image: “surreal dimension”, by hartwig kopp-delaney
I really want to spend some time learning to meditate, and practice it faithfully every day. I really want to complement my running program with upper body and flexibility exercises, and integrate them into a whole body/whole mind “presence” practice. I really want to get back to more regular blogging. I really want to compose more music, drawing on a dozen scraps of words and music I’ve been carrying around everywhere I go for months now.
At least that’s what I tell myself. The truth is that when I have free time (which, being retired from paid work, I have often) I use that time doing other things: online reading, playing, daydreaming, sleeping in, hanging out, etc.
The truth is that I want to want to meditate, strengthen my upper body, become present, blog more, and compose more music. When I actually push myself to do these things I enjoy it. But I don’t push myself. Because I don’t really want to do these things. I just want to want to do them. They correspond with my perception of spending time usefully, becoming a more complete, well-rounded person, producing stuff that I can be proud of.
I will accept that I’m lazy (until things get urgent); I think that’s very human. I don’t believe there is anything ‘wrong’ with me (e.g. that this is self-defeating behaviour, that I’m suffering debilitating effects of trauma, etc.), though I think we’re all damaged to some extent by our civilization culture. So why do I do what I do, instead of what I want to want to do?
Part of the reason, I think, is that I’m exhausted. Still, in retirement. I can’t recall the last time I was, for an extended period of time, not exhausted. Another part of the reason, which may be related to exhaustion, is that these things I want to want to do aren’t much fun. They’re “work”, and I’ve done enough work, for now; I want to play. I want the outcomes of these things (presence from meditation, resilience from exercise, outstanding written and musical compositions that bring me a sense of accomplishment), but I’m not that keen on the practices that produce them. They’re not hard work, these practices, but they’re work.
I think this is the reason that the cliche “whatever you want to do, just begin” resonates with me. Once I start, I cease to be aware of these practices as work, and sometimes they’re even fun (it’s mostly the learning component that’s fun). Perhaps that’s the essence, at least for most people, of practice. We don’t want to do it. We want to want to do it. Once we begin, we are happy doing it. Practice is the key to doing just about anything well, and the stock advice of “teachers” of writing, music, art, and just about any other skill of value.
Why do I want to want be present, resilient, and the author of great works of art and imagination? In other words, why do I want to be something a little different from, a little “more” than, everything I am, now? I think this goes back to my feeling that I’ve wasted most of the last 40 years — learned terribly little, terribly slowly, and have terribly little (skill, enduring “output”, evidence of positive effect on others) to show for it. Yes, some work colleagues and clients have told me that they received transformative value from what I did when I worked with them, but, ever the Doubting Thomas, I’m not so sure they really have. Yes, my blog has almost undoubtedly had a greater and more positive impact on more people than all my work life produced. But John Gray (in Straw Dogs) explained more powerfully, eloquently and succinctly than I could ever do how the world really works and where it is headed, and Paul Kingsnorth, in his Manifesto and Orion articles, articulates more effectively how those of us who have moved past the second denial now feel, now that we know why we cannot save the world, and what we might do instead.
So why then, after ridiculing the despicable and opportunistic “self-help” industry and after calling for all of us (by which I mean myself, and perhaps anyone else who might serendipitously be reading) to simply accept ourselves as we really are and always have been, do I want to practice being “better” or “more”? Part of it is self-protective, I think. We’re all traumatized to some extent, and being more present and more resilient would seem a way to cope with and move past the trauma, fears, anger, grief, old absurd fictional stories, and chronic anxiety that dwells in me and be “more fully myself”. That will make me happier, and more useful to others and to the world. If practice can help do that, I think it’s worth pushing myself to practice.
The other part, I think, is the utterly human desire to find my true calling, Sweet Spot, “work I’m meant to do”, passion, gift, purpose, or whatever you want to call it. My distinctive competency. The thing I do (or could do, with practice) better than anyone else, even John Gray or Paul Kingsnorth or TS Eliot or Frederick Barthelme or Neil Young. The song that, if I were a bird (and I wish I were), I would sing. My enduring self-expression.
I appreciate the value of being a competent generalist, a connector, someone who transplants ideas to terrains where no one else could see them taking root. Many have told me that’s what I do, and do well, and I should be content with that, and keep doing it. And I will. But I won’t be content with that. Something in me is still waiting, and struggling, to get out, to escape all the not-me gunk that I have let be attached to me over the years to the point that something important in me has become invisible, even to me. Most of all to me. With practice, I think, I could find it, and set it free.
That’s all. This is just an exhortation to myself to practice what I want to want to do. Even if I think, or know, I don’t really want to do it. An exhortation to just begin. I’m off to do that, now.