Over the Hills, paper collage, 2020
I dedicated my last post to defining what it means to perceive the world as miraculous. It is a style of experiencing, or way of seeing, that is central to my belief that life is a miracle (as opposed to, say, “life is love,” “the world is dangerous,” or “life is suffering”). This is what Alfred Adler calls a psychic goal, an underlying narrative which helps shape our personality and guide our behavior. (A “thank you” to fellow blogger, Gabriela, for steering me in Adler’s direction. I am currently reading Understanding Human Nature and enjoying it.)
Inherent in the belief that life is a miracle, of course, is a spirit of gratitude. When life is miraculous, everything feels like a gift. When we sense the interrelatedness of all things, when we feel ourselves an integral part of nature, when we experience increases in awareness such that we become fully, sensorially immersed in our present environment, we perceive something of the miraculous. We, in effect, see miracles in everyday life. This is what Maslow defines as B-perception (and the interrelated concept of B-cognition), and it’s what may commonly be called poetic vision.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this kind of perception, it’s that you can lose it. Perhaps not entirely (because I’m certain there is an innate component to all of this), but dull it sufficiently that you can fail to feel the miraculous all around you. This is very much a use it or lose it proposition. It is therefore vital to practice. To develop good habits to sustain your perspective. When I look at my own habits, which developed naturally (and during a time in which I was utterly clueless about why I was doing what I was doing—that is, being guided by an underlying belief that life is a miracle), I realize that the vast majority can be categorized as self-actualizing (SA) creativity, which Maslow describes as follows:
I found it necessary to distinguish ‘special talent creativeness’ from ‘self-actualizing (SA) creativeness’ which sprang much more directly from the personality, and which showed itself widely in the affairs of life…It looked like a tendency to do anything creatively: e.g., housekeeping, teaching, etc…Such people can see the fresh, the raw, the concrete, the ideographic, as well as the generic, the abstract, the rubricized, the categorized, and the classified. Consequently, they live far more in the real world of nature than in the verbalized world of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes…A. H. Maslow
Maslow observed the phenomenon of SA creativity in some self-actualizing people, although, to the best of my knowledge, he never described its function. I believe SA creativity is what sustains B-perception, or what keeps our vision fresh and allows us to experience feelings of awe, wonder, and connection in the stuff of everyday life. After all, peak experiences alone aren’t enough. Those occasional bouts of ecstasy and intense feelings of connectedness that often feel like revelation. We can’t live just for those. They’re more like icing on a cake.
I believe that people who, out of their own lightheartedness, have a tendency to make the stuff of everyday life creative—whether it’s cooking, cleaning, working, or working out—do so in a spirit of gratitude. They are transforming what would be drudgery into something special. Into a gift both to themselves and to those around them. It is a practice akin to making their own miracles. This is what turns cooking into a sensual ritual. Turns cleaning into a mini-celebration. Turns gardening into an intensely spiritual, meditative, and life-giving practice. These activities not only enhance our feelings of connectedness with the world around us, but they also keep us inventive and fully, sensorially engaged with our environment.
For me, cooking is the most important of these. An aesthetic ritual of the highest order, involving music, wine, and full sensory involvement. Exercise, too. Anything that wakes up my body, arouses my senses, and increases my awareness. As are any of those habits I consider zen habits: those which are fully absorbing and require that I do one thing and one thing only for an extended period of time. Activities like gardening, raising butterflies (I can spend hours and hours studying caterpillars and newly-emerged butterflies to the exclusion of all else, while losing track of time, any sense of hunger, thirst, etc.), listening to music—and only listening—preferably to vinyl records, which add a dimension of physicality to the experience. Also, shooting, which is, for obvious reasons, fully absorbing. I do not hunt, but I find target shooting to be both meditative and cathartic. Collage, too, makes this list.
These practices not only sustain my sense of well-being on a regular basis, but I’ve noticed that they also have tremendous healing power during times of stress and overwhelm. Indeed, this is a lot of what I do to heal myself and to soothe myself when I sense the world has become too loud or too chaotic. In a related vein, and with regard to healing, I would be remiss not to mention the explorations I made into my own femininity on this blog. That is how I began the whole project, after all, by defining for myself the art of femininity. The immediate goal of these exercises was to elevate the feminine. In so doing, I turned it into a gift. A gift to myself. Which means I am not only obligated to treat it like one, but I want to treat it like one.
These observations lead me to ask a number of different questions: Can we train ourselves to see differently? Can we train our senses to create an enhanced, more unified experience (without using drugs like LSD)? Is it, as Maslow suggests, our innate tendency to move toward a more holistic kind of perception as we mature and actualize our potential? Can gratitude, as a practice, help us become more creative? Can gratitude be liberating? My intuition tells me the answer to all of these questions is yes.
I’d like to thank you all for indulging me this past week as I explored the concept of religious attitude in depth. I hope you found some value in these discussions. I think I’ll take a little break from this style of post and move on to some new poetry and artwork. I feel a sudden urge to say something like, “Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.” Thank you again for reading.