Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Attachment, detachment, equanimity, and meaning

Kenny and I just keep digging into the whole detachment thing. He writes:
Suppose you live your whole life with the attitude "This, too, shall pass."
Something bad happens--a mosquito bite, a broken arm, a divorce--"This, too,
shall pass." Something good happens--a yummy bowl of ice cream, a great
vacation, a wonderful child--"This, too, shall pass." What would be the effect?
Would you become emotionally distant from it all, removed, detached? If so, I
would say that you are doing it wrong, or it was a bad idea in the first place.
But suppose the opposite happened: in abandoning all thought of this incident as
a stepping stone toward something long-term, you simply accepted it as the
reality right now. Accepting that the current reality has no permanent future
enables you to focus on it as the present. And the two apparently opposite
viewpoints are one.

So the recognition of impermanence is not the same as cold aloofness. We don't stop caring about things just because they are impermanent. We are, in fact, more free to engage things in the present moment if we are not preoccupied with whatever implications it as for past or future. What we strive for is equanimity, which is neither blind attachment nor cold detachment, but the absolute settleness that comes from recognition and acceptance of the truth.

However, that raises another (apparent) contradiction: how can you have meaning if there is no real past or future? When most people talk about "meaning" or "purpose", they usually have some kind of teleology in mind: this happens in order for that to happen, in order for that to happen, in order for everything to wind up there. What happens in the present moment is not seen merely as an isolated incident, but as part of a sensible progression to a desired end. In fact, the very people who are preaching the timeless reality of the present -- Eckhart Tolle, Andrew Cohen, etc. -- are also the ones who are heralding the dawn of a new age of enlightened consciousness, an inevitable evolution of the universe to greater consciousness. So, just when it seems like we've surrendered to the present moment, some overarching teleology has crept in the back door. Once again, we are trying to invest the present moment with future significance: "I'm going to be present now, in order to ultimately become enlightened, or allow the meaning of the universe to unfold" . . . or whatever.

Can you have your future and eat it, too?



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