Daily Archives: May 3, 2004

The School of Osmosis

OK, so I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about knowledge, its accumulation, and how application of that acquired or accumulated knowledge can best be used to affect change in society. And here’s the thing — one of my father’s favorite catch-all phrases and concepts was osmosis. Of course, he was a civil/sanitary/environmental engineer, so a lot of his work had to do with the purification and/or modification of one substance via the introduction or removal of another substance.

And reflecting on that very thing got me thinking. Any knowledge that I have gained throughout the years is largely due to osmosis. In biologic terms, osmosis refers to the passage of a solvent through a semipermeable membrane from a less concentrated to a more concentrated solution until both solutions are of the same concentration. In another sense, osmosis refers to gradual or unconscious assimilation or adoption (as of ideas). In other words, to learn French by osmosis means that rather than study it directly, or formally, you acquire the language due to immersion in that culture, or by being surrounded by French speakers.

Applying that same logic to the arts – our culture is the semi-permeable membrane. In many ways, it is rigid — there are certain, direct actions that when taken against the culture, result in the equivalent of rejection at a brick wall. But there are more subtle ways to overcome the obstacle, getting to the other side, so to speak, that eventually will result in the ideas being so promulgated being integrated into the mainstream, almost without the mainstream even knowing it.

Religion has known about osmosis for quite some time. And most revolutionary leaders, if they are effective in the least, employ it to some degree. It was Malcolm X who said (and I paraphrase, as he ultimately was paraphrasing a much older Sufi truism) … “When I try to convince someone that my ideas are right, I don’t just come out and say their way is wrong, or that mine is so much better. That’s like telling someone that the glass they’re drinking from is filled with dirty water. It’s the only water they know, and they’re going to have accustomed themselves to that dirty, cloudy glass. No, I don’t confront their wrongness. I simply stand there, holding a clean glass filled with crystal clear water, and sip slowly – and wait for them to ask me where I got it. And then, I tell them.” One of the most common bits of advice that holy persons (of any stripe or conviction) tell their would-be followers is this: if you want to become holy, hang out with holy people (or at least, others who are trying to be holy). As you think you are, so you will become. You gain insight into being, into thinking, into understanding the perspective, by the process of osmosis.

How osmosis has affected my education is largely through books. Like Henry Miller talks about, each book you read that mentions other books leads you on an ever-increasing journey. One author leads to ten others, who lead to ten others each. Eventually, your house is filled with books by people who most folks would have trouble connecting to each other. It’s like seven degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon … LOL. Miller leads to Hamsun leads to Kierkegaard leads to … you get the picture.

A lot of what I see as earth-based, pagan spirituality operates on this same wavelength. Ultimately, at its core, the casting of spells is a form of osmosis. You change the universe by changing yourself – and in that process, because you are PART of the universe, when you change, the universe has no option but to be changed. The easiest spell in the world? Smile when you walk into a room. You’d be surprised at how the energy changes, and how quickly. But of course, intent and responsibility are lying in wait for you there. In order for it to work effectively, you’ve not only got to smile, but you have to WANT to smile. And on top of that, you’ve got to take responsibility for being thought of as someone who is smiling (and is therefore, imminently approachable — don’t try this if you’re trying to get in and out of the Department of Motor Vehicles in a hurry, without being chatted up by every other bored person in the waiting room).

How does this relate to art, and in specific, the arts which I practice – Poetry and Music? Well, as any observant reader can tell, my poetic style runs the gamut from traditionalist to modern to post-modern. It’s all over the place. And that, to me, is how it should be. We are each a product of a myriad of forces that combines to create a unique instance of energy in a limitless field of shared energy. The question that needs to be answered is: how to return that energy; how to ultimately disprove entropy (which avers that energy systems constantly lose energy) by illustrating that energy does not grow or ebb, but merely change form. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. One of the strange things about a lot of religions is that they forget that if God (or god, or goddess, or what have you) is infinite, without limit, and omnipresent, it is NOT possible to avoid Him. You can pretend not to see Him, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. Likewise, and this is main reason, IMHO, that there is so much contention about religion in the world – all religions pretty much posit that man is incapable of perceiving the entirety of the Divine. At the same time, they fail to acknowledge that perhaps every other spiritual path that is not theirs sees a part that they do not. It’s like the Sufi story about the blind men and the elephant. Each one’s got a different part – the trunk, the tail, the tusk, the belly, and they each define “elephant” based on that isolated section underneath their small, and sightless hands. To suggest that there is enough elephant, or God, to encompass every possible human interpretation ever made, and that ever will be made, without exhausting the possiblities of what encompasses the Divine, is to speak heresy against almost every major religion out there. And yet, that’s what all the texts teach us. That our interpretation, this fumbling in a cloud of unknowing between what we think there is, and what really IS, is SO small. That’s the Fall. That we assumed that we knew what the Gods knew; and that what we could hold in our pea-sized brains was enough to run the world with. Well, just because you can’t see the ground doesn’t mean you’re flying. Most likely, you’re in free-fall, and sooner than you think, the canyon floor’s gonna catch up with you.

Anyway — Here’s my proposal. The School of Osmosis. Gathering information by lying in the stream bed of inspiration, to borrow a Celtic metaphor. And dissemination of that information by acting upon it, in the world as it is, until the world is converted, not by the sword, or by propaganda, but by example. Example wrought out of direct, personal experience with the universe, and not translated, but demonstrated. Of course, filled with error and overstepping and inconsistency and blurring of the lines between traditions, modernisms and schools of thought. Because that’s what the world REALLY is. That’s what makes it whole. Everything. And not a jot or tittle less. For better or worse. It’s ultimately an egalitarian society. Because if you’ve got the skills needed at the time, you lead. If someone else has the skills required at a different time, you follow. A circle has no head, remember.

Or something like that. Any takers?

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