Monday, November 23, 2020

Dubious Futures

 Or suppose you just opened the empty page and waited long enough for something to arise? 

"...there is no difference between inspiration and lack of distraction. They are the same thing."

I would guess that my most consistent error, in recent years, has been not making the space. Not sitting still. Yes, I have let myself be eaten up by political thought. I had to do the political thinking, because my former thinking was wrong. But my conclusion at the end of it all was that I had nothing very useful to say, certainly not directly. It may all rise to the surface eventually. Who cares? No point in taking responsibility for dubious futures.

If there's something I have spent years of thought and meditation on, it's just that fundamental, first question: how should I live? 

And although I manifestly do not know how to live, I also manifestly am further along than I was before. 

When I began blogging, I was first engaging with Buddhism. A long and fruitful struggle, ongoing. I might still qualify as a Buddhist, I don't know. I've misplaced my membership card. But anyway, at one point I had a bit of a readership that looked to me for wisdom, which was gratifying, if poisonous. If I knew so much about domesticating my mind, why was it so frantic and feral? Why could I not control (for instance) my eating? I felt fraudulent. I backed off. I thought: before I swagger around dispensing advice, shouldn't I actually be able to change my behavior?

So I did actually change my behavior, eventually. It was a huge effort, and is still a huge effort. It has been a surprisingly practical and detail-oriented effort.  One of my many false expectations was that something would fall into place. I'd get my mind and my attitude right and suddenly the difficulties would fall away.

That's not what happened at all. Instead I had to attack a thousand small problems and solve them one by one. What time do I eat lunch? Do I add carrot slices to my salad? Do I put salt in my morning oatmeal?

In a way, you could say it was just a matter of getting my mind and my attitude right: but much of what I had to do was lose my disdain for practical planning and detail. The right food has to be in the right place at the right time, or I'll eat the wrong food. I have to know how much I'm going to eat before I start, or I'll eat too much. 

So here I am, three years later. I've succeeded in that one behavior, anyway. A year and a half of losing the weight, and two years of keeping it off: I no longer worry much about the possibility of relapse. But I come back to weighing the role of meditation in it, and my role as a dispenser of  wisdom, and I find that I'm not very interested in it any more. I know far less about how anyone ought to live than I thought I did, and anyone else's way will lie through a thousand details, just as mine did: details I know nothing about and can't meaningfully help with. I don't know if you should put salt in your oatmeal. I don't know if you should meditate.

Probably this dispenser-of-wisdom stuff was mostly in my head to begin with: I didn't really have gaggles of people clustering around me wanting to know how to live. Such attraction as I had from the start, maybe, was my willingness to confess that I didn't know how to live. That allure, anyway, I should still have. 


Murr Brewster said...

When I was sixteen, I'd curated a personality for myself: wise, Earth-Mother, little hippie girl other people looked to for wisdom. Because for some reason other people DID look to me for wisdom, that personality gelled and set. In short order after entering college it began to break down. I didn't have my entourage. I had panic attacks for years and developed a very strong attachment to alcohol. You made me recall how delicious it felt to have other people consider me wise. In order to get to a place with more authenticity and fewer panic attacks and less alcohol, I had to give up on that false pleasure. Man, it took a while.

Joan said...

I think the best any of us can do, really, is lead by example, but people really do want An Answer. I've managed to muddle through a number of Very Hard Things, and sometimes people want to know how I did it. My answer almost always is . . . I was willing to keep trying, and trying, and failing, and refining my approach, over and over and over again until I found a system that worked, and then I stuck to that system but no system stays static, so I still have to keep refining it, but it's much easier to refine a system in place than to build it from scratch every time.

This is not, I find, the truth that people want to hear. And yet, it's how things work, as far as I can tell, and the only real baseline wisdom in the world is Stay Open. Be Curious. Don't Assume You Know How You Tick. Maybe the Thing You Hate Is the Thing You Need . . . Actually, It Probably Is.

...all of which is very uninspiring, and not suitable for a bumper sticker.

Dave Bonta said...

"Such attraction as I had from the start, maybe, was my willingness to confess that I didn't know how to live." Yep. It was precisely because you were always willing to second-guess yourself that many of your insights seemed genuine. B.S. and wisdom may not be as far apart as we suppose. Shamans, the original psychotherapists, often rely on sleight-on-hand. And the figure of the wise fool is nearly universal.

Nimble said...

"much of what I had to do was lose my disdain for practical planning and detail"
Yes. It takes a long while to stop hoping for divine intervention / fortune's arrangement of my fate. Doing the work to plan and execute, and as Joan said fail and keep trying repeatedly, is probably the whole secret of life.