Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mindfulness

I seem to be without music at the moment.



Normally music provides a kind of primal engagement with the world. For these past few days, however, it's been a barrier. At present, my sense involvement comes from the audio backdrop of mundane life and the meanings that these sounds carry.

There is a French philosopher who believes that our minds work with two types of information: natural and cultural. Natural information is the implications derived from the world's intrinsic phenomena. The presence of smoke implies fire as well as fire's attendant dangers and advantages. The sight of a large predator's footprint in the sand means that mortal peril may be close at hand.

Cultural information is a bit more complex. It can cover social expectations, values, laws, and rationally derived conceptual abstracts. It can also run amok.

Too much rational chatter in the brain generates a layer of static between an observer and his surroundings. It can distract from the emotional weights that the mind embeds in the material world, as well as mask the innate sense of qualities that highlight the goodness and the melancholy within our environment.

Too much unfocused thought makes the morning light lose its sense of promise, and twilight its feel of closure.

I am just over halfway through my six-month hermitage. I've gotten some good writing done, read great books, and experienced hours-long moments of focus out on the coast. It's also starting to feel a little hollow.

Not that I intend to abandon this inward-looking period just yet, but changes need to be made in the near future. Increased human contact would help, but I think there is bigger issue.

Work sucks, and I don't think that I am made to live the kind of quiet life that I had been hoping for.

I still enjoy working with humanity's close cousins, but the day-to-day tasks of the job here are just not that challenging. In Reno, my department was a self-contained world. We did everything that had to be done ourselves, and often the schedule put us all together in one place where we could work and talk. The days passed by quickly in such good company.

But even then, when I was getting up and looking forward to the next eight hours, my engagement with the world was slipping.

I used to have a fantastic sense of situational awareness as well as a good attention to detail. I was mindful of the things around me and of the positions of people in motion. In that broadly focused mode of perception, there was a sense of meaning drawn from the ebb and flow of each day's events.



I want to hold on to that sense of engagement with my surroundings and daily tasks. Life's best moments are lived in such instants of absorption. The finest hours are spent utterly engaged with another individual, where the fascination is so intense and the bond of shared emotion so complete that the boundary between two people vanishes.

Part of my current disengagement can be remedied by training and meditation. Ultimately, however, there needs to be something larger and more meaningful in the workday. Necessity draws out the best in me, especially when it is a greater need than my own selfish desire for engagement.

I'm thinking about possibly joining the National Guard in 2009. Some of the most focused and alive years of my life were spent as a soldier.



I also miss the state of being married—never underestimate the power of cultural roles to give you a sense of purpose in life. However, I am certainly not planning on getting hitched anytime in the foreseeable future. Matrimony will have to come in its own good time, even if that takes several years.

Another path that I am considering is becoming an ER nurse. That sort of intensity might well provide the missing focus. Of course we will have to see how current events play out in the world of finance. In a few months, just having a job could be something to be thankful for.

So for now, I keep hanging and working at home, while taking weekend excursions to wander the city, the coast, or to see family out in the Gorge.



In the meantime, this hermitage has given me time to go over my assumptions concerning life and to identify the set of premises that underlie my worldview.

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