Sunday, February 4, 2018

Imagination and Liberation

In Grandpa’s Walking Stick, Chad K. Slagle sings that his Grandpa taught him to close his eyes when he really wanted to see. Two weeks ago, I had the great fortune of having (seemingly) successful laser eye surgery to correct my vision, and realized during recovery what he meant in a deeper way. I’ve known for quite some time now that a key to "modern" life, or at least to peace and joy in it, is to be intentional and consciously cultivate peace, stillness, and clarity. I encounter so many distractions on a daily basis, and it is an act of great strength to sit quietly with myself and others, perhaps with eyes closed, or to walk out in a peaceful landscape. I see most clearly in the times when I’m being intentional with my action and inaction.

There was nothing like stinging, itchy, teary eyes to convince me to keep my eyes closed. My family and friends were so generous with their time and energy during my healing, and I would not have healed as well without their care. What struck me was that they came to see me even though I couldn’t really do anything, just to check on me, be with me, and take care of me. I’ve reflected on how my own focus is often on doing something with someone, rather than just being with them. Of course, both can happen simultaneously, but I could definitely place more emphasis on just being with someone, fully present.

In the times when I was alone, eyes closed, my other senses came alive. I used touch to feel around for eye drops and eye shields. I unfortunately tasted the nasty eye drops that made their way through the channels of my eye down the back of my throat. I had queued a few podcasts up in anticipation of my recovery, and so I also used my hearing to an uncommon degree. I’d been meaning to listen to these particular podcasts for some time, and only then, when I absolutely could not do anything else, took the time. This is how life often goes for me; circumstances force certain situations which often yield benefits that I could be getting every day, if I only made the time. I know that I won’t always make the time, and so I cherish these reminders and times of realization, where I’m grateful for warmth and a warm bed, friends and family, the time to reflect on and assess where I am and where I want to be going.

Imagination, creativity

In one particular podcast I listened to, A New and Ancient Story, Charles Eisenstein and Satish Kumar discuss how many of us have lost our imaginations in industrial society. This statement really hit home for me. The lack of imagination and creativity is a huge reason why I have been so dissatisfied with my societal academic and income-earning pursuits. While they have earned me praise and money, they have been almost entirely devoid of imagination. My employers tolerated just a small amount of “outside of the box” thinking, but, in the end, they called on me to produce quality-assured, uniform-grade “products” acceptable to the institutional gatekeepers. Society gives license for imagination to children and inventors of fanciful profitable technologies, and perhaps also to starving artists, though, by the name, one can tell that this is a license with a huge caveat. As a starving artist, one can gain respect in name, but that respect is not met with the rewards of society, such as the ability to afford the best or any health care, and the luxury to spend freely on things like laser eye surgery. It is the fear of not having the seeming certainty that an employer provides, once I’ve had it, that has kept me going so long down a dull and uncreative path. To be fair, it also took me many years to gain the confidence to live an unconventional life (by East Coast U.S. societal standards), and I have so many to thank for helping me on that journey. In talking with many of my friends and acquaintances, this fear of leaving behind what appears to be certainty and comfort is common and has kept many stuck in bad places.

No imagination, no creativity

What a shame. What is the point of having our brain capability if we are not able to exercise our imaginations, express our emotions, live out our desires in a way that meets our needs? And I mean truly meets our needs in a meaningful, imaginative, way, without pre-designed boxes within which imagination must fit? Every day that I wake up, the ecological integrity of the planet continues to be ransacked, despite the efforts of many to make things less bad. This fact assures me that imagination and new relationships with all of the beings on this planet are needed. The way the dominant culture operates does not work. What excuse do I have for not participating in helping to create a different way?

Over the past couple of weeks, partly as a result of my limited vision and having to slow down, partly as a result of the inspiring conversations I’ve listened to, I’ve been repeating to myself that I must not allow myself to be broken. No, I must not allow myself to be broken by the societal machine, the talking heads on repeat saying that society is the way it is for good reason, that things will get better in the future (they just have to!), that “someone’s working on a solution for x,” and so on and so on.

I’ve realized how close I have come to being broken. I’ve nearly crashed on several occasions: bad relationships, questionable mentors and advice, denial, escapism, workaholism. I educated my mind for 26 years and sadly neglected my soul and mistrusted my feelings and experience. I was nearly broken into a drone repeating the tired, cliche phrases, like, “that’s just the way the world is.” I was almost broken into embodying the belief that everything can be explained scientifically and broken down into reason and logic. Though I actually have come to accept the world (read: industrial society) as it is, there is a critical, damaging message underneath “that’s just the way the world is.” The purveyors of this phrase mean that you should step in line. They are telling you to play the game, because the structure of society is the way it is for good reason, and it can be made better, and even great, with small tweaks. They are trying to make you feel powerless and complacent. 

This way of thinking and being is wrong and very damaging to those who see that a new, sane way is possible, those who see clearly that the dominant system is not serving most people and is most certainly not serving the majority of beings on this Earth. I have been profoundly liberated by accepting that the world is really messed up (more specifically, that the human collective has messed it up) and that I want to participate as little as possible in the parts of society that continue messing it up. It is naive to think that those of us able to write and read on the world wide web will be able to escape the throws of global civilization completely, but there are several ways to move toward that end. There are many people doing so, and I am so excited to join their ranks in the coming months and years.

Bad imagination, no creativity, delusion

Last week, after half a day spent staring at a blurry screen at my job (subjecting myself to such torture for blurry reasons altogether), I ran home from the train stop in my work costume. I was exhilarated. The world was blurry, as my eyes are still healing, but liberation felt, and still feels, so near. I’m thankful for the time in which I needed to heal, in that it allowed me to close my eyes and see at a time in my life when my eyes are constantly being taken by many distractions. In my recovery and rest, I’ve been given a taste of what life will be like when I am more free, when I have more of a say in my own daily activities. That time, in fact, is not even a month away! My needs will remain the same: shelter, water, food, nature connection, close relationships. Each day I will wake up with a mission to meet those needs in the best way possible, in a way that can go on for thousands of years. I will lose many of the societal advantages I have been given, like all the things and services I need to stay alive and (at least physically) well always at an arm's reach. However, nothing brings me more joy than using my skill and imagination, and all of my senses (not the least of which my vision!) to live justly on this Earth, and to be my best for myself and everyone I encounter. I will not allow myself to be broken, because, in the end, it is really only me standing in my own way.