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Empty the Bag

“Obsolescence never meant the end of anything, it’s just the beginning”. (Marshall McLuhan)
We are bound up and packaged within our stuff.  Not just the expensive shoes in our closet that we never wear but refuse to depart with because they are of good quality, but also our outmoded beliefs, tired rituals and ancient grievances. Most of us realize that these unnecessaries linger like annoying acquaintances or implausible New Year’s resolutions but keep them on because they have become intractable as they mediate and consume our real experiences and push out our hallowed memories.  We appear thoughtful to others and at strange moments perhaps even to ourselves but upon reflection we become entirely aware of our precarious delusion that we know who we really are and what we truly seek.
Real thinking is difficult. Sense making devices constructed to tease out the subtleties of sublime truth are perverted by the manipulative who use them to segregate us as true believers or un. They reduce all that is complex and astonishing to the nihilism of the either-or bullet points. It is so much easier to mouth the buzz and blather of the infomercial sponsored by family and friends, church and state, that runs repeatedly in our mind than to find our authentic images and edit them as free and responsible artists. While rudimentary labeling and decision making methods are both important prerequisites to more advanced reasoning we cross over them like bridges as we enter the lands of our own nous. The child learns the Bengali alphabet before advancing an ability to write beautifully and later still reads the poetry of Tagore where he slowly realizes that language itself has come to master his ability to experience and reason. Growth requires we take our lives out of syndication and reimagine the plot and narrative.
There is a management concept aimed at improving efficiency and quality called “first-in first-out.” The essential idea is to keep the oldest inventory fresh by turning it over first so that nothing ever goes bad. We are aghast when we see this practice in reverse such as at the airline baggage claim where the first people to board the jet are usually the last to get their bags. But this reversed order is basically the way our consciousness works. Through the process of assimilating and accommodating our experiences and structuring them into heuristics, recipes for sense making, we store our proverbial baggage deep in the cargo hold where they are taken for lost luggage. In times of trouble and triumph we reclaim our earliest belongings which are really never forgotten or forgiven for all subsequent travel precariously moves in relationship to these patterns. We are most likely Catholic or Protestant, Democrat or Republican because of our family background and contemporary community. We typically either continue the pattern from our ancestry or intentionally reverse it as a defiant reaction to it. Obedient or petulant children we are all are adjoining or disengaging our history.
If we are to make room for our prospective vision we must first create the capacity for growth. Just as one clears their schedule to free up the necessary time to take on a momentous project, we pour out our hidden images to make way for the new and keep them more explicit. These are not replacements for our untouchable past but rather a rereading and reinterpretation of its meaning that will give our character confidence and greater definition with each successive chapter. We must become deep readers of ourselves if we are to understand how we move along the story. There is a necessary narcissism in our task where we become willing witnesses to our own lives. Since memory and imagination are so entwined the past can easily be mistaken for the future if we are not careful to decorously divide them. While we may sublimate our pain so that it may be concealed we may also conspicuously bring it forth as sublime pleasure.
The decision to grow requires tradeoffs between was and what will be. Even Santa Claus has to empty his sack each Christmas so that he may fill it anew every Yuletide. We can have it all because we do have it all just not all at once. We all grow regardless of our efforts. As the yogis suggest, the mustard seed really does contain the entire tree but it still requires favorable conditions and glorious time to fulfill its potential. How we align and fit our growth with our aspirations of greatness is what needs our clarity and industry.
Anthropologists have two complimentary theories regarding how innovation spreads from one civilization to another. The first is called “diffusion” which means that one group trades or battles with another and the said innovation is transferred. The second is called “polygenesis” which suggests that an innovation appears simultaneously in multiple civilizations because the conditions and time are rife. We may take these two views to suggest that we may have concomitant opportunities to both reclaim our invisible past as the visible future and create something altogether new. In either case, we must make the implicit explicit first by doing some personal prospecting.

  • Create room for growth 
Jeff DeGraff
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