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.
It’s hard to recall my first encounter with hockey. I have memories of watching the game when I was young. It was background noise then but in a comforting sort of way. My dad would lean forward, eyes focused on the screen, and I would glance up occasionally from my book to catch sight of the tiny figures darting back and forth from one end of the rink to the other. The rules were irrelevant to me (in other words, I didn’t understand them). I simply tried to follow the progress of the puck, though sometimes a black speck on the surface of the screen looked so convincingly puck-like that it prevented my fulfillment of this goal.
When my older brother started playing hockey, I became his number one fan. For the ten years that he played, I don’t think I missed a single game. In the early seasons, I was admittedly oblivious to much of the action on the ice. I arrived at the arena with my fully stocked bag of books. But even then, something about the rink was so alluring. I don’t know what it was about the cold hard bench or the loud echo of the boards, or the angry buzzer that announced each period’s end. I don’t know why I felt such joy as my voice blended with the other fans to give a rousing cheer, or why I waited so proudly for my brother to emerge from the dressing room after each game, his hockey bag draped over his shoulder. As my family walked to the parking lot, I had the honour of holding the hockey stick, and it was like a waving flag. I don’t know what it was, but somehow each little detail melded together until the rink felt like home and the game- the game was ingrained in my nature.
I always carry my notebook with me and I always bring my pen. There is something terrifying about the thought of leaving home without a pen. To venture into the unknown without this essential piece of self seems unwise and unsafe.
My pen is silver and cool; it has a nice weight to it as my hand glides across the page. We have been together for so long, my pen and I. I wrote my last two novels with it and other things since. I have many different pens, and yet I always write with this one when I want to access something real and true. I keep buying ink refills and when they run out, I feel slightly despairing until there is a new pack in my hand.
How does real change come about?
When I pose this question, I’m not referring to broader social change, but change at the level of the individual. To what degree are we, each as individuals in our own right, able to influence or effect change in other individuals around us?
I think this is a very pertinent issue, because the idea that an individual can really influence another is one that comes up in teaching, parenthood and evangelism, to name a few. For simplicity’s sake, let’s call the two roles in such a relationship the teacher and the student (though they could just as easily be friend and friend, sister and brother, or any number of other combinations of roles). The teacher presumably has his own motives, extraneous to the mere subject being “taught.” Though passionate about the subject at hand, perhaps he also experiences great enthusiasm at the prospect of being the catalyst or cause of a “change for the better.”
I often find myself preoccupied by noise. This can be a problem, because our world is saturated with noise in many ways. We rarely can achieve that pure and perfect silence, whether we seek it, or strive to avoid its searching depths. There is almost always something going on in the background. Sometimes they are deliberate sounds, like music, and sometimes they are incidental, intertwined with everyday life. Cars whiz by on nearby roads; drilling slices through the air from the interminable construction work always going on somewhere in the neighbourhood…
There is always noise: people talking, people walking, even the noises that nature imposes on a sterile silence, like birds chattering and wind rustling through trees and rain pricking softly against the slicked black pavement. Here, the words of the Grinch spring to mind (if you’ll pardon the not-yet-seasonal reference): “Noise, noise, noise!”
Life does not occur on a level plane. There are inevitable highs and lows. Yet this is what gives to life value, and preserves the sanctity of wonder, joy and beauty, so they are not reduced to a monotonous existence, an impoverished understanding of life. Life has what I might call a natural and necessary ebb and flow. This is evident in the changing seasons of life. There is a circularity in the yearly repetition of special occasions and holidays. However, there is also a singularity to these events: they happen once in the entire cycle of days, and their value would be denigrated if instead they were constantly recurring.
This is true of both the creative and the spiritual life (since the two are inextricably connected). Creative ascent is so named because it involves a movement above the normalcy of life. The creative individual is given this unique ability to transcend his human capacity and earthly height, in order to see from a higher perspective. To me, this sort of miraculous rise (and by miraculous I mean creative or spiritual insight that seems to go beyond the limits or processes of reason) can be compared to the climber’s trek up the mountain.