Being friends and sharing simple things

A lot of time has gone by now. As I write this it is almost 1980. George Maciunas died last year of a long and horrible illness. But he knew before he died that his mistake was forgiven, that all the Fluxus people were together again - they came together for concerts, for New Years' parties, for many things like that. And when Maciunas was dying, they came together to his house to help him finish up a lot of his Fluxus boxes and works before he died. When Maciunas went into the hospital for the last time, his doctors said, "We don't know why this man is still alive". But the Fluxus people knew. Being friends and sharing simple things can be so very important.

And though Fluxus is almost twenty years old now - or maybe more than twenty, depending on when you want to say it began - there are still new Fluxus people coming along, joining the group. Why? Because Fluxus has a life of its own, apart from the old people in it. It is simple things, taking things for themselves and not just as part of bigger things. It is something that many of us must do, at least part of the time. So Fluxus is inside you, is part of how you are. It isn't just a bunch of things and dramas but is part of how you live. It is beyond words.

[Dick Higgins]
A Child's History of Fluxus

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Access experience

I was out on a bike-ride (or cycle-dérive) the other day, and I'd made my way to an area of field and woodland that is currently being developed into what appears to be an industrial estate. The development is in its early stages, and a few new buildings have recently sprung up. They look quite incongruous sitting out there in the middle of nature.

I was looking at two of these buildings; they appear to be office space - both of them are quite large, with two floors and glass sides. They are identical to each other, but only one of them is currently occupied.

I was looking at the empty one, and noticing how you could see straight through it. You've probably seen buildings like this before; office-space in waiting. These buildings have always held a certain attraction for me - their latency invites you to use your imagination, to think about what you would put in there, or do in there. Its nice to imagine wandering around them whilst they're empty, as this is something most of us probably get to do so rarely. For me these spaces definitely have a lot of imaginative potential.

I then noticed a man standing outside the empty building smoking a cigarette, presumably the security guard. I was tempted to ask him if I could have a look around the building, but my rational side got the better of me and I didn't approach him (reasoning; what would I say? Can I have a look around? And what if he asked why? How would I explain my motivations without sounding suspicious and/or strange?).

It struck me later that if I'd have had my camera on me then the situation may have been entirely different. I would most certainly have been less afraid to approach him, knowing that I could have explained my intentions by using the camera; I could have told him that I wanted to take photos for a project on the development; that I was freelance photographer, or a student.

Perhaps in a perfect world we wouldn't need devices like these in order to give us an excuse for exploring and experiencing the world; but, if you are of a timid nature or your rational side has too strong a grip, then such devices can prove really handy.

In this instance the camera would have been a device for gaining access to a place where I had no reason to be, other than simple curiousity. Of course, this is reason enough in itself, but it isn't always easy to explain this to someone, or even to justify it to your (rationalising) self.

There are many other examples of devices that allow subtleties of experience. Let's say you find yourself sitting indoors on a lovely sunny day. You realise that you'd like to be outside, but you have no ostensible reason for going out. Some may take a walk, or go sit in a park. The skateboarder always has a reason for being outside. And a sunny day never presents a problem of imagination. The skateboard, whilst serving its ostensive purpose (it allows the person to skate), also acts as a device allowing the skater to experience being out and about on a lovely day - a device for accessing subtleties of experience.

I'm not suggesting that we all take up skateboarding, but I hope you can understand the idea; the camera and the skateboard, whilst being devices for taking pictures and skating upon, can also act in other ways.

So, note to self: always carry the camera, just in case ...

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Disenchantment

It seems to them vulgar to enjoy food because you are hungry or to enjoy life because if offers a variety of interesting spectacles and surprising experiences. From the height of their disillusionment they look down upon those whom they despise as simple souls. For my part I have no sympathy with this outlook.

All disenchantment is to me a malady, which it is true, certain circumstances may render inevitable, but which none the less, when it occurs, is to be cured as soon as possible, not to be regarded as a higher form of wisdom.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.111

Bright spark
Life Is Too Short!
Embrace Experience
Come on Youth

Tactfully Unconventional

Conventional people are roused to fury by departures from convention, largely because they regard such departures as a criticism of themselves.

They will pardon much unconventionality in a man who has enough jollity and friendliness to make it clear, even to the stupidest, that he is not engaged in criticising them.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.89

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Facing Fears

When some misfortune threatens, consider seriously and deliberately what is the very worst that could possibly happen. Having looked this possible misfortune in the face, give yourself sound reasons for thinking that after all it would be no such very terrible disaster. Such reasons always exist, since at the worst nothing that happens to oneself has any cosmic importance.

When you have looked for some time steadily at the worst possibility and have said to yourself with real conviction, 'Well, after all, that would not matter so very much', you will find that your worry diminishes to a quite extraordinary extent.

It may be necessary to repeat the process a few times, but in the end, if you have shirked nothing in facing the worst possible issue, you will find that your worry disappears altogether, and is replaced by a kind of exhilaration

... the proper course with every kind of fear is to think about it rationally and calmly, but with great concentration, until finally it has become completely familiar. In the end familiarity will blunt its terrors; the whole subject will become boring ...

When you find yourself inclined to brood on anything, no matter what, the best plan always is to think about it even more than you naturally would, until at last its morbid fascination is worn off.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.50, 51

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Embrace Experience

Suppose one man likes strawberries and another does not; in what respect is the latter superior? There is no abstract and impersonal proof either that strawberries are good or that they are not good. To the man who likes them they are good; to the man who dislikes them they are not.

But the man who likes them has a pleasure which the other does not have; to that extent his life is more enjoyable and he is better adapted to the world in which both must live.

What is true in this trivial instance is equally true in more important matters. The man who enjoys watching football is to that extent superior to the man who does not. The man who enjoys reading is still more superior to the man who does not, since opportunities for reading are more frequent than opportunities for watching football.

The more things a man is interested in, the more opportunities of happiness he has, and the less he is at the mercy of fate, since if he loses one thing he can fall back upon another.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.111, 112

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The things that we dislike we'll try to get ourselves into. Then not only do we have another thing that we get to like, which makes life a little bigger, but we also have one less weak thing inside of us.

[Andrew W.K.]

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Loose Grip

A great many worries can be diminished by realising the unimportance of the matter which is causing the anxiety.

I have done in my time a considerable amount of public speaking; at first every audience terrified me, and nervousness made me speak very badly; I dreaded the ordeal so much that I always hoped I might break my leg before I had to make a speech, and when it was over I was exhausted from the nervous strain.

Gradually I taught myself to feel that it did not matter whether I spoke well or ill, the universe would remain much the same in either case. I found the less I cared whether I spoke well or badly, the less badly I spoke, and gradually the nervous strain diminished almost to vanishing point. A great deal of nervous fatigue can be dealt with in this way.

Our doings are not so important as we naturally suppose; our successes and failures do not after all matter very much. Even great sorrows can be survived; troubles which seem as if they must put an end to happiness for life fade with the lapse of time until it becomes almost impossible to remember their poignancy.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.47, 48

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An Orderly Mind

To a great extent fatigue in such cases is due to worry, and worry could be prevented by a better philosophy of life and a little more mental discipline. Most men and women are very deficient in control over their thoughts. I mean by this that they cannot cease to think about worrying topics at times when no action can be taken in regard to them.

It is amazing how much both happiness and efficiency can be increased by the cultivation of an orderly mind, which thinks about a matter adequately at the right time rather than inadequately at all times.

When a difficult or worrying decision has to be reached, as soon as all the data are available, give the matter your best thought and make your decision; having made the decision, do not revise it unless some new fact comes to your knowledge. Nothing is so exhausting as indecision, and nothing is so futile.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.46, 47

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Love Sheen

... love is to be valued because it enhances all the best pleasures, such as music, and sunrise in mountains, and the sea under the full moon. A man who has never enjoyed beautiful things in the company of a woman whom he loved has not experienced to the full the magic power of which such things are capable.

I do not pretend that love in its highest form is common, but I do maintain that in its highest form it reveals values which must otherwise remain unknown, and has itself a value which is untouched by scepticism, although sceptics who are incapable of it may falsely attribute their incapacity to their scepticism.

True love is a durable fire,
In the mind ever burning,
Never sick, never dead, never cold,
From itself never turning

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.23

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Looking Out, Looking Up

In adolescence, I hated life and was continually on the verge of suicide, from which, however, I was restrained by the desire to know more mathematics. Now, on the contrary, I enjoy life; I might also say that with every year that passes I enjoy it more.

This is due partly to having discovered what were the things that I most desired and having gradually acquired many of these things.

Partly it is due to having successfully dismissed certain objects of desire - such as the acquisition of indubitable knowledge about something or other - as essentially unattainable. But very largely it is due to a diminishing preoccupation with myself.

Like many other who had a Puritan education, I had the habit of meditating on my sins, follies, and shortcomings. I seemed to myself - no doubt justly - a miserable specimen. Gradually I learned to be indifferent to myself and my deficiencies; I came to centre my attention increasingly upon external objects: the state of the world, various branches of knowledge, individuals for whom I felt affection.

Every external interest inspires some activity which, so long as the interest remains alive, is a complete preventive of ennui.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.6

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[...] psychologist, Jean Twenge, [...] has been [analyzing] what she describes as a "narcissism epidemic" in the US that is disproportionately affecting women. Her meta-analysis covered 37,000 college students. It found that in 1982, 15% got high scores on a narcissism personality index; by 2006 it was 25% – and the largest share of this increase was women.

The narcissist has huge expectations of themselves and their lives. Typically, they make predictions about what they can achieve that are unrealistic, for example in terms of academic grades and employment. They seek fame and status, and the achievement of the latter leads to materialism – money enables the brand labels and lavish lifestyle that are status symbols. It is the Paris Hilton syndrome across millions of lives.

Twenge points to the fact that in the 1950s only 12% of college students agreed that "I am an important person", but by the late 80s it was 80%.
In 1967, only 45% agreed that "being well-off is an important life goal"
By 2004 the figure was 74%.

The problem, Twenge believes, derives in part from a generation of indulgent parents who have told their children how special they are. An individualistic culture has, in turn, reinforced a preoccupation with the self and its promotion. The narcissist is often rewarded – they tend to be outgoing, good at selling themselves, and very competitive: they are the types who will end up as Sir Alan's apprentice. But their success is shortlived; the downside is that they have a tendency to risky behaviour, addictive disorders, have difficulties sustaining intimate relationships, and are more prone to aggressive behaviour when rejected.

The narcissism of young women could just be a phase they will grow out of, admits Twenge, but she is concerned that the evidence of narcissism is present throughout highly consumerist, individualistic societies – and women suffer disproportionately from the depression and anxiety linked to it.

This is what alarms psychologist Oliver James. He is working on an updated version of his pioneering Britain on the Couch, which first argued that mental ill-health had increased despite more wealth. He worries that the Scottish teenage girls are the "canaries" down the mines, giving powerful indications of a set of social influences that are deeply damaging their wellbeing. He points to the pressures of a "consumerised, commercially driven version of femininity" that puts huge emphasis on girls' appearance.

The expectations of girls and women have multiplied and intensified – on every front, from passing exams to looking good and having more friends and better photos on Facebook. Technology proliferates the places in which one is required to self-promote.

[Madeleine Bunting]
From article on Guardian website ('The narcissism of consumer society has left women unhappier than ever'), here.

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Live In The Now

Why should my future goals matter more than those I have now? It is not just that they are remote, even hypothetical. They may be less worth striving for:

'Why should a youth suppress his budding passions in favour of the sordid interests of his withered old age? Why is that problematical old man who may bear his name fifty years hence nearer to him now than any imaginary creature?'

Caring about your self as it will be in the future is no more reasonable than caring about the self you are now.

[John Gray]
Quoting
George Santayana
Straw Dogs, p.105

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Facing Reality

Action preserves a sense of self-identity that reflection dispels. When we are at work in the world we have a seeming solidity.

It is not the idle dreamer who escapes from reality. It is practical men and women, who turn to a life of action as a refuge from insignificance.

In thinking so highly of work we are aberrant. Few other cultures have ever done so. For nearly all of history and all prehistory, work was an indignity.

... the work and prayer of medieval Christendom were interspersed with festivals. The ancient Greeks sought salvation in philosophy, the Indians in meditation, the Chinese in poetry and the love of nature.

[John Gray]
Straw Dogs, p.194, 195

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... with the new tools of observation that psychoanalysis offers, we can recognize that so-called rational behaviour is largely determined by the character structure. In our discussion of the meaning of work for modern man we have dealt with an illustration of this point.

We saw that the intense desire for unceasing activity was rooted in aloneness and anxiety. This compulsion to work differed from the attitude towards work in other cultures, where people worked as much as it was necessary but where they were not driven by additional forces within their own character structure.

Since all normal persons to-day have about the same impulse to work and, furthermore, since this intensity of work is necessary if they want to live at all, one easily overlooks the irrational component in this trait.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.242

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As this is written, a sow bug crawls across a desk. If he is turned over on his back, one can observe the tremendous struggle that he goes through to get on his feet again. During this interval he has a “purpose” in his life. When he succeeds, one can almost see the look of victory on his face. Off he goes, and one can imagine him telling his tale at the next meeting of sow bugs, looked up to by the younger generation as an insect who has made it. And yet mixed with his smugness is a little disappointment. Now that he has come out on top, life seems aimless.

[Eric Berne]
Games People Play, p.71

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Our modern industrial system requires that most of our energy be channelled in the direction of work. Were it only that people worked because of external necessities, much friction between what they ought to do and what they would like to do would arise and lessen their efficiency.

However, by the dynamic adaptation of character to social requirements, human energy instead of causing friction is shaped into such forms as to become an incentive to act according to the particular economic necessities.

Thus modern man, instead of having to be forced to work as hard as he does, is driven by the inner compulsion to work ... Or, instead of obeying overt authorities, he has built up an inner authority - conscience and duty - which operates more effectively in controlling him than any external authority could ever do.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.244

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The East is grateful to the West for progress in medecine and increased life expectancy. These are things everyone appreciates. But on the other side, a civilization oriented almost exclusively toward that form of action on the world clearly lacks something essential that material progress can never bring - indeed, it's not what it's designed to do.

That lack appears clearly in the confusion so many minds are plunged into, in the violence that reigns in the inner cities, in the selfishness that governs so many human relationships, in the sad resignation of all those spending their last years in old people's homes, and in the despair of suicide.

If spiritual values stop being an inspiration for a society, material progress becomes a sort of facade that masks the pointlessness of life.

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.158

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Towards a tender society

People often asked how I'm able to entice random strangers into working with me on art projects about their own lives. The answer is that I appear to actually be interested in the person and his or her activities. And what is the best strategy for appearing interested? The answer is to sincerely be interested in fact nothing else will work. This is not difficult for me, because I actually think that people are interesting. I would even go so far as to say that I have a great fondness for the human race.

This wasn't always the case; as a child and adolescent, I was extremely shy and preferred to stay clear of most people. Dogs, books, and cheeses were all preferable companions to me. When, later in life, I decided to become a participant in society, I realized that I had no social skills for constructively engaging with people. Small talk had always made me feel dead inside, so that wasn't going to work. Instead, I decided to actively push conversations in the direction of "bigger talk."

I asked people real questions about their lives, their work, their histories, their favorite foods, etc. Sometimes this was perceived as invasive, but I tried to be very sensitive. I became an increasingly capable listener and asker of related follow-up questions. As a result, my social self has been very intentionally constructed. This isn't as bad as it might seem, though. I think everyone's social (and personal) selves are constructed, just not usually very consciously.

Through asking strangers questions, I have learned to have more meaningful interactions with people outside of my work--friends, family, neighbors, even people at art openings, sometimes. I try to be willing to discuss subjects that are really important in my life, too. When my sister died last summer, I talked with several people about it (sometimes people I didn't know very well) and found out that most of them had also faced death in some way. It was very comforting, and it caused me to believe that people in general have the ability to relate to all sorts of things, if they are given the chance.

Since I've been paying attention, it's become incredibly obvious how few meaningful questions people ask each other. I recommend that people try a little harder. How much do you really know about the people who you encounter on a daily basis? Try asking these people what they really care about. Show them that you are truly interested. Perhaps it will rub off on them, and they will ask you a question back. Whole complex conversations might ensue. You'll learn things from each other, trust and honesty could develop --the world (and the art world with it) might become a better place.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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Walter

I spent two years out of school between undergrad and graduate school. For one of the years I drove around the country and into Mexico living out of my truck, periodically crashing on the couches of friends and family. The other year I lived in Los Gatos, California and worked in the after school program of a small grade school in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

I did art projects with all of the kids there from kindergarten to 5th grade. Right away I noticed that the kindergarteners were all interdisciplinary artists, and that they were very fearless and motivated. There was a slow regression that took place as the kids got older and by the time they were in 5th grade there was usually only one kid in each class that was considered an artist and that was because he or she could draw realistically. The rest of the kids were convinced that they had no artistic abilities at all.

One of the kindergarteners I worked with was named Walter, he was the smallest kid in the whole school but he was clearly very intelligent too. Somehow he had learned to multiply and divide in his head and the other older kids loved to throw complicated equations his way and wait for him to come up with the answers, which were almost always correct. I'd had bad experiences with math as a kid, and like the 5th graders who had lost their artistic sense of themselves, I'd lost any concept of myself being able to do anything but rudimentary math. But Walter wanted more math to tackle and it wasn't being supplied in his kindergarten class. So I asked my mathematician friend Cleveland to explain some simple algebra to me. Cleveland is a thoughtful and patient instructor and soon I actually found myself learning and being excited about math with the primary motivation of being able to pass on what I was learning to Walter.

When it came to the art projects for the kids I tried to keep it simple, I liked making books and so I showed them how to make books too. Walter was particularly excited about this activity. Every day he made a new set of drawings on a specific subject of interest like insects, dinosaurs, ghosts, monsters, animals found in Africa, etc. He would then dictate to me the text and title and staple the whole thing together. Then he would run around the little campus and make everyone look at his book. Kids would stop basketball games and gather around to flip through Walter's latest creation. After he had shown everyone, Walter would discard the book, with total disinterest (I rescued several from the trash) and started speculating on the next day's book topic.

It occurred to me that Walter was fulfilling a whole little system of parts which are crucial to the artistic process. He determined a subject that was of interest to him, insects, etc. expressed his feelings on the subject through his drawings and text, and then went out to share his product with an audience.

There were no other factors or motivations, no hope of using the work to get into grad school, or to get a gallery show, and no desire to make something that looked like something else he saw in Art Forum.

It occurred to me that I had started similarly to Walter when I first was interested in making art, but that somewhere along the way that system had been corrupted. I decided to stop making art for a while and then as projects slowly started occurring to me again I tried to compare them with Walter's process to determine if I should pursue them or not. It has been difficult to maintain Walter's level of simplicity and integrity, but it is always a goal of mine.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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The test is this: do you produce because you feel an urgent compulsion to express certain ideas or feelings, or are you actuated by the desire for applause?

In the genuine artist the desire for applause, while it usually exists strongly, is secondary, in the sense that the artist wishes to produce a certain kind of work, and hopes that that work may be applauded, but will not alter his style even if no applause is forthcoming.

The man, on the other hand, to whom the desire for applause is the primary motive, has no force within himself urging him to a particular kind of expression, and could therefore just as well do work of some wholly different kind.

[Bertrand Russell]
The Conquest of Happiness, p.82

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Active imagination is not an artistic endeavor, not a creative production of paintings and poems.

One may aesthetically give form to the images - indeed one should try as best one can aesthetically - though this is for the sake of the figures, in dedication to them and to realize their beauty, and not for the sake of art.

The aesthetic work of active imagination is therefore not to be confused with art for exhibition or publication.

[James Hillman]
Healing Fiction, p.78

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I had a professor in grad school who told me that he was addicted to the art world, and that he was never satisfied. Once he got into one show he just wanted to get into another that he perceived as more important, he also scanned Art Forum every month to make sure his name was mentioned somewhere in it and if it wasn't he felt depressed. I think he told me this as a warning.

Mostly what I'm trying to do as an artist is to live an interesting life. At least that's what I keep telling myself. It can be a struggle at times, but I think that is pretty much what I am doing.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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Learning Environments

I like to read about alternative education for kids from the 60's and 70's. There is one writer I'm particularly fond of named John Holt. He wrote a great book called How Children Learn, and then about twenty years later he revised the book by adding comments on his own writing in the margins of the book. He thought that a lot of the text he'd written twenty years earlier didn't make any sense.

One of the things he did agree with is that traditional classrooms are not set up as learning environments because the kids are divided up in terms of age, and because they are forced to sit in desks and not move or talk unless they raise their hand and are called on and then only to regurgitate what the teacher has already told them.

He says that instead a learning environment would be one that has a mix of ages and experiences in one place so that people can learn from each other, and that learning happens through doing activities and talking with other people, so those things shouldn't be suppressed. In later books he suggests that typical schools are really more like prisons for kids rather than places of learning. I tend to agree.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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Open Source

In the art world there is so much emphasis on originality. Artists buy right into that, and even though they are always influenced by other people they try pretending that they are not. The galleries promote this idea and encourage "signature styles", rarification and the star/celebrity system. I can see why the galleries would like that way of doing business because it allows them to inflate prices and make demand, but for artists there is no real benefit.

It just suppresses the true way that people develop their work through adapting and hybridizing and creates an environment where artists feel like they have to protect and make secret their process rather than sharing it freely and feeling good about doing that, which I think would be much more healthy both for individuals and as a system.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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alternatively if you are a commentatory person and think this is even slightly useful then do lift bits of it. i am a pretty procrastinatory campaigning hobbyist journalist so what other people regard as plagiarism often feels like a massively positive outcome to me.

[Ben Goldacre]
Bad Science (blog): http://www.badscience.net/2009/05/a-characteristically-amateurish-and-socially-inappropriate-approach-to-pitching-an-article/

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Experiential Education

When I was in college as an undergraduate at Humboldt State University, which is in a very small hippy town in northern California, I took a class from a teacher named Bill Duvall, he had co-written an important environmental book called Deep Ecology. The class I took was called Experiential Education.

On the first day of class Bill Duval asked each of the students to pick an outdoor physical activity to do during class periods for the rest of the semester. Some people chose surfing, some bike riding, and some kayaking. I decided to walk on railroad tracks. I got really good at it, by the end I could walk on the tracks for miles at a time without falling off, I could also run on them, jump from one track to the other, spin around on them, and walk on them with my eyes closed. The class didn't meet for the rest of the semester until the last weekend when we all meet up on a camping trip to talk about our personal experiences of doing our activities.

Somehow I think about that class often, where as most of the other classes I took in college and all of the tests and papers and discussions that were a part of them are long forgotten.

[Harrell Fletcher]

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Creative Living

In creative living you or I find that everything we do strengthens the feeling that we are alive, that we are ourselves. One can look at a tree (not necessarily at a picture) and look creatively. If you have ever had a depression phase of the schizoid sort (and most have), you will know this in the negative. How often I have been told: 'There is a laburnum outside my window and the sun is out and I know intellectually that it must be a grand sight, for those who can see it. But for me this morning (Monday) there is no meaning in it. I cannot feel it. It makes me acutely aware of not being myself real.'

Although allied to creative living, the active creations of letter writers, poets, artists, sculptors, architects, musicians, are different. You will agree that if someone is engaged in artistic creation, we hope he or she can call on some special talent. But for creative living we need no special talent. This is a universal need, and a universal experience, and even the bedridden, withdrawn schizophrenic may be living creatively in a secret mental activity, and therefore in a sense happy.

Creativity, then, is the retention throughout life of something that belongs properly to infant experience: the ability to create the world [...] the child that became you or me found itself equipped with some capacity to see everything in a fresh way, to be creative in every detail of living.

By creative living I mean not getting killed or annihilated all the time by compliance or by reacting to the world that impinges; I mean seeing everything afresh all the time.

Somewhere in the scheme of things there can be room for everyone to live creatively. This involves retaining something personal, perhaps secret, that is unmistakably yourself. If nothing else, try breathing, something no one can do for you.

I believe there is nothing that has to be done that cannot be done creatively, if the person is creative or has that capacity [...] I believe it is true, as I have already indicated, that however poor the individual's equipment, experience can be creative and can be felt to be exciting in the sense that there is always something new and unexpected in the air.

[...] experience of creative living is always more important for the individual than doing well.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays By A Psychoanalyst ('Living Creatively'), p.40-4, 51-3

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I know that one way of cooking sausages is to look up the exact directions [...] and another way is to take some sausages and somehow to cook sausages for the first time ever. The result may be the same on any one occasion, but it is more pleasant to live with the creative cook, even if sometimes there is a disaster or the taste is funny and one suspects the worst.

The thing I am trying to say is that for the cook the two experiences are different: the slavish one who complies gets nothing from the experience except an increase in the feeling of dependence on authority, while the original one feels more real, and surprises herself (or himself) by what turns up in the mind in the course of the act of cooking.

When we are surprised at ourselves, we are being creative, and we find we can trust our own unexpected originality. We shall not mind if those who consume the sausages fail to notice the surprising thing that was in the cooking of them, or if they do not show gustatory appreciation.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays By A Psychoanalyst ('Living Creatively'), p.51

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Feed Your Imagination!

The fact is that people must not take jobs that they find stifling - or if they cannot avoid this, they must organize their weekends so as to feed the imagination, even at the worst moments of boring routine.

It has been said that it is easier to keep the imaginative life going in a truly boring routine than in an area of somewhat interesting work.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays By A Psychoanalyst ('Living Creatively'), p.43

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Truth to tell, I have a very high opinion of fantasy.

It is true that there are worthless, inadequate, morbid and unsatisfying fantasies whose sterile nature will be quickly recognized by every person endowed with commonsense; but this of course proves nothing against the value of creative imagination. All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy.

The creative activity of the imagination frees man from his bondage to the "nothing but" and liberates in him the spirit of play. As Schiller says, man is completely human only when he is playing.

[C.G. Jung]
Modern Man In Search Of A Soul ('The Aims of Psychotherapy'), p.67

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Do It Yourself

I could look up creativity in The Oxford English Dictionary, and I could do research on all that has been written on the subject in philosophy and psychology, and then I could serve it all up on a dish. Even this would be garnished in such a way that you would exclaim: 'How original!' Personally, I am unable to follow this plan.

I have this need to talk as though no one had ever examined the subject before, and of course this can make my words ridiculous. But I think you can see in this my own need to make sure I am not buried by my theme. It would kill me to work out the concordance of creativity references.

Evidently I must always be fighting to feel creative, and this has the disadvantage that if I am describing a simple word like 'love', I must start from scratch. (Perhaps that's the right place to start from.)

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays By A Psychoanalyst ('Living Creatively'), p.41

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The decisive point is not what is thought but how it is thought. The thought that is the result of active thinking is always new and original; original, not necessarily in the sense that others have not thought it before, but always in the sense that the person who thinks, has used thinking as a tool to discover something new in the world outside or inside himself.

[Erich Fromm]
The Fear of Freedom, p.167

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4. Dependency is destiny.

Since the "world of origins" is closed to us, we must accept the fact that we are dependent -- doomed, if you like, to being forever meta. There is no shame in this. We are all contingent, all referring to things which, themselves, refer to other things (parents descended from parents, phrases from phrases).

Humperson did, however, see the possibility of originality via errors, mishearings and misunderstandings. He enjoyed playing Chinese Whispers, especially in later life, when he grew rather deaf.

[Momus]
http://imomus.livejournal.com/

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The question could be posed the other way round - why do we need to apply the notion of originals and definitives to thought, people and things. Why are there lines in the sand, 'original men', Jesus, Elvis? Do we need splits where future branches are deemed to sprout - just to feel part of time's narrative, rather than suspended in a gelatinous frogspawn.

[Anonymous]
http://imomus.livejournal.com/468556.html

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Carry Each Other

It is human beings who are likely to destroy the world. If so, we can perhaps die in the last atomic explosion knowing that this is not health but fear; it is part of the failure of healthy people and healthy society to carry its ill members.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Home Is Where We Start From: Essays By A Psychoanalyst ('The Concept of a Healthy Individual'), p.37

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Weeds, he said, don't exist. We call plants we don't want "weeds," but to Rolling Thunder all plants have a purpose that should be respected.

[...] For him there are no weeds, no mosquito bites, no unwanted rains. There are no dangerous plants or animals. For him there is no fear. The wind and the rain, the mosquitoes and the snakes are all within him. His consciousness extends to include them within its very being.

[Doug Boyd]
Rolling Thunder, p.9, 72

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Leading By Example

We remember the Baal Shem Tov, that genius of the spirit in the early eighteenth century in Poland, would not let his young men read certain spiritual texts until they were thirty-five. Some say that the man's task in the first half of his life is to become bonded to matter: to learn a craft, become friends with wood, earth, wind, or fire.

When Jung established a training centre in Zurich, he would not accept a person who was not already a success in some other career. It was a way of saying thirty-five or older.

[Robert Bly]
Iron John, p.60

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If a prisoner wants to free his companions in misfortune, he must first break out of his own chains. It's the only way to do it. You have to gain in strength to act appropriately.

The spiritual path begins with a period of retreat from the world, like a wounded deer looking for a solitary, peaceful spot to heal her wounds. Here, the wounds are those inflicted by ignorance.

To be able to help beings, there should no longer be any difference between what you teach and what you are. A beginner might feel an immense desire to help others, but generally doesn't ave sufficient spiritual maturity to be able to do so.

In the case of the lama I spent most time with, Khyentse Rinpoche, he spent some seventeen years in solitary retreat in his youth, interrupted only by visits to his teachers from time to time. Then, when he was thirty-five, his teacher told him, 'Now the time has come for you to transmit your knowledge and experience to others.'

[Matthieu Ricard]
The Monk and the Philosopher, p.154

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Optimism (as cultural rebellion)

Optimism is the vital force that entangles itself with, and then shapes, the future. Nihilistic cynicism is a dominant force within culture and leaves no space for useful visions of the future. This has been a problem for a long time now.

Interestingly with Obama this spirit has shifted slightly in the last few weeks. Most people find it hard to imagine change until it happens. This means that artists who can, have to keep moving away from dominant and institutionalised ways of thinking, and create useful visions of the future. They can also extend the boundaries of what has been considered possible. Today this is a cultural rebellion.

[Matthew Stone]
Interview in Urban Canvas (Vice supplement)

Rosenthal: I wanted to pull you back to two things; first of all the idea of orchestration and how much control you execute over the ‘scene’, and then how much of a pre conceived idea you had of what you wanted the squat in Peckham to become?

Stone: I think that in all situations it has to be a balance of both; having an idea of where you want something to go and then using your control to guide it there.

Rosenthal: I agree with you entirely, and then you go with the flow because you never quite know what you are going to find. I am a great believer in just finding things or people, rather than looking.

Stone: But your eyes must be open!

Rosenthal: Yes, your eyes have to be open. You walk in the street and you never quite know who or what you are going to find round the next corner and that is why you don’t go out looking, you go out in a vague haze.

Stone: But you need to ‘leave the house’.

Rosenthal: (laughs) I am not sure about all these metaphors but yes, you need to ‘leave the house’ or ‘pick up the book’ or whatever it is, but searching for something is not a good idea if you ask me. I am also a huge believer in fate.

Stone: For me fate is a very limited and traditional view of optimism, this idea that everything will work out or the world is inherently a good place. Psychologically it has been proven to be a useful mental position, but that’s not enough for me.

Rosenthal: Ok so that brings me back to the essence of your philosophy. How would you essentially define your philosophy of Optimism?

Stone: I have to be conscious of many things when I am describing this here, as there are many valid reasons that people in recent history have avoided this term ‘Optimism’. We stand in the shadow of a vast century…

Rosenthal: In which, if I may say so, the two historically decisive ideologies, i.e. communism and fascism, if you were one of those to be included, were in fact promoters of a certain kind of crude optimism.

Stone: I saw an interesting cartoon recently that showed Mao in front of thousands of Chinese people with a speech bubble reading “Yes we can”. I think we have to be mindful of blind optimism.

Rosenthal: So what’s the difference between blind optimism and Optimism?

Stone: Blind optimism ignores the reality of suffering and is passive to reality. Without a place in culture for new visions of the future we are just left with nihilism and apathy. Optimism must be more than a naïve faith that the future will be OK; actually I’m going to quote myself here “Optimism is the vital force that entangles itself with, and then shapes through action, the future.”

Rosenthal: Considering we are such good friends I have seen a few of your exhibitions but I haven’t ever managed to witness one of your performances. From what I have seen though, you appear to be interested in interaction and the warmth between humans. Can you describe your own work a little bit?

Stone: It’s about interconnection and optimistic visions of social interaction. I really believe that the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.

Rosenthal: What does the whole consist of?

Stone: The whole consists of everybody and everything and takes in the vast interconnected nature of the universe. For example, when I am making an image, I want you to see a group that is confusing with regard to who's who. Where does one person start and the next begin? I perceive that we do not finish at the end of our fingertips.

Rosenthal: What do you mean by that?

Stone: I mean that the effect we have as individuals on the world has a far greater reach than that of our physical bodies. I have been developing sculptures recently that consist of intersecting solid cubes covered with images of bodies. These cubes, as they interlock, share an invisible space beneath their surfaces, like a Venn diagram. I am really interested in the way two separate ideas can at the same time be completely opposite, but that there can also be an acknowledgment of a shared space.
The cube sculptures illustrate a commonality between objects that are seen as distinct and are symbols for a way of thinking that maintains simultaneously oppositional stances. All at once! (laughs)
I have been toying with the invented term “Multidox Theory”, which is basically a paradox, but with the potential for more than two aspects. I think the future lies in the idea that you can effectively hold two opposing opinions at the same time.

Rosenthal: That is why I have always loved opera, because you can hear two or sometimes many more people, with different thoughts, singing simultaneously. I love the contrariness of it.

Norman Rosenthal and Matthew Stone in conversation, AnOtherMan magazine. See the full thing here.

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Searching for Truth

Oh, if only it were possible to find understanding," Joseph exclaimed. "If only there were a dogma to believe in. Everything is contradictory, everything tangential; there are no certainties anywhere. Everything can be interpreted one way and then again interpreted in the opposite sense. The whole of world history can be explained as development and progress and can also be seen as nothing but decadence and meaninglessness. Isn't there any truth? Is there no real and valid doctrine?"

The master had never heard him speak so fervently. He walked on in silence for a little, then said: "There is truth, my boy. But the doctrine you desire, absolute, perfect dogma that alone provides wisdom, does not exist. Nor should you long for a perfect doctrine, my friend. Rather, you should long for the perfection of yourself. The diety is within you, not in ideas and books. Truth is lived, not taught. Be prepared for conflicts, Joseph Knecht - I can see that they already have begun.

[Herman Hesse]
The Glass Bead Game

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Come on Youth

Immaturity is an essential element of health at adolescence. There is only one cure for immaturity and that is the passage of time and the growth into maturity that time may bring.

Immaturity is a precious part of the adolescent scene. In this is contained the most exciting features of creative thought, new and fresh feeling, ideas for living. Society needs to be shaken by the aspirations of those who are not responsible.

Advice to society could be: for the sake of adolescents, and of their immaturity, do not allow them to step up and attain a false maturity by handing over to them responsibility that is not yet theirs, even though they may fight for it.

... we may surely think of the strivings of adolescents to find themselves as the most exciting thing that we can see in life around us. The adolescent's idea of an ideal society is exciting and stimulating, but the point about adolescence is its immaturity and the fact of not being responsible. This, its most sacred element, lasts only a few years, and it is a property that must be lost to each individual as maturity is reached.

Triumph belongs to this attainment of maturity by growth process. Triumph does not belong to the false maturity based on a facile impersonation of an adult. Terrible facts are locked up in this statement.

One of the most exciting things about adolescent boys and girls can be said to be their idealism. They have not yet settled down into disillusionment, and the corollary of this is that they are free to formulate ideal plans.

Let the young alter society and teach grown-ups how to see the world afresh.

[D.W. Winnicott]
Playing and Reality ('Contemporary concepts of adolescent development and their implications for higher education'), p.198, 199, 201, 203

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The modern Western ego feels pride in the strength of the young, mature man. Eastern consciousness proudly shows the old man's wisdom.[...] I am afraid that the old man's wisdom tends to become hardened.

[Hayao Kawai]
Buddhism and the Art of Psychotherapy, p.87

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