Estuarial Consciousness

I write poetry and as a swimming fish in a local small pond, I’ve done quite well with prizes and recognition. I am sometimes asked where the idea for a poem comes from. I answer, ”a seed image,” a sight, a word, a feeling that ripples, flows, and grows until something is left that may be quite different that what was present at the source. An ”estuary,” is the seed image for what follows.

An estuary is the changing border where salt and freshwater mix. It’s a place of variety, perhaps where amphibious creatures first moved from sea to land. Like the hypnagogic line between wakefulness and sleep, it can be a source of creativity and inspiration. Chronic illness often brings with it an “estuarial” consciousness that moves from body focus to outside environment to internal state. We can learn to use this liquid state, that others see as pathology, as a gift to be help free us from fixed ways of belief and open us richer ways of being.

The imagination is rooted in the body, and each possibility has its own feel. In the creative process, for example, one continually dips into the personal reservoirs of images and associations embedded in deeds, words, and memories. Different metaphors evoke distinct complexes of thought, emotion, and attitude. Poets especially are conscious of the physicality of language, including the literal force of punctuation. Poems spoken aloud, to oneself or another, are not the same works when scanned quietly. Reading is also an activity of what John Dewey called the “live creature”. The eye lingers over the shapes of letters and words, the body senses the effects of dialogue, plot, and style. Art is alchemy. Through art the distress of illness can be changed into something more valuable.

An almost “involuntary” mindfulness mixing with free floating sensory vigilance, estuarial consciousness differs a great deal from the ways our attention is placed or attracted in our pre-diagnosis everyday lives. Hopefully over time and with practice, we learn to navigate the currents and tides of our personal odyssey without quite knowing what “adventure” or “challenge” next awaits us . Later we’ll discuss the fact that consciousness traditions use postures, gestures, and movements not simply as aids to prayer or meditation but are the practice itself. Both thinking and speaking are “embodied”.They do not occur in something called the head/brain distinct from the body. Mind and thought are expressions of the whole being.

The surge of the body into consciousness and the strong emotions evoked by loss, uncertainty, and change awaken associations and fantasies linked to primal fears of the vulnerabilities of the flesh and to yearnings for security and coherence. In self-defense, symbolic and meaning-making capacities are animated. The organism attempts to reorganize and find new pathways for identity and expression. When enlivening metaphors or opportunities for creative action are not available, however, the energy of adaptation and change is dampened. Loss without mourning cuts short our human potential for healing and transformation.

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