Literature that’s treating the soul

Modern bookshops sometimes seem inundated by literature that, for want of a better term, concerns itself with soul – the inner life of beliefs, attitudes, feelings, struggles and so forth. As if there’s been this void created by the fairly recent rejection of both belief and tradition; all of us now left to drift unaccompanied and undirected within life’s ocean.

A void into which is poured this tidal wave of advice, theories and strategies for making the best of a modern life (Notes One). Instead of moral authorities and wise leaders we have this wealth of self-help conversations promising to tell us all we need to know. It’s fascinating, really, how deconstructed our sense of meaning has become.

We might choose to listen to those sharing their life story as a case study, a body of material from which they’re drawing lessons we may find helpfully universal. We might listen to the “experts” who’ve distilled all they’ve learnt through life into a basic philosophy, way of thinking or set of labels for dealing with things.

Maybe it’s all about perspective? Finding ways of looking at life that “fit” and seem capable of matching up to modern society’s slightly crazy realities. Aren’t we asking, “What should I think about all this? How should I respond?” It’s like we’re seeking helpful thoughts – some cobbled-together worldview able to encompass everything in a meaningful, constructive way (Notes Two)

Because – between the economic realities forever telling us we’re not good enough and the cultural ones feeding us unrealistic expectations or interpretations of “life” – where are we to find attitudes that nurture the soul? What “is” the best picture of humanity, society and the purpose of our lives? Is there a perspective comprehensive enough to accommodate us all?

Taking culture to be the place we’re talking about life, assigning meaning within complex social realities, and imagining ways of being that might prove helpful in navigating this world, what are we being offered and which options are we taking onboard? That seems one way of looking at this: reflections on life that we’re choosing to accept and work with inwardly (Notes Three).

So, how does “the soul” – that space of perception, meaning, feeling, thought and decision – live these days? What recognition and respect are afforded to the inner life as we’re making our way through reality? How well are our lives framed by modern culture – what kind of ideas is human life being surrounded and informed by within this increasingly frenetic, lurching global conversation?

It’s philosophical, but where “can” we stand in understanding and responding to life? How much are we focussing on superficial, ephemeral realities destined by their very nature to pass and fade? Historically, traditions have discouraged people from trying to create permanency out of the physical; perhaps what we’re struggling with now – in our undeniably materialistic world – is effectively the same?

Trying to make sense of our place in life and what it all might mean, though, is quite a beautiful aspect of being human.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Spiritually committed literature
Note 1: “Brave New World Revisited”
Note 1: “The Measure of a Man”
Note 1: “Women who run with the wolves”
Note 1: “Living Beautifully” by Pema Chödrön
Note 1: “The Obstacle is the Way”
Note 1: Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”
Note 1: Krishnamurti’s “Inward Revolution”
Note 1: The idea of self reliance
Note 1: Podcasts as models of transformation
Note 1: Ideas of agreement & mastery
Note 2: The sense of having a worldview
Note 2: Complication of being human
Note 2: Mastering life’s invisible realities
Note 3: Culture as a conversation across time
Note 3: Stories that bind us
Note 3: Emotion and culture’s realities

Ways to share this:

The power of convention

If we were to break society down to its simplest form, isn’t it mainly about eating? Putting meals on the table, securing food sources, providing nourishment to those we love, sharing things politely and fairly. It perhaps naturally follows that “Table manners are as old as human society itself, the reason being that no human society can exist without them.”

Isn’t food, in many ways, society’s foundation? This regular requirement that serves to structure our days, guide our activities, and give our lives both purpose and meaning. Ways people have regulated these things is quite fascinating – isn’t it all an expression of how we stand in relation to one another and to nature itself? (Notes One)

There’s this whole world of ritual woven around food: ways things are done, how we should act, what it means if we don’t. Knowing ‘all that’ is surely a large part of what it means to navigate our social world? Understanding its forms, meeting expectations, taking part in this complicated dance of human interaction to ensure important principles stay alive.

It’s like the language of society. Rather than making things up, we learn what’s gone before, grasp its meaning, and adapt it if needed while ensuring nothing essential is lost. Convention perhaps offers the starting point for innovation: knowing what’s expected and why, we can know what it means to change or drop things altogether. Isn’t it important we know?

Reading “The Rituals of Dinner” by Margaret Visser, it’s intriguing to hear all the ways people create and carry forward meaning. She paints a picture of convention as a form of communication that helps us interrelate and engage with the values at the heart of our community. That we might be enacting meaning with every encounter is a beautiful idea of what life could be.

All tradition perhaps carries this sense of how groups pass on meaning and structure, linking the past through the present into the future (Notes Two). Inherited practices might seem a senseless burden, but maybe it’s true that “if we stop celebrating, we also soon cease to understand; the price for not taking the time and the trouble is loss of communication.”

If shared realities are “communication with others” and “it is only the individual who can personally mean what is going on” then isn’t this dance what’s expressing our appreciation of the ground on which we stand? So many essential human and social values seem deeply embedded in these things.

Recently, though, “old manners are dying and new ones are still being forged… Sometimes we hold the terrifying conviction that the social fabric is breaking up altogether… backsliding from previous social agreements that everyone should habitually behave with consideration for others. At other times a reaction against the social rituals of our own recent past leads us to lump all manners together as empty forms, to be rejected on principle.”

Might the place convention holds within society and meaning woven into its rituals be important to keep in mind?

Notes and References:

“The Rituals of Dinner. The Origins, Evolution, Eccentricities, and Meaning of Table Manners” by Margaret Visser, (Penguin Group), 1991.

Note 1: Things with life have to be maintained
Note 1: Common sense as a rare & essential quality
Note 1: Frameworks of how we relate
Note 1: The difference humanity makes
Note 1: What we create by patterns of behaviour
Note 2: Social starting points for modern ways
Note 2: Any such thing as normal?
Note 2: Culture as a conversation across time
Note 2: Different places, different ways

Ways to share this:

Culture as a conversation across time

It’s intriguing to think how the ideas, characters and messages of culture travel across time in this perennial discussion of what it might mean to be human. It’s a conversation that seems capable of crossing almost any number of years – highlighting, perhaps, the timeless nature of the dilemmas and decisions we all encounter in life. Isn’t a part of culture this sense of helping people understand what it is to live well?

Maybe it’s impossible to pin down exactly what culture’s achieving or hopes to achieve for society. It’s interesting how, for so long, people have told these stories that represent their past and those values that have served them well through the years – this reflection of what’s considered effective, constructive and helpful within that community (Notes One). Also, what’s harmful or dangerous for individuals and the group.

Isn’t every community ultimately concerned with its own survival? With encouraging behaviour that’ll help ensure that outcome. With shaping the thinking and character of its members so they’ll understand the importance of their involvement and the significance of what’s at stake. Isn’t it vitally important we all understand our place in the world and our relationships within it?

And don’t we also need a vision – a sense of where this is headed and why we should cooperate for that end? There’s surely this future element to culture’s stories: preparing people for how best to respond to the challenges of life and potential threats to their community’s existence. For us to give up prized notions of individual freedom, don’t we need a compelling reason to do so? (Notes Two)

Culture, in its way, perhaps attempts to weave us all into society’s present by helping us know, understand and appreciate our past; carry all that’s essential forward; and act wisely for our future. Isn’t “all this” about cultivating the kind of thinking and action community depends upon?

It’s just interesting, then, how modern culture’s often deconstructing, falsifying, and casting despairing stories around us at every turn (Notes Three). Why would a society want to do that? Maybe it’s trying to alert people that their future is uncertain? That the kinds of thinking we’ve been living by have seriously destabilised our social, international and natural environments. That our past and future are both questionable.

Perhaps it’s also that people are now more easily able to realise their vision and churn out whatever proves profitable within the cultural marketplace (Notes Four). If depictions of dystopia and intergenerational conflict resonate with people maybe that’s all that’s needed for such storylines to proliferate. Does it matter if it really doesn’t help much in terms of social cohesion, mutual understanding and so forth?

In many ways, whatever hand was guiding the stories surrounding humanity seems to have given way to quite a different set of intentions. How we might best work with such visions of destruction, despair and distrust is surely quite a crucial question in terms of whether this ultimately serves to help us all move forward together.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Culture as what we relate to
Note 1: Stories that bind us
Note 1: Emotion and culture’s realities
Note 1: Plato & “The Republic”
Note 2: Society as an imposition?
Note 2: Right to look out for ourselves?
Note 2: Do we really need incentives?
Note 3: Dystopia as a powerful ideal
Note 3: Do we know what we’re doing?
Note 3: Art as a way to subvert or inspire
Note 3: Truth, illusion & cultural life
Note 4: Economics & the realm of culture
Note 4: It resonates, but should it be amplified?
Note 4: Playing with fire?

Ways to share this:

Ideas of agreement & mastery

One way of looking at life is to see youth, particularly, as a time of “agreements” we’re then living our lives by. This process of “domestication” that ushers us into the particular way of thinking of our family, community and culture. It’s the perspective skilfully deconstructed and reworked by Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Four Agreements”.

Childhood surely does shape our relationship with the human and social realities surrounding us? It’s the time for finding our place; discovering ourselves; learning to stand alone and firmly grasp the world in thought and action. And by far the majority do all they can to help others come to terms with life and form useful ideas for approaching it.

Life perhaps “is” our understanding of the world? Underpinned by all those ideas we’ve accepted as true. Beliefs Ruiz refers to as “dreams”: “The dream of the planet is the collective dream of billions of smaller, personal dreams”.

It’s fascinating to imagine how we’re all directing others’ attention toward what we consider or were told was important. This process of learning and socialisation that civilisation arguably depends upon: bringing people into the world of meaning, purpose and understanding their society’s upholding as valuable (Notes One).

A process where, step by step, we lose ourselves to become as we’re supposed to be – repressing or rejecting parts of “self” to become part of our community (Notes Two). We perhaps all “learned to live by other people’s points of view because of the fear of not being accepted”. Part of being human may be to accept the ideas of a community.

But there’s clearly scope for living with attitudes, ideas and beliefs quite apart from those Ruiz recommends; beliefs that can be as damaging to the individual as to those living alongside them (Notes Three). If our thinking doesn’t reflect our own worth, that of society or the world at large, presumably our behaviour will also reflect that?

The suggestion here is to “forget everything you have learned in your whole life” and, in its place, adopt the four agreements of “Be impeccable with your word”, “Don’t take anything personally”, “Don’t make assumptions” and “Always do your best”. Essentially, to break old agreements that perhaps never truly served us, replacing them with these flexible, healthy ones.

As foundational principles for smoothing our path in life they seem pretty solid, versatile and balanced. A sense of taking responsibility for yourself and doing what’s needed to unpick, relearn and become the best we can be.

Ideas Ruiz carries further in “The Mastery of Love”, exploring the impact of basing relationships on fear and self-protection rather than acceptance and forgiveness; how awareness instead of blame might help heal wounds so we’re able to share ourselves freely with others; and ways our relationship with self informs all other ties we make in life.

With the wisdom or constraint of tradition rapidly fading, this refreshing presentation of Toltec thought offers us some truly human-centred principles for living a modern life.

Notes and References:

“The Four Agreements. A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz, (Amber Allen, California), 1997.

“The Mastery of Love. A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship” by Don Miguel Ruiz, (Amber Allen, California), 1999.

Note 1: What you’re left with
Note 1: Knowledge, capacity & understanding
Note 1: Definition, expression & interpretation
Note 1: What are we primed for?
Note 2: The way to be
Note 2: Society as an imposition?
Note 2: What it is to be human
Note 3: The struggle with being alive
Note 3: Living as an open wound
Note 3: The dignity & power of a human life
Note 3: This thing called love

Offering something of a counterpoint to this, Is cultural sensitivity still a thing? looked at the challenge of individualism meeting with tradition.

Ways to share this:

Emotion and culture’s realities

Emotion’s something we almost all have, tucked away somewhere or displayed up quite close to the surface. It’s probably one of our defining traits as humans: that we not only think but also feel about the life we’re living. Between timeless subconscious fears, emotions accompanying memory, and those tracking back ahead of future uncertainties we likely all have quite strong rivers of feeling merging within us in the present moment.

It’s a beautiful thing, that life should affect us emotionally – how it’s not just the cool head but also the warm heart that responds to the experience of being human. We empathise, sympathise, share in, and act out of concern for the inner lives of others. We can place ourselves in their shoes, consider how they’re feeling, and relate in ways that help not harm their path through life.

These days, much seems so cold, calculating and inhuman. Even our human encounters can come across as transactional and devoid of genuine warmth. For some reason it seems we’re approaching everything with the mind’s logic; confidently deconstructing and labelling others’ experiences, intentions and struggles with our own sense of what it all means and what should be done (Notes One).

We seem to be living in quite cerebral ways – everything run past the logic of the mind, as if that thinking should be guiding the heart. But, not to downplay the importance of clear, creative thinking in the slightest, the question of how best it relates to feeling doesn’t exactly seem clean cut (Notes Two). Should the heart be “allowed” to do as it pleases, even at the cost of reason itself?

It’s interesting to consider how we go about “being human”. Feeling’s a useful way of approaching life: letting things come to us in that human, compassionate, emotive form. But it can also billow up in seemingly uncontrollable, overwhelming waves that threaten our ability to keep a cool head rather than respond to its churning pull. Whether the head or heart “wins out” maybe some sort of ageless question.

And, in many ways, modern life seems pretty good at bringing something new to the table in terms of emotion’s realities. We seem to be talking more, breaking old conventions, acknowledging the difficulty of managing feelings. The inner life is much more laid bare, much more acceptable for the reality that it is. Seeing something, letting it be, finding the words to talk about it all seem so very important (Notes Three).

But then, what do we do with it for the best? Should we dial up emotion, live into it, really make a “self” out of it? The past might have relegated it to a stifled, repressed existence, but does that mean we should swing to the other extreme and let it all out? (Notes Four)

Finding the “right place” for emotion – channelling it to become a powerful source of wise intelligence for how we’re living – must be pretty crucial in responding well to all life’s inevitably throwing at us.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Frameworks of how we relate
Note 1: Strange arrogance of thought
Note 1: Humans, judgement & shutting down
Note 2: Working through mind & society
Note 2: How it feels to be alive
Note 2: Living as an open wound
Note 2: And, how much can we care?
Note 3: Complication of being human
Note 3: Does being alone amplify things?
Note 3: Conversation as revelation
Note 4: Overwhelm and resignation
Note 4: It resonates, but should it be amplified
Note 4: Living your life through a song
Note 4: Playing with fire?

Ways to share this:

“The Obstacle is the Way”

How we face up to what stands before us seems the essential human question – we see, we think, and, somehow, have to decide what to do. Do we let the world throw us off course, hem us in, or otherwise upset our balance? Should we take “how things are” and “things that happen” as a sign for us to sit back and let things be? What’s another way of responding?

It’s perhaps the question of all philosophy: how to meet life; what it means; the choices and responsibilities we have, individually and collectively; and where it all leads. It’s the sense of humans in the world, surrounded by all that world cooked up before they arrived on the scene, and what we make of the place where we stand – the face life’s turning towards each one of us (Notes One).

With “The Obstacle is the Way”, Ryan Holiday’s offering up an impressive combination of Stoic wisdom alongside examples of people who’ve lived their lives by similar principles. Starting from the words of Aurelius – “The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting… What stands in the way becomes the way” – it develops the idea of transforming life’s challenges into useful steps along our path.

Divided into “objective judgement”, “unselfish action” and “willing acceptance”, the book pulls together many wonderful and intriguing stories of people having applied themselves courageously and creatively to the circumstances they found around them. It’s certainly interesting to think that the whole repertoire of human responses is open for us all to draw strength from.

Between it all emerges a sense of staying calm, seeing clearly, finding opportunities to grow through our difficulties, then committing ourselves to dismantling, going around or simply working with the obstacles in our way. An idea of calculated risks, boldly faced – understanding reality but not letting it hold you back from your aims.

It’s a narrative of relentless persistence, learning from feedback, doing our best, and using everything to our advantage – pressing forward to gain ground and respond well to whatever life throws at us. Then, the strength of not being discouraged even when living through darker times; falling back on the firm determination, resilience and preparation of our own inner fortress.

In many ways, it’s a beautiful picture of life and powerful mindset with which to approach it. Somewhere between the warrior and the statesman, it’s an interesting blend of philosophy, daring and diplomacy: seeing things for what they are; doing what we can; enduring what we must. It’s very practical, encouraging, and good at making you feel less alone in life’s struggle.

It’s not been my way of looking at life – questioning whether we understand rightly and what our actions will mean has been my preoccupation; as what’ll happen if we’re all pursuing our own, possibly mistaken, agendas this way? (Notes Two) – but, that said, the way this book depicts using such a philosophy to move forward in life is definitely worth bearing in mind.

Notes and References:

“The Obstacle is the Way. The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage” by Ryan Holiday, (Profile Books, GB), 2015.

Note 1: The sense of having a worldview
Note 1: Do we know what stands before us?
Note 1: David Bohm, thoughts on life
Note 1: The philosopher stance
Note 2: One thing leads to another
Note 2: Where do ideas of evolution leave us?
Note 2: Ways thought adds spin to life

Ways to share this:

Involvement in modern culture

What’s the difference when we participate in something as opposed to observing it? One’s obviously more active, as we’re placing ourselves into an experience; the other, more a sense of sitting back to take things in. This watching, deconstructing and passing judgement, however, seems one of the main hallmarks of modern cultural experiences.

Rather than taking part in all these activities – singing, dancing, acting, movement, creativity – we’re, more often than not, watching them. It’s clearly enjoyable watching others take risks, learn new things and demonstrate what’s possible. But it can’t be the same as experiencing them ourselves.

Which comes back to basic questions around culture: is this about performance or participation? Should only those who are the best at something attempt it? Is this human activity something that can only be done at the peak of perfection, or is there also value in our stumbling attempts to get to grips with it all?

Isn’t culture – art, in general – about perception, expression, balance, gesture, interaction, intention? Isn’t this about creativity, about what we see and understand then what we add? Also, the social connection of where all this activity “sits” within society: the conversations it sparks; structure it provides; rhythms of anticipation and retrospective enjoyment (Notes One).

That, as ever, tended a little toward idealism, but my point was to try and fathom the reality of what all this actually “means” for us as individuals and a community: what function does culture serve and what’s our involvement in fulfilling that function? If we’re tending toward sitting back, picking apart those who’ve pushed themselves forward, surely that’s quite a Colosseum approach to cultural life?

Although, maybe that’s fine? It simply is what it is: culture as collective observation. We’re watching the shows that are put on, enjoying and discussing all the ways they’re depicting our lives and the potential of human experience. But that’s presumably only one half of culture? The other being that more active participation in the social life of community: dances, games, festivals, sports, theatre, etc.

Didn’t it used to be that culture was more involved? Not just sitting alone in our rooms or alone among the crowds on buses listening through our earphones. Didn’t people used to “go” to shows and events within the local community, meeting people and taking part in shared activities? Not just luxury high-end culture, but run-of-the-mill moments within any given town.

It just seems we’ve drifted into quite an isolated, passive existence. Perhaps, largely, due to the facilitation of technology? It’s made all these things possible; often editing out the inconvenience or burden of actually trying to achieve things alongside others. In so many ways, it’s making our lives easier while cutting us off from the nourishment and joy of human connection (Notes Two).

Figuring out how we might be able to graft back in the kinds of activities that used to serve this purpose seems interesting; as it’s perhaps not so compatible with the more heartless scrutiny that’s been taking its place.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Reference points for how we’re living
Note 1: Missing something with modern culture?
Note 1: The creativity of living
Note 2: The potential of technology
Note 2: Cultural shifts & taking a backseat
Note 2: Technology as a partial reality
Note 2: Patience with the pace of change

Ways to share this:

Is cultural sensitivity still a thing?

Thinking back, it seems a lot of thought once went into travel – seeing new places, meeting new people. The world was large, relatively unknown, risky and time-consuming to get around. Doing so presumably took planning, intention and a sense for making the most of the opportunity. Also, perhaps, of getting to know others and how humans live in other parts of the globe.

Because we surely all live quite differently? Even within the same street, town or country each home operates by its own rules, standards and patterns of behaviour. All the subtle ways in which things are done; the reasoning and history behind every choice we’re habitually or consciously making. The rhythms and meaning to all we’re doing.

Within the basic formulas of human existence – home, family, community, food, celebration – there’s all this innovation in how we might go about things. Behind almost everything we do there’s this variation of style, tradition, belief, thought, intention. The lives we weave together effectively carrying that understanding out through all our actions to form the societies that hopefully enrich and sustain us (Notes One).

If we look at different places as embodied ways of being – all the ideas and practices people are, in some way, inspired to uphold – the world’s almost this delightful workshop of all the ways we might live our lives as human beings. The concepts of family, home and community life might be timeless, but how we do these things can clearly withstand our endless differentiation.

But, now, we’re so easily able to travel around, taking ourselves and our ideas about life to these other places. And, for some reason, alongside that “ease” seems to have come this sense of our superimposed personal experience being perhaps more important than the pre-existing realities of our desired location.

Maybe it’s part and parcel of individualism? That personal experiences are more significant than the collective, external, historical narratives of other people or places (Notes Two). This sense in which we’re all writing our own stories, showcasing our own style and interests, creating our own brand through the portfolio of our online existence and so forth.

In that context, travel can become less about respectfully coexisting and learning the subtleties of another culture and more a chance to glean whatever “we” want most from the opportunity. That said, it’s perhaps always a subtle interaction of both? Going somewhere, we bring our own perspectives and relate them to all we find around us – comparing, contrasting and noticing how things are done.

Attitudes we bring to life, though, surely paint a picture for others? Approaching people and places with respectful interest is quite different from striding roughshod through other lives, traditions and conventions. Which is maybe just one challenge of modern life: to skilfully, somewhat sensitively coexist within this much-smaller world.

With all the ways we’re now brought together – so often treading on one another’s toes – do we insist on our own way of being, defer to theirs, or some creative interblending of the two?

Notes and References:

Note 1: The conversation of society
Note 1: Social starting points for modern ways
Note 1: Shopping around for a society
Note 1: Human nature and community life
Note 1: Society as an imposition?
Note 2: The struggle with being alive
Note 2: Right to look out for ourselves?
Note 2: What inspires collective endeavours
Note 2: Do we know what stands before us?
Note 2: Having boundaries

Ways to share this:

Overwhelm and resignation

What can we do when so many things, almost completely outside our control, keep assailing us? Situations, images, assertions, statements, facts, lies, retellings of things people have or haven’t really done. Perhaps, some version of the classic “fight, flight, avoidance” strategy? Deciding whether we can change things, accept them, or remove ourselves from the situation. But, does any of that truly solve anything?

If we were living in a world we could trust, maybe these things work (Notes One). If we could be sure our attempt to fight injustice would be met with a wisdom that acknowledged and stood alongside our indignation, restoring order and ensuring problems were rightfully dealt with. If we could feel that by walking away, keeping our head down or going with the flow others wouldn’t suffer from our lack of action.

Instead, it seems we’re living in a world that demands our engagement. The nature of modern systems makes almost everything we’re doing part of much larger global networks with tendencies toward greed, exploitation and various forms of destruction. Resting passively or turning our head away, we’re arguably still facilitating rather than challenging such realities.

If that’s the nature of life now, in all its relentless insistence, what “is” the right way of dealing with it? This unending flood of all that’s demanding our attention – things we should rightfully care deeply about – surely runs the risk of overwhelming our capacity for intelligent, balanced, reasonable responses (Notes Two).

Effectively, social infrastructure – the whole of “life” – is being dismantled and reworked around us while those responsible for doing so stand little chance of being affected by the fallout. We’re the ones bearing the stress and uncertainty of trying to safely navigate a shifting landscape. It seems we’re the guinea pigs, the canaries, testing out how viable all this is – the crumple zone of modern innovation (Notes Three).

It’s perhaps understandable that people rage, turn a blind eye, or suffer from the psychological pressures. Anxiety, depression, interpersonal tension, low tolerance levels and lack of consideration for others kind of make sense given everything we’re all under. Angry activism clearly has a context, as does careless social disengagement. But, potentially, these things compound rather than resolve our problems.

We all know what’s going on, and that it matters. If we’re to trust in the systems or companies governing our lives then they surely need to be trustworthy: acting out of concern for our reality as much as their own. There’s great responsibility to breaking society down and reconfiguring it around new ways of operating. Being sure those at the helm aren’t treating “our lives” as collateral damage seems so incredibly important.

Within all the awareness of and immersion in the troubled themes of modern living, where’s the answer? Can we do little but swing between idealism and despair (Notes Four), or is there a path of active engagement in constructing the solutions we all need? And, while we’re seeking that ground, what’s happening to our frayed nerves and relationships?

Notes and References:

Note 1: Trust within modern society
Note 1: What would life be if we could trust?
Note 1: Who should we trust?
Note 1: Trust in technology?
Note 2: Would we be right to insist?
Note 2: Freedom, what to lean on & who to believe
Note 2: Desensitised to all we’re told?
Note 2: Questions around choice
Note 3: All that’s going on around us
Note 3: Matt Haig’s “Notes on a Nervous Planet”
Note 3: Mental health as a truth to be heard?
Note 3: Concerns over how we’re living
Note 4: Effect, if everything’s a drama
Note 4: Do we know what we’re doing?
Note 4: Convergence and divergence
Note 4: Dystopia as a powerful ideal

Fully aware this is perhaps my bleakest post to date, these more optimistic ones may help serve to offset it: “Minding the Earth, Mending the World”, “Living Beautifully” by Pema Chödrön & This thing called love.

Ways to share this:

Meaning in a world of novelty

Can novelty, in itself, ever “be” meaningful? As in, the simple act of being new somehow being enough in terms of meaning. It’s a kind of creativity, I guess: this endless game of form, variety, imagination, relationship, commentary.

Sometimes, though, I wonder at how much of modern creativity and culture is generative or degenerative – are we engaged in bringing something new or perpetually revisiting the old? Sort of like magpies, pilfering the world around us for the next sparkly, remarkable thing. As if creativity were simply unearthing and reimagining what’s already here.

And that’s truly not meant critically as many beautiful and insightful combinations can come up that way, very much prompting us to look again at the world with fresh eyes. It’s almost like this ‘coming to awareness’ of the incredible treasure trove of pooled human skill and experience we’re now finding ourselves within (Notes One).

But is it all there is to creativity? To pull existing things into different relationships, creating new meaning through juxtaposition or the subversion of expectations. Isn’t it just a constant refreshing of form? A shoe, curtain or car forever reworked into slightly different but terribly significant new formats. This glitching, refreshing echo of the substance of the thing we’re always updating.

There’s clearly creativity there, but it seems more relative than absolute: that we’re pouring our ingenuity and attention into the pursuit of never-ending subtle or dramatic innovations. What does it mean to be forever churning out something new and, frequently, disposable? Gestures or trinkets that are over as soon as they’re current.

It’s surely so different from a world of valuing possessions, making things to last a lifetime and taking care of them so they do. Compared with that, the modern lifestyle seems an almost unnatural or self-indulgent way of operating: we have so many things but don’t care much for them, even if this game we’re caught up in comes at the cost of global environmental and social devastation (Notes Two).

The whole question of what we’re doing here can be such a fascinating but daunting question to ask: if we’re all here on Earth, why is “this” how we’re choosing to spend our time and resources? What does it all “say” about life and the value we’re assigning to things? As intelligent creatures, do we truly understand all we’re taking part in and what our motivations are?

Undeniably, though, we’re also social creatures and creative ones: we want to express ourselves, act on our values, be seen for the statement we’re making, and find our place through what we’re aligning ourselves with (Notes Three). Creativity’s a powerful force, wanting to take hold of the world and leave a mark. This act of bringing the unique self to life.

But isn’t this also a picture of exponential consumption, wastefulness and distraction from the ‘reality’ of seeking novelty for its own sake? There might be a degree of meaning within it all, but the wisdom of continuing this way seems increasingly questionable.

Notes and References:

Note 1: Do we need meaning?
Note 1: Culture as reflection
Note 1: Thoughts on art & on life
Note 2: Interdependency
Note 2: At what cost, for humans & for nature
Note 2: The insatiable desire for more
Note 3: Culture as what we relate to
Note 3: Definition, expression & interpretation
Note 3: The creativity of living

This very much picks up trains of thought started in Patience with the pace of change and Will novelty ever wear off?

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