When I was in high school, I had a fabulous Creative Writing/Psychology instructor who would frequently bring mysterious items to class. One week, the item might resemble a small piece of a tractor or kitchen appliance; the next, some strange device from the bottom of an obscure artisan's work box. But the "thing" was inevitably out of context and unrecognizable. She always asked us to guess its identity, and would respond in the negative to each failed attempt...Wrong. Nope. Not it. As if! Come on, you jokers--can't you figure it out?
We students were encouraged to make a detailed examination and take notes on what we noticed. I'm fairly certain that no one ever correctly guessed what these alien oddities actually were. If so, Teacher would never let on, because they were prompts for essays in which we were required to create a name, history and use for each object.
The majority of us got into the spirit of the game, and the resulting presentations ranged from hilarious to deadly serious, depending upon the personality of the author. There were a few people, though, who so resented being "wrong" that they dropped the class. Their feelings of injury or insult prevented them from having fun and exploring the multilayered meaning in such an exercise. A few of us ran with it, however; I will be grateful to this teacher always for letting me know, in a hands-on fashion, that "failure" is a gateway and "wrong" means "new".
I probably don't have to point out that there are a series of lessons here which have everything to do with the quality of Being. Each lesson tends to build upon the last, and in the end, constitute a great set of tools for the art of living. Speaking very simply, a partial list could be something like this:
1. Anything out of context becomes fair game for an artist or a contemplative thinker/feeler.
2. What anything (object) actually is has everything to do with our (subject) relationship to it.
3. A relationship is an activity in which we and Whatchamacallit define each other.
4. That relationship changes constantly, in reality, and so do the subject/object roles.
5. Hey...could this mean we are an open-ended process of creating and defining meaning?
6. ...And that all of our definitions are arbitrary, including this one?
7. What is this process? Is it consciousness? Awareness? God?
8. Crap. I just defined it as an object. Wrong!
9. Ok. Not wrong, just meaningless...like anything. Or meaningful...like anything.
10. I guess there's nothing to be said!
(Enter either existential angst, or a glimmer of...)
11. Anything in context can also be fair game for an artist or contemplative thinker/feeler! Sweet freedom! :)
Of course, we create the context, the meaning, the intent of anything. Whether we call this creation "conscious" or "spontaneous" does not matter to the process itself, which has us at this "end" and wherever our attention is focused at the other. That focus is often like a laser beam, typically narrow and storied (explained) by tradition, by habit, by fear. We often use this laser as a weapon, in an attempt to eliminate anything challenging to our current perceptions of ourselves and the world--as if that world were somehow separate from what we are.
But to the same degree that we "subjects" are attached to our plans, schemes, goals, fears, ideas, words, concepts and feelings of superiority or inferiority, etc., etc., the "object" of this relationship--which can be called, for lack of a better name, "Life"--is detached, and could care less. This is very unsettling. It creates an interesting tension, which can be destructive or creative the way a glass is either half-empty or half-full.
Those of us who feel and investigate this particular tension within ourselves are often called "seekers". In the beginning, we attempt to resolve this discomfort by looking for a venue that matches our established personality, notions and ideas. In other words, we put on a different mask, which may convince us that we are changed, at first. But eventually, a challenge comes along and we find, to our dismay, that we are the same old frightened being underneath. We may simply change tactics, change faces, again and again until we realize that we've adopted a demon (fear) who builds these masks. Or, we can become so defensive that we are like a giant comic-strip robot with a metal face, with those fully developed lasers for eyes--which attempt to destroy everything "not me".
Dropping the mask means being fully willing to be "wrong"--and to admit that, on some level, one knows the truth and must take responsibility for being "right". Ten years ago, I thought I had things all figured out, and was busy defending my ideas. I believed I was standing my ground. What Maria was actually doing was shifting from foot to foot in a desperate attempt to escape the pain of the gravel beneath the bare soles (and bare soul). The gravel was not circumstantial, was not a test, was not anything but sheer, bullheaded obstinate clinging to belief and unwillingness to be wrong (resistance, in psycho-spiritual terms).
I suppose that it would have been easier and certainly less risky to continue to stand on that particular turf, perhaps developing callouses and intense avoidance skills. Thankfully, the time came where I broke under my own pressure and let go of everything...and I do mean everything! Mask, megaphone, magnifying glass--all filtering or funneling devices fell, and I discovered that I was very, very Wrong. In the admission, this stunning defeat became sacred and passionate, and it was only then that I could clearly understand how very right this all was, how perfectly designed and executed by a Whole much greater than the sum of any parts.
It's tough to get to this admission, especially when one has already suffered the exquisite social torture of isolation, ridicule and so forth lavished on those who dare to step off the beaten path, create a new one, or--in the way of one of those Damn Sneaky Natives, walk without creating a path at all. (Voodoo, I tell you!) There appears to be a big investment in being different, spiritually rebellious and all that. There is a psychological payoff in the attention an ego gets, however negative.
Total and real healing is much less dramatic by soap-opera standards, because the Shift can never be adequately expressed in words. The narrow, laser-like focus widens into a suffusing light--after that, one is immediately aware when that great source is being concentrated for personal use. Nothing wrong with sharp, bright, defined spotlighting, one comes to understand...but it is a candle in the heart of the sun, and we are perfectly free to choose. One light is not "better" than another. The meaning is not in the method, or the style of vision...but in the fact of Light Itself, as it is eyes, image and eternally impossible to define as either!
Far from accomplishing a cushy blanket of detachment, surrendering to this suffusion lights things up from the inside so that self and other are experienced as equal, no matter the variety of expression. Life can no longer be divided up as if personal preference or disgust had any effect whatsoever upon gravel, laser beams or tractor parts. Opinion creates a kind of false surface upon which feeling beads up into little balls of experience and drops off; honest and open awareness absorbs and distributes energy in a natural way. Much less wounding, much more space, endless capacity for healing and re-creation. Vastly different from the status-quo.
If you are a "seeker" and find yourself barefoot and painfully baresouled upon the gravel path through the Orchard of Potential Delight, I urge you to pay attention and lay down your highly sophisticated arms. Feisty teachers are probably around every bend, handing you foreign fruit that looks green and tastes bitter or sour. Don't deny your hunger for that sweet freedom. Please read all the signs. Understand that you are in the right place at the right time, and that when everything you think you know is ripped out of your hands and off your back, you will be sufficiently open-palmed enough to catch the perfectly ripe peach as it drops willingly, unexpectedly, where it belongs.
You just had to ripen, is all. :)