Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hoagland part 3 - on gratitude...

In response to yesterday's post about Hoagland and "a different kind of wonders of the world" a reader wrote:

Dear Rough Fractals,

There is within the "Amida Buddhist" tradition of minimalism, a practice of searching for the essence of life by finding meaning in the smallest thing. Once popular in Japan, the Amida monks spent their lives saying "Amida Buddha" or writing their name on paper. They thus find solace and meaning in the repetition of a very limited thing.

It happens that I do not respond in the same way to the "variations on a limited theme or activity." I would have experienced the Datsun brake light incident as a distraction from the main purpose of my trip. I think most people focus on what happens outside the "routine" and find deep involvement in the "flavor of the day" or whatever issue, crisis, or event has arisen and find joy in their ardor to participate in their exceptional (rather than routine) initiatives.

Very Truly Yours,

The Un-Monk.

Dear Un-Monk,

I think we are saying the same thing. The Datsun brake light issue was the "flavor of the day" and I did find great pleasure in executing the initiative required to locate a replacement lens in the middle of nowhere. That is the point - it was the variation on something routine that made the event so exceptional even though it was something I have done countless times (gone to a store to buy a part).

The cliche, time flies, is true. And I think the reason is that our memories tend to compress the routine in between important events. Births, weddings, vacations, illnesses, deaths, holidays. But what if the humdrum (30 years at the job, the weekly food shop, going to the dry cleaners etc) is in some way not merely the filler in between the important stuff - but is the important stuff? Because commuting to the office for 30 years to earn money to spice up the humdrum with the occasional break from routine - does sound like the "rat race" and a losing battle - and when your head hits the pillow and you think about tomorrow you would not likely want to get out of bed if you thought you were losing the battle because let's face it for the most part no matter how much you strive or achieve or covet, no one avoids the stuff of real unhappiness... illness, disappointment, death, hardship, tragedy, boredom, loss - yet most people keep going, even happily, despite the rat race and despite a lot of good reasons to be pretty unhappy and so maybe what the Amida Monks were onto and what the lady who sold me the brake light meant by that kiss is that the small stuff - the quiet and ordinary and everyday as much as the winning and acquiring are things to be thankful for. And as long as you are grateful, and I mean really grateful, for the job and the food shopping and the dry cleaner and for the brake light then, when you lift your head off that pillow, the reason you actually feel good is because you are appreciating just how fucking lucky you are that your head is even on a pillow. That is a start to a good day.

The answer that I think Hoagland and Wallace and Tommy (and I guess I can add the Amida Monks ) suggest is to pay attention and be as aware as you can be and to care and then maybe you don't take for granted being on line at the food store or going to the dry cleaners or having to fix the brake light, or your pillow and then maybe time (and life) doesn't fly - it is savored.

As an aside, to my knowledge, David Foster Wallace only traveled outside the U.S. once, to Italy, and he said he hated it. That is kind of interesting. Although I want to add that none of this has to do with travel, which it sounds like I am somehow against - not at all. Travel is very cool and fun (way more fun than going to the dry cleaners - that is the problem).

Rough Fractals

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