“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Clarity of Distance

Yesterday, I went to Wild, a new-ish film starring Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed. It is based on the latter's memoir, which tells how, following the death of her beloved mother and the breakdown of her marriage, she decided to just walk away from her everyday life and hike the Pacific Crest Trail, up through California and Oregon to Canada.

The Pacific Crest Trail
It was beautifully shot and very well put together.  The scenery was spectacular, and I'd like to bet that Reese Witherspoon will win awards for her acting. It reminded me a little of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love although rather more raw. And I can remember thinking "That's the way to do it - to get away from it all, and walk it all out." I'm sure that distancing herself from the life she was entirely unable to deal with helped her to gain some clarity, and to think things through. And to bring back some balance into her life. Nature's rather good at giving us another perspective.

But of course most of us never get the chance to just walk out of our everyday lives, and move into a completely different situation. And those same everyday lives are made increasingly complicated by the demands of modern technology, and by today's social media. A few days ago, I came across a fascinating article by neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, which argues just this: that the constant switching of the attention from one thing to another - between e-mails, and Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram, and whatever else bleeps to alert us - is damaging our efficiency, and making it hard for us to concentrate on just one thing when we are working, or to let go and properly relax when we're not.

I know myself that if I'm working on an address or a blogpost or an essay, and the phone goes, or an e-mail alert pops up, it takes some willpower not to switch my attention away from what I'm doing. But I'm beginning to realise how insidious this constant barrage of alerts can be. So I'm starting to let the ansaphone pick up phone calls and to ignore e-mail alerts, until I come to a natural break in what I'm doing. Facebook is the other great seducer, of course, the great time-waster, at least for me. I understand that you can get software which blocks social media programs for particular periods, to help you stay focussed for longer chunks of time.

It's about being entirely present, in a very uncomplicated way. About concentrating on one thing at a time, and giving our whole selves to it, and then going on to the next thing, and giving our whole selves to that. I know that this sounds hopelessly idealistic, but we can at least try. Because it is in the present moment, and only in the present, that the numinous lives.

I guess we have to do what we can, where we are, with what we've been given. And just do our best to be there, and to notice the moments going by.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of a beautiful poem which I once saw on a university professor's office door: "How to Leave the World That Worships 'Should' ", by Ros Barber.

    Let faxes butter-curl on dusty shelves.
    Let junkmail build its castles in the hush
    of other people’s halls. Let deadlines burst
    and flash like glorious fireworks somewhere else.
    As hours go softly by, let others curse
    the roads where distant drivers queue like sheep.
    Let e-mails fly like panicked, tiny birds.
    Let phones, unanswered, ring themselves to sleep.

    Above, the sky unrolls its telegram,
    immense and wordless, simply understood:
    you’ve made your mark like birdtracks in the sand –
    now make the air in your lungs your livelihood.
    See how each wave arrives at last to heave
    itself upon the beach and vanish. Breathe.