment of sincerity and engagement leading to an ironic, belittling emotional detachment

- The giving away of personal choice to corporations whose options for us don’t fill our best interests

- The denial of imagination and myth as having real world validity and effect

- The insistence that the way the world is now is the way it will always be, despite all evidence otherwise

- And if the world does change, it can only do so through an outside cataclysm rather than by our choice toward a new positive future

Yes, we've got soul-threatening problems, and Johnson sums it up very well.

So what can we do to defend ourselves against the soulless zombie apocalypse?

I suggest practicing innocence.

Cultivating Innocence

Innocence, like optimism, gets a bad rap these days.  We tend to think of it as something exclusively belonging to children or to the developmentally different.  For an adult in full possession of all her faculties to cultivate innocence sounds like a weird notion.

I went to pre-school at a Roman Catholic elementary called Holy Innocents. Lovely title for an elementary school, right? Yeah, it was named after the hundreds of infants whom King Herod had slaughtered in his efforts to prevent the prophesied birth of Jesus.

The day they told me this I started crying and wouldn't stop until my mother came to pick me up.

I got the idea pretty well that day that innocence is a liability-- it means you're vulnerable and unprotected, available to be slaughtered by any unscrupulous authority that comes along.

We tend to not value innocence as a virtue because we associate it with the extreme vulnerability of childhood.  In the process of becoming adults, we all suffered various blows to our innocence which woke us up to the fact that the world isn't always kind, and we ourselves can harbor motives and desires which are significantly less than pure. Within this process, we learn to value sophistication above innocence.

The Problem with Sophistication

There's a bit of a problem with loving sophistication-- namely, that "sophistication" is word which describes the process of becoming sophistic -- i.e., like a sophist. Let's consider for a few minutes if we want to be like sophists.  The sophists were travelling teachers of rhetoric in Ancient Greece who charged students lots of money in order to learn the art of rhetoric, namely,  persuasion.  Rhetorical persuasion is, of course, a perennially valuable skill, useful in the market place, in law, and in politics-- in pretty much everything.

The philosopher Socrates had a major problem with the sophists: why? Because the sophists weren't interested in teaching their students to discern truth through their arguments-- just in teaching their students to sound really great.  The sophists offered that it wasn't their concern whether their students used their rhetorical skills for good or for ill, for truth or for falsehood-- rhetoric was just a skill like any other, able to be used for any ends.

Socrates insisted that the art of rhetoric, of argumentation and persuasion, should be used to direct people toward the true and the beautiful.

So how did things play out? Well, the sophists got richer and the people of Athens forced Socrates to drink hemlock and die.

Hmmmm. Maybe I'm not yet offering a very convincing case for innocence.

Why Socrates Rocked

My point, though, is this.  Probably all of you dear readers recognize the name Socrates. Probably very few of you recognize the name Gorgias, who was the most famous sophist in Socrates' time.

In the short term, the world rewards sophistry because it's an efficient means of achieving results which society already thinks useful (start a war, win a law suit) or producing complex arguments which make you look super-smart. Sophistry can be incredibly subtle and fascinating. Most all of modern humanities study, for example, is sophistic.

But over time, the world celebrates radical innocence because it's a means of arriving at truly new thoughts -- ideas which reveal something genuinely fresh and valuable, which don't just achieve an already-known and desired end within the socially established game of life but which alter the whole game itself by revealing new facets of the imaginative and spiritual principles which underlie reality.

The new thoughts which emerge from radical innocence are valued across time and throughout the world because they're genuinely liberating, and there is nothing so exhilarating as liberation.

Genuine new thought is always threatening to the social world in which it immediately emerges, because it's not bound by that social game.  Therefore, the radically innocent people who bring forth liberating new thoughts can be seen as villains and dangers by the societies in which they live.  This is what happened to Socrates.

Socrates was said to have claimed that the only thing he knew for sure was that he didn't know-- a statement of radical innocence if there ever was one. Some folks have suggested that that claim was just a wily fake-out on Socrates' part, and that he actually thought himself quite clever.

I'm inclined to think that Plato, Socrates' student who wrote dialogues depicting Socrates at work  (dialogues which constitute most of our lore about Socrates) was indeed a wily guy who thought himself quite clever-- but that Socrates, the historical figure who was Plato's actual teacher and not just the character depicted in Plato's dialogues, was genuinely a radical innocent. If he wasn't, I don't think he could have elicited so much fresh new thought among the youth of Athens that the authorities would have seen the need to put him to death.

Why Only Innocence Can Defeat the Zombie Apocalypse

Okay, so there are all these zombies.  They're intent on eating human brains, so the general human impulse is to fight back: blow off the zombies' heads with double-barrel shotguns, for example. Trouble is, that's not really a long-term solution, is it? There are far more zombies than bullets.  And building better anti-zombie weapons won't really help either. Zombies are a kind of self-renewing violent parasite: they can reproduce by attacking humans as long as humans continue to reproduce.

Furthermore, they're very single-minded in their goal. Unlike human opponents, zombies don't get demoralized and just give up when they feel outnumbered.  They already are dead, so they don't mourn their dead.  They're going to come after our brains indefinitely. Regular ingenuity, the kind which produces more and more sophisticated weapons and strategies is not going to solve this problem.

In other words, shooting zombies is a video-game type activity that can go on endlessly. It's no way to live.

In order to halt the onslaught of soulless brain-eaters, we need a new game altogether.  We need to see things from a completely different point of view, and change the field of play. We don't need sophisticated weapons and fighting strategies-- we need a truly new thought, a fresh perception of the nature of reality that will alter what we know to be possible.

The zombies are our own dead, our own past which has risen up from where we buried it and become poisonous, aggressive and malignant.  Zombies are the legacy of our old paradigms, a relentless hoard bent on consumption.

In order to defeat them, we need radical innocence.  Zombies don't really just want to eat our brains. They want us to truly use them.

So what's the new insight? What's the new game? Man, I don't quite know.  But we'll continue to see representations of zombies in our popular culture and we'll continue to be assaulted by all the troubling actions and values that Johnson lists until we're able to stretch ourselves wide open and find another way.

Love,

Carolyn

 

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