Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Riding the Circle

by Troy Chapman

(published March 05)

When you meet a person who is searching, you postpone giving up. That from a novel by Peter Hoeg called Borderliners. I just started it and am not sure how I like it yet, but these words struck me as profoundly true. Meeting someone who is searching has saved me countless times.

A man named Ted Knerr, an artist from New York, had that effect on me recently. I wrote him about art and he didn’t write back with a lot of answers but a clear sense that he was a fellow seeker. So many others too have communicated with me in the same spirit. In every case I am inspired. Not because I’ve met someone with answers. Not at all. But because I’ve met someone with questions.

Which implies there are people without questions, or rather people who have given up on their questions. They perhaps have never found an answer, or have found answers that come with many more questions. I’ve been there. But there’s something niggling at the edge of my consciousness right now. Something I feel may be important.

When Ted wrote me I looked at his art and was inspired to paint a subjective piece for him. He paints abstract and while my piece wasn’t abstract, neither was it representational. It was symbolic? An attempt to paint some aspect of my inner process. I liked the piece when I was finished, but I liked it much more while I was doing it. This kind of work is about the process. When it was finished I began to critique it and to wonder what it said and if it was successful in saying this. The piece seemed unvaluable to me and now I realize why. It’s because its primary value — to me — had been in the painting of it. It was in what the piece gave me rather than what I invested into the piece in terms of artistic skill or other extrinsic qualities. I could have painted this piece in sand or in the air and it would have been as valuable as it was on painting board. The painting itself was a memory. Not a memory recorded, but an actual memory — an imprint left by a process that was not primarily about making an imprint. That was a side-effect.

And as a memory, it was more question than answer.

That’s why I didn’t appreciate the painting when I was finished with it. It was like meeting an obscure mystic who points vaguely to important things, but never comes right out and says them. It’s the same problem we have with Jesus — he’s more question than answer — and why we have turned him into a modern self-help lecturer with surefire formulas — 1-2-3, A-B-C.

We’ve all heard that process trumps product, the journey is more important than the destination — or better yet, the process is the product, the journey is the destination. We’ve heard it but we, or let me just speak for myself, I don’t believe it. I mean I recognize it as true, surely, but then I keep right on grasping for product or, like a kid in the back seat I keep shouting to God, “Are we there yet?” and rolling my eyes when God tries to get me to notice some beauty along the road. I slouch down in my seat and, five minutes later: “God, are we there yet?” I don’t subscribe to the truth that the journey is the destination. It’s too... well, boundless. Too infinite, Too big. A destination, an answer, a product, puts a cap on things, knocks them down to manageable size.

Then it occurs to me that there’s a way to do this while still respecting the truth that there are, in fact, no boundaries. That is to abandon linear consciousness for cyclic consciousness. To somehow wash the stain of A-B-C-, 1-2-3, thinking from my soul and replace it with the fresh breeze of knowing that we’re riding a circle. Circles have everything lines do, landmarks, resting places, intersections with other circles — everything but beginnings and ends. Everything but answers and products. In place of these there are insights and mementos, impressions given and received. Every end is a beginning and nothing is ever lost or useless if we keep asking our questions with respect.

We all fulfill the great purpose of life by simply being, by riding the circle. This is why we postpone giving up when we meet a person who is searching: it is because we see them fulfilling their purpose and believe there’s hope we can do so as well.

Now everyone, say it with me: There is no answer. There is no product, no requirement, no quota to fill. Which is to say that what we’re doing right now, being human, is enough. Whatever error or non-beneficial ways of being we find ourselves caught up in arise from trying to find the answer, from trying to put out the “right” product. There is no right way to seek answers. That’s the lie — if only I seek a different answer or seek it in a different way. No, the remedy is to stop seeking a remedy and begin seeking the fruit of cyclical being, again: impressions, insights, fleeting touches, moments. This is not only enough, it’s the whole thing.