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Urim and Thummim
Reflections on creativity and the process of visioning
“If I knew where the good songs came from, I would go there more often.” — Leonard Cohen
In a society where “art” is a special product produced by “artists,” we have been conditioned to believe that “creativity” is something that only “creative” people can do. This belief sets up the familiar dynamic where “creatives” produce “content” that the rest of us consume, as farmers grow food that the rest of us eat. The truism “you are what you eat” applies even more to information than it does to food — by absorbing particular thoughts and ideas, you construct and evolve your sense of reality. This observation may once have sounded esoteric, but has recently entered the zeitgeist through the widespread awareness of “filter bubbles” — the algorithmic echo chambers that shape our personalized experience of the Internet (and during this time of pandemic isolation, increasingly shape our sense of reality itself as well).
When we outsource our creativity to artists, scientists, screenwriters, journalists, pundits, celebrities, and other producers of “content,” we allow their visions to shape our beliefs. As those beliefs become more and more widespread, we find ourselves living in a world of other people’s dreams. Many of these well-promoted dreams are said to be inevitable, such as climate catastrophe, the dissolution of democracy, the colonization of space, the metaverse, and the merging of humans with machines. By choosing to be carried along by these popular dreams, we relinquish our greatest human gift: our power of creativity. This primordial power lives within us all — and whether we acknowledge it or not, we use it every instant to bring our reality into existence through the mysterious medium of consciousness: a continuous filmstrip of micro-moments that reflect our expectations, beliefs, and assumptions, updated trillions of times per second.
What if our collective dream were not a foregone conclusion — something handed to us by “experts” that we can only accept and begrudgingly live — but an open-ended, collaborative, and infinitely malleable creative medium, simply waiting for us to see it as such? How can this notion of “life as the medium” (what I’ve been calling “Life Art”) help us to reclaim a sense of sovereignty over the collective dream that we’re living — and what is the role of our individual “visions” in shaping that dream?
What does it mean to have a “vision”? Where do visions come from? Who is qualified to receive them? How do you recognize them when they appear? Do they arrive all at once, or can they be revealed over time through the process of living? What does it mean to live a visionary life?
There seem to be at least five discrete steps in the process of visioning:
Preparation — a commitment to learning a craft; a time of study and apprenticeship to become attuned to a particular domain of inquiry.
Intention — an authentic wish; a sincere desire to receive insight into a particular life situation.
Surrender — a journey into the unknown; an initiatory experience where control is given up and a threshold into wildness is crossed.
Recognition — an encounter with the vision as such; usually accompanied by a felt sense of “Yes, I know this is it.”
Consent — a conscious choice to embrace the vision as encountered; the moment when fate becomes destiny.
The most important thing to realize about visions is that they are not so much created as received, much as a gift. This implies the existence of a source of these visions beyond the individual “creator” who receives them. This source makes them sacred. As sacred gifts, they should be held with gratitude, humility, and respect — and the work carried out in their service should be done in the spirit of a prayer.
Visions need not be universal or grandiose. Indeed, such all-encompassing visions tend to teeter quickly towards fascism, oppressing the visions of others with the rigid single-minded certainty of their own.
The most potent visions are often personal, local, actionable, and specific. When we put such visions into practice in our personal frame of reality, we do our little part to honor the mysterious matrix of life, whose full scale and complexity we can never see or grasp completely.
This third ritual of In Fragments is titled Urim and Thummim — a reference to the mysterious biblical “seeing stones” that were used by ancient priests to engage in the practice of cleromancy (discerning the will of God). This same visionary device was later used by Vermonter Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon in 1827, with the help of the Angel Moroni.
I first encountered this notion of the “urim and thummim” in the haunting song lyrics for Static — a musical composition by Godspeed You Black Emperor that incorporates field recordings of a street corner preacher who claims to have seen the face of God:
it takes a holy life
it takes motions
it takes dedication
it takes dedication
it takes a death
and only god can allow it
and you couldn't do it if you're not the seed of god
and so the path through the great corridors
these are corridors unto his perfection
that is which the prophet and the Urim and Thummim has penetrated
that through this great sea of blackness
that i penetrated through these corridors
and i went through that last segment
where i went through these dark serpentines
i passed through that corridor
where they sat
where they are
and when you penetrate to the most high god
you will believe you are mad
you will believe you've gone insane
but i tell you if you follow the secret window
and you die to the ego nature
you will penetrate this darkness
oh yes there's many a man or woman
that's been put in the insane asylum
when this has happened to them
and they're sitting there today, people think they're insane
but they saw something that's real
and they see it when they're on drugs
the only thing is they see it
not through the light of god, and the way i show you
i show you to see it through the light of god
and the understanding of god
because when you see the face of god you will die
and there will be nothing left of you
except the god-man, the god-woman
the heavenly man, the heavenly woman
the heavenly child
there will be prayer on your lips day and night
there will be a song of jubilee waiting for your king
there will be nothing you will be looking for in this world
except for your god
this is all a dream
a dream in death
In this third ritual, I create my own localized urim and thummim — using three iconic linestones taken from the High Acres Farm beach, which I place on my face to cover my eyes and my mouth, as a way of seeking a vision of what is to come.
The movements and noises that my body soon began to experience were not planned in advance, and seemed to originate in some other place. The intuitive decision to allow them to overtake me was a way of expressing my consent — an agreement to carry out whatever future work would be needed in accordance with the vision received. In this particular case, the vision was less of an image and more of a feeling — a feeling that I would encounter again and again over the coming years; each time, it seemed to be saying: yes, keep going this way.
What strange new visions have been coming alive for you?
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