Sunday, October 7, 2007

Space to Live Fully

Still enjoying my sabbatical from blogging and pursuing my newly sparked interest in drawing, so you'll have to hold on for just a bit longer, dear readers. But meanwhile, I wanted to share an excerpt from a letter I recently wrote to a friend about the nature of stress. Perhaps it will help shed some light on my reasons for this little break.

My friend explained the extended lag in correspondence on his end in the elegant metaphors of computer technology:

I'm reminded of a term from the arena of computer software, as example.  As load on a PC's memory increases, pages of the computer's high-speed memory are swapped out to the larger but much slower hard disk memory.  For a while this helps the computer do more because the lesser-used pages are moved to a slower memory, freeing the scarce high speed memories for the task at hand.  There is a threshold, though, at which each page retrieved from the disk requires another page to be swapped out to the disk, which itself is still required and very soon needs to be brought back from the disk, perpetuating the cycle.  At this threshold, the computer spends more time just shuffling memory around than doing actual work, and performance can plunge to a near stand-still.  They call this "thrashing," and sometimes I feel like it happens to me too.

The following is what I wrote in response, as I thought of my own stress recently and the vital difference between our two approaches.

You don't have to apologize. I've been sick recently, which brings its own kind of stress, though a different kind. I'm also (as I'm sure I've mentioned) learning how to draw, and like everything I do, I'm doing it intensely and passionately and devoting most of my free time to it (I've started dreaming about it, too--last night, I dreamt about how to draw the corners of walls, and then later that little glimmer of light that runs along the upper edge of lips and pools in the corner of the mouth, rubbing elbows (to mix bodily metaphors) with that most expressive shadow that so greatly influences how we perceive a person's mood). So while I've missed your letters, it's not like I don't have plenty to do.

Your talk about stress and the computer analogy is interesting, but it reminds me of what many mystics and philosopher-poets have spoken of, which is that functioning in the realm of categories and conventions (e.g. work versus leisure versus transit versus social life, all of which are shuffled and rearranged to suit what "needs to be dealt with at the moment") is really like living only half a life. At least, that's how it strikes me, like there is always a part of yourself sitting idly by like a secretary, keeping tabs on all the things you're busy not doing. The seekers and thinkers talk about emptying oneself of distraction and clearing space within oneself not simply so something "more important" can move in and take that space over, but because space, emptiness itself is valuable, necessary even. It allows you to live your life fully in the present, to be completely here-now, without wasting any time shuffling and rearranging--to live intensely and completely, without the needless distraction of "thrashing." Or, at least, when the mystics thrash, out of pain or frustration or grief, their thrashing is actual thrashing--it is movement, bodily momentum, personal expression, and it can be fully experienced and felt, almost like a dance or a song. It's not simply a crash, a shutting down of the self, but a new way for the individual to be, and to continue to become. The stress of being sick is, for me, like this kind of thrashing--not an overload, but a new kind of sensation in itself. Far from a pleasant one, of course, but one to which I try to be fully present anyway (if only because insisting on being fully alive is the best, maybe the only, way to get well again).

I hope you don't take offense, but it saddens me that your days are so full of stress and the shuffling and prioritizing of segregated aspects of your life that you only ever get to have a little dose of it at a time. It seems a great waste of energy. I'm sure there's much to be said for accomplishing many things, of "getting a lot done." But I've always felt that it is more important to do each thing completely and with your whole self, than to do many things without understanding them or being fully present to their processes, implications, sensations, etc. After all, it seems like a lot of the ridiculous and difficult things that happen occur mostly because no one was bothering to pay attention and be truly present to their actual reality. Every time a stock market bubble pops, for instance, people suddenly remember that money is not an arbitrary and infinitely flexible thing, but that it is tied to the actual existence of objects and work in the world, that tulips or houses or websites cannot alone sustain the wealth of an entire community of hungry investors. Every time someone loses a son or brother in war, that war ceases to be merely a political strategy in a global game--it is a real thing in which real destruction is caused on a daily basis. If people made the effort to empty themselves out so that they had the stamina and courage to be fully present to each small aspect of their lives and how it ripples out infinitely to touch all other lives, I don't think war or rich men would be so easily made, nor so glorified and applauded. Wealth and violence are two things that are hard to bear unless you shave a bit off the top and shuffle it away into that "slow memory" where it can collect interest unnoticed and unfelt.

But that's all of my lecturing for today. I guess I'm just of the old-fashioned school that believes it doesn't just matter what you do, it matters how you go about doing it (marry that to my radical devotion to whatever "Truth" is, and voila--you have one frustrated, lonely girl who doesn't enjoy everyone rushing about her as if the rushing itself were the important part).

1 comment:

  1. such a poet. wish i could write as good as you.