I am overwhelmed by this moment. All that I have and have not seem caught up in watching this cinematic event. Meanwhile, the line here at Starbucks has grown suddenly long and I am surrounded, too, by the logistics of daily minutia also playing out before me. So many people going so many places doing so many things, reacting to the prospect of a longer than anticipated wait for their coffee, latte, chai tea, juice, pastry, moment of comfort.
And it is in this moment that I find the purpose for this journey. I am not here to see mountains or sit in campsites or play golf or not play golf or make a fire or not to make a fire or to exercise or not to exercise or to cover ground not covered before because somehow it matters whether ground gets covered in a life that is ultimately much too finite to cover all the ground that might be covered. Ultimately the question turns back to what to do with the ground that gets covered and that question needs must be answered in a consideration of how we see that ground and how it affects us and how we express that effect. Somehow it matters, must matter, whether we find a way to make meaning of what we see and find a way to engage that meaning.
I had an email from my father this morning in response to recent blog entries in which he offered a remarkable range of purposes that writers have proposed in regard to their travels. I include his thoughts here.
Paul Threroux preferred traveling by train and found opportunities to write at odd times. He was interested it how people were living, based on what he could see from the train in open country and at train stations in different cultures. He wrote about encounters with local folks as he negotiated moving about town and finding meals and lodging. He seemed to be able to tolerate being away from home for fairly long periods of time.Meanwhile, Scot Torkelson posted this on his facebook page,
Carol Strayed in her Wild:From Lost to Found, tells of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs through the Rocky Mountains. As she tells her story, she started out with her personal life in tatters, but be the end of her long and difficult journey she had discovered who she was and celebrated a new sense of self esteem and self confidence.
Another traveler lamented the dilemma of when he was home he yearned for the road and when he was on the road he yearned for home.
For me the best parts of our trip were the opportunities to tell our stories and explore ideas about being in the world.The solitary times while hiking or sitting around the camp site worked okay for me thanks in part from various experiences of meditative disciplines practiced through the years.
I've noticed with this trip as well as with other trips that I benefit from looking at my life from a different point of view. Seems as though getting at a distance give me a place to stand and see things in a new way.
"Have you ever thought about it? We want to be famous as a writer, as a poet, as a painter, as a politician, as a singer, or what you will. Why? Because we really don’t love what we are doing. If you loved to sing, or to paint, or to write poems, if you really loved it you would not be concerned with whether you are famous or not. To want to be famous is tawdry, trivial, stupid, it has no meaning; but, because we don’t love what we are doing, we want to enrich ourselves with fame. Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love success and not what we are doing. The result has become more important than the action.You know, it is good to hide your brilliance under a bushel, to be anonymous, to love what you are doing and not to show off. It is good to be kind without a name. That does not make you famous, it does not cause your photograph to appear in the newspapers. Politicians do not come to your door. You are just a creative human being living anonymously, and in that there is richness and great beauty."And I was reflecting on being lonely and isolated, and yet being completely engaged by watching people along the way and by meeting, howsoever briefly, others on their own journey's, whether far from home or just around the corner from home.
-- Jiddu Krishnamurti
And this question of art seems completely wrapped up in a question of purpose and both seem wrapped up in the question of our relationship to each other so poignantly expressed by my couple in the window. All of these things matter in some way that we spend our entire lives searching to understand. For some, the expression of this nexus of ideas is self-evident. People who write, or paint, or do some specific expressive thing through which all of their spiritual energies clearly flow. To some extent I think my journey has been to find that path, not the path of activity but the path of spirituality, or creativity since in my mind these things are synonymous.
I come back to David Brooks' book, The Social Animal, because of two ideas that it contains that I think also are foundational to this conversation. The first is that all living is relational. Our minds are social organisms and to isolate the self from the other is wholly impossible. When we are whole and complete is only in that we are actualized within the social experience. Meditation may be a solitary experience, but I believe it is in the extent to which it connects us to a universal, and therefore wholly social state of being that it is transcendent. Not that I speak from experience here. My experience with meditation comes more from Csikszentmihalyi's flow than from an intentional stilling. However you see this, what strikes me is that if you accept the premise that life, living, knowing, being is essentially social, then art, too, is essentially social. When Krishnamurti speaks of expressing our brilliance under a bushel, I do not believe he means that art is best in isolation, but rather that art is best when it is expressed for its own sake, rather than for personal gain. Yet even art for its own sake begs an audience. A painting not seen is the less for it. A book not read falls short in some way. A play not watched is only a rehearsal.
The second idea that I think plays into this line of thinking is something that I have been exploring for some time and which has been coloring my reflections throughout this journey. When we make a decision, we use almost none of our conscious thought processes. I do not recall the specific statistics, but when we make a decision we engage tens of millions of synapses, of which only 2 or 3 percent are at the conscious level of thought. Most of our decisions flow from unconscious processes that are driven by the context we are in and the accumulation of experiences stored so enigmatically in our minds. What we love, what we hate, what we need, what we want, what we value...what we do...all of these things are driven by that subconscious self that is the greater part of who we are. It is probably the great sin of much of modern religion that it believes us to be in control of ourselves in ways that are deeply flawed. That, however, is not the point.
What is the point, for me, is to circle back to this question of purpose, and art, and relationship, and to then consider choice. For, although I have always maintained a connection with purpose, art and relationship, it has largely been a connection filled with internal conflict and ambivalence. I have thought about the expressive voice in a range of contexts, but find that I am too easily distracted by the world around me to be particularly successful at any of them. Even theater, in which I am currently making a choice to intensify my engagement, is a place where I struggle to find the center of expression.
In the short run, then, the purpose which I am examining during this journey is not the purpose of the journey itself, since that would be a bit circular in the first place, but to consider the purpose of my relationship to art and to the world. Am I an artist? If so, who am I as an artist? What does that even mean? What is the relationship of art to skill? Does skill develop out of the expression of the art? Or does the art develop out of the skills intrinsic to the self?
Lots of people smarter than I have engaged these questions. While great ideas have been expressed by those great thinkers, answers are as elusive as self-knowledge.
I believe that to live within the center of these ideas is a gift. It is a gift that needs must rest on the gifts we have to bring to the table. Self-knowledge contains at least in part an understanding of our gifts and it is a knowledge of gifts that I seek. I can mess around with a lot of things, but is there a gift there that I can explore, whether under a bushel or not?
Because I do know a great moment on the stage when I see it. I know it when I see it in the window at Starbucks. But is this a gift? Can't anyone see it? Can I create it? Do I have the necessary gifts to capture everything my mind, in its extraordinary subconscious capacity, and focus the resultant insights and values onto moments in a dark room and in front of an audience of at least one.
Clearly, then, (shoutout to Barb Olson) this journey, which is in preparation for a three year exploration of this last question, is about reflecting on what has gone before in regard to this expression of the intersection of art, purpose, and relationship; and also about reflecting on what comes next in that pursuit.
All of which reminds me that this journey is only useful to the extent that it does this thing. This thing I have been calling reflection. And so the fact that the last fourty-eight hours have been the most difficult and emotionally challenging and that the turmoil is occurring within a context that allows the turmoil to be captured and processed, is the whole point. When the immediate journey ends the life that is led thereafter needs must have within it that space that is required for continued reflection and expression.
An old man asks if the comfy chair across from me is open, and I extoll him to sit as the chair is clearly waiting for him with open arms. And I am reminded that life is theater, more so than theater is life. The living of life is the real art and all art is a desperate attempt to capture the art of life and share it. We wish so much to say to the world, "Look, world, at how beautiful you are!" and to have the world see it. It may be true that the pursuit of this expression is sufficient and of value without fame or recognition, but it is also true that it is a shout of joy, or pain, or love, and that a shout is given out to be heard.