Saturday, May 21, 2011

We're all escape artists

Adam Phillips again:
We are all too familar with ourselves as escape-artists. Knowingly or otherwise we map our lives - our gestures, our ambitions, our loves, the minutest movements of our bodies - according to our aversions; our personal repertoire of situations, or encounters, or states of mind and body that we would literally do anything not to have to confront. As though our lives depend, above all, on accurate knowledge of what we are endangered by, of all the feelings we must not have. In wishfulness, in the elsewheres of the imagination, we are either choosing our dangers, or out of harm's way. And yet the irony that the irrational phobia exposes is that the hardest thing to escape from is the wish to escape. That the imaginative activity involved in flight can blind us to any knowledge of quite what it is we are escaping from, and of any way of finding out about it. Indeed, that is its function. When it doesn't starkly and literally save our lives - when we shoot our approaching lion - fear sustains our ignorance. ... It is as though, if we can keep ourselves sufficiently busy escaping, we can forget that that is what we are doing.
Two key areas where this happens:
- the choices we make about what we do next when given that luxury (which we all are, many times a day, however hemmed in we feel our lives to be);

- the choices we make about the direction of conversation - changing the subject, moving things this way rather than that, choosing "not to go there", making that item a joke, pausing so that the other person keeps talking etc.

Escaping is the endeavour not to face up to what we are escaping from. To ask why are you running in this direction may be quite revealing.