Wednesday, 1 January 2014
A Challenge of Imagination
As a temporarily unemployed professional, I have done a lot of thinking about this process of searching for work in which I find myself these days. People ask questions like, "how are you doing," or "what sort of work are you looking for," or make comments like, "man, it must be rough to not have a job," or "boy, I sure wish I didn't have to be working, too."
I find that being between work does indeed leave a lot to be desired--security and stability, in sum, not to mention the fact that I happen to love working and really miss it. There are times when the narrow reality of my situation presses in on me and I feel my stress rising; blood in my ears and bile in my mouth. Times when I toss and turn instead of sleep, or when my eyes fly open from a deep sleep back to this waking, unsettling insecurity. Many of those who know me probably also know that for all my adventuring, I do actually like structure in my life and I love to work. This is not an easy experience for me.
What I have come to find when I am not holding onto narrow reality or demanding impossible answers to temporally irrelevant questions, however, is that this place of searching for work is a beautiful place to be. There is always something wondrous in being lost and much of the wonder of that comes in what you find along the wandering way.
I think and talk all the time about translating culture across boundaries, about shape and place and space and being. But how often do I think or take the time to consider the possibility of translating the [non-cultural shape of] myself? Now, every day when I look at job descriptions, I think, Can I do this? Do I want to do this? What skills and experiences would I bring into this? Who are they looking for?
I left the realm of "jobs which I obviously and easily can do" behind weeks ago now, and spend time looking at jobs that I would have said were out of my circle of possibility. I think that is wonderful. Searching for work is teaching me to see myself anew every day, and not only to see myself, but to imagine and to re-imagine myself over and again.
It is like acting in a way, looking at a role and saying, do I have something within me that I can call upon and respond to the call of this character to me? Can I embody this being and be it so well that the crowds roar, that my heart soars, that the integrity of the character is satisfied?
But the fact is, it is not actually acting at all: it is a translating of myself: not an act, but a new form of being. Sure, there is this "one me" with the list of things I have done. But we are not defined--should not be defined-- by what we have or have not done. That is what traps people and creates the silent despair so many people suffer through in their daily lives. That is a form of death, I think.
It is our being which matters, and our being is expansive and ever expanding (I think when our being ceases to expand we are like the dead). Our whole, elastic being contains so much more than simply what has been done, what we have accomplished. We are not wearied check lists buried under dusty stacks on a desk.
One of my favourite historical figures (alas that now I no longer have the possibility of dining with him!) is Vaclav Havel. He wrote, in addition to many other world changing things, this incredible speech about the power of the powerless. The fact is, we all have power; we all participate in the shaping of reality. We can pull out from the realm of imagination and enact; we can expand our being and do differently--challenge ourselves and step outside of what we think is possible to discover the boundlessness of possibility and the feebleness of reality.
It is incredibly uncomfortable to push the edges of reality. I think of my childhood, trying to step into a mirror all the time to find the other world and the frustrations when it would not yield to me. Frustration, disappointment, the risk of feeling one's trappedness or smallness after all. But fear is the worst possible jailor, and I refuse to put myself in shackles. If there will be shackles in my future, they will not be because I held out my wrists meekly or shackled myself fearfully. Fear is what keeps us powerless. Fear is what keeps us going in a dead end job because we are too afraid to re-imagine ourselves in a new life, in a new world. Fear is what confines us to one possible reality. Fear is what never lands on the moon.
Imagination is not child's play in the grown up world, but maybe if we exercised it more, or if we played harder and dared longer, we could grow into it again. I do think for many people, there comes a time when we have left the imagining and re-imagining of ourselves and possibilities so long in the past that we no longer know how to do it. Perhaps we no longer know how to see ourselves at all or are afraid of what we will see when we do simply look in that mirror. Not even that should stop us, though; search out your muscle memory, try and try again.
I know that right now, far beyond the discomfort and the instability, I just love this idea that I could be and try so many different things. I am discovering jobs, lifestyles, endless universes I did not even know existed! And when I look at myself in light of those possibilities, I see there on the other side of the mirror myself, smiling back.
Exploring. Becoming anew. It is spectacularly freeing and empowering. Expanding the universe of self.
Right now we are reading in my workshop here at residency this book called 19 Translations of Wang-Wei. It is based on this one, 4000 something year old ancient Chinese poem that has been translated and retranslated throughout history. Every version of it still is itself, but new and delightful and rediscovered. I want to be that poem. I want to be fully myself, with so many facets that I sparkle like the most gorgeous diamond in the world. That some intrinsic intricate part of me resonates wherever I go and echoes still in my absence, touching and changing and challenging the world. And I cannot wait to find this next translation of myself to fully step into and develop.
I think everyone should join me in taking on and enjoying at least one of these actions this year
identify your fears and embrace at least one of them
take a long look at yourself--all of you, the whole entire beautiful wondrous and terrifying essence of your being--and then re-imagine yourself in some way
I'd add at the end of both of those, "be different," or "be re-imagined," but the fact is, I think if any of us try any of these things, that will be the result no matter how small or large that difference seems at first. We are not dead; we are gloriously alive. And since we are alive--living matter, breathing being--we can shape and reshape and expand ourselves to encompass possibilities we can (or cannot yet!) only dream about right now.