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Category Archives: personally kjirsten

As I continue taking opportunities, I am finding more and more the passions hidden within this art project. I got a chance to speak to a couple high school classes while back in the Black Hills. Doing so has strongly reinforced my belief that people are starving! for philosophy. The piece of my talk that students appeared to resonate fully with was a memory from my own childhood:

I believe I was about nine years old. My good friend, Annie, lived down the street that crossed the top of the small hill where I lived at the base. She and I were at the peak of the hill saying good-bye after hours of play outside. It was summer coming into fall. The twilight was fading and the lighting was surreal. The air felt warm and crisp simultaneously. As I waved good-bye, my own hand caught my eye. And it seemed strangely alien. As I brought it down, that feeling intensified and I called out to Annie. She turned back toward me and saw me staring at my hand. As she came up to me, I asked, “Does life ever feel weird to you? Like, what is this? What are we? What is going on?” And I explained how odd it felt to look at my hand and know it was “my hand”. She started to look at hers, too, and the same sensation came over her. We stood there staring at our own hands as the dusk gathered around us. Eventually, as we stood there wondering, the peculiar feeling began to fade. She and I parted ways, but that memory never has left me.

We are all thrust into existence and structures of living before we even have a consistent self-awareness. These structures of living are gifts from previous peoples; however, if all we are taught to perceive are the structures themselves, certain abilities of ours are neglected and suffering. These abilities never die, they are intrinsic to being human, but they can grow weak and we can begin to feel sluggish about life itself due to their neglect.

The first ability is our ability to reflect on the stunning act of being alive. The second is our ability to reflect on ourselves beneath our experiences and social and psychological shapings. We are life itself, each of us is a fingerprint of the universe, unique and sublime in our very existence. The third is our ability to sense the synergistic dynamic of everything that is. We are a perpetual spiral of webbing, everything is connected, nothing exists apart from the whole. My self-reflection thus can morph into a meditation on self as this one big Self that we are together, along with everything else on this planet.

Fourth, and I’ll make it my final, we may lose the ability to recognize that those structures into which we are thrust are not the real. The real is the canvas behind them, or the space, that allows them to take form in the first place. The real is what makes it possible to create, to shift, to change, to demolish and reconstruct. And this always is.

Imagination is our direct access to this space. Reason is one of the greatest sets of tinker toys we’ve ever devised to place our maps, our structures on this space. However, without the value of imagination, reason just might be mistaken to be the real. Seeing the world and ourselves through the lens of rational explanation necessarily makes an image, a picture, a symbol. If taken only in the literal, its greater potency is shut out from our awareness.

Philosophy and art help us to recognize and to exercise our ability to reflect beyond reason, to the hidden messages we are telling ourselves with our rational stories. They tell us how we feel, what we fear, and how we are coping with those fears. If we forget that our stories speak to us symbolically, even our rational stories, we blindly face crises when those rational stories change.

Why else would new stories such as Copernicus’ notion that the earth moved around the sun, not vice versa, or Darwin’s story that humans could trace our lineage as an evolution over time, sharing ancestry with other primates cause such outrage and call for such great adjustment as they did? Our daily lives weren’t directly impacted from these changes in belief. It’s not like suddenly other primates appeared at our family gatherings, or that we suddenly couldn’t walk a straight line due to the traveling earth. . .

These stories, all four, had spoken to us (and do speak to us) imaginatively. The stories carried (as all stories do!) symbolic significance that secretly informed us of ourselves, our fears, and how we were coping with those fears. Without recognition of the power of the symbolic knowledge that is carried along with literal, rational explanation, we simply fought the new stories. We could not believe them. We had lost connection to the role of imagination inherent within any creation, even the creation of our “truths”.

This art project begins where you are, where we all are, as children of the age of reason. We have learned how to use language literally, and how to explain rationally. But this art project is meant to move its viewers into the realm of imagination and symbol as well. It breaks language into pieces, sometimes in the middle of words, it makes it stutter, it repeats itself maniacally to make us all more aware of that which lies behind the structure of language and the structure of logical thought. May its viewers feel the rush of the fresh air released from the illusory lock-down from the perception that our current structures and maps are everything. Rather, they are images of ourselves, laden with secret knowledges that we are equipped to harvest and that will serve us as we continue to navigate the ever- swirl of existence. Promise.

 

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Images, imagination and imago

Our Western philosophical view often includes a hierarchal perspective. One such hierarchy includes our understanding of the different components of “mind”. Both imagination and intellect have received attention, typically with “intellect” being placed in a higher position than imagination. Imagination was fundamentally understood by the highly influential philosopher, Plato, (400ish BCE) as that part of the mind that communes with images and draws information from them in order to create a low level knowing or knowledge (we can see this in the root of the word “imagination” – it comes from “images”). Intellect came to be understood as the aspect of mind that can deal with pure ideas without any experience necessary.

The philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650) gives us an example. He asks us to imagine a triangle. Close your eyes and see if you can picture, in your “mind’s eye” (your imagination) an image of a triangle. . . Done?

Good. Most likely you experienced success. Descartes suggests we can see an image of a triangle because we have seen triangles previously. Now, he asks that you close your eyes and imagine, in your mind’s eye, a 1,000 sided figure (a chiliagon). Give it a whirl. . . Done?

Well, most likely your image was funky and unclear. Again, Descartes would suggest we cannot picture, or imagine, a chiliagon since we do not see chiliagons in our everyday living. He then attempts to demonstrate, though, that we intellectually understand a chiliagon quite precisely. Without ever having experienced a 1,000 sided figure, we still know that a chiliagon is not a 999 sided figure, we know it is not a 1,001 sided figure – we understand the pure idea that it is exactly a 1,000 sided figure. We intellectually understand it in spite of our inability to picture it. Descartes uses the above example to show us that our intellect “exceeds” or is greater than our imagination.

On the other hand we have an even later philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) who suggests that imagination is our “ability to think of what is not”. With this different angle of imagination, we can see that it may be empowered to generate change in a way that intellect may not be. Intellect demands that we stay within the realm of the rationally logical. Very useful. However, at times we may wish to imagine the world or the life we want to create, rather the one that we understand to exist. Perhaps, we have been heavy-handed as of late, with the intellectual, and a little light with the imaginative. I’m here to set a balance between the two. I’d like to offer another added angle to our current communion with the word “imagination” to do so.

Imagination, as pointed out earlier, comes from the word “image”. The word “image” comes from the Latin root word “imago” which means “an imitation, a copy, an image”. Imago also gains the scientific meaning of “the final, adult, reproductive stage in the development of an insect”. Keeping our original notion of image as a copy or an imitation that gives rise to a certain knowing (such as being able to picture a triangle without an actual triangle present) and wedding it to Sartre’s “ability to think of what is not” and then adding in this notion of an imago as an adult stage, I believe we have a powerful potion to augment beauty in our experiences of being human:

Imagination may be seen as a web of super highways, an aura of your inner-world going out and greeting your external presence in the world we share and vice versa. I drink in my experiences as a body-observer-experiencer in this external world (your house, the coffee shop, work, the sidewalk, the street). My imagination helps me to turn those experiences into nutrients to enrich my being (my being a body with a sense of self, and also my being a human in the world-hive of other humans, plants, animals, insects, things).

Likewise, my inner-world is delivered into the external world via my imagination. My imagination helps me shape that world into morsels that I believe may nourish and enrich that external world (you, the social institutions, the infrastructure, the technology) which we have a vested interested in nurturing since we drink in our environment daily.

Children are potent seeds in that environment. Children soak in their environment as their little bodyminds are crazy hungry for nourishment. They are growing. And they are tomorrow’s planet. I suggest it is through our imaginations that we can become the adults that children need us to be. I appreciate the world we’ve inherited – the infrastructure, the services, the community and the technology. I also know it comes with many sharp edges and blunt objects which cause harm to little bodyminds born into it. I believe balancing our rational edges with our imagination can bring a world that is consciously designed to nurture children’s development, emotional, spiritual and rational.

Imagination must have blank canvas in order to play. When we tightly construct “the world as it is” in our minds (and bodies and lives), we give ourselves very little wiggle room for imaginative play. This art project attempts to illuminate the blank canvas that is necessarily behind all of our constructions. Thus we always-already have access to the blank canvas required for imagination to come into greater action. All that is required is a willingness to believe that behind all our constructions (language, societal institutions, facts) there is canvas, an eternal stretch of canvas that invites us to play in, around, behind, beyond those constructions. With this tool, we can invite children into the world “as it is” with much more creative ability – an ability that will enrich how they experience their lives. We can “play” with a wisdom to be mindful that above all, we are guardians of children’s experiences.

Post note: Here, I have been talking about actual children-children, though I do see all of us as children, simply in different stages of development. However, as a 45 year old child, I am asking myself to acknowledge that I have access to this imago stage where I am empowered to step up and create a bridge for other “children” to be nourished by my presence, my words, my play. I believe exercising my imagination in order to create that bridge is the greatest tool I have found since embarking on this quest. I invite you, no matter your stage in child-imago-adult becoming, to step into your “adult” shoes, and to feel the honor of being entrusted with the development and nourishment of other children.