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.
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?
I am a creative person and have often defined myself by my creativity. But sometimes I experience what I might call creative erasure. My mind, formerly filled with ideas and dreams, words and stories, becomes a blank slate. The prior rush of passion and ambition slows almost to a still.
I think that self-definition based on the mind is a habit into which we often fall. We speak of the body, of the heart and soul, but when we attempt to isolate the most fundamental aspect of self, we tend to focus on the mind. We ask, “what is it that makes me me?” and thus confront the question of personal identity. What makes identity secure? What allows it to endure over time so that we can say we are the same person now as we were a year, a month, a week before? Perhaps we have the same body, or possess a soul that is pure spirit and so superior to matter, or perhaps our psychological experiences are the key to self-discovery.
One of the greatest indignities is to be treated as though you do not exist. Being is the most fundamental aspect of life and of self, one that precedes and is presupposed by all other aspects. To be something (smart, beautiful, kind, fearful, lonely, weak) is first and is always to be. If someone tells us, then, that we are beautiful, smart, good or noteworthy in some way, we are gratified, flattered, affirmed, perhaps happy. But if that same someone lets fall the thread of our being after the words have ceased their echo, those former words lose their meaning.
I entered quickly, through sliding doors that parted like a shining sea. The aisles were well-stocked with food, aggressively proclaiming freshness and appeal. For a moment I was stranded, adrift among the stands, which formed a maze winding to the end of the store.
But it was only a moment.
Some shoppers were consulting lists or studying competing brands intently. Others darted from row to row, accumulating piles of produce; others still were probing vegetables and fruits, in pursuit of that elusive unblemished product.
Although the dying days of 2015 are gone and 2016 is already a week underway, the New Year is still sufficiently new that I’d like to take a look back at the journey of jensul.ca so far and at what is next to come. I officially launched this website at the end of September and since then it has been up and running with approximately three to four weekly posts for 15 weeks.
I am so grateful to all of the people who have read any of the posts at jensul.ca and those who have subscribed to my weekly newsletter (if you haven’t done so and would like to, just enter your email address in the box at the top right of the site). All of the feedback I have received is so meaningful and encourages me to keep writing and sharing my thoughts in this forum.