Continuity: Lessons from the Velveteen Rabbit on Realness

Midterm paper for “Ecological Postmodernism” with Professors Charlene Spretnak & Brian Swimme at California Institute of Integral Studies, Spring 2003

I often find myself tangled in ideas, thinking myself crazy, trying to make good decisions in an infinitely complex causally connected world of unpredictable determinism. And so has been my experience in struggling with this paper. I’ve tried to determine what is so real to me that it might be worthwhile and possible to contribute to the reality of others. The following catalogues some of my struggle with the continuity and relationship of inner and outer reality in dialogue with similar phenomena caused by boundary formation the natural world, as well as with the story of reality as told in The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

What makes me crackle with excitation? From where does that right quanta of energy come to bump me up a notch? Can I release a dazzling photon and settle back down? Coming up with theories that integrate scientific cosmology and consciousness does it for me. But here the dilemma arises.   I have these nagging doubts that that’s not real. It’s not testable. It’s not helping me make a living. It’s not producing anything. It’s not changing anything. Oh. It has just led me to this crazy school in California where I have to live in a nature recessive pocket of cement and vehicle dominance, spend (fictive?) money just to live inside the destruction without contributing to it, and propel myself through myriads of superficial relationships because we’re all too busy trying to do something real. Or maybe that’s just me.

Option B: Go live at home and live with my Real mom, walk daily in the Real woods, work in the Real garden. Equilibrium – comfortable and potentially boring.

Option C: Get a real job, so I could have real insurance and make real money (that still has no Real value), and hate my real life. Forcing myself to operate on the resonating frequency of the world humanity has created.

The conflict arises as I try to integrate the vision of reality I’ve been fed from tradition and external restraints (real) to my own idealistic vision (Real), including my own conflicting desires, of how I want to live my life. So how do I untangle myself from this un-Real mental mess? What is Real anyhow? From this ungrounded place of indecision and near hopelessness I find comfort in simple heartfelt story where one abandons any notion of power or knowledge and can just soak in wisdom however it might well up. I remembered where to find a heartfelt definition of Real. I went inside and back to find a story that has always felt Real, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.

The velveteen rabbit is a stuffed animal seeking legitimacy amidst new modern toys. He’s told by the Skin Horse that becoming Real comes from being loved into unattractiveness and disrepair. The Rabbit is first made Real for the boy through love and then made Real for himself so he could dance with the other rabbits through magic. The story reminded me that reality isn’t a thing; it’s the creative process of love and magic. (Amazing how I can make beautiful, profound truths sound so inadequate by trying to isolate them from story.)

One message I take from this story (I’ll only take one for now because here again lurks the infinite complexity of potentiality which paralyzes me and prevents writing) occurs as a metaphor of one’s relationship with one’s inner life and thoughts. Just as the boy’s love for the rabbit breathed life into their relationship, it also created a closed bounded reality in which no other could participate, as emphasized by Nana’s dismissive, “Fancy all that fuss over a toy.” In the same way we cultivate of inner lives, breathing life into them, like blowing up a balloon, to create interior space. When you create space it naturally pulls things in to fill it, just as the rising of heated air creates space into which the wind is pulled. Whether you hold the fullness of emptiness or pursue complex thinking you are developing a relationship to your interior space and the characters that reside there. The creation of an inner world establishes a boundary with the outer world from which the inner world has been bounded by the semi-permeable membranes of individual consciousness, family, and numerous larger communities. The boundary of this separation creates a break in continuity, a disjointedness, with the external world from which conflict stems. The interior patterns and resonances can now evolve along a path different from those external. The restriction has granted additional freedom in an alternative direction.

Disjointedness and form co-arise. As the universe cools, physical and metaphysical forces differentiate. Symmetries break. Space is created for particles. Patterns emerge in structure and relationships. Integrity establishes a persistent continuity of identity. But boundary creation decreases degrees of freedom and gives the creative force something new to work with, granting small islands unique futures of increasingly complex individual potentials, like those of water condensed from vapor into dew drops, snow flakes, streams, or life giving ponds. Restrictions often enhance.

The resonance which occurs when a driving frequency equals the resonant frequency of that being driven can end in disaster if the resonant amplification isn’t counter balanced with some damping forces as well. The Tacoma Narrows bridge fell victim to such a fate as it was torn apart by a resonance enhancing wind. Similarly a person’s sanity can be torn apart by the amplification of one aspect of their life without the maintenance of continuity with the rest of reality. Continuity with the external world via action is essential for continued growth and the health of one’s interior life.

The creative process of an artist participates in the mutual arising of form, catalyst and restriction in dynamic tension, as she turns inside to create that which the rest of the universe cannot. My creative process typically relies on restrictions in order for it to manifest anything rather than nothing. As fertile as infinite possibility is, it may only produce overwhelming catatonia. But if given any raw material and a little time, chances are I can come up with a creative emergent form.

Additional levels of complexity, like the stretch and fold layers of chaos, increase potential for disjointedness and for new forms to arise in the interplay of the dominant and the patient (recessive) variables. As forms arise in the vast ocean of undifferentiation, they are the recessive minority, only persisting where they find others like them. Where they find allies, they group into new forms and layers of complexity. We witness form arise as the non-polar hydrocarbons forming the cell’s hydrophobic lipid layer membrane are forced together by water, which only dissolves polarized substances like itself. Matter is forced together by warping space-time, just as silicon valley brings about techie marriages, just as recessive genes and positive numbers (as opposed to dominant negative numbers) reproduce their own kind in multiplication amongst themselves. Like the dots in the yin yang symbol, small enclaves are forced together by their common difference from the larger pool. Again and again, with fractal self similarly, spheres within spheres continually arise, creating ever more variables to further divide.

It is this self-similarity that permits alliance not only on a horizontal peer level, but across vertical hierarchy as well. For example, I feel a greater resonance with nature than with cities. And while within a city, nature is recessive, in a larger picture of nature, cities are recessive. Thus I can reinforce my nature resonant frequencies in alliance with the life giving power of nature on a global scale, as well as with the small gardens in microcosm.

One comes to be composed of, and in relation to, so many spheres and thus boundaries, it is quite the job to keep them all aligned with one another. To maintain appropriate flow internally and in relationship to externality is to maintain health. To become snagged and drag a discontinuity within oneself hinders healthful participation in external flow, often dragging others with you. This is the crisis of modernity. Our disjointedness is dragging us down. Each of the breaks in the continuity of our picture of reality holds huge amounts of potential energy. The breaks themselves do not constitute the problem. Our refusal to seek reconciliation maintains the block which can either release violently or slowly manifest itself in internal pain or even physical disease.

To seek continuity in our diverse thoughts and experiences invests each moment with meaning and purpose within a larger context. The gift and the curse of consciousness is its divisiveness. A greater challenge yields a more potent victory, the greater the exhaustion, the more blissful the rest. The deeper the division we create by analysis, the more challenging is the reintegration to wholeness. Yet the wider the yawn of the chasm bridged by integration, the deeper the truth and meaning of that integration resound.

Thus our greatest fear is the, impossible to ignore, discontinuity of death. Across this chasm we lay all sorts of constructions, from Jesus’ cross to every manner of two way bridges, in attempts to maintain our ever important continuity of ego identity. Perhaps this is a place where understanding cosmological continuity can be of service. I’ve always sought the deeper truth underlying the literal words of stories, merely redefining what I needed to make it continuous with the rest of my experience. The bottom line on death for me has always been seated in the fact that energy is eternal, despite its perpetual changing form. By expanding my identity beyond this body and personality I can free myself to participate in the grand multitude of life just as this body has provided the restrictions necessary for the intensity of development in this form. So I can say I believe in the afterlife, I believe in reincarnation, but I also believe in the dispersion of ego as dispersion of ashes to seed new life wherever they may fall.

And so it was with the velveteen rabbit. As he was contaminated with germs of the boy’s scarlet fever and taken to the garden to be burned, he cried a real tear. “What good was being real, if it ended like this?” And from where that tear landed sprang a fairy, who whisked him away into the forest. She sat him down amidst the real rabbits and before he could be self-conscious that he didn’t have any hind legs and made was all in one piece and filled with sawdust, he scratched his nose with a real live hind foot and immediately joined the other rabbits jumping and twirling for joy. But I know what really happened… The velveteen rabbit was burned, and he became ashes. The ashes became the soil in the garden. The soil became the plants which became the rabbits. And so it was that the velveteen rabbit became real, before he even knew it. And so it will be for me as I struggle with the complex gift of consciousness toward greater meaning and purpose, dancing in and out of this form and those to come, recognizable as nothing more than a sparkle of light. Thus I resolve, as best I can, the heavy discontinuities, so as to recall the lightness of being.

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