Thursday, January 27, 2005

An Opening Space 

I've talked before about my difficulty with "switching heads" between a work persona and something that feels more authentically me. I'm feeling the effect of that now, as I write, and in feeling it, trying also to be more aware of just what it is.

Swapping personas is part of the issue, but it isn’t a simple see-saw alternation between two ways of being; it feels now more like the contrast between being imprisoned and being free. Same head, but one has thinking tightly constrained by the confines of a narrow job role; moreover, a deep-rooted inherited work ethic and a natural tendency to submit to authority, add bolts and bars to the prison.

The other head though is free to explore, to play, to burst out of those confines; to create, to occupy a generative place of fluidity and possibility.

I had a few hours freedom yesterday.

I met Michael Herman for lunch; we'd never met before – not in real-space, only in blogs – but it’s been said many times how blogging bypasses so much of the conventional social process of getting to know someone, so that we hit the ground running.

Today I've been back in a more constrained place, and the head I'm wearing can't quite access that same level of freedom and buoyancy and immediacy. Immediacy more than anything seems to be key; paying complete attention, both to the other and to my felt response - although not to the jabbering voice-in-the-back-of-the-head response, which is best ignored.

Anyway, that's mostly by way of preamble, to attempt to excuse words that will most probably be slower, heavier than I want them to be.

Michael captures perfectly something of the process and feel of that conversation; I wont repeat that here, but there were some parts of the content though that felt especially significant for me, that stood out from the flow; rocks on which I could stand and look around, in a fast flowing river of ideas.

“What was your first language?”
I missed the meaning at first.

But of course I learned English. Did I have no access to meaning before I had a spoken language? We talked about how language constrains, how it channels thought; how difficult it can be to tie felt ideas down in words and how something gets lost in the process. What do we have before words? When a thought, an idea, a feeling first comes into existence where before there was nothing, what form does it have? How does it represent itself? In shape? Colour? Sound? Gut feel? That train of thought links back to and extends what I was trying to grasp just the other day – how to listen to that primordial voice of soul. Language is so often two dimensional in a three dimensional world of experience, and we all too easily limit ourselves to that space which language is adequate to describe, although poetry extends a little way beyond, giving a glimpse of experience beyond words.

Funny how insights occur. As Michael spoke about Open Space, I was gazing up into the curving, spreading brick vaulting that formed the ceiling of the Café-in-the-Crypt, and suddenly saw the significance of the alternative term: opening space, seeing it as a process, not an action or a goal or a result. I'm not sure those words have captured quite what I mean; I intuitively sense something significant in that –ing; words are trying to tie that sense down, and not altogether succeeding. Creating possibility; allowing for a larger ideas-space. In fact, that even seems to be feeding into how I'm thinking here and now, this moment, in these words – not a complete thesis or a closed description, but a step of thought-expansion.

And then, something that may become very real for me before long: when weighing up the safe, conventional path – the one we think we can see a long way down, precisely because of its conventionality – against the maverick, unknown, tangential alternative: how do we really know where either will lead? Answer: we don’t. It’s only conventional expectation that leads us to assign notions of safety or risk to these paths. We just don’t know how any road is going to turn out.

But I think that the voice which speaks only in the First Language has an idea of which it finds more attractive…

Thanks, Michael: space is opening

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