Today’s post is inspired by Charles Eisenstein, a writer and speaker whose work explores the boundaries of what is possible based on our current ways of being, knowing, and understanding. Eisenstein has published numerous books, including the recent The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, which provides a beautiful framework for replacing humanity’s old Story of Separation with the new, empowering Story of Interbeing. Soulful and practical, Eisenstein’s work is profoundly inspiring for anyone who wants to live an engaged, grounded, sacred life at a time when humanity seems to be on the threshold of major transformation.
I’m bringing Eisenstein’s work into the discussion of the flâneur because I think that the flâneur archetype can easily be perceived as especially separate from the rest of humanity. The expression “in the crowd but not of the crowd” certainly implies epic separateness. Those who admire the flâneur can see this perceived separateness as a marker of superiority (“Oh, I’m so much more aware than everyone else who’s just going through the motions of the status-quo…“), while others can use the illusion of separateness to cast the flâneur as inferior (“What is this person doing, wandering through life? Don’t they have anywhere to go?“). However, the flâneur is neither superior nor inferior to the crowd, the flâneur is the crowd. As Baudelaire beautifully wrote,
“…we might liken him to a mirror, as vast as the crowd itself; or to a kaleidoscope, responding to each one of its movements and reproducing the multiplicity of life and the flickering grace of all the elements of life.”
The flâneur is a mirror, highly sensitive to the movements of the crowd, reflecting them back into the world, strongly connected to the crowd and the crowd’s energy. And by being a mirror, the flâneur can actually make a meaningful contribution in the world. This is another aspect of the flâneur archetype that often slips past undetected. After all, the original meaning of the word (“idler, dawdler, loafer”) combined with the images of a wandering “man about town” that often come through at the surface level of Baudelaire’s poetry don’t paint a very proactive or influential picture. The flâneur instead often comes across as adrift, even escapist. But this just isn’t the case. Instead, by living outside of the prescribed modern rhythm, the flâneur creates just enough space to develop a new awareness, understanding, and appreciation for the world around him. And this is powerful – as Charles Eisenstein says in his wonderful TED talk (posted below),
“The world that we see around us is built on a story. By acting from a different story, we disrupt the psychic substructure of our mythology, and we offer an alternative.”
As flâneurs, we have the power to offer an alternative that creates miracles. For Eisenstein, “miracles are something that are impossible from an old understanding of reality, and possible from a new one.” At this stage in our history, with seemingly insurmountable environmental, social, and economic crises unfolding throughout the world, we need miracles. To allow miracles to happen, it’s all about doing the little things that don’t seem as though they will count, or as Eisenstein frames it,
“What happens if we act from love? If we act from the understanding that that person is like me, that person has a great gift to give the world, and will not feel happy unless he or she is giving that gift too…Anytime we give someone an experience that doesn’t fit into the old story, it weakens the story, it disrupts it.”
And (lovingly) disrupting the old story of separation, violence, and despair is what will pave the way for a new understanding, for miracles. Eisenstein ends his TED talk with this inspiring call to action, providing just the right guidelines for disrupting the old story:
“Daring to be great…being in service to something larger than yourself…I would offer that as the formula for accomplishing the impossible, for stepping into the flow of synchronicity. You don’t know how to get from here to there, but that thing larger than yourself does, and it arranges these synchronicities, being in the right place at the right time, being in flow…We can enter that state when we let go of the paradigm of control and put ourselves, bow into service to this thing larger than ourselves. And what is this thing? What is it that unifies all of these things that we’re connected to? Let’s call it the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.”
There is an inherent love woven through most flâneurs’ wanderings – a love for the sights, smells, and sounds of the city, and a love of self that grants permission to walk a slightly different path that nourishes the soul. This inherent love is significant on its own, and yet it doesn’t always address the illusion of separation that can so easily surface for anyone moving at a slightly different rhythm than the crowd. And this is why I wanted to bring Charles Eisenstein’s words of wisdom into the discussion: by daring to be great and lovingly disrupting the story of modern life as we know it, we bring a whole other dimension to the path of the flâneur that is infused with deeper purpose and meaning.
I encourage you to watch Eisenstein’s TED talk (this article barely does it justice, it’s overflowing with food for thought), and also bear in mind that this TED talk is just the tip of the iceberg…for even more about his work, visit charleseisenstein.net.
Lastly, know that walking the path of the flâneur is a significant way to be in the world in love. Remember that you are the crowd, and that living from a place of love for the world and acting in service to the more beautiful world we know is possible makes more of a difference than we can imagine.