What is the value of wonder?
This is something I have been reflecting on lately, and the idea was brought into sharper focus when I was running along my usual route. The path beside the water was dappled with winter – there were icy patches in the pavement cracks and streaks of frost on the grass. But the landscape was not yet consumed by winter’s silence: it was still alive and visible beneath this surface layer of cold and snow. The water was also not subdued: it moved with great freedom, waves that rolled in sharpened wind.
I have been recently reflecting on the “heroes” who have appeared throughout my life as significant influences. Some of these figures are far removed by distance and time, such as great saints and writers. However, there are other people in my life for whom the appellation of “hero” might seem misplaced or exaggerated, since we both live in the same time and there is not a legacy to speak of in the same way. A better word to use, perhaps, would be “inspiration,” and this label is frequently applicable to people I encounter in my everyday life, even if based only on one particular interaction during which a person behaved in an inspirational way.
What I want to reflect on in this post is what attitude we should adopt when faced with inspirations, in any sense of the word, whether they be a hero of great fame and repute, or an acquaintance we talk to briefly at a party. I think that there is both a negative mode of response and a positive mode of response, and which one we choose has great impact regarding our ability to stretch beyond ourselves and grow in the direction of whatever has inspired us.
Even though it’s been quite a while since I’ve added new content to jensul.ca, I still wrote over 40 posts during 2016, including fiction, non-fiction and poetry, and so I thought I would make a post now reviewing some of my highlights from the year, as well as looking ahead to the “re-launch” of jensul.ca I’m anticipating for 2017. One of my major projects that I have been focusing on as of late in lieu of this website is my current novel. I have been working on this book, which I would class as literary and philosophical fiction, for the past year and a half, and decided to devote my writing energies principally towards its completion. On that front, I am excited to say that I am only a few short chapters away from finishing. It has been an intense and engrossing journey, for while it will be the fourth novel I have written, it is the most extensive in terms of the world and cast of characters it encompasses, as well as the style and philosophical ideas I have tried to include in its pages. With this end in sight, I am excited to be able to invest more time and attention into writing regular posts for jensul.ca again.
Is boredom necessarily a negative experience? Often we view boredom with a certain distaste or dread, which leads to the conclusion that it is not good to be bored. Yet, if probed more deeply, this distaste might reveal itself as fear, perhaps a fear of silence or the absence of entertainment.
Why do we fear silence and what about it do we fear? Since fears are often irrational, we must consider whether this is a sensible fear, and if so, whether it is worthwhile to act in obedience to this fear. I think the fear of silence is increasingly prevalent in a world dominated by noise. The more normal it becomes to live with this “noise” as our constant companion, the less likely we are to recognize the fear of silence as fear at all. It might instead be defined positively as a desire for stimulation or some more productive and efficient use of time.
Yet we are losing something inestimably important when we simply let silence slip out of the equation and repress the fear that forbids its existence. Silence can be connected to openness, to self, and to being. I want to discuss openness first. Silence necessarily involves space and time, space and time that are unfilled though they have the capacity to be filled. This can be looked at both negatively and positively, and for now, I am just going to speak about the former. Openness can be seen as negative because it is unpredictable. Something that is unfilled could become filled with anything, whether desired or undesired. Such a something also lacks a fixed structure or predetermined shape. This ties into our terror of the unknown. We constantly grasp after control- we want to be able to control and manage our lives and to do so with certainty. But silence necessarily requires that we relinquish some measure of control, that we are open to the moment that is itself open. Silence can surprise us; it can deviate from our desires.
My dad has always been a runner, and this is something I have always known, as far back as my memory stretches. In a sense, it was built into the routine of shared family life, woven through sunny Saturday afternoons and frost-tipped mornings that lingered in the wake of a snowfall. He would always tell me (and tells me still) that a real runner can run in all weathers. The specific circumstances were usually irrelevant: my dad is a runner, and so he ran.
I myself was not a runner, not really, until this past summer (shortly before I began this series about running). Yet the impact of my father’s running on my childhood was not restricted to the domain of running itself. It had broader implications; it stretched beyond its literal significance, unveiling truths about strength, perseverance and character. There is a steadiness involved in such dedication that sees the runner leave the house in good days and bad, setting off down the street alone, without celebration, without the mere goal of external achievement. For my dad, running has never been about checking off boxes but about living more fully, connecting on a deeper level with the self.
The sky’s blue is almost as rich as the river below it. Sheltered beneath the paternal curving branches and watching as the birds explore with song, I think, and the thoughts come with ease. I think that it is easy to see beauty on a day such as this. Spring has accelerated the water’s pace and filled it to bursting with joy. The new grass is animated by the breeze, which makes it dance. And warmth pulses with an agreeable freshness.
I like to plan, and have always considered planning to be a good and worthwhile (even necessary) activity. However, the more that I think about it, the more I begin to question the value of planning and to see the matter as up for debate.
Is it good to plan? First of all, I should say that such a question is unanswerable, or that it would yield an invalid answer. To talk about the value of planning, we need to make a distinction not only between different types of plans, but between different circumstances in which planning might arise. This suggests that planning does not have an intrinsic value so much as a contingent one. Whether or not planning is good depends on multiple factors surrounding the planning process, not on the joy of the planning itself (though planning can indeed be joyful at times).
We are often told (and probably tell ourselves) that we ought to “live in the moment.” I wholeheartedly agree with this advice and am all for advocating mindfulness in an age of distraction (though I do think this advice is frequently delivered in a superficial way). On the other hand, we, as human beings, are oriented toward the future. Our lives and our selves are not split apart into separate and unrelated pieces (or moments). Identity is continuous and stretches over the course of many, many moments (too many to count). As humans we are also beings endowed with the capacity for self-reflection. We are not mere machines acting according to instinct and doing the things that have been programmed within us to do. Rather, we have the ability both to act and to think critically about those same actions, to engage in self-evaluation and to develop hopes, dreams and ideas pertaining to self and reaching towards our future life.
Looked at in this way, is it any wonder we plan? Could it even be said that we are planning beings?
We often spout off lines about the unimportance of beauty, or at least its subservience to other, greater things. We say things like, “Beauty is only skin deep” or “It’s what’s on the inside that counts.”
But I want to ask: Is this really true?
Certainly we would say that a person who cares only about physical beauty and disdains knowledge or understanding of the interior is a very shallow person indeed. We would probably go so far as to say that they are “not a very good person at all.” However, concern for physical beauty does not necessarily align with the all-or-nothing approach. A person might care about physical beauty (in themselves and in others), though this is not all they care about or the primary thing that they care about. My question is not only, should we care about physical beauty? but also, is it possible for us not to care about physical beauty?
In writing reviews, I look for films that hold some deeper resonance or artistic merit, something I can latch onto like a thread to further unravel, forming a reflection. Yet there are some films which resonate with me so profoundly that it is a struggle to think of translating them in some way or shape into the medium of language. This reveals, in a sense, the divide between the image and the word, and the limitation of language.
The image is what gives a movie its special power and significance. An image can strike and affect us in a way unlike anything else. Think, for example, of the face of a suffering person: perhaps a close family member or friend you saw going through a hard time, or even the face of a complete stranger you saw on the news in connection with some calamity. Such a face can remain in our minds with almost a haunting endurance. Of course, images can be evoked by good writing as well, and when I think back on many of my favourite novels, I am reminded of a particularly potent image of a scene between characters or of something that occurred in the plot. Yet this is still different from the way in which the image confronts us so boldly in the course of a film. Sometimes the sharp detail of this image affects our emotions in an immediate and powerful manner we are unable to describe.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and so I thought I would write a post in preparation. I suppose I could have written a piece and released it on the actual day itself, but I want to look at this holiday from a slightly different angle and suggest an idea for something that each of us could do on February 14th.
When I was thinking about what to write that might suit this theme, the usual ideas came to mind: of love and relationships, of being alone and finding trust in a period of waiting, or of being with another while maintaining one’s own identity and self-respect. And yet I realized I was confining myself to topics revolving around romantic relationships, which we typically associate with Valentine’s Day. The origins of Valentine’s Day, however, do not suggest such a restriction. The holiday began in honour of St. Valentine, a Christian martyr in 5th century Rome, and associations with romantic love were not forged until the 14th century under the influence of Chaucer and his courtly circle.
In our contemporary society, Valentine’s Day seems to be defined by its connection to romantic love, or conversely, to the opposite of romantic love: that is, singlehood. We are burdened with images of romantic love, but also with catchy slogans about how it is okay to be single and how a person does not need another person to complete their life. It is probably not possible to dissipate these now tightly held associations, and I am not trying to suggest that the erasure of such links would be a good thing. But, what if Valentine’s Day did not have to be just about one or the other?