Saturday, November 21, 2015

A Quote from Fraser Boa

I was once told that it wasn't important if I understood my dreams. What was important was that the dreams understood me. My attitude toward my dreams would determine their attitude toward me. It's a living dialogue. When we listen to dreams, we change, and when dreams are heard, they change.  

I came across this quote from Fraser Boa's book The Way of the Dream and it resonates with me deeply. Dreams can be hard to interpret, and they all have multiple meanings. But just like listening to a person deeply shows our interest in them, listening to our dreams, exploring what they might mean shows our dreams that we are interested in them. We change because we are paying attention to the subtle. They change because we are paying attention to them and they are being heard.  

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Living on the Star-trails of Fantasy

In her wonderfully evocative and imaginative book, What It Is, the multi-talented Lynda Barry maps her own journey as a creative person using drawings and words. She tells us things about her own explorations. She asks us questions about our own journey.

On a page brimming with her drawings -- a little girl crying near the fire with a mouse looking at her, a bear scratching its way out of the page and patterns of birds on branches -- she tells us about the child that she once was.

"There are certain children who are told they are too sensitive, and there are certain adults who believe sensitivity is a problem that can be fixed in the way crooked teeth can be fixed and made straight. And when these two come together, you get a fairy tale, a kind of story with hopelessness in it."

A kind of story with hopelessness. A story that points to where you are in its unfolding. A story that has been played out before and that is spreading its wings in your own life right now. 

Barry tells us how immensely helpful this can be, how recognizing the myths we are living can help us transform our feelings. 

"They can't transform your actual situation, but they can transform your experience of it. We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality, we create it to be able to stay. I believe we have always done this, used images to stand and understand what otherwise would be intolerable."

We don't create a fantasy world to escape reality. We create it to be able to stay. I love that she says this, that imagination can be used not as an escape, but as a way to engage with reality, a way to be in reality without going mad. When we give up our connection to a larger story, when we give up our imagination and just bow down to the clunky reality and rationality, we are crumbling our soul. 

We forget that we bring our own way of looking to the experience. We can think of ourselves as bobbing away helplessly in a sea of experiences or we can bring our own meaning, our own imagination into them and make them liveable. 

Without the essence of the meaning, without the spark that our imagination gives them, our experiences are meaningless, random things happening to us. 

Of course, sometimes we can use our imagination to our detriment. We can become ungrounded. But what Barry is telling us is the positive use of imagination. It gives the golden thread to our life. We don't throw ourselves on the rocks of so-called reality that can sometimes be hard and cold. 

We have this instinct to spin stories and meanings right from the time we are little. 

Think about a child reading books that makes them cry, Barry tells us. Think about what these stories mean. They tell the little child about who he or she is. They hold up a mirror. Something in them connects to their essence. They provide a shelter for their growing self. Remember how as children we curled inside our stories for comfort? 

What would happen to this child if they couldn't imagine, couldn't find their place in the story? 

"It seems that human beings everywhere understand that a child who is never allowed to play will eventually go mad. But how do we know this? And why do we know this? And what happens when we forget?"

What happens when we forget? 

We do forget as we grow up. Maybe, we give up our playing, our pretending, our imagining ourselves into our stories because we think that that is what grown ups do. But maybe we need to make up our own stories, look for stories that seem like our own and settle down in them to be really comfortable with reality. 

We need this to connect to something bigger when things are hard. We need this to steer clear of the harsh edges of things that don't make sense. Our stories lead our way forward through dangerous terrains. They tell us that our answers are made inside of us. We can't find them outside. 

What would happen if you again became friends with your imagination? That is what I am trying to imagine. Maybe things will again seem softer, more fluid. Maybe things again will have a shine in them, a reason for their happening, a reason for our going through them. Maybe, the wild imagination that looks "unreasonable" to others is exactly what clears the way for walking on solid ground. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Negative Imagination

In Julia Cameron's lovely book Walking in This World, I recently re-read something about worry and negative imagination that stood out to me. If you are a sensitive person who worries a lot and finds themselves tripping over unruly fears, then this might resonate with you too. 

Julia begins by telling us that we need working definitions for the mishmash of fears, anxieties and doubts that ail us. Only when we know what exactly we are dealing with can we start to work through it.

This is what Julia says about worry:  

"Worry has an anxious and unfocused quality. It skitters subject to subject, fixating first on one thing, then on another. Like a noisy vacuum cleaner, its chief function is to distract us from what we really are afraid of. " 

Its chief function is to distract us from what we are really afraid of. Even though it leaches all the fluidity and joy out of our lives, worry serves as a distraction. It leads our eyes away from our spaces of deep discomfort. 

How is worry different from fear?

"Fear is not obsessive like worry and not escalating like panic. Fear is more reality based. It asks us to check something out. Unpleasant as it is, fear is our ally. Ignore it and the fear escalates. A sense of loneliness joins its clamor. At its root, fear is based in a sense of isolation. We feel like David facing Goliath with no help from his cronies and a concern that this time, his trusty slingshot might not work."

Fear is healthy when it points to something that needs to be turned over, needs to be double-checked. But fear is also amorphous. We add to the drama when we let the fear fester. We don't pay attention to the kernel of true concern, and our fear becomes the monster that scares us. 

Unlike fear, worry is obsessive. It's a thought we pick up and smoke at. Today, we are worried about this one thing. Tomorrow, it is something else. We are hooked into this way of behaving. We might have little trust in the world around us. Maybe, we suffered from trauma at an earlier time and now worrying is our way of projecting into the future, trying to control it from hurting us. 

When we worry, what are are effectively doing is channel our creative energies into something that is not constructive. This is what Julia has to stay about an imagination that has gone haywire. 

"The more active--and even more negative--your imagination is, the more it is a sign of creative energy. Think of yourself as a racehorse--all that agitated animation as you prance from paddock to track bodes well for your ability to actually run.

In both my teaching and collaborative experience, I have often found that the most "fearful" and "neurotic" people are actually those with the best imaginations. They have simply channeled their imaginations down the routes of their cultural conditioning."   

Culturally, we are trained to worry about certain things. We are trained to prepare for any negative possibility. And we might have had experiences that cause us to always be on the defensive, that cause us to worry. But worrying about what can't be controlled obviously doesn't help us. It just casts a film on our experience. It muddies our world today. 

As someone who is prone to worrying, I know how insidious worry is, how it curls and hisses around you. It comes cloaked in reasonableness. It takes our energy and warps it into something that doesn't serve us. 

We could take that energy and start doing something with it actively. We could start channeling it by moving it from our bodies. We could distract ourselves by gardening or going for a walk or making something. We can see that the same imagination that brings us our gloom and doom predictions can be channeled so it becomes full and free.    

We can start seeing that worry really is, as Julia calls it, "imagination's negative stepsister." If that is the case, we are just a few steps away from dealing with it. We can have our arsenal of tools ready - our paints or our walking shoes or our camera. We can choose what we do with our attention and our imagination.

What do you think? What are your tools for dealing with negative imagination? How can you step away from worry and into the expansive possibilities on the other side?