Thursday, June 25, 2015

Be as You Wish to Seem

I shared some weeks ago about an experience I had receiving a book from a stranger in a coffee shop. The book, Love Does, I am now almost done with. And as it so often happens (book lovers, you will relate), this book came into my life at the time and in the way I needed it most, right now.

I've always loved reading. Always, since I was very young; I'm sure it's why I now feel to naturally inclined to write. As young as elementary school I remember reading books I didn't even really understand (just to learn the words in hopes of using them later, maybe?), to learn things that were a little bit over my head in hopes that the information I was absorbing then may connect to something in the future. 

That's always been a pretty natural way for me to look at the world. Learning can be a survival mechanism when you're young, teaching you new ways to do and see things.

It probably has to do with why I feel a strong creative pull as an adult. In the words of Steve Jobs: 'When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.'

That's what seems natural to me: connecting things, seeing more of the proverbial eagle's eye view, the bigger picture.
And connecting things, like trusting your ability to learn, is personally empowering. It means that given the right conditions, in the right situation, at the right time, you always trust- by proof of constantly experiencing it through the creative process- that the next right thing will happen. To a non-creative thinker, it might seem haphazard or senseless, unsafe; like there's no proverbial rhyme or reason. 

But to the creative thinker, it seems like the only ultimate security. (And very fun.) Creativity is a way of operating that takes you somewhere. It is not necessarily the production of any certain thing: scientists are creative and artists are creative; people who climb mountains are creative and people who are CEOs of companies are creative; people who build strong marriages in a world where marriages don't last, who live whimsical lives in a world of monotony and to-do lists, who keep alive within them who they are in a world which is always suggesting they become something or someone else- those people are creative.

Creative is an a-typical result in a world that operates on straight-lined, in-the-box, single solution thinking. 
I find all the time, as I get older and practice them more, that the ability to both paint and write comes from a place of observing the world around me. There's a primary dedication- for reasons I'm still not so sure of- to first living a life of whimsy, first putting myself (sometimes inconveniently) in the way of beauty, first sort of choosing to look at the world the way a child might (but not childishly): like everything is new. 

This is a choice, a choice to sort of be 'awake-minded.' As a child, it just happens: you haven't seen anything yet. All children are wide-eyed. They don't have to work to find the universe a fascinating, curious place: they haven't been here long enough to know it any other way. They're still exploring and digging things up, still learning- and not yet too inwardly or emotionally complex.

But as adults sometimes, we stop learning- or, at least, we don't put it first. We swap out our very freedom to live free in exchange for mortgages, jobs; mediocre relationships, money; the mentality that paying bills is more important than perhaps engaging in new ways of doing things. The balance gets tipped. So much else comes first now. 

'Responsibilities' are fine- good even, virtuous and admirable. But responsibilities at the expense of calling forth that feeling of knowing who we are and why we're here, of living deeply and living centered, that's gets a little in the way of innovation.

What I am learning though- and learning in real time, as it happens in my very life to the degree that I seek it out- is that there is no shortage of opportunities to grow in a big, bold, whimsical way of actually living, not appearing to live. It's not easy and it takes sacrifice- and faking it is a lot easier than doing it.

The virtual world in particular is trickily good at assisting us in this, making us feel included or connected while in reality often driving us further from a feeling of true, peaceful, actual personal satisfaction. As more and more of us have to navigate living in a world like this, where your best foot forward has to be the you that everybody sees, it's good for image but I think it's bad for who we really are.

It makes for a lot of dissonance: focusing more on what it seems like we are than what we actually are has the two-fold effect of separating us from authenticity by means of a thought process that actually makes it harder for us to get back there. 
I don't think we're ever going to truly crave any less- no matter how quickly what is outside of us evolves- what the inside of us really, really wants: realness, authenticity; to be seen and to be loved and accepted for it, and to simply make our way through the world as we feel we personally were meant to.

That's not an easy cause to fight for in a world that always tells us what else we should be putting first.

And so I am learning this too: that a strong dedication to character development and a divinely-pioneered life (or one that does not always depend on our own, often misguided idea that we have it all figured out) is the ultimate security: consistency in who we are at our centermost, at our core, even while conditions around us change- being personally in touch with and responsible for that being- is the surest immunity to setbacks, challenges, and opposition that we could possibly equip ourselves with. 

I think this is creative too. As soon as your life becomes aligned with principles that not only seem right to you, but are right with something much bigger than you, some heaviness lifts

This book, Love Does, is a collection of parables about what love does- not what love says it's going to do; not about how we talk about living our dreams but how we actually fight, sacrifice, and work to do it; not about how we say we are committed but how we actually commit.

It's a book written from a spiritual perspective, sure, but it easily speaks to the realest part of who I know I am- to who we all maybe know deep down we are. I love the line above: there is nothing wrong with being typical, but there is nothing fundamentally right about it either.

That's nice to be reminded of. When we chose to live a life of wonder, beauty, creativity- there is no fight against the opposite of that, no dire trying to seem like life is like is this way or that. It is a commitment to just doing life that way. It's who we become, not an image we're presenting. It's real.

It is a mere acceptance- beautiful, peaceful, eye-openingly bright- of what feels in practice like the best life we could possibly be living.
When I think of what it means, for me personally, to live a Christ-centered life, that's how I feel: there's nothing right or wrong about it. It's not a choice that I feel is better than other choices (that would be ironic). It's not a looking out at other ways of thinking or spiritually practicing and finding flaws in those ways. It has, healthily, nothing to do with comparison or opinion. 

Be as you wish to seem. These are the words of Socrates, not Jesus, but they point to the same thing: that a lot of times we want to seem a certain way without being that way. This is religion without spirituality, love without sacrifice- life without authenticity. 

Believing is a heart-felt but also intellectual choice- like living creatively, whimsically, connectedly, observantly- that constantly drives me closer to who I am by driving me closer to who my Maker is. And maybe I just see it this way because I make too, but it's not impossible for me- as I deeply inspect the truest nature of my self, how I work, what I see, what I perceive, who I am- to see that just as a painting or a blog post come together (sometimes frustratingly, sometimes in longer than I had hoped, hopefully sometimes beautifully too)- to believe that so I come together, so the lives of all the people around me come together, each made beautiful in their own time. 

In ways- and here is the hard part- I simply can't foresee.
It's like knowing that we are a creative process, as people. There's a kind of hopelessness in thinking about ourselves any other way, that our suffering is an inevitability that isn't particularly shaping us for anything grand- like there's no 'bigger picture' going on. But I can't help but feel that there is.

It's like if I stopped making paintings halfway through the ones where I thought, 'this doesn't look so good' or 'I really messed that up' or (as happens, actually, almost 100% of the time) 'I don't exactly know where I'm going with this.' That's us: we come along sometimes frustratingly, sometimes in longer than we had hoped- but sometimes beautifully too.

It isn't entirely common, but think about how bright a life you could genuinely have if you could learn to believe that you are not entitled to security or comfort, but you are promised a future of freedom and glory. That is what walking with Christ and learning the gospel is about: it's a reverse economy, an a-typical result in a world that operates on straight-lined, in-the-box, single solution thinking. 

The last shall be first, a difficult past will glorify a bright future. Asking the right questions yields more knowledge than knowing the right answers. The joy that is coming is so far beyond the pain that has gone. All as you believe. 

I guess there's a creative component to belief too. Simply put, you have to think it will work, or it won't. A lot of it is trust. A lot of it is choice. A lot of it is being engaged with beauty first, engaged with authentic living first, in the way of whimsy and love and truth first, because that feels like the most right thing.

But it's definitely about engagement: about showing up and doing, so that things just don't seem, but are. It's a joy to get to engage with this world, to be in it, when you take the focus off what you think you should be doing and you deeply immerse yourself in the reality of where you are and what is before you now

It takes time and patience to trust that the dots will connect; that control is the last thing we really need- or have; that continually asking and learning is better than knowing; and that setbacks sometimes work in us to prepare us for something else that we cannot yet foresee. 

That's the kind of thing that love does: it shows up, it trusts, it remains open, it encourages freedom; it arms us not to know- but to trust- how to live; it calls us not to merely seem, but to be.

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