Here's introducing today's guest post from Kevin J. Brenneman!
[Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed in all guest posts are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the comic authors or Basho himself.]
What is this Scene About?
I felt a hand pull me out of the cold water. I gasped for air. The salt water burned my throat as it fought with the encroaching air for space. I collapsed on the beach. Tiny hot granules of sand burned my face. I liked it. I loved it. To me it was a welcome reminder that I was still living.
“You're doing it to yourself again,” a familiar voice pierced through the waves behind me. A black shadow dropped to one knee. “Get up! We don't have much time.”
The shadow reached out his hand. I crawled to my feet. This scenario felt all too familiar. I stumbled.
“You're dreaming again. Do you remember me yet?” the shadow said. “It doesn't matter... let's get started. ”
He talked as if we routinely met like this. A salty wave of consciousness hit me. Every time these dreams reoccurred I came face to face with death. The dark silhouetted figure who shows up just before I die and saves my life. Then he tells me, that he is me. I looked up. My eyes squinted and burned.
“I do... remember you. Sort of...”
I tried to wipe the burning salt water from my eyes. I looked at the shadow man and saw myself in his shadow.
“Good. We don't have much time before you wake up. Let's begin where we left off in your previous dream. We were talking about your obsession with death and your struggle to find inner peace.”
I stared at him. “Right, right, my inner peace...”
Since I was 11 years old a creeping anxiety has haunted me. I live with the fear that I will die before finding myself and achieving something. This social anxiety also finds its way into my social life and leaves me with a self-crippling fear of leaving my comfort zone. A conundrum where I want to live a full and experienced life before death, but my own mental chains produce so much friction and drag that I do not fly.
What are the limits of experiences, love, and pursuing ideas? What if I am never able to risk or allow myself to feel the full spectrum of human existence? At the end of my life I fear that I may look back and have never pursued my dreams. Or laughed with great friends, lost myself in enough deep conversations, or become comfortable with myself. So, I sit in my office chair and type insurance claims. All day long, six days a week.
“You're not listening,“ the shadow man said. “Death is certain, but to live and grow you have to risk and step into the unknown. Let's look at the question, 'How do you relate to the moment?’”
“Not in the way I would like to...” I sarcastically responded.
“This question will help take your mind and bring it back to the present. Fear and anxiety are future-oriented feelings. A focus on the present takes concentration and forces you to let go of the contrived personal stories of how we want things to be. Or how things should be. This can lead you to trying to control your environment and others.”
I thought about the small piece of paper that I kept in my pocket with things to talk about. To help my anxiety. Planning what to say in social interactions gives me something to hold on to. A script.
The shadow man responded to my thought. “Life is always changing. There is no grand script. You fool yourself.” He pointed to my pocket. “If you pre-plan what you are going to say and remain dogmatic to this script, then you will not be relating to the moment. You must be willing to be affected by what you see and hear. Otherwise your relationships will hover at the surface level. It's always about the relationship.”
The shadow man continued. “Life is not about the tasks you perform or the object in your hand – it is about feelings, needs, and thoughts of you and others. Allow yourself to step into the unknown and to risk not knowing where the conversation is going to go. Allow yourself to actively listen. Relate to your partner in the current environment and context.” He put his hand back towards his side. “You are a part of a larger system and, though you make choices and add to the direction of the system, the larger system has its own mind – the group mind. Kurt Koffka, the Gestalt Psychologist, said that ‘the whole is other than the sum of the parts.’ The practice of giving and taking can only take place through listening with the intent to understand. And the listening should be with one's whole body.”
I would have to be honest with myself to confront the shadow . “Part of my fear is saying the wrong things,” I said. “Not knowing what to say… or making mistakes.”
“Let go of your vision of an idealistic state. It does not exist. Learning to fail does not mean not putting in time, energy, or focus – but rather that one tries, risks, and learns from the process gracefully. Relate to the other person without judgement. Judgement is a form of negation. Accept their reality as true in their mind and in their world and seek to understand their point of view.“ He took a few paces along the beach and then stopped. “This process is a step towards transforming anxiety, your fear of death, and self-actualization. If you cannot find an inner peace it is hard to relate to others at a deep level. It is through relating to others that we discover ourselves. The Ubuntu philosophy says ‘I am because you are’. There is a certain togetherness or oneness shared by all life. Again, it is the larger system of life that is comprised of many overlapping and parallel subsystems all with an individual part to play in an interconnected web. It is all about the relationships. I return to my original question: how do you relate to any person or thing in the moment?”
I think about this for a few minutes. “I see... I have to love myself too. And so, if I figure out how to relate to myself, then I will achieve inner peace!”
“Wrong!” the shadow man said.
“What do you mean wrong?”
“Peace, whether inner peace or outer peace, is not an end state which is achieved and or finished. Life is always changing. All that is real can never be static. Peace is a process. Peace is in small moments. It can also be experienced and viewed in many different ways. As Francisco A. Muñoz said, it is a continual process. He talked of the ‘imperfect peaces’. There is no utopia. Conflict is embedded in the communication process. Just like in any relationship, conflict is a part of life and it is not going away.”
So life was a negotiation. Everything was to be negotiated. I had to negotiate with myself, with others, with my environment, and with my context. The relationships would be held together by various forms of communication. And the communication would give birth to the many forms of social conflict. But how could I relate to this conflict?
The shadow man had stopped talking. He began to dissolve and take on the physical appearance of several random people. I could not see their faces. Then he became a horse. For a moment I was transported to the Pyrenees. My girlfriend was there. She handed me an organic potato and then flew into a luxurious Muammar Gaddafi-style tent.
Then the shadow man was back. We were sitting atop a giant oak tree.
“There is very little time left to talk,” he said. “You will either wake up soon or start to dream of something else. I can only keep your attention for a very short time. In the real world you have only been dreaming about our discussion for three seconds.”
“Wait! How does all this relate to my fear of de...”
I was standing in a cornfield surrounded my growling grey whales. The leader whale sighed, then told me that my taxes were due yesterday. I was falling. I woke up.
“Ahhg!” I gasped.
The room was dark. I grabbed my journal and began writing. The sentences came out in a rush:
How can I relate to the moment? Before death takes me I want to look back and say that I took risks. To be able to say that I pursued my ideas, my curiosities, my motivations. I want to feel the spectrum of emotions and the highs and lows of human experience. I want to feel the many forms of love. And how does this all relate to death and mortality? The process of becoming does not deny death. It understands that mortality is imminent. The process of becoming is how one relates to themselves, and to others in the moment. I play a part in another's life and they play a part in mine. Risk involves allowing ourselves to be changed by what we see, hear and experience. If I do not risk or allow myself to be affected by what I hear, then I cannot be changed. I would be denying what the world offers me. I would be denying the present moment. Life is messy and chaotic, but social conflicts are a part of life and through dialogue they can also be transformed. It's always about the relationship and relationships do not come with a script. Relationships are improvised. It's always about the relationship.
Kevin J. Brenneman is an improvisor, world traveler, and peace practitioner. His research interests include Peace and Conflict Studies and Improv theater. He is a native from South Bend, Indiana in the USA, but his travels have taken him around the world including South Korea, Spain, and Brazil. As of 2016 he resides in Cologne, Germany where he plans to pursue a PhD in peace education and to explore the relationships between elicitive conflict transformation and improv theater. Kevin can be reached via e-mail at kevinbrenneman[at]yahoo.com.