Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Evolution

"...Consciousness tends to focus upon what we lack rather than what we possess.  From the moment we are born we struggle to achieve the things we lack , or think we lack: food and drink, possessions, the esteem of other people, security, personal fulfilment.  It is only when we are faced with some threat or crisis that we grasp how lucky we are, how much we already possess.  Then, suddenly, consciousness ceases to focus upon what we still want and focuses upon what we already have...."--Colin Wilson

I remember when I was a freshman in high school I embarked on the writing of a Lord of the Rings  inspired fantasy novel.  My brother and I conceived the characters and story together, and we called it  Goldfire.  It was pretty much what you would expect  such an effort to be; although in light of the flood of other such works that have come out since then ours was not too bad.  It is one of many unfinished novels of mine, but the thing I remember most about slogging through the 500 some odd (some very odd) handwritten pages of Goldfire  was the intense longing I had for a manual typewriter to help me in my efforts.  I got a job at a local supermarket bagging groceries, and eventually saved up enough money and purchased the much anticipated typewriter.  You would think I was in heaven.  Well, I was.  For about two days.  Then I started thinking about how I really needed a good desk to work at.  After much begging and wrangling I was able to talk my Mom into letting me use a dresser as my beloved desk.  Then I needed a good light.  Then a good workspace.  There was always something else that I needed to acquire in able to become the successful author I so longed to be.  
Well , my dissatisfaction kept me acquiring until I had everything I should need to do the job, but somewhere in the chase I lost the fire for Goldfire.  
I realized then that no matter what I was able to acquire or achieve, I would always be unhappy, because I was more focused on doing the next thing, rather than making the most of what I actually had.  I had unwittingly stumbled on the Buddha's Second Noble Truth, Samudaya , the origin of suffering is craving.
Certainly an argument can be made for the dynamism of consumption being the dynamo for effort, warding away stagnation; etc.  After all, we must provide what we need to survive.  
The moments that we are able to see what we do have, and we are able to count our blessings, are typically rare and usually a peak moment of bliss or produced by the  threat of losing what we have.
I'm certainly not going to be a hypocrite about it.  I haven't changed much since my Goldfire days.  I just got through badgering the same brother that collaborated with me on the book into getting me a leaf blower ( that I had no money myself to purchase but just had to have) as a late Christmas present, and am already contemplating what I will just have to have next.  
But I think almost everyone can agree that 2008 was a pretty rotten year overall.  The economy is in a shambles, the globe is still inflamed in turmoil, etc.  Today is New Year's Eve, and we are about to put this terrible year behind us, and at least embrace the perception that with a new year comes new opportunity.   The truth is, of course, that every day is a new opportunity, but we, as a species, take this day to contemplate our lives and progress as a civilization.  
There is no telling what we might be saying about 2009 at this time next year.  For now, I think it is good to take stock of what we have, what is worth fighting to keep, and what we can afford to get rid of.
The main thing I could afford to get rid of is my desire for new stuff I cannot afford.  Oh, and about 75 pounds...


Brer said...

I wouldn't call it badgering. Moling, at the most. And it gave me the pleasure of giving, which most people underrate because we seldom have the chance to do it.

I learned an important lesson this year, myself. This year I was able to supply wants, some that I've had for almost forty years. It was satisfying. It was gleeful. And it let some part of my mind relax with a little sigh. With these little bits of nagging desire laid to rest I felt finally free. When the things became things, and not obsessive feelings in my mind, I could put them in some perspective.

The things were just things, no longer idols. As long as we don't expect salvation from stuff, we can enjoy them and let them pass. It's a lesson I've come to realize, if not completely implement in my life; few people are the kind of hoarder I am.

yen said...

I believe the entire saga of typewriter to desk to light to (ad infinitum) is just one way we Babels tend to trick ourselves out of our potential. I am slogging now through research for the project I told you about earlier. It is a long, long slog, my brother, I can tell you. Part of my problem is I want to do things in such the right way, I never get down to doing things in the 'write' way. It's infuriatingly frustrating. Maybe part of it is fear that I won't measure up, like when I was a kid and wouldn't show Mom a cool trick I had learned until I could do it ten out of ten times (and invariably still screw it up from nerves when Mom was watching). I see it in Isabel now. She wants to be able to swim so badly RIGHT NOW that she won't take coaching about HOW to swim. It's frustrating for me as her parent, but I know exactly where she is coming from. I believe that is what I am doing now- making excuses. I can't get this done until this or that or the other thing. Ultimately, it ends up that I just don't get it done. It's not about the tools I do or do not have. It's about the buckled-down discipline and fearlessness to GET IT DONE! And by God, this time I will do it so I can say I have finished something that did not have a task-master pushing me to finish. I was always fine working for a Fleming or a boss. Sometimes I wonder if it is just that I do not respect myself or trust my own judgment without someone looking over my shoulder to tell me I'm doing okay or praise my efforts. That is where the "I need a new laptop, honey" fits in for me. I have a new laptop. I just need to grow up and get to work.