We use our imagination with respect to every man of whom we take notice when by a glance we make up our mind about him.* (Wallace Stevens)
But when you talk to a stranger, when you admire and respect their differences from you, when you help them you are making the world around you more malleable, creating spaces for change.** (Kio Stark)
It takes time to really see someone, not a glance but a longer second look – re-specting.
Time becomes the most precious thing we can give to each other.
Whatever else we may give and receive has to be contained within time.
A first glance will often be more about the mind; the longer second look, about the heart. Patrick Woodhouse writes about Holocaust martyr Etty Hillesum’s need to move beyond reason as a response to what was happening around her:
‘Reason alone was not enough: something else was required. Not so much the mind grasping and dealing with life through thinking, more the response of the heart simply attending to and receiving what is.’^^
When it comes to also understanding our awareness of time always involves our imaginations; Jorge Luis Borges encourages us to see how we are time:
“Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.^
Instead of using our imaginations to make up what we do not know about another, we can enter into shared time, a wonderful world of possibility.
We cannot look at the past or the future except by means of the imagination but again the imagination of the backward glance is one thing and the imagination of looks ahead something else.* (Wallace Stevens)
New social movements do not come from those in centres of power. […] Look to the periphery, to people and places where commitment to the status quo is low and where hearts and minds are most open to the new.**
We often think of badness being disruptive or disruption being bad, but the more amazing and wonderful happens when we explore the edges, the unknown, the future, in order that we may:
‘increase the amount of randomness in our lives but also capture it when it presents something amazing’.^
We cannot do this without exploring and disrupting both the world within and the world without.
Time to stop looking for shortcuts and time to start insisting on a long, viable path instead.* (Seth Godin)
When all is simplicity, life appears to be one. Then complexity turns up, things go wrong, tensions rise, choices must be made. How we wish we could return to simplicity. If that wasn’t bad enough, perplexity makes an appearance: things we can’t understand and which resist reconciliation – hurt and pain and suffering.
Harmony is found when we understand all of these are part of the one life, and in an unfathomable-somehow, they make life bigger.
As cosmopolitans, as humans, when our other identities [as members of a state, nation, race, ethnic group, affinity group] come into conflict with our shared humanity, shared humanity wins.* (Anne Lamott)
The true poem is not the work of the individual artist; it is the universe itself, the one work of art which is forever perfecting itself.** (Ernst Cassirer)
Wallace Stevens speaks of imagination in a primal way for human existence:
‘To regard the imagination as metaphysics is to think of it as part of life, and to think of it as part of life is to realise the extent of artifice. We live in the mind. […] If we live in the mind, we live with imagination.’^
We note that imagination can be used by us in many ways, to tell many stories, to posit many possibilities. With our imaginations we make life smaller or bigger. Kosuke Koyama insists:
‘Struggle against our greediness is a frustrating, yet vitally important, undertaking.’^^
We can be greedy for the individual, the family, the team, the tribe, the nation, but everyone is waiting for what we have to bring, the contribution we imagined into being. Seth Godin wrote a wonderful book about the amazing things people want to be about together, but he warns:
‘the tribe is open to hearing from you – they’re not yours.’*^
Walt Whitman uses his imagination in a larger way when he looks upon the procession of everyone:
‘Each has his or her place in the procession. All is a procession, The universe is a procession with measured and beautiful motion.’^*
We judge others too quickly and such a procession requires the most open of imaginations, leaving our smaller scripts behind.
It is vital (in all senses of the term) that we enter into a dialogic relation to what is around us, and that we acknowledge the extent to which the knower is implicated in what comes to be known.* (Annie Pirrie)
Life and reality are not things you can have for yourself unless you accord them to all others.** (Alan Watts)
If we only wear business and knowing, we will never be able to move from what we know into what we do not know. Nan Shepherd, understanding that all things have an inside, confesses on our behalf:
‘I knew when I looked for a long time that I had hardly begun to see.’^
Better to wear compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love – clothes we can only wear slowly, clothes that are taking a lifetime of learning to wear.
He told her about a spring within her, a well that wouldn’t run dry, a holy breath that connected her to the whole, to the illimitable, to love.* (Anne Lamott)
The type of inquiry I am talking about derives from an attitude of interest and curiosity. It implies a desire to build a relationship that will lead to more open communication.** (Ed Schein)
Anne Lamott is reflecting on an encounter Jesus of Nazerath had with a Samaritan woman outside the town of Sychar.^
She was something of an outcast in her own community, used and rejected many times. The reflection comes with hindsight but it must have felt different the other way around, when a life was closed to its own wonder and some way of opening up possibility was necessary.
This is what Edgar Schein offers. When it’s hard to not make up one’s mind about someone and to stay open to the wonder that exists in everyone, we need to develop our interest and curiosity.
The other then becomes more important than ourselves:
‘when you wonder, you are drawn out of yourself’.^^
When we wonder it is as if we are touching what it is we are here for:
“when the universe makes me wonder, all is as it should be”.*^
What is this pollen path that connects our small stories to the greater story – given to us by those who have gone before, left by us to those who will follow?
A not so eloquent way of putting this is, we want to live in the zone. We know what this means, this being fully engaged. And the wonder is, it means something different to every one of us.
It’s also hard work to get here, every day, which is why the pollen path though beautiful is difficult to find each day. Difficult, but not impossible. The apostle Paul looked back on his life then wrote about having fought the fight, finished the race, kept the faith. That’s how it feels, whether we’re religious or not: a battle, a race, our faith.
Walking came from Africa, from evolution and from necessity, and it went everywhere, usually looking for something.* (Rebecca Solnit)
[W]hen we go, we find we’re not just entering new territory. We are becoming new people.** (John Ortberg)
I need to keep journeying from somewhere to somewhere, to experience the journey in-between. We can end up thinking that life is about the destinations and the journeys are simply how we get there.
We can be inspired by what someone has done with their lives, but in the end, it is their honesty about the journey – those struggles, failures, inspirations, encounters, growing, becomings – that will help us most of all.