Sunday, September 11, 2011

Turn a Moment Over in Your Hands

Will you try something? Turn a moment over in your hands again and again, just looking at it. Or a sight, a sound a smell, an event, a thought, a feeling, anything. Don't have a goal or a plan, don't try to figure out how you can benefit.  Just explore. Just consider. Just play.

Play doesn't necessarily mean frivolity or excess, it's simply a basic human quality. Many animals do it, but there's something distinctive about our minds in the way we go about it. It's part of the reason that the computer you're reading this on exists. It's something that makes us us.

Let go. No, I don't mean get all self-indulgent, just calm down and let your thoughts run their course. If you find them turning in the same direction again and again, intentionally push off into unknown territory. Don't edit your thoughts. Allowing some ideas to occur won't make you a bad person somehow. Don't get superstitious now, you're just exploring, not defining yourself. There's no threat to your free will in play.

I certainly don't mean to suggest that you should start worrying, the restrictive opposite of survival. Fear shuts off the process of exploration, though that freedom is often just what we need to find solutions to our problems. It's how we overcome fear.

Unfortunately, we're wired for more fear than the modern world requires. I saw a tiger at the zoo yesterday, and even a Komodo dragon, and I didn't have to run. I escaped without a scratch.

If you're American, this video likely stirs strong feelings in you as it does in me. I do get hits from the Middle East and other parts of the world, so I don't know how all readers will feel, but to me, these are not pleasant images and sounds. For other Americans reading this, emotions are probably many and strong, Is fear among them?

I hope you didn't stop listening now. You see, ten years ago today, the American mind snapped shut. For better or worse, innovation has defined the USA from the beginning, but there's been nothing new in a decade. No new music genre to rival jazz or blues or rock or hip-hop, nothing but past styles recycled into slick pop.

As it looks now, there will be no new inventions, no 21st-century equivalents of light bulbs, phonographs, airplanes, and TVs. No new form of communication will make this web page seem old-fashioned. There will be nothing like a first-time moon landing. There's nothing in the works.

I know that any reader who lets his or her mind run through all options of thought will question whether this situation is a bad thing at all. I tend to agree that a wake-up call stirring America out of dreams of excess can be positive, but unfortunately, our collective retreat is not a wise and thoughtful one, but rather one driven by fear. We're not living any more, we're grasping and hiding.

I'm not talking about politics and I'm definitely not extolling the virtues of technology. I'm pointing out what I've seen in the quality of ordinary lives lately. There's little joy left in the faces of people in crowds, and what does pass for happiness is more like desperate, angry noisiness.

In spite of collective traumas, in spite of bad financial situations, every individual reaction is a choice. If your country's been attacked and the horror of countless deaths still flashes through your mind, if you can't pay the bills, you need the freedom of mind to find ways out of bad situations. You need freedom of mind to cope and realize that there's much more to wellbeing than externals. You need freedom of mind to truly be what you are.

Do I really have to express this in terms of popular rhetoric? Must I posture and proclaim that, as long as your mind remains closed, bin Laden is still alive? I hope not. But that's the kind of alarmingly black-and-white nonsense we take for granted now. Think about it. Is that really enough for you? I hope not.

Play, play like your life depends on it, because maybe it does. If you need to hold on, then let go. It's not only a matter of survival, it's a matter of being.

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