Thursday, October 04, 2018
We are called to plant these seeds in our world: to dare to tell every living soul that they already matter, that their seemingly mundane lives are a slowly unfolding mystery, that their small choices and acts of generosity are vitally important....
We are living in a time of extreme delusion, disorientation, and dishonesty. At this unparalleled moment of self-consciousness and self-loathing, commercial messages have replaced real connection or faith as our guiding religion. These messages depend on convincing us that we don’t have enough yet, and that everything valuable and extraordinary exists outside of ourselves.
Many of us learn to construct a clear and precise vision of what we want, but we’re never taught how to enjoy what we actually have. There will always be more victories to strive for, more strangers to charm, more images to collect and pin to our vision boards. It’s hard to want what we have; it’s far easier to want everything in the world. So this is how we live today: by stuffing ourselves to the gills, yet somehow it only makes us more anxious, more confused, and more hungry. We are hurtling forward — frantic, dissatisfied, and perpetually lost.
It’s not surprising that in a culture dominated by such messages, many people believe that humility will only lead to being crushed under the wheels of capitalism or subsumed by some malevolent force that abhors weakness. Our anxious age erodes our ability to be open and show our hearts to each other. It severs our ability to connect to the purity and magic that we carry around inside us already, without anything to buy, without anything new to become, without any way to conquer and win the shiny luxurious lives we’re told we deserve. So instead of passionately embracing the things we love the most, and in so doing reveal our fragility and self-hatred and sweetness and darkness and fear and everything that makes us whole, we present a fractured, tough, protected self to the world. Our shiny robot soldiers do battle with other shiny robot soldiers, each side calling the other side “terrible,” because in a world that can’t see poetry or recognize the divinity of each living soul, fragility curdles into macho toughness and soulless rage. All nuance is lost in a fearful rush to turn every passing thought or idea or belief into dogma.
Against this landscape, anything that celebrates the wildness and complexity of the human soul is worthy of celebration. This is true in a global sense, in communities, and it’s true within a single human being. The antidote to a world that tells us sick stories about ourselves and poisons us into thinking that we’re helpless is believing in our world and in our communities and in ourselves.
We must reconnect with what it means to be human: fragile, intensely fallible, and constantly humbled. We must believe in and embrace the conflicted nature of humankind. That means that even as we stop trying to live our imaginary, glorious “best lives,” we still have the audacity to believe in our own brilliance and talent and vision — even if that sometimes sounds grandiose, delusional, or unjust. We have to embrace what we already have and be who we already are, but we also have to honor the intensity and romance and longing that batter around inside of our heads and our hearts.
We have to honor the richness of our inner lives and the inherent values that are embedded there. But we should also aim to create a self and a life and an artistic vision that aren’t an escape from ordinary life, but a way of rendering ordinary life for people of every color, shape, size, and background more magical to them. In order to do that, we have to see that every human is divine.
We have to train ourselves to see that with our own eyes. It will fuel us, once we see it. The ordinary people around us, the angry ones and the indifferent ones, the good ones and the bad ones, will start to glow and shimmer.
We have to recognize that when we feel conflicted and sick about our place in the world, that’s often true because our world was built to sell us things and to make us feel inadequate and needy. As the art critic John Berger puts it, in Ways of Seeing:
It is necessary to make an imaginative effort which runs contrary to the whole contemporary trend of the art world: it is necessary to see works of art freed from all the mystique which is attached to them as property objects. It then becomes possible to see them as testimony to the process of their own making instead of as products; to see them in terms of action instead of finished achievement. The question: what went into the making of this? supersedes the collector’s question of: what is this?
We are called to resist viewing ourselves as consumers or as commodities. We are called to savor the process of our own slow, patient development, instead of suffering in an enervated, anxious state over our value and our popularity. We are called to view our actions as important, with or without consecration by forces beyond our control. We are called to plant these seeds in our world: to dare to tell every living soul that they already matter, that their seemingly mundane lives are a slowly unfolding mystery, that their small choices and acts of generosity are vitally important.
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