cartoon by hugh macleod
I don’t want to feel too much. I couldn’t bear to work at an animal shelter, or visit a factory farm or the Tar Sands.
I’m afraid that if I feel too much, I might become even more fearful than I am already. Afraid to lose what I have, what I am. Afraid to live.
I realize that I am driven by aversion to (the many) things I am afraid of*, things which cause me stress, rather than being driven more positively by purpose, intention, or desire. That’s kind of an empty, numb way to live, and one that’s not very useful to the rest of the world. But probably not uncommon.
So I have not really undertaken, or promised, to do much this year or in the future. There is some validity to my excuses: It is both too early and too late. The Jevons Paradox and other attributes of complex systems mitigate strongly against our ability to change them. And there is some value in just ‘being’, and hence aware and able to do what is needed effectively in the moment, rather than making a lot of commitments to doing things in the future and hence overextending oneself. But I think the main reason for my planned inaction is fear.
I’d like to believe my ‘presence’ practice could enable me to get out of this ‘fear cycle’ and transform it to something more natural:
But that’s not who I am, and I no longer count on getting to that place. I have to self-accept. That was the joyful ‘aha’ in yesterday’s poem and in the works that inspired it (apologies to those who took it too seriously).
I have said that what I want to ‘be’ in 2014 is imaginative, provocative, and articulate. These are things I am, rather than things like ‘present’ that I am not and will likely never really be. I can be a conjurer, a provocateur, a crafter of words and ideas without being especially ‘present’. This blog has been, principally, where I offer those capacities of being.
I don’t have many needs, now — I have only ever really needed my freedom, and other than the freedom from the fears that originate inside my own head, I have that. What I’ve been focused on lately is what I want. And I’ve realized that most of the things I think I want (e.g. to live in a warm, beautiful place all year round) are, if I were to be honest, pretty unattainable. For me to be obsessing about them is as unhealthy as obsessing about winning a lottery. So I’m trying to do two things with my unrealistic ‘wants’: (1) understand what’s behind my wanting them so badly, and (2) let them go. As my self-awareness has grown, understanding what’s behind them is pretty easy. But to my surprise, I’m finding that letting go of them isn’t as hard as I thought.
That frees me up to focus on the wants that are relatively attainable (e.g. finding a new Ayurvedic massage therapist), and on the more modest and practical wants that take the place of the unrealistic ones I’m letting go of, and how they can be realized, soon. They’re somewhat self-indulgent but they feel right on my ‘to do’ list. I can see myself checking them off quickly, and enjoying the results. There’s a liberating feeling to having almost no ‘needs’ and few ‘wants’.
So that brings me back to what value I can offer to others in my circles and beyond. How can I heal at least a bit from this frozen, broken, fearful state in order to be able to offer my talents as conjurer, provocateur and crafter of words and ideas more effectively, courageously and boldly, instead of reticently? Or is wanting this healing just another unrealistic want I should let go of?
I recently wrote this letter to a friend:
I really liked the Francis Weller lecture. The other stuff you sent me was harder to relate to, perhaps because my grief is not about death or loss (other than perhaps my loss of innocence) so much as it’s about the ongoing suffering and imprisonment of all life on Earth — it’s grief about agonized living not about dying.
I think that this grief has led me to disconnect (most of the time) — from my body, my instincts, my emotions, and all life on Earth. That disconnection, I think, is relatively common among men, at least in Western society. It’s a means of coping, with fear, with sorrow and grief, with anger, with loss of control. But it means we can’t relate to healing practices in the same way that those who are more connected can.
I also am unable to relate to ritual or ‘spirit’ connection. I can appreciate intellectually that the purpose of ritual is often communion and creating a safe space for the expression of one’s fears and sorrows, but I have no real desire to have (or help others have) such a space. Perhaps that’s the essence of misanthropy, but that’s where I am. While I can accept intellectually that time is nothing more than a mental construct, the idea of connecting with ancestors or descendants just seems absurd. And my appreciation of complexity allows me to grasp how all life on Earth is connected, and how what ‘is’ is an emergence, a complicity of all life (Gaia theory), but that appreciation doesn’t enable me to accept that I can have some kind of ‘spiritual’ connection (beyond recognition and respect) with another individual creature.
I’m with Weller in his argument that a “hardened heart” is the antithesis of resilience, and he’s probably right that development of resilience (through enabling a healing of the grief we all carry) is best done communally. But despite that, I’m thinking I might at least initially have to find a different healing vector than the one your group is employing together — one more about self-exploration than ritual, and more about personal courage than communion. A different and probably longer learning path, perhaps, but maybe the one I have to follow.
So that’s where I am, as 2014 begins. You’ll probably see more creative/imaginative work (including video, music, games and other forms of play) on this blog and elsewhere from me, and a substantive Manifesto on Embracing Complexity. I might also invite you to a small group video conversation on some issue we both seem to care about, which we might record and publish.
Mostly, I think, and hope, you’ll see me (or not) being more playful, faring forward. Play is, I think, a good practice for a conjurer, a provocateur, and a crafter of words and ideas (hence the title of this post). It’s also probably a good tool for dealing with fear, and for healing. And, perhaps, for learning to be humble, effective and even a bit more present. Obscurity may be pin-headed and unkind, but ambiguity leaves room for improbable discovery, evocation, and magic.
* My principal fears these days, if you’re curious: fear of being trapped (physically or emotionally), constrained or demanded upon; fear of suffering: injury, pain, deprivation, illness, causing/inability to cope with with loved ones’ suffering, humiliation, criticism, failure (e.g. that my creative work will never be very good), anomie, being ordinary; fear of loss of love, security, pride and control; fear of others’ irrational, cruel, disrespectful and manipulative behaviour, and my (over-)reaction to that behaviour; fear of nature (sigh).