Doing the impossible – writing practice

I suppose I have an interesting relationship with doing the impossible. Because a lot of my life I have been aspiring to an impossible degree of perfection. Which can be a dangerous excuse for not doing anything. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

For me this is at the heart of what I am drawn to and repelled by in religion and new-agey beliefs. Because they promise beautiful impossibility. As far as I can see. Because they hold out perfection but in practice fall so short. Because they claim to be true and yet so often refuse the examination that might really demonstrate whether they were true or false. And I am drawn to the perfection of this impossibility, but unable to rely on it.

So mine is a mysticism of the possible. A wonder at what is clearly real. I read in a comment somewhere in the blogosphere that it is arrogance to close our minds to the wonderful mysteries of what I would call weird, unfounded beliefs. But my mind doesn’t feel closed – it feels open to some incredibly wonderful things that have the added advantage of being real. The tiny details of nature. The inconceivably vast depths of space. These are all possible – they are real – and yet for me they hold more wonder than the impossible domestic miracles that are claimed by so many belief systems.

Nor does having a sceptical mind mean that my heart is closed. On the contrary – I have a very open heart, full of love and caring and compassion. Full of wonder and happiness. Delighted by the myths and legends that are part of our rich human mental landscape. Not because they are true in reality, but because they have a deep metaphorical truth.

For me, the wonderful thing about humanity is not that we are in some way more than physics, chemistry and biology. Not that we have a real, immaterial soul. But because out of physics, and chemistry, and biology, arise emergent properties of meaning and soul and beauty. As simple equations can give rise to infinite complexity. I am awed that this is possible. Inspired by the simple ideas that both explain and don’t explain these emergent properties. When so much is possible within natural laws, why look beyond them to some supernatural un-rule-bound sphere where everything and nothing is possible?

I have wandered a long way from the idea of “doing” the impossible. But perhaps I can bring it home again. I once used to wish fervently for divine powers to heal the hurting world I live in. For a miracle of peace and health and compassion to appear in this world. I used to feel that the only solution to the unbelievable amount of pain and suffering in the world was to go beyond the possible. To become a bodhisattva, working with tireless miracle powers to ease and end all suffering. I despised my own human capacity to help – to such an extent that I became unable to help because I was sinking into despair. Because I thought that only a miracle would be enough.

I don’t think that any more. I believe that just doing the possible has to be enough, because the impossible is (of course) impossible. But I also believe in the miracles of the possible. The amazing power of human beings, working in their small way, with their limited powers and circumscribed insight, to achieve change. Emergent miracles. Emergent healing. It is important to distinguish between what is truly impossible and what just seems impossible. Believing in our own capacity to bring about change makes many obstacles melt away. This is how prayer and positive thinking work their placebo magic. But for me that is all within the realm of the possible. Yes, I believe in the miraculous nature of the possible. The simple. The real. The prosaic and everyday that somehow, without divine intervention or mystical force, give birth to the extraordinary.

Which is consoling, because it encourages me not to be daunted by feeling that I need to do the impossible. But to do what I can, to do what is at hand, and accept that I cannot do more than what is possible. To explore the full and amazing richness of the possible.

Photo – one of several stunning images of the mandelbrot set at Wikipedia commons.


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