Too much world. Too much, too fast, too loud.

From my window, I can see a white mulberry, a tree I’m fascinated by—one of the reasons I decided to live where I live. The mulberry is a generous plant—all spring and all summer it offers dozens of avian families its sweet and healthful fruits. Right now, the mulberry hasn’t got back its leaves, and so I see a stretch of quiet street, rarely traversed by people on their way to the park. The weather in Wrocław is almost summery: a blinding sun, blue sky, clean air. Today, as I was walking my dog, I saw two magpies chasing an owl from their nest. At a remove of just a couple of feet, the owl and I gazed into each other’s eyes. Animals, too, seem to be waiting expectantly, wondering what’s going to happen next.

For the longest time, I have felt that there’s been too much world. Too much, too fast, too loud. So I’m not experiencing any “isolation trauma,” and it isn’t hard on me at all to not see people. I’m not sorry that the cinemas have closed; I am completely indifferent to the fact that shopping centers have shuttered. I do worry, of course, when I think of all the people who have lost their jobs. But, when I learned of the impending quarantine, I felt something like relief. I know many people felt similarly, even if they also felt ashamed of it. My introversion, long strangled and abused by hyperactive extroverts, has brushed itself off and come out of the closet.

I watch our neighbor through the window, an overworked lawyer I just recently saw heading to work in the morning with his courtroom robe slung over his shoulder. Now in a baggy tracksuit, he battles a branch in the yard; he seems to be putting things in order. I see a couple of young people taking out an older dog that’s been barely able to walk since last winter. The dog staggers while they patiently accompany him, walking at the slowest pace. Making a great racket, the garbage truck picks up the trash.

Life goes on, and how, but at a completely different rhythm. I tidied up my closet and took out the newspapers we had read and placed them in the recycling bin. I repotted the flowers. I picked up my bicycle from the shop where it had been repaired. I have been enjoying cooking.

Images from my childhood keep coming back to me. There was so much more time then, and it was possible to “waste” it and “kill” it, spending hours just staring out the window, observing the ants, or lying under the table and imagining it to be the ark. Reading the encyclopedia.

Might it not be the case that we have returned to a normal rhythm of life? That it isn’t that the virus is a disruption of the norm, but rather exactly the reverse—that the hectic world before the virus arrived was abnormal? …

The virus has reminded us, after all, of the thing we have been denying so passionately: that we are delicate creatures, composed of the most fragile material. That we die—that we are mortal. That we are not separated from the rest of the world by our “humanity,” by any exceptionality, but that the world is instead a kind of great network in which we are enmeshed, connected with other beings by invisible threads of dependence and influence. That without any regard to how far apart the countries we come from are, or what languages we speak, or what color our skin is, we come down with the same illness, we share the same fears; we die the same death.

It has made us realize that no matter how weak and vulnerable we feel in the face of danger, we are also surrounded by people who are more vulnerable, to whom our help is essential. It has reminded us of how fragile our older parents and grandparents are, and how very much they need our care. It has shown us that our frenetic movements imperil the world. And it has raised a question we have rarely had the courage to ask ourselves: what is it, exactly, that we keep going off in search of?

~ Olga Tokarczuk, from “A New World Through My Window” (The New Yorker, April 8, 2020)


Notes:

  • Thank you for sharing Sawsan (@  Last Tambourine).
  • Portrait of Olga Tokarczuk: Quillette. Poland’s Nobel Prize Winner in Literature (2018)

Sunday Morning

Yes, and I think we all know that sensation. We have more and more time-saving devices but less and less time, it seems to us. When I was a boy, the sense of luxury had to do with a lot of space, maybe having a big house or a huge car. Now I think luxury has to do with having a lot of time. The ultimate luxury now might be just a blank space in the calendar. And interestingly enough, that’s what we crave, I think, so many of us.

When I moved from New York City to rural Japan — after my year in Kyoto, I essentially moved to a two-room apartment, which is where I still live with my wife and, formerly, our two kids. We don’t have a car or a bicycle or a T.V. I can understand. It’s very simple, but it feels very luxurious. One reason is that when I wake up, it seems as if the whole day stretches in front of me like an enormous meadow, which is never a sensation I had when I was in go-go New York City. I can spend five hours at my desk. And then I can take a walk. And then I can spend one hour reading a book where, as I read, I can feel myself getting deeper and more attentive and more nuanced. It’s like a wonderful conversation.

Then I have a chance to take another walk around the neighborhood and take care of my emails and keep my bosses at bay and then go and play ping pong and then spend the evening with my wife. It seems as if the day has a thousand hours, and that’s exactly what I tend not to experience or feel when I’m — for example, today in Los Angeles — moving from place to place. I suppose it’s a trade-off. I gave up financial security, and I gave up the excitements of the big city. But I thought it was worth it in order to have two things, freedom and time. The biggest luxury I enjoy when I’m in Japan is, as soon as I arrive there, I take off my watch, and I feel I never need to put it on again. I can soon begin to tell the time by how the light is slanting off our walls at sunrise and when the darkness falls — and I suppose back to a more essential human life.

~ Pico Iyer, The Urgency of Slowing Down. An Interview with Krista Tippett (Onbeing, November, 2018)

MMM*: Follow the thread

thread-blue

Lately, when people ask me what I’m doing, the most honest reply (manifest in my daily writing, prayer, meditation, contemplation & conversations) would be to say I am following my thread. It’s a reference to this small, spectacular poem by William Stafford that is taped to my bathroom mirror. Whatever our “thread” is – a question, an invitation, an awareness of what matters most – it always takes us home to ourselves, to our belonging in this world, to the Infinite Love that holds & keeps us. These days, I become aware that I can hold & follow my thread in a variety of places – washing dishes or buying groceries; in solitude or with others; in the city or the forest. Mostly, I admit, the key for me to following my thread is to slow down. Rushing makes me lose awareness of the thread I hold. As the work week begins, let’s consider together: How do I hold the thread that guides me?

~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer


The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

~ William Stafford


Notes:

Saturday Morning: We immerse, slow down

read-morning-coffee-saturday

“… to read, we need a certain kind of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. That seems increasingly elusive in our overnetworked society, where every buzz and rumor is instantly blogged and tweeted, and it is not contemplation we desire but an odd sort of distraction, distraction masquerading as being in the know. In such a landscape, knowledge can’t help but fall prey to illusion, albeit an illusion that is deeply seductive, with its promise that speed can lead us to more illumination, that it is more important to react than to think deeply, that something must be attached to every bit of time. Here, we have my reading problem in a nutshell, for books insist we take the opposite position, that we immerse, slow down.”

David L. Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading


Notes: Quote – Litverve. Photograph: Amoris-Causa

 

Untether

swim-solitude
We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too. Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of them all, was found to have A.D.H.D. when he was a child; he has called the pool his “safe haven,” in part because “being in the pool slowed down my mind.”

…Five hundred lengths in a pool were never boring or monotonous; instead, Dr. Sacks writes, “swimming gave me a sort of joy, a sense of well-being so extreme that it became at times a sort of ecstasy.” The body is engaged in full physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered…The enforced solitude is at odds with where we are as a culture. Our gyms are full of televisions tuned to SportsCenter and cable news. We’re tethered to our devices, even at bedtime. With that pervasive lack of self-control, who has the willpower to turn off technology for any meaningful period of time? I submit: Sliding into the water is the easiest way to detach from your phone.

~ Bonnie Tsui, The Self Reflecting Pool


Photograph: Troy Jack

 

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