For the last two days, we 10 students on the Knox Buenos Aires program have been staying in a hotel in Santa Cruz, Argentina. The desert grasslands around us are enormous, and the wind blows constantly; we have spent time hiking in the glaciers and mountain forests nearby.
I realized yesterday that it’s been awhile since I’ve spent time in nature. The calm and the great open space of the grasslands has helped my mind to expand, and feel more calm.
Not for the first time, I feel that our minds are good at taking on the shape of the environment that surrounds them. I can remember becoming depressed when I first moved into the city; everything was square, straight and narrow, and my thoughts started to take the same form.
Here, I’ve spent some time thinking about the Native peoples who lived on this land before they were killed and forced out by the European colonizers. On a mountain lakeside in Santa Cruz, we listened to one of their origin stories, a beautiful tale about the creation of the Earth and the people of Patagonia.
Part of it reminded me of an origin story told to me once by a rabbi in Minnesota; both were very mystic in character. In the mystic traditions of the world, God is often said to have felt lonely in the time when He was one, but before form was created.
Hearing such stories and traveling through Argentina with the rest of the Knox group has helped me fulfill my own needs to be more in touch with my heart and with the people around me.
For me, and perhaps especially as a man, acknowledging my own needs can come hard. But needs, I think, are an inevitable part of our life, that were born in the time that we left our parent’s womb. As separate beings, it suddenly became possible to be hurt, to lose something, to have it taken away. In the womb, we hadn’t yet encountered this struggle.
The great folly of the world we live in today may be that we have tried to meet our human-born needs through denying them to people who find them through other forms than we.
Our errors eclipse the imagination.
A few months ago, I saw on Facebook the quotation: “Privilege might be defined as one’s ability to screw up and get away with it,” from Matthew Desmond and Mustafa Emirbayer. I realized upon reading this that it described very well some of my own errors recently in life, as well as some of the immense errors committed by my people on this continent.
It’s been said by psychologists that even when we know we are stuck in harmful patterns, it is difficult to abandon them until we can imagine compelling alternatives.
Often as children, we believe in what we see simply because we haven’t seen anything else yet. It takes imagination to overcome this.
Anne Braden wrote, “In every age, no matter how cruel the oppression carried on by those in power, there have been those who struggled for a different world. I believe this is the genius of humankind, the thing that makes us half divine: the fact that some human beings can envision a world that has never existed.”
I’ve come to feel that bringing ourselves closer to the dream world can be a powerful way to expand this kind of imagination. In the dream world, we re-envision everything. We use sleep as a source of relaxation that restores our existing ability to deal with the day. We can also relax into the reworking of the mind that comes with sleep while keeping wakeful awareness, as a source of realization that can entirely transform how we deal with the day.
While touring Argentina, my sleep schedule has been hectic and I’ve been given plenty of opportunities to experiment with it. We’re now in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, at the far southern edge of the world. It is beautiful — the national park here is the only one in Argentina that contains sea, forest and mountains all together — and the wind blows constantly.