Coping with paradox and other spiritual matters

One of the beautiful things about art is that it expresses what words cannot. My current reality can only be described as paradoxical, but the English language does not deal with paradox very well. Right now, the more I write, the more there is to write. How can I feel everything and nothing? Hurry up and slow down. And the closer I get to the end, I see so much more ahead. So, in search of a world where paradox and multiple realities make sense, I find myself comforted by paintings, carvers, and the creative spirit in a world of artistry, unconcerned with constraint.

To cope with this paradoxical reality, I was watching a talk by Robert Davidson, renowned Haida artist and was struck by something he said.

salmon mask

He was talking about a salmon mask that he carved (shown on his slideshow above), and talks about when it was unveiled in the longhouse ceremony with a song and dance. He says,

We introduced this in 1989. When we danced, I remember an elder came up to me and said, “Wow, I haven’t seen that dance in a long time!”


A lot of times, I think we are doing something new, but really what’s happening is we’re tapping into a cosmic memory.

YES! What he thought was a new song, mask and dance was actually an old story recreated and re-imagined through his creative process. This is what I believe is happening to me in my research. It feels completely false to take credit for any of this knowledge because it’s not my knowledge created by my brain. Coast Salish economic philosophy is already out there. It’s been there all along, but the way I receive and shape that knowledge and present it is in the way that I know how to tell those old stories.

I am nearing the end of my thesis. Someone (who has done a PhD) asked me in the elevator, “How are you going with your PhD?” And by the look on my face, he said, “Is it hurting yet?” YES. Hurting. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, but also not entirely in a bad way. In the way that an artist might retreat in order to create. Some might call it the creative process, but that creativity is not about me as an individual growing, developing or becoming. I am, but that is entirely a bonus prize to the story that needs to be told. This thesis has nothing to do with my cognitive mastery of scholarly concepts, or synthesis of what I have learned. Instead, through me, almost like I am disembodied, my job is re-framing, re-writing and re-valuing business knowledge to reflect the Teachings of our ancestors. I can only find a full explanation of this paradoxical feeling about what I am doing with a quote from my favourite movie, Slumdog Millionaire, “It is written”. It is written. That’s why I need to write it. Because sometimes we need new creative processes to tell the story again. And every time the story needs to be told, it warrants a new creative process. In my case, it comes as displacement, but to draw on the artistic parallel of carving a mask, I happen to be carving this mask to look like this today, about a very old story. In that liminal space of creation, I am neither here nor there, time stands still, and nothing makes sense, but I am sure that I will know where I am when it stops hurting.

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