Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birds Flying High

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin' on by you know how I feel

It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good 

- Nina Simone, I'm Feeling Good 

* * *

At the end of the day, the question must be asked: In what manner did I live today? This is not a simple question, for the likely answer given by the great most of us is that we worked, perhaps at things we do not enjoy, perhaps at things we cannot stomach, but we work because of the grace of our daily obligations to our best beloveds, to ourselves, for food, shelter and love. Some may even work at things that feel right and good and serve a profound sense of self and well-being. But, do you see the problem with these answers? To answer the question about the manner in which one lived the answer is I worked.

I am not here to denigrate the value of work, nor its necessity to maintain hearth and home. But I do want to challenge the default position that work is our primary mode of living. If it is, it shouldn't be. If it isn't, then never let it be.

The idea of work as an ideal state, of difficulty in effort equaling an ideal in man can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Antisthenes the Cynic, a contemporary of Plato's, is the first to make Hercules the ideal for man: Herculean effort is his contribution to the welter of things. But this idea doesn't really grab hold in a dominant way until Immanuel Kant separates Western philosophy from the contemplation of the ways to organize a life and announces that hard work and difficult effort were the markers of a well-organized life. Since then we have overvalued the difficult, turned it into an ideal, at the cost of a wider view of the lives we live.

For years my pride was stoked by my ability to endure, to suffer, to survive another day. Family wondered at the capacity and every bit of it was driven by the idea that if something was difficult and painful it must therefore be worthy, that I was made worthy by the effort. All external evidence indicated I was not a worthy, so I made myself into one by out staring it.

And here's the uneasy thing: sometimes that is true. There are times when you will have to endure, to bear the difficult, to put in a Herculean effort in order get where you are going. The fault lies in believing that is the way of all things at all times. The fault lies in the pride you take out of it. The fault lies in mistaking what is transitory for something that is permanent. The difficult, the work of your days is not your baseline of experience. We've made it so through generations of cultural prohibitions, stories, accruals and unspoken agreements that the Emporer and his clothes look fine, just fine to us.

* * *

There is a point at which words can go no further. There is a point at which science ceases to answer and speculates (about a millisecond after the Big Bang the door closes). There is a truth that is sayable and the rest becomes unsayable–our capacity to express our experience is overrun by the experience of simply being present in our lives. This inability to describe what we are experiencing, be it an exalted physical experience, an emotional recognition that one is loved, or an insight that eclipses the intellect, holds little currency in our lives. Make no mistake, when it happens to us we love it. We are held in thrall. But to try and tell another, to dare to build your live around the message of that moment, to put it into words is to make it small and make it look ridiculous. It doesn't fit into the story of effort and the difficult and work and redemption through effort and work and the difficult. We are sinners and we have been cast out. Now work.

Yet, despite the weight of these inherited notions, our bodies, our senses are capable of experiencing the life in our veins as something other than the toil and moil of debt management. We are still capable of what Campbell called "aesthetic arrest", the ability to be stunned into silence by beauty and enter directly into that moment as both an observer and, miraculously, the observed. The answer as to what is beautiful is, of course, culturally predisposed, but this is less about form and more about the awareness of form. We are still capable of delight that costs no other thing its integrity. This delight is best described by the metaphor of waking up, of seeing with new eyes. And, I will tell you, this is our natural default position. We learn blindness.

* * *

How is one to unlearn this blindness? The world is fraught with dangers. There are insane men doing insane things that don't give a rat's ass about any of this. Exactly. They are the product of the belief in trial and suffering as man's highest art. The violence of our politics and the violence of our religions is a causal effect of this underlying, un-approached, un-challenged belief in the arduous as salvation. Again, there are times when we each must take up the mantle of the difficult to meet a given moment, but it is a critical error to hold onto it as a permanent and absolute good. It isn't. Seeing with new eyes is.

In order to see, to wake up, to be able to set aside the pride in your effort to make others rich, only one thing is required of you: to play. Children are not aware of time when they run. They flow. When you lose yourself doing something you love, something you can make no money off of, something you undertake for the delight of having a body that can do and imagine such a thing, you flow. You have no ability to conceive of stopping, to articulate what is happening. You simply enter it and flow and move and are satisfied down unto your marrow. This is not foreign to you. You know this moment. You have experienced it. It is, my love, who you are.

And there is this: who you are is the unique intersection of the world's phenomena, the history of all phenomena, held in a single body. "That is why every man's story is important, eternal, sacred; that is why every man, as long as he lives and fulfills the will of nature, is wondrous, and worthy of consideration."

* * *

Ms. Simone sings:

Stars when you shine, you know how I feel
Scent of the pine, you know how I feel
Yeah, freedom is mine, and I know how I feel
It's a new dawn 

It's a new day
It's a new life for me
And I'm feelin'... good.

The key there is she knows how she feels. She knows what the stars and the pines know, too.

Now go play.

* * *

I wish you well. 



  1. "If something were difficult and painful, then it must be worthy... And I'm made worthy by the effort"
    I will carry this with me my whole life... I believe that there's nothing that's good or bad that can happen to us, things just happen to a random person at a random moment (well unless we fucked it up in the first place). But even then, what matters most is how we make it out and that makes us better than before.
    Thank for this great post.

    1. Thanks for checking on me. Glad this one worked for you. Cheers.