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Art is Essential to Life - An article for Inner Tapestry, February-March 2005
By: Norman Hirst

UNICEF estimates that the lives of one billion (1,000,000,000) children are at risk due to war, hunger and disease. That is sick! The world we live in is sick. Can it be healed?  Can we live in a sick world without becoming sick? Can we be healed?  I think the answer is yes, but first there is much we need to understand.

We wish we could use the expression “pro-life” as an attitude to hold in shifting away from long held anti-life beliefs.  Unfortunately that expression has been co-opted.  However, the fundamental requirement for actually healing is to understand life, its requirements and how to live in coherence with them.  The alternative is constant coping with an ever increasingly hostile and diseased environment. We are at this point of choice. Do we choose to know life’s ways or to ignore them and get more of what we’ve got.

Much of the dis-ease in our world can be seen as symptoms, crying out, “Pay attention, there is need for correction.”  Without awareness of life’s requirements, humankind has imposed rules, laws, ideologies and even well intended fixes only to produce more imbalance against life.  A shift required to bring correction is the recognition that in dealing with life, say human life, all life develops from within, not from without. Many act as if power, force and imposition of values and beliefs from outside as in all the rules of society, religions, governmental policy, and even parenting, can and should fix what’s wrong.

However, as we will try to illustrate here, the correction process of balancing comes through cognition development unlike how it is taught in schools today. Intelligence is measured by ones ability to adapt.  When that natural intelligence is ignored and not nurtured from parenting, schools, business, government and ultimately society at large, a sense of hopelessness begins to prevail.  Such hopelessness comes from too many humans feeling the inability to find fulfillment through the creation process from within out into the world.   

Let’s examine some of what we mean.  There have been many references during the recent past about moral values, as if there were one set of beliefs that are “right” and all others are “wrong.”   This kind of thinking stems from the lowest and least creative of value categories; systemic values, or rules, and extrinsic values or categories.  There is no discussion of intrinsic values or unique aesthetic values, i.e., the highest and most important values one must learn to appreciate and express to be self-fulfilling. It is in the intrinsic dimension of values one finds the capacity for loving and possibility for harmonization of differences. If one focuses on life’s possibilities through a narrow filter of one way only, the rich diversity that produces and maintains life is forced to fight for liberation. And it will fight, with a might stronger than any human force can imagine. It is the force of life.  Ever notice a flower growing up in the cracks in cement?  That seed of life can push through many layers of resistance.  The creative process is in itself a force that can and will produce a new form in spite of resistances. If an anti-life force persists long enough, hopelessness will eventually push through to new breakthroughs.  Humankind is fast approaching this beginning breakthrough.

For such development the arts are providing a way to know this dimension of life’s process.  Yet, in this country, in a budget crunch the arts are the first thing cancelled in our schools. There is a lot to learn before healing will be possible.

What are these requirements for life now being discovered (the last 20 years), as we’ve said many times throughout our articles?  An unexpected requirement is diversity as in biodiversity.  It is through biodiversity that the ecosystem manages its energy requirements.  Biodiversity is not just nice to have.  Without it, the ecosystem may not survive and if it doesn’t, we won’t either.  Also biodiversity is aesthetically appealing.  As more is learned about life’s requirements, one finds aesthetics fundamental in values and actions.  Thus we will see that the arts are fundamental to our lives and well being. 

We have said, in previous articles that living organisms are societies of cells living in a pure democracy.  Each cell has maximum freedom in maintaining coherence.  Now two perspectives can be assumed.  First,  consider the cells in our bodies.  Second, consider our selves as cells in a living society.  Just as the cells in our bodies have to maintain coherence with each other so do individuals have to maintain coherence with one another. The diversity within life requires learning new ways to harmonize not homogenize our differences.  The cosmos requires every single aspect of the whole so it can as a whole find new relationships and ways of being.

There is a new concept called “enaction”.  It refers to “embodied cognition” or how each living organism creates a unique reality from within.  For centuries, sciences have kept cause and effect as foundational to all thinking.  Enaction now introduces another explanation for how reality can manifest.  Cognition is an on going co-creative dance of all kinds of relationships within and without. There are no standard models either for reality or how to be a human being. Cognition is not a process in which representation of the world’s fixed features are somehow experienced then memorized as if there were an object reality “out there” one must capture in order to live. However, there are guiding principles on how values work together.  By knowing these principles of life, we are not mandated to act any one way, but we have a choice.  It’s like when gravity was discovered, we were able to fly.  The creative spirit was freed by the new awareness to express itself even more fully in its possibilities.

As we speak about what is being discovered about life we are reminded of native American world views as described by Kenneth Meadows in his book “The Medicine Way”, page 36:

Every part of the physical universe and every living thing on the Earth was seen as having its origins not in the material but in the spiritual and mental, and while in manifestation each was in a state of continuous change.  The whole of Nature and of existence was thus regarded as a ‘coming-into-being’ and a ‘going –out-of-manifestation’ and its essence not material but spiritual and mental.

In contrast, past dominant worldviews of “cause and effect,” “matter only,” “machine cogs in a wheel” creation of the physical universe make thinking about living processes quite impossible.
Machine-like views can only consider that which is incapable of self-action and the focus is then on how to act upon and drive “things”  by strict cause and effect cogs in a wheel.

Living processes, unlike machine processes, appear to be autonomous, self-creating, and self-aware. Enaction forms manifestation through self-initiation, self-awareness and self-correction.  These three conditions have consequences that make living beings quite different from what has been thought in the past.  First, we are born with a fixed identity that functions like a governing self-law of autonomy which guides us as changes occur throughout our lives.  Perception develops or comes into being by enaction.  Self-awareness actually requires a vibratory oscillating logic within both poles of fundamental contrasts that drive life. In society fundamental contrasts are misunderstood and misused.  For example, thinking that male is better than female in that it is better to be strong than weak.  All this kind of thinking is destructive nonsense. It leads to futile attempts to be consistent.  (I believe this is the source of Jung’s dark side.)

Another dis-ease forming belief is that around obedience. For example on page 344 of  Moral Politics Lakoff quotes from a fundamentalists child-rearing manuals “How to Rear Children” by J. Hyles:

Obedience is the foundation for all character.  It is the foundation for the home.  It is the foundation for a school.  It is the foundation for a society.  It is absolutely necessary for law and order to prevail.

Obedience is not the foundation of any living process although many people may believe that it is. The idea of imposed obedience may seem to be necessary if there is also a belief that that is the only way a being learns self-control and respect. There are two natural processes at work that must be accounted for in a living organism that obedience does not allow.  The first process is that a living entity inquires through action to find effective acts.  An act is effective if it produces the results intended.  The inquiry begins as a baby in its crib waves its hands around in exploration. The second process begins with growing awareness of coherence conditions that come out of relationships of all kinds.  These are minimum conditions connecting us to one another while not unduly limiting our freedom.  We grow into beings both unique and social.

Using insights mentioned above about the living processes, it becomes clear that imposing obedience is theoretically impossible with a living organism. Control and force may be used to influence and coerce, but ultimately the living entity chooses from a wide variety of responses to such efforts, some of which may appear to be obedient.  It is not a machine nor will it respond by cause and effect. Remove the force and most likely you will find a natural desire for freedom of choice and inquiry quite different from that being imposed.  Some beings will choose to rebel, to fight, to choose violence in order to express and self-fullfill. To learn more on this topic see Hawkins book ”Force Versus Power.”  Further, empirical research shows clearly what the theory predicts.  Insisting on obedience in childhood is more likely to lead to violence in adult life. This goes beyond opinion. 

We hear often today in the process of arguments, “oh, it’s just my opinion, everyone is entitled to his/her opinion especially on such matters a child rearing.  Forced obedience is just as impossible as the cow violating gravity by jumping over the moon. However, herein may well be one of the areas by which we are making the world sick. Force and dominance over another living entity cannot work ultimately. The force of life will insist on finding it’s own unique way no matter what we believe.

Unfortunately the world is filled with societies that have no understanding or appreciation for the precious gift of life itself.  There is a deep desire for someone to be in control.  In this nation, there is a concept talked about in the form of  “No child will be left behind.”  A more appropriate name would be “No child will escape.”  There is an attempt to force all into channels they neither need nor want until they lose their gifts and their desire to develop into who they were born to be.

This is where the creative process within the arts and artists’ ways can provide a path of healing.  Life is creative, on-going and ever changing. The power of that creativity cannot be stopped.