“The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less.” ~ Annie Dillard
Maybe it’s my ever repopulating to-do list that has taken on the resemblance and weight of Sisyphus’ boulder. Maybe it’s the spilling over of my pinball mind into this week’s episode of life. Maybe it’s too much caffeine or worrying about the health of my digestive tract. Or it could be the moon.
Yesterday marked the new moon in Gemini, a ripe time to share ideas, visions, and passions. My muses put in some impressive overtime the past week or so with a flurry of ideas as I managed to edit and publish a newsletter, write a post for this blog, and scribe a new article for Life As a Human. Toss those creative juices in with the demands of my day job and by mid-week the blender was running on puree. To paraphrase Bob Dylan, “Chaos was no friend of mine.”
A few days ago an idea for a screenplay bubbled into my mind and I jotted down a rough outline only to sink ever so slightly into dejection and mild muse abuse. “Thanks,” I thought, to no particular spirit, “but when in heaven’s name am I going to have time to write this?” I took no answer as a celestial rebuke I wholeheartedly deserved.
Last weekend when I was thick into cutting and pasting, writing and editing, cropping and posting, I listened to Joni Mitchell’s “Court and Spark” album. Since then I haven’t been able to get the lyrics to “Free Man in Paris” out of my head:
I was a free man in Paris, I felt unfettered and alive.
There was nobody calling me up for favors
And no one’s future to decide
You know I’d go back there tomorrow
But for the work I’ve taken on….
I can get so easily trapped in the loops of if only I had more time, if only I didn’t have to work, if only I could go to Paris I would be free from the whirling blender of this world. All the loops of clinging and longing turn so easily into nooses: the feeling that we need to do to be worthy, need some thing outside ourselves to feel whole, need validation of permanence in the impermanent shadows of our endless sensations.
Annie Dillard nailed it (she’s so good at that.) A life of sensations is a life of greed. It catches us in such stealth and comfortable ways, always dangling that tempting carrot on a stick, knowing our bottomless hunger for more and more will never be satiated. The Buddha once said:
Difficult to detect and very subtle,
the mind seizes whatever it wants;
so let a wise one guard one’s mind,
for a guarded mind brings happiness.
Truth be told, I’ve felt the most unfettered and alive when I have been deep in my practice of meditation. When I can guard my mind and turn off the whirling world, the pure happiness I touch is better than checking off everything on that to-do list, or writing that screenplay, or walking down the Champs-Élysées.
Do I still feel overwhelmed? Just a bit, but then I find my breath and discover a little less of everything, and all that I really need is right here.
The Wild Geese
by Wendell Berry
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.
From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, by Wendell Berry, Counterpoint © 1999
“Free Man in Paris” by Joni Mitchell, Crazy Crow Music © 1973