Pointy Poetics: A House for Emergent Terms
“I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.”
― Gaston Bachelard , The Poetics of Space
Given that writing has been a process of unfolding in this Self-Directed Masters of Designing with Dragons, the words and images that I use are often surprising and unexpected encounters. I’m noticing emergent patterns in how I return to specific ideas – gossamer threads weaving into a spiders’ web that are beginning to catch and cradle meaning. Here, my desire is to begin to spin some of these threads into a bridge, so that we might meet in the middle and play together.
Some of my explorations have been exuberantly poetic, in ways that I haven’t allowed or leaned into since I was a teenager nurturing a cringe-ey livejournal. It gives me a lot of personal pleasure and play in the writing process. I love the aesthetic vibe-creation of poetics, and the way it can express the potently ineffable, the thickly ambiguous, and the shimmering in-betweens. Yet the dark forest is dangerous as much as it is mysterious; Poetics conceals as much as it reveals. But it feels closer to truth than anything that purports to be obvious, clean, or simple: we inhabit diaphanous worlds of complexity and contradiction.
So I hold a tension: I believe that it is important to be responsible with my language. I want to honour poetics, and yet I deeply value clear and coherent communication.
Below is a working glossary of terms I’m using, as an attempt to get more pointy and precise with my poetics. These signifiers are merely “fingers pointing to the moon”: momentary containers to catch something that will inevitably slip through hands. These are also words that house pauses – pauses to be present, pauses to sense into the tone, texture, flavour of complexity, and pauses to slow down and dream together.
Let us not confuse the finger for the moon nor confuse the map for the territory. But let us also dance with and inhabit these words as temporary homes of Unknown Potential and the Imaginal.
The Calling and Making of the Soul
Other fingers that point in a similar direction:
Fugitive Souls, Soul-making, Compass of trembling, Strange Attractor
What is a soul and what does the word evoke?? When I look up the etymology, it is described as “a substantial entity believed to be that in each person which lives, feels, thinks and wills”. It may also derive from the Proto-Germanic word saiwaz, which means “coming from or belonging to the sea” or “from the lake” as a dwelling-place of souls.
Souls “come from and belong to the sea” – why does this awaken in me a primordial impulse for return?
I was raised in a Catholic tradition, where I was told the “soul” is something to be saved. The soul endures after death, is liberated from the mortal coil of the flesh to transcend to heaven or descend to hell. When I replaced religious faith for secular faith as I got older, the soul became the “mind”, and a symbol for Cartesian mind-body dualism that split the material from the immaterial, the visible from the invisible, the sacred from the profane. The Fugitive Soul lives in the thick middle of these binaries.
Here, this Self-Directed Masters is in service to reconnecting with and cultivating a soul’s calling – a soul that is not separated from the flesh, but entangled with the bodily senses, with the mind’s fluid perception. The calling is an attraction towards the unfolding of something that feels like an authentic or pure self (but the soul also dances across the boundary of selfhood into the deep sea from which it is sourced). Yet it is also a creative process: in following the soul, I simultaneously make the soul.
Adjacent secular terms might be consciousness, intuition, presence, subjectivity, ego, but I use the word “soul” purposefully to elicit the sacred, insofar as a sacred relationship with a soul honours its irreducible Mystery. When nurtured, my soul tells me when “something feels right” and is worthy of following. I’m learning to be present with, tune into and listen to it as an inner instrument, seeking to tremble and vibrate at a soul’s frequency that is the Strange Attractor of my becoming.
I must also emphasize that the soul is not an individual, separated, or solo entity, but it is called forth and made through relationships, in community and the collective. For me, my soul has revealed most acutely through presencing with others.
A Carrier bag of ideas that I draw upon to reference soul’s calling:
- Rob Burbea and Catherine McGee’s Soul-Making Dharma
- Ria Baeck’s Collective Presencing
- James Hillman’s depth psychology and soul-making
Entries where I gesture to soul’s calling:
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Self-Sovereignty, Love and Power, Entanglement, Sympoiesis
I associate individual sovereignty or self-sovereignty with empowerment, the conditions and territory of one’s ability to make choices, to move and be moved. The power held in this territory is my generative will to follow my soul’s calling, to produce my reality and ways of being-in-the-world. Power holds the intensity and fire of my desire towards self-actualization and individualization, yet it is always held in tension with love, or what Tillich describes as “the drive towards unity of the separated”
Sovereignty and autonomy are often also associated with control: for example, the field of what I can control might be my awareness and perception; I may not be able to control the exogenous forces of my relationships and circumstances, but I can be empowered in how I mindfully react to or perceive them. Some might say, “mind over matter”.
And yet, I sense that the fields of our control are not so pure and contained, and the membranes are porous. Sovereignty and soul are embodied, and I don’t have full control over my body or mind – “I” am entangled with the lifeforms that inhabit the boundaries of my body, with the lifeforms that inhabit the larger bodies of which I am part.
Entangled Sovereignty foregrounds relationality and sympoiesis: no thing makes itself, we make-together through the ever-changing relationships that co-create our ever-changing identities, and the fluid dynamics and negotiations of power that enable individual and collective becoming. The ethics of how we live and die together means that we are co-response-able and co-accountable in our entangled relationships of reciprocity.
A Carrier bag of ideas that I draw upon to reference entangled sovereignty:
- Karen Barad’s Agential Realism and “the ontological inseparability of intra-acting agencies”
- Donna Haraway notions of Sympoiesis and living with the trouble
- Meta-modern and Game B notions of cultivating self-sovereignty
- Nora Bateson’s Warm Data and foregrounding of interrelationships that form complex systems
Writing where I gesture to entangled sovereignty:
Surrender/Leap of Relational Flow
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Yin and Yang, Wu-Wei, Effortless Action, Unfolding, Flow state, Embodiment, Leap of Faith, Relational Flow
I’ve been exploring the phenomenological experience of choice and movement that embodies the Daoist notion of wu-wei (無為), of effortless action, or “not-doing”, of simultaneously leaping and surrendering. The felt urgency of our need to solve problems in the face of our environmental, socio-biological and spiritual crises seems to reinforce the same productivity/efficiency-obsessed cultures that created the crises in the first place. As Bayo Akomolafe says: “what if the way we respond to the crisis is part of the crisis?”
Here, human-centricity is under question as we foreground other more-than-human forces and relations that are present with change. Perhaps there is an ask to slow down, not simply as a function of speed or time, but as a way to pause, listen, notice, and be present. Perhaps here, we notice that action in service of innovation and problem-solving that follows the same tone and frequency of urgency – of vanquishing, winning, and mastering the forces, shadows and complexities that are mysterious to us – occludes and inhibits something vital in our collective becoming, that flows beneath our known awareness.
Daoist wisdom invites us to live in balance and harmony with a flow that is greater than us, to balance the yin 陰 of reception with the yang 陽 of creation. When we surrender and receive – we allow ourselves to be moved, often in perplexing directions – to become lost, to not know, to step backwards instead of forwards, or move downwards instead of upwards. There is a paradox at the heart of this: surrender is not simply passive; it requires a leap of faith – we have to choose to let go, to practice radical non-attachment with the known, in order to receive from the potential of what is possible.
The simultaneity of surrender and leap is often described as “flow state” and “being-in-the-flow”, and it shows up most acutely in peak athletics or improvisational environments that require relational and collective flow – a surfer or swimmer knows she has to “become-with” with the shape of water; a collection of people cooking in a kitchen, improvising in a jazz band, or in collective presencing, all surrender themselves to the fluid yet cohering spontaneity of the moment. Becoming integratively present in this way blurs the separation of mind and body, of self and collective.
A Carrier bag of ideas that I draw upon to reference surrender/leap of faith:
- Daoist notions of wu-wei 無為 and yinyang 陰 陽
- Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s notion of flow
- Martin Heidegger and Hubert Dreyfus’s phenomenology of being-in-the-flow
Writing where I gesture to surrender/leap of faith:
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Emptiness, The Void, Post-Modernism
The Great Mystery:
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Source, Dao, Life, The Divine, God is Change, The Ocean, The Sacred
Pantheon of Selves
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Fluid Identity, Pluralism, Family System, Plural selves, Polytheism, Difference
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Memetic Lifeforms, Collective Consciousness, Collective Unconsciousness, Collective Body, Squads, Tribes
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Emergent patterning, Fractal Resonances, Vibes, Emergent vibes
Compass of Trembling
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Embodiment, Soul Nerve and Polyvagal theory, Numinous, Trauma, Awe
The Dark Forest
Other fingers that point in a similar direction: Mystery, Unknowing, Fugitive, Shadow, Monsters, Ghosts