I’ve been reading that pretty much everyone, when asked, can provide a personal life-narrative that sums up or provides the gist of who we are as individuals. Apparently, usually, these personal stories are arrived at after the fact, post-hoc, and are largely fictions we construct in order, I guess, to have something to tell those who wish to know us better. Or something.
Well, maybe our stories aren’t total fiction but they are likely to be exaggerations, elaborations and/or simplifications that we deem make us appear better and more empathetic to those we wish to impress. So, anyway, this has me thinking about what my own story might look like if I were totally honest. How honest would I be in spelling it all out?
The thing is, next to every experience I can recall that puts me in a pretty good light there exists, in the shadows, an embarrassment, something I would prefer not to share no matter how much sympathy it might elicit. When I think about my childhood relationships with my peers, the challenges of reaching adulthood, what I’ve learned along the way, accomplishments, deficiencies overcome…..or not, I think it might be best to avoid offering a personal narrative at all. Those who are put off by my reticence will just have to find someone else to be touchy-feely with.
I’ve been reading, lately, that we apparently don’t all live in the same ethical world, that our moral perspectives diverge sometimes pretty dramatically, and, that this fact may very well account for the conflicting religious and political stances which seem so prevalent these days.
On the one hand you have those who champion the individual, operate according to the ethic of the golden rule: do no harm, treat others the way you yourself wish to be treated and exercise compassion for all vulnerable living things. And then you have another sizable constituency whose ethics centers on a sense of sacredness, pledge loyalty to a higher authority and firmly believe one’s social benefits be tied to one’s contributions.
It certainly seems to me both of these ethical worlds exist upon pretty sound foundations and I suspect the residents of each respective world probably have more in common, ethically speaking, than the on-going, divisive, media narrative presents. Maybe it’s time to invite my neighbors (who I’m pretty sure are firmly ensconced within the opposing camp) over for tea. As long as I can come up with conversational topics that don’t involve politics or religion.
I’m being led to understand, these days, that there are certain innate values within the human genome that when melded with cultural norms pretty much define irrevocably who we are (not discounting the onward march of evolutionary change).
Tendencies toward care for others, loyalty to our own, recognition of higher authority and above all the deep-seeded need to seek out and find sanctity are so deeply innate that reasoned explanation, reliance on an exclusive rationality as ultimate explanation for how and what things are can be embraced only by those who fight off what we innately feel to be true. And, further, such vehement denial of one’s true self isolates from the sort of social cohesion necessary for anyone to reach beyond ego and be truly open and happy.
Being a fairly private individual myself and always having been kind of averse to group bonding of any sort I found these ideas required a bit of thought. Initially the saccharine notion of sitting around a campfire singing Kum ba yah came to mind. But then I realized there were groups of more or less like-minds that I more or less fit into. And that I found the interactions (usually sports related) with these groups rewarding and important parts of my life, really, which makes me think the conception of some sort of innate need for social bonding is probably accurate. I still wince at the thought of singing Kum ba yah though.
I’ve been reading, lately, a treatise by a moral psychologist who claims pretty much everyone lies, cheats and steals. Apparently most all of us have such a deeply-held, innate self-interest that, given the opportunity, dishonesty is inevitable.
Excuses made to avoid an unwanted invitation are likely to be lies. We do this, I guess, because we all want to be well-thought of and it’s pretty clear unremitting truth will make anyone pretty unpopular. And when it comes to cheating, laws are set up such that everyone who drives a car will inevitably cheat in some way, at least in terms of speed limits. As far as theft goes, ‘borrowing’ items from one’s workplace, even if justified as improving one’s work efficiency is never the less stealing.
So, as I think about it I guess I have to admit I fit the profile. I can claim, I suppose, I do no grievous harm to any individual. I do have to admit, though, I’m a liar, cheat and thief. The worst of it is I still think I’m a pretty good person.
Another thing I miss while alone in the wilderness is distraction. Other than the occasional animal rustling or bird song there are no distractions here. I can’t even get a cell phone signal.
The awareness of not being distracted makes me think I must be distracted a lot usually. I wonder how much of my life I spend distracted.
Which is one reason I didn’t mind falling in the water while trying to get into my canoe so much. It temporarily distracted me. Wilderness is so in your face, so absolute, such stark reality.
So, to deal with stark reality I brought along some distractions in the form of reading material and, obviously, writing pad.
One of the books is Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson. The person telling the story in this book reminds me somewhat of myself. She goes on and on about whatever comes into her head. She tells in the book about having once been mad. I don’t think she ever fully recovered by the end of the book. I don’t know what that says about me.
I’ve been alone in the wilderness now for more than twenty-four hours. Other than the occasional canoe passing by I’ve seen or talked with no one.
Nothing particularly unusual has happened here other than last evening I fell in the lake trying to get into my canoe. I spent considerable time after that rigging up lines to dry things out which they pretty well were by morning.
So, I was thinking about what I miss being in the wilderness and one of the first things that came to mind is music which when I’m not in the wilderness I am usually listening to or is at least playing in the background.
I find it interesting how some musicians’ names seem to fit their profession so well. Take Esa-Pekka Salonen or Luigi Boccherini or Antonine Dvorak. When I say these names out loud I just want to repeat them over and over because they’re so rhythmic sounding (well, maybe not Antonine Dvorak so much).
The composer I’m thinking of now is Aaron Copeland who I guess doesn’t have a particularly rhythmic sounding name but his music seems to suit the wilderness. It seems to me Appalachian Spring would be really good background music for where I presently am. I’m not in Appalachia and it’s not spring but never the less.
I do know the title of that work really doesn’t refer to the season but rather a water source. I found this out only recently. Even so I still am inclined to think of the season when I hear the piece. Also I think of Jody Foster who sang Simple Gifts in an episode of Kung Fu for David Carradine who played Kwai Chang Caine even though he’s Caucasian.
The movie that I think of when I think of Jody Foster is Taxi Driver with Robert DeNiro. In it she plays an adolescent prostitute.
I’m all alone in the wilderness. At least it’s someplace I would call wilderness. I know for a fact no one lives within miles of here and there aren’t any roads within miles of here either.
That’s not to say there aren’t people around. I saw four people just minutes ago but they aren’t within sight now. For all intents and purposes I’m all alone. At least I have been for the last three hours and seventeen minutes which is how long ago I entered the wilderness.
Right now I’m looking out across a lake.
Although it’s been a couple of minutes since I wrote that last sentence I’m still looking across the same lake in so far as I haven’t moved from the spot I was at when I wrote the last sentence. It’s a beautiful scene; the sun sparkling off of the water, the variety of greens in the trees on the far bank, the multi-colored rock outcroppings reaching down into the dark water. It could be a painting.
Of course I know it couldn’t really be a painting because then what I’d be looking at would be some sort of pigment spread on canvas or paper or something rather than the real water and rocks and trees I’m seeing.
That’s not to say if what I was looking at was a painting that the painting wouldn’t be real. It is real in my imagination in so far as I can imagine this scene as a painting.
So I guess there’s no reason to think that the painting I’m imagining of the scene that I’m looking at is any less real than the water, trees and rocks.
I’ve been engaged for the last eight minutes or so maintaining awareness of the reality before me; not focusing on anything in particular, just contemplating the here and now. Thoughts occasionally enter, generally from the left, and pretty much pass right through and out to the right. Sometimes a thought gets stuck on its passage through so I have to give it a nudge so as to bring myself back to the here and now.
Traveling, as I am, down the road right now, the here and now is changing by the second; probably not an ideal situation for meditation; kind of distracting, really. And, having traveled this road numerous times before familiar objects come suddenly into view that bring thoughts to mine; thoughts that need to be ushered out stage right, lest I be drawn into thoughts of past circumstances and lose the here and now. Even as I concentrate on the here and now ‘veneers’ of association supervene adding layers of meaning that I gently, lightly erase without disturbing the here and now.
I’m up to about ten minutes now and my concentration is kind of fading in and out. With effort I know I can bring it back, aware, as I am, of the enormous benefits of mindfulness.
My daily meditations have me focusing, lately, on mindful attentions. Today, as I arise from my nocturnal slumbers to the feng-shui of my bedroom, I inhale deeply, exhale, and mindfully absorb the world around me. As I turn to the closet I wait, patiently, for the day’s wardrobe to present itself. Today I embrace change; I will become the plaid shirt and striped pants.
In the kitchen I am enveloped by the silence. I inhale the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee. Staring down into the dark, amber liquid I deliberate on the space between my thoughts. Mindfully, I lift the cup and contemplate the anticipated feel of the warm liquid on my palate and dwell for a time on the importance of observation in place of determination.
The tamarack tree outside my window beckons. I feel myself becoming one with its gnarly branches lightly swaying in the breeze and find myself becoming rooted to this place. As the wind begins blowing harder my back twists, fingers bend painfully, needle-like leaves detach. I am aware of the impermanence of existence and I share the suffering and pain of the fragile Larch for whom I shed tears in empathy. I pull away, release my embrace. Life is process not a state of being.
Well, at this point I’ve pretty much killed most of the day as far as doing anything productive goes; my painting languishes, I’m behind in my reading, the lawn needs mowing and forget about the groceries for supper. Maybe part of the discipline of mindfulness needs to be being mindful of what is necessary for basic functioning.
Springtime in the northern climes is characterized to a great extent by the ephemeral. Early flowers bloom and die within days, the yellow-greens of trees and grasslands transform into verdant grays by mid-summer. Bird song signal mating ritual and very shortly the woods are quiet. And but the ephemeral is not just a spring phenomenon: the vitality of youth degrades into the ennui of middle age and as a rule pretty much everyone and thing is simply waiting for their/its ultimate demise.
What really brings this home to me personally is the realization of my very own physical and mental decline. Despite my best efforts to counteract the aging process through exercise, healthy eating and right thinking, the ephemerality of existence hovers over me like a large foot over a small insect.
I know there’s nothing unique about this realization: most everyone experiences the negative results of aging, which, it seems to me, accounts for the tenacity of religion, able to sustain its hold on so many despite the delusional nature of the enterprise. But then so perhaps there’s something to seeking a ground of Being. It may be the only defiance of the ephemeral.