"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."
Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.
First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.
Monday, December 13, 2010
Limitations: Clearing Out Stuff
I don’t know about you, but I’ve already got too much stuff. I don’t want any gifts this December. If anything, I want a gift I can give myself – of inventorying my stuff and divesting of as much of it as I can.
Recently I noticed a property for sale in my neighborhood - perfect for a retreat center/teaching studio. Never mind that it’s on the market for way more than I can afford. I had to have a look. The formerly grand 1920’s house stands on a promontory with a view of downtown San Antonio. Situated on over an acre, there is plenty of space for a new studio building – and maybe even a guesthouse. (Let me know if you have some funds to invest!)
While I practiced active imagination envisioning what I could do with the house I noticed something else about the property. It was clear the owner had issues when it came to parting with stuff. Two cars, carrying plates that hadn’t been current since 1999, were parked in the large driveway. The inside of the house confirmed its occupation by a seasoned stuffologist. Every room was stacked with boxes. The spare bedroom had been turned into makeshift closet for hundreds of pieces of clothing – more than any person could wear in one lifetime. I felt sad for the owner, and also slightly claustrophobic.
To break free from that level of acquisitive behavior probably requires help. We all know people who can’t give anything away. I encounter them in workshops all the time. One student I adore had five bags of denim in her studio, just waiting for the right project to present itself. That alone might not have been a problem, but the garage was full of stuff too. And neither you nor I can pass judgment on this. Last April I helped my mother clear out a basement’s worth of stuff, in preparation for a move to a new home. Our time together in the basement produced touching memories and several belly laughs. It’s hard to get rid of things that remind us of the past. The electrically heated melamine baby dish with the shiny moon and stars on it (my youngest sister is in her mid-forties) tugged at both our heartstrings, but it had to go. And what about the dozens of cereal box fronts, carefully trimmed into 9” x 12” pieces? “You never know when you might need a good piece of cardboard,” my mother explained sheepishly. We both laughed. The cereal boxes went into the paper-recycling bag, although I can’t help but wonder whether some of it was vintage, and worth something.
And that’s the hook. We’re easily duped into keeping far more of the stuff we own than we will ever need or use, because we are sentimentally attached, or motivated by a belief that somehow the stuff will bring us money. If we got busy and listed everything on Ebay, or tagged it all and filled up tables in the driveway, it would. But there’s one niggling detail. Actually doing it.
My point is that the more stuff you have, the more stuff you have to take care of. Sooner or later there’s a tipping point. You’re serving the stuff instead of allowing the stuff to serve you.
So give yourself the gift of dumping some stuff this season. Face the facts. Will you ever get a garage sale organized? Will you ever learn how to use Ebay? For that matter, will you ever use those five bags of fabric scraps you’re currently hoarding? Or all of the old copies of Quilting Arts you have stacked in the corner of the bedroom? Do yourself a favor and clear some stuff out. And don’t focus on how much it cost originally, or whether it’s worth money now. Pay it forward, and give everything away. Use freecycle.com or send a note out to fellow artists. I know one group in San Antonio that hosts a clothes swap twice a year.
How about an artists’ swap? Or the good, old-fashioned Salvation Army? It’s been proven that those who give without worrying about getting anything back have actually healed physical maladies. Check out Cami Walker at 29gifts.org. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, she determined to give 29 gifts in twenty-nine days. Amazingly enough, during the course of the giving her symptoms actually abated.
I know when I cleared out my closets and studio in September it was as though a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Is it a coincidence that the pain I had in my back also went away? I don’t know. I do know the coats that went to the homeless shelter are needed this morning. And that all the textile paints I’d accumulated but was never going to use found a good home with a young student living on tips as a waitress. And it makes me smile – and feel considerably lighter on my feet – to imagine what someone must have thought when they encountered the original artwork (old and no longer viably salable) that I donated to Goodwill. I just hope it didn’t go into a bedroom stacked with so much stuff it won’t ever be truly enjoyed.
But that can’t be my concern. All I can do is keep clearing out – creating plenty of healthy psychic space for new ideas and new work. Which is just another version of working within limitations and staying in present time.