“If at first you don’t understand, stick with that!”
Familiarity isn’t the same as understanding—but how can we help but cherish familiar things?
We get use to the styles of the day, the way friends and co-workers act, we get use to taking a certain route to work, or eating a certain meal. However being familiar with something isn’t the same as understanding it. But familiarity does help to simplify things in our life after all if everything remained new every time we saw it we would be overwhelmed, or would we?
Life is a series of moments and through our imagination we find form and tell a story—we make connections. But familiarity can obscure new ways of relating things to one another. If the thing that is familiar is “good” and the thing that is unfamiliar is “bad” how do new, unknown, ideas emerge? And how do we understand this in the modern context of branding as branding has become a central way of understanding the world and ourselves?
Are we the familiar story?
My heartbreak is as unique as it is common.
My hope as personal as it is collective.
We are as broken as we are perfect.
When we strive for the familiar we assume there is a norm or convention. Naturally we want to be a part of a group (this could be linked to the survival instinct) but if our goal (like the goal of a character in a movie) is to avoid the unfamiliar, then what we don’t know and don’t understand must be avoided. Once we perceive the unknown as a threat we are boxed in. Moreover, the doctrine of speed (often referred to as efficiency) contributes to our ignorance and intolerance because we are not afforded the time to learn about things we do not understand and it is our impatience that is our guide. It’s a catch22, we need time learn but there is no time, and so we cling to the familiar; however, this is a merely a mirage of understanding.
It’s as if the saying we, “If at first you don’t understand, stick with that!”
Ignorance becomes the measure for wisdom and wisdom a means of reduction. Imperfections become the symbols of the unknown—the unfamiliar—and we strike out at these symbols. And, with every punch and declamatory rant, we have conquered the unknown and secured our symbolic place in the universe. Not only does this give us a feeling of achievement, of purpose—as we are victorious—but we are grounded in a way that defines our reality. Like rules in sports, we know what is “in” and what is “out,” what is “right” and what is “wrong,” what is “beautiful” and what is “ugly” and so on.
But what is the unknown and what is the potential of the unknown?
The texture in a brush stroke, the bending of a note, the cracks in our skin, all by a certain criteria are imperfections, deemed wrong and in need of correcting. But how did we come to this idea of perfection and how did it become so familiar?
Perfection, as a social ideal, is a reduction and as a reduction it amounts to an admonishment of who we are. This feeling of isolation, or potential isolation, creates a pressure within us, one we feel deeply. Simply put we feel wrong and so we feel pressured to be less than, or other than, that which we imagine ourselves to be. The perpetual fear of isolation comes as we are told again and again that we need to fit an external image, and we are sold the way to achieve it! Convenient.
So, we are told, the path to perfection is found in an external product, an external symbol, an external ideal; some external form of perfection, at which point the symbolic turf war ensues.
Every transgression I have brought upon myself has been the violent attempt to reconcile my ugliness with society. My anxiety—or any anxiety—is the amplification of one’s sense of division. Overcome by the feeling of being pulled in two directions, and to save ourselves from this cognitive dissonance and emotional strife, we adopt the reductionist view. We need to simplify, and we do so through a very specific way of understanding and one of these is through money.
Something is good if it sells and it is bad if doesn’t. We hand the keys to the invisible hand of the marketplace. And in an act of blind faith we trust it will guide our society to success, fame, happiness… etc. But the commodification of humanity is a prescribed simplicity, one that created our anxiety in the first place. It’s like saying, cocaine is the cure for cocaine withdrawal, true, but it’s not really a solution.
When we prescribe to the catch phrases and slogans, the bought and sold answers received from the invisible hand of the market, we have narrowed our reality. This simplicity allows us to fight our symbolic battles with certainty, however, we have entered a system of exclusivity, not inclusivity and this system has conditions.
Individual success is contingent upon isolation, suppression, and the negation of others. And even though we’ve accepted the idea of success in our romantic life, in business, in our spiritual practice, and so on, success is good, however, success is a construct that we use to define and evaluate our position, our exclusivity. Winning the lotto will solve everything, a pay raise will solve everything, and so on. It is the simple solution, however, with a hidden agenda.
We see this need for success and affirmation in our lives on Facebook. As a musician I see the individual quest for success, for affirmation, from others while I experience doubt and my lack of success in my own life. Yet, I know others feel the same way. Some people are constantly showing themselves in whatever perceived positive light to define their place in life, to define their success. This can be in regards to business, romance, in regards to anything. This is because we crave connection, which is the most natural thing to crave, but the means of connection has been at its core monetized.
Capitalism and more generally the free market, where sold as a way to spread freedom, liberty and opportunity to any and everyone who bought in. Through this monetary lens was how we saw the world. The criterion for evaluating art, for example, has fallen under this economic spell. And certainly the entertainment business is motived solely by returns. I am thinking of producers of film, TV and online streaming content, that reflect not only the current divide between the classes and the increasing gap between the middle, upper and uber-upper classes, but the way good and bad content is defined—if it’s good it sells! The free market decides.
But the problem is we are isolated. And the pain and anxiety created is the result of the division we feel. Does this seem like opportunity? Sure, within this drama we find purpose, we have a cause, we find meaning, etc., and so we rationalize our position and meaningful. We tell ourselves, if I put good things out into the universe, if I invest in X then I will get Y, and so on, if we, in short, accept the causal model of investment we will reap the benefits. But all of this is about negotiating through an imaginary broker (an imagery bookie, or dealer, etc.,) for acceptance, for joy, for love, for solace.
At the core of this saga is the abstract notion of a real obtainable goal and, we have come to believe, there is a causal solution, all we have to do is follow the rules! But victory is sold as a very appealing simplification (perhaps an oversimplification) of the complexities in life, and this simplicity is portrayed as the inherent clarity of righteousness. Racism, sexism, and so on, become the social constructs and means by which we justify dropping the axe on humanity.
So, how does modernity and humanism fit? Our intolerance for “flip-floppers” for example, or for diplomacy and compromise, or simply our inability to accept any cognitive dissonance, all of this stems from a kind of modernist-fundamentalism; racism, sexism, entitlement, classism, and so on, all reflect a mechanistic hierarchal reductionism, a system that places one group of people above (or below) another. We have transposed feudalism into a modern context and accepted it because, although we may not like our place on the social ladder, we are unwilling to kick the ladder over.
We refuse to listen to the land, to study indigenous traditions and their kinship to the land, to nature, to spirit. We have narrowed our stories to ones of success and dominion. We romanticize human rights in pop culture narratives of heroism (like films, the news, etc.,) as well as imposing a narcissistic idealism in the form of spiritual-dominion, one set upon the traditions of indigenous nations, parsed from eastern religious writings; all the while negating rights and liberty at every turn. We go to war for the fallacy of victory yet do nothing for the reality equality.
We are obsessed with speed, not empowered by it. The great traditions of mystery are overlooked because they are too slow to take seriously so we stop listing and stop thinking. We debate in catch phrases and 140 characters. We are “liked” we are “followed” we are “shared” but never heard. But if we stop and listen, if we listen to an elder speak, take in the thoughtful words and ideas of great minds, or simply of others, we find something more than a set of refined causal answers: we will find the gift of deliberation, the gift of thoughtfulness, the gift of ambiguity. This is the gift of your own contemplation. In uncertainly, in not knowing, in nothing: is the real.
The real is not hyperbole, it’s not a dramatization: it just is. And what our fear is, what our anxiety is, this is the resonate-affect of our relationship to nothing; it’s our response to nothing. We are animating the stillness and sounding off in silence. And what is there in the silence? Are we afraid of not being loved? Are we afraid of being a “nobody?” Are we afraid of dying alone? What are our fears?
Or, do we fear being loved? So the years of self-loathing were self-made?—a drama that locked us in a cell; a cell, we learn, with an open door.
We stand in doubt, in the second act, up against the problems we have always come to. Here, in dread, in anxiety, in loss and in fear, the question of what we do and how we act is what we are staring at. How we solve our crisis is the only question. If we use clichés, reductionism, parsed spirituality, than we have shunted the problem. If we drink our way, fuck our way, fight out way, though it, we have deflected—sure, with a great dramatic flare—but the same questions waits: we have not faced up to the central problem of our life.
This place of uncertainty, of questioning and doubting and so on, it is from this place that our imagination and our dreams emerge. We are struggling to unit the desperate, allegoric, symbols seemingly lost like shards of broken glass. But nothing is broken and nothing is lost, we just don’t see how it fits or where it is, but it has always has been there, together, in one piece. We just need to imagine a solution, trust our intuition, our creativity, and step out of the familiar. The art of discerned acceptance.
We are in-between the causal events of life, creating their connections and associations. Time doesn’t necessarily yield answers it teaches us that an answer is there. It takes time, which is why we are only truly taught through the contemplation of your own existence.
Where you are in the world and how you are a part of the world, and, at the same time, how you are a world unto yourself, all of this is about understanding that you are an expansion of Self not a reduction to self. You are all of your relations, not just the ones that make you feel good. You are the sum of your contradictions and the measure of your actions.
That we can find an infinite amount of disparate ideas and emotions all set within in the shadows of our being, and, that we can deliberate, transform and synthesis, from this well of our unknown; that we can dream and from these dreams emerge, submerge, and remerge… this is what we can do as creative, imaginative, and contemplative people—and this is beautiful.
Familiarity isn’t the same as understanding because reductionism isn’t clarity it’s intolerance—intolerance used as a tool of conformity, of control. It’s the bully in the schoolyard terrorizing us to the point where we cannot learn and are afraid to go outside and explore ourselves. Our very nature becomes the problem and so we cut it off… we shutdown.
We are the unknown familiar story—familiar to us if we are willing to accept its own form, our own nature.
We do not discover our voice, it’s not an external object; we accept it. And if we accept our voice it will lead us to surprising, unknown places; some, we may fear, we may never emerge from… but we will.
Our struggle will teach us and speak to us like an elder who tells us not what to think but shows us how to think. Our anxiety will fade, appearing more distant, because we can see our impatience for what it is, fear. How to respect, and thus how to love, how to truly take chances, how to listen, all of this stems from our own unknown familiar story.
Our heartbreak as unique as it is common.
Our hope as personal as it is collective.
We are as broken as we are perfect.
And we are as perfect as we are broken.