The simple, banal, ordinary. Perhaps the least exciting is the most fulfilling. Excitement may be simply an exclamation point calling attention to what came before and after the exceptional. When life bubbles with activity that disappears with every instant, important natural events go unnoticed. Every mundane experience that is dismissed or neglected is a lost opportunity in the journey toward understanding.
What a delight it is
When I blow away the ash
To watch the crimson
Of the glowing fire
And hear the water boil.
~ Tachibana Akemi ~
Safety is a myth. No one is safe, nor is any inanimate object. Everything and everyone is subject to the vagaries of the stars. At any moment, our sun could explode into a celestial fireball one hundred times its present size, incinerating everything within its incalculably hot reach. That cataclysmic event—which would occur with such speed and force that we would not have time to notice—would represent a microscopic disruption in the fabric of the universe. Instead of being blindsided by such a natural event, we could observe the destruction of our planet in the form of nuclear explosions and their subsequent imposition, almost instantaneously, of nuclear winter. Or just a random gunshot could take one out. Or an automobile accident. Or a disease or an injury resulting from climbing a ladder or stepping in front of a moving snow plow. Safety, then, represents a brief state of temporal and/or physical distance from danger. The brevity of safety is almost immeasurably short. But for the fortunate among us, it can go on for hours or days or years. All of us, I think, yearn for safety. The sense that one is safe extinguishes (or, at least, attempts to smother) the constant, gnawing fear that annihilation is just around the corner. Is fear a reaction to the idea of one’s experience of dying or to the idea that one has died? The latter is an impossible absurdity. If only we could wrap our heads around the idea that the cessation of our minds and bodies is simply another step in our transformation from one form to another (star dust and all that…), one’s safety would not seem so important. And one’s demise would not be viewed with trepidation; rather, it might be welcomed (although only after sufficient time has passed to enable one to fully experience and understand his life, which would take at least two lifetimes and then some…).
Friendship has been in the news of late. I lately have read about matters of concern about friendship as reported by both CNN and NPR. Having had very few true, close friends during the course of my lifetime, I find the topic very interesting. The title of a CNN online article, entitled “Why most men don’t have enough close friends,” caught my attention. Before reading the first paragraph, I knew the ideas the author would address. Vulnerability, emotional intimacy, and the attendant affliction: loneliness. The article attributes to Dr. Frank Sileo, a psychologist based in Ridgewood, New Jersey, the following: “social pressures remain that make it difficult for men to express the vulnerability and intimacy needed for close friendships.” That is as surprising as realizing the sun rises every morning. Dr. Niobe Way, a researcher and a professor of applied psychology at New York University says heterosexual men seeking closeness might turn to those they see as better at building relationships and feel comfortable exploring their vulnerability with: the women in their lives… Sileo says that approach may seem like a good solution, but it works neither for the men nor the women they look to; putting everything on a romantic partner can strain a relationship, whether it is going to a female partner exclusively for emotional support or depending on her to cultivate friendships and get-togethers for holidays and weekends. Men relying on women for emotional connections face another obstacle not mentioned in the article: the implicit social limits placed on male-female friendships. Both men and women—but especially women who are involved in romantic relationships—seem to fear how getting “too close” might appear to others, so they do not pursue or permit the same level of intimacy that female friends share with one another. Socialization has many positive attributes; the limits placed on developing close friends do not represent any of them. Feelings of discomfort—implanted in our heads by irrational social pressures—should not override one’s sense of compassion, but apparently they do.
Calm in quietude is not real calm.
When you can be calm in the midst of activity,
this it the true state of nature.
Happiness in comfort is not real happiness.
When you can be happy
in the midst of hardship,
then you see the true potential of
~ Huanchu Daoren ~
Gazing around my cluttered desk, I wonder how I let it get this way. Periodically, I organize my desktop, put away items I do not need with frequency, and otherwise introduce simplicity and minimalism to this tiny fragment of my life. It never lasts long, though. I allow myself to bounce from one thing to another, one idea to another, one question to another. The amount of time and energy required to maintain simplicity and minimalism exceeds my willingness to slow the process of thinking and daydreaming. So disorder…appearing almost like unchecked chaos…returns to what once was a clear desk. I enjoy and appreciate order—apparently not enough, though, to maintain it with any regularity. What, I wonder, would Huanchu Daoren say about me after observing my workspace…and me?
What will this morning tell me I have not heard before? When I look in the mirror, will the face gazing back at me be any wiser than the one who was there yesterday? Does it matter? Who’s asking? The questions will go unanswered.