Throughout the past week and a half, I’ve been suffering from frequent headaches. Or, more accurately put, I’ve been suffering from one continuous headache, which has shifted its shape, has ebbed and has flowed, but has not abated.
It’s easy to become discouraged when in perpetual pain, and discouragement is an understatement for how it has affected me at times. Instead of being able to read and write, my mind has been sluggish and slow; thinking hurts. Instead of being able to do, and feel value in doing, I’ve been forced of necessity to rest, to be content in being. Instead of seeking out the light, I hide from it – close the curtains, turn off lights, lament a sun-filled day.
Sometimes I have this sense of being perpetually behind. It can be hard to account for – at times, the feeling arises when from external appearance I might seem to be doing well or exactly on schedule. Objective perspective might suggest things are fine, and yet I still have this feeling that I have not done enough, that I could have or should have done more.
There is something so beautiful and small about feeding the birds. I paused on my walk through the woods and stretched out my hand. In the distance, both in front and behind, the sound of children’s laughter and crunching of crisp snow echoed along the otherwise secluded path.
I raised my hand a little higher. The little black seeds stood out against my open palm, an offering extended freely. The sun filtered through the spindly branches and cast shadows: those little strips of light were painting the snow. I looked up.
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.
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.
We often try to apply the same principles to the words we find onscreen as to the words that are spoken face to face, even though we know there is a wide gulf between the two. The words onscreen are only a record of a thought once had. The message documents expression, but there is no real experience in the hard, cold display of text. Even so, we mistakenly try to glean meaning from it, to tear it to pieces until we have found the true self of the other in this little isolated fragment. But this is no more them, this is no more real, than the whispers of the world or the lists of exterior acts define our own vast ocean of self.
Presence is real. This is the realest thing there is, and there is nothing of it on the screen.
Many times we are waiting for the words to come as we would shape them, yet we are each our own in the words we would use. We must learn to grant the freedom of expression and of soul to the other.
Many times we are waiting for the phone to ring, and it does not. Yet why do we weigh ourselves down with projected rejection, simply because the other was not confined in our arbitrary, self-imposed frame?
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.