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.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Paradox revisited

After I set up the apparent paradox between "living in the moment" (complete focus on the Now) and "this too shall pass" (complete detachment from present circumstances), Kenny had these comments:

I think about this stuff a whole lot when I'm on the elliptical machine in the
morning. I really, really hate the elliptical machine. My legs get sore and my
whole body gets covered with sweat--neither of which I mind too much--and I feel
like I can't breathe, which is the part I really despise. And yes, sometimes my
coping strategy is to tell myself "I only have five minutes left" or even to
actively picture the five minutes being up and getting off the damn thing. And
sometimes my coping strategy is to distract myself, composing an email or
solving a math problem in my head to make the time go.
But the better strategy goes like this. Suppose I suddenly realized that there were only five seconds left. How would I feel then? I would feel fine. Because the truth is,
the way I feel right now is fine, legs and sweat and breath and all. The thing
that makes it so very very awful is the "Ohmigod-I-don't-think-I-can-do-this-for-30-more-seconds-and-I-have-to-do-it-for-five-more-whole-minutes" thing. Right now, here in this moment, it's fine. It's the projected future that is terrifying.
The solution is, of course, to simply observe . . . What "this too shall pass" and "living in the moment" have in common is that neither of them is about "Ohmigod-I-don't-think-I-can-do-this-for-30-more-seconds-and-I-have-to-do-it-for-five-more-whole-minutes."

I think Kenny's in the ballpark on this one. The problem with life experience is not the experience itself, but our relationship with the experience. Something happens, and then our minds generate all kinds of illusory attachments or aversions in response to the experience. Recognizing the illusoriness of past and future, as well as recognizing the transience of the present moment, are both ways of saying, "Don't identify with things that aren't real."

It's easy to see the "experience" vs. "relationship with experience" distinction in a three year old child. Young kids see the world much differently than we do, and have extreme reactions to seemingly benign things. You give the boy his milk in a blue cup, and he has a screaming meltdown. "NOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOooooooOOOOOO! I want the RED cup! AAAAAHHHH!" Sigh. It's hard to be patient, because it's so freaking obvious to you that the child's suffering is self-inflicted. Were he not so attached to the damn cup, this would not be a problem.

Now, the parenting pundits will have all kinds of things to say about "developing autonomy" and "testing limits" and all kinds of other psychological subtlties, but I think that's probably making it more complicated than it needs to be. The fact is, the kid is attached to something relatively insubstantial, and you see that, and he doesn't. But his reaction, and the suffering he endures, is identical to what we suffer when we have similar attachments to impermanent circumstances. "NOOOOOOO! I want the corner office! The CORNER office!"

Once you catch on to the fact that suffering is the creation of the mind, you might start to get smug and think you've got this game licked. "Ahh, now I just control the mind, and suffering goes away." But I've known that intellectually and experientially for about twenty years, and I'm not sure it's made much difference to my level of suffering. Why is it so hard?



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