This photo challenge is familiar. In 2012, there was a similar challenge which I responded to in this fashion. I still blog about all those things, but lately, I’ve come to realize that I have been going through an evolution inspired by a specific concept: WILDERNESS. In fact, I have an entire page set up to link to my wilderness posts. (Feel free to browse around there!) This last weekend, Steve and I went to find some wilderness in the U.P. (the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). Sure enough, there were 3 federally designated wilderness areas in the western portion of that state. We went to the Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness in the Ottawa National Forest. In 1987, logging operations there ceased and the logging roads were left to return to wilderness. We were told by a forest ranger that the old road is a 7.5 mile “trail” that traverses the wilderness and given a map. She warned us, though, that it’s not maintained. We attempted to hike from both trail heads, but only got about 50 feet along before we realized that we would be foolish to go any further. As I headed back toward the car, I realized that I was crying. Not because I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to hike there, but for a very different, special reason. It was as if I had been invited into the sanctuary of a foreign religion or to spend half an hour on a different planet. I was humbled. I was in awe. I felt a reverence for the place that put my presence in profound perspective. It wasn’t quite like I didn’t belong; it was that I belonged no more especially than anything else there, even the tiniest fungus spore. It was a supreme experience of equality. I did not dominate in any way. I jokingly told Steve that this was a place “where men are food and flies are king”, but I was feeling anything but glib in my soul.
Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness, Upper Peninsula Michigan
To find yourself in the sanctuary of wilderness is to feel the breath of the Divine all around. Breathe it in. Be inspired.
I whole-heartedly approve of this prompt. I can play the magician and slice my picture in half to give you a thrill. How do you want them? Diagonal (like the upscale peanut butter & jelly sandwich), horizontal (typical of landscapes and layer cakes), or vertical (which is my favorite, I think, because I like going through life side by side)?
This article is my submission to the July edition of The BeZine. For the table of contents with links to my colleague’s work, click here.
“THE CRITIC AS ARTIST: WITH SOME REMARKS UPON THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING NOTHING” — Oscar Wilde wrote this essay in the form of a dialogue between two characters, Gilbert and Ernest, in the library of a house in Piccadilly. Here are some key quotes from that piece:
“The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it. That is not the least of the tasks in store for the critical spirit.”
“When man acts he is a puppet. When he describes he is a poet.”
I confess I have not read The Critic As Artist in its entirety and so have not discovered Wilde’s “remarks upon the importance of doing nothing”. However, I do have some understanding of our critical mind, the ways we apply it, and the results of being dominated by it.
First of all, what is ‘the critical spirit’? I think what the author is getting at is the individual thought process that creates meaning. What we ‘know’ of the world might be broken into 3 categories: Fact, Experience and Story. Fact is the measured detail of life — how old it is, how big it is, how it reacts chemically, that kind of thing. We learn some things from it, but it has no emotional arch, no meaning.
Experience is the raw sensation of the moment: emotions, smells, sounds, tastes, sights, awareness, feeling. It is how we know we are alive.
And then there’s Story, and this is how we are all poets: we take in data, we see events transpire, we feel emotion and sensation, and then, we put that together into a narrative that makes ‘sense’ to us. We have created a story, a meaning, and attached it to history. That work is largely supervised by our Ego as our thought processes select and omit and weigh the data according to our own preferences and values. We imagine and imitate what we like, we suppress what we don’t; we spin what comes out. These stories become part of the body of data that we use to create further meaning as well. It is essential to realize that we are constantly making up stories. Civilization is a story. Religion is a story. Philosophy and Art and Psychology and Anthropology and so many other pursuits are simply ways that we have manufactured meaning by creating stories. There is wonderful wisdom in recognizing “the danger of a single story”, and so it is a fortunate thing to have so many different ones. (a Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, fleshes this out in her profound TED talk, HERE) Stories are ubiquitous. There is no ‘right’ story. Good stories point at Truth, but there are lots of ways to construct them.
This awareness of the creation of story by your own Ego is the key to “the importance of doing nothing” as well. The plethora of stories and the facility of story-telling in our culture tends to dominate our reactions and expectations, creating drama, manipulation and anxiety along with meaning. In some ways, we want that. We find it exciting. But it’s also exhausting and can be exploitative. To be able to leave the story-telling aside and simply BE is important for my well-being and my personal peace. Meditation is helpful in the practice of stilling the ego and refraining from making up meaning. When I concentrate on the present moment and return to the simple activity of breathing, I allow the world to be what it is instead of conscripting it into the service of my creative ego. Then I am free to relax my mind and let go of my anxieties about how the story will turn out. My energy is renewed, and I am at peace. (This is a practice that I am only just beginning to employ. Awareness is the first step!)
“The imagination imitates; it is the critical spirit that creates.” We are invited to engage with the world on many different levels, all of which can be useful and appropriate at certain times. Wisdom is the art of choosing how to engage in a way that is edifying for yourself and others. For everything, there is a season: a time to imitate, a time to create, and a time to refrain from creative ego activity. May each of us find joy in the exploration of this Wisdom and delight where we recognize this exploration in others!
Today is my father’s birthday. He’s been dead for 5 years, but his influence on my life has been incredibly profound. I look through my photos and recognize him in symbolic images that point to something he represented in my life. Representation is a well-developed part of human culture. We use it in language, art, religion, philosophy, identity and so many other ways. The real challenge we ‘civilized’ folk have is to strip away representations and come face-to-face with actual entities. My father was highly educated and an educator himself. His facility with symbol was quite advanced: he was a mathematician and a writer and combined those skills in his career as a Technical Writer. I am grateful for the symbols I still see that remind me of his life, his personality, his love.
My photos are valuable symbols to me. Especially when I can’t access the actual things they represent. I miss you, Dad. Rest in peace.
…is a symbol of the fluidity of life. We pass through, but may we not also pass around or over? Most often, I believe, doors are constructions of our own egos, our own consciousness. We perceive doors even where there are none, just as we construct walls in the wilderness for no reason other than to give us a sense of boundaries. Why do we find boundaries and closed doors comforting? Maybe because they give us an excuse for setting limits. Maybe that’s how they make us feel safe. Where do you build doorways? How would you feel in a place where there were none?