Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Sync

It has happened for me many many times.     One minute I’m thinking about someone and the next that same someone just then calls me on my phone, on some occasions even shows up in front of me on the street I happen to be walking on.     Once I was waiting at the bus stop and it was raining hard and for no reason I can think of, even now, a memory of somebody I knew suddenly popped into my mind.     I’m reminded of the film Inception, it’s really not that dissimilar.   And as I was looking out for the bus I saw someone a few feet away standing with their back to me wanting to cross the road.     I’ve always been good with faces, and that day I realised I’m not bad with backs either.     The person turned round and showed me the face that I had moments earlier pictured in my mind’s eye.     We clocked each other and though they were surprised, I was flabbergasted.     I blurted out with shock and wonder that I’d just been thinking about them and obviously they looked at me like I was a little crazy, it had after all been years since we last met.     
I’ve often thought about that day and still haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable explanation.      Perhaps that’s the thing, perhaps reason has nothing to do with it.     Who can say what these accidents/coincidences are all about, if anything?      I’m not even going to attempt to tackle that but I do think that there are times in life when a multitude of variables perfectly align with each other in such unison that for a fraction of a moment it enables an otherwise impossible encounter to take place.    It is perfectly understandable then why we become a little obsessed with trying to figure out why it happened, what the purpose of it is and of course what does it all mean.     It is difficult to accept coincidence without question, it begs the question especially when a series of unrelated incidents come together leading to a significant event, one that could not have taken place without any one of those little happenings along the way.     A chain is created that links one thing to another to another and like two trapeze artists that must synchronise their catch down to the last second timing is the bond between them.    

But timing is not everything.  There are also the possibilities that arise from the interconnectedness of things, the idea that nothing in this world is completely independent of itself, that everything is linked to everything else across all the kingdoms i.e. human, animal, mineral etc.      And viewed like this it is not so much of a coincidence at all.     

“There is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy.   The whole organism and each one of its parts are working in conjunction for the same purpose.... the great principle extends to the extremist part, and from the extremist part it returns to the great principle, to the one nature, being and not-being”.           (1)

This is not to say however that one event is the cause of another necessarily.     When that instant memory of an old friend came into my mind it was not the memory itself that caused them to appear, like magic.     I would venture a guess that it may have been the other way round; because they were close by that particular memory came to mind.     There was a connection already in place which needed a few conditions to be met i.e. same time and place, before it could come to light in that specific moment.     Connection is not the same as cause and therefore much trickier to make sense of and you can’t actually prove it the way you can with cause and effect.   For example there’s no way I can ever really know that when I find myself thinking of someone they too are thinking of me, yet I’m sure of this connection because if we believe in the connectivity of the world then even our thoughts are never solely our own but always relational, whether the person in question is near to us or not.      I say I can't really know this but in actual fact it gets proven time and time again with every text message I receive from someone that I was just about to text myself.     That I was just thinking about you line we all commonly use is not just a nicety but echoes a shared truth that we are all the time thinking and feeling alongside each other.    

             **********phonecall interruption************

That was my friend on the phone just now.     She and I have been trying to have an overdue catch up conversation for weeks.     I'd been thinking about her while writing this post wondering if today I'll catch her and we can finally have that talk.     Further proof.            


(1)  Hippocrates, translated by John Precope in Hippocrates on Diet and Hygiene.   London, 1952.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who Knows

I have to be honest and say that this week I had absolutely no idea what to write about.    Actually I still don’t know what I’m going to write about even now.     But it did make me think what it means not to know things and not to have the answers to things.     What it means to be unsure or to say those shame ridden words, ‘I don’t know’.     From the very beginning we are taught to know; what our name is, how we spell it, the names of parts of our body, what are parents names are and so on.     We get tested on these things way before we get to school.     From the start we are told, universally, that knowledge is good and lack of it is bad, worse than bad that it’s somehow shameful to be in this world and not know things.   But in reality we obviously can’t know everything and there’s plenty we don’t know and will likely never really know and to a large extent that is also universally understood.          

Knowledge seems to have a radius of acceptability; the further away something is the less likely we are expected to know about it i.e. the economic climate in Papua New Guinea, though it would be highly revered if our knowledge did stretch that far.     By the same token we are expected to know exactly what is going on closer to home, not just in the countries in which we live but within our own lives right from the time they start.      We’ve got to know what subjects to choose at school and later want to study at university.     We’ve got to know what sort of job we’re looking for and how to go about getting it.     We’ve got to know who to love and how we want our lives to be with that person.     The expectations come hard and fast from nowhere in particular and everywhere at the same time.     Basically we’ve got to have it all figured out like a bunch of know it alls.     How conflicted then we feel when we don’t have the answers or when we just don’t know what to do.    

I remember once having a conversation with someone and telling them how confused I felt about something.      I was really surprised when they responded by saying how useful it is to be confused and perfectly perfectly okay.     For some reason I didn’t get a chance to ask why being confused could be regarded as useful but that didn’t matter because since then permission to not know has been granted and what a huge hook to be let off from.       

Sometimes things don’t tie up neatly and are never really finished, they linger on in memory and dreams like building sights that go on and on.     Like the time I broke my leg and lost my memory....  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Set Up

It’s funny how some conversations stay firmly with you, surrounding you like a mist but not the kind that clouds things up, the kind that makes you see clearer than you ever did before.     I was fortunate enough to have such a conversation recently and this post is a residue of that mist.  

Imagine you’ve arranged to meet up with an old friend whom you haven’t seen for a very long time.    You are so excited to be seeing your friend that you run through in your mind all the things you want to tell them and perhaps even in what order.    You imagine what they might say back in return and how the conversation will generally flow between you.    Before you know it the whole thing has already happened in your mind.    What a shock then when you meet your friend and discover that they are not responding the way you had imagined, that the conversation is going in an altogether different direction, in fact your friend is saying things you hadn’t thought about at all.    Your expectations, imaginings and preparations have fallen flat and the meet up that you were so looking forward to has become a big disappointment.   Sometimes the disappointment is so high that it stops us from enjoying the actual situation because we are still grieving the loss of the one we’d fantasized about.     This is just one example of many many scenarios whereby we attempt to live the future in the present and in doing so set ourselves up for all sorts of let downs.      So what is going on here?

Let’s start with the ‘F’ word.    Fantasies.      Fantasies are such a double edged sword, on the one hand they provide an escape and a respite from the real world but on the other they take us away from the reality of life and encourage a sort of magical thinking where on some level we believe that our fantasy will and should come true.   What a high price we have already attached to it because once the bubble bursts, and it inevitably will, we are left with less than we started with.    Not only has the fantasy not been realised but the reality is nothing like the fantasy either, a double kick in the teeth.  Fantasies raise expectations, that’s their job and often they raise them impossibly high so when the reality of a situation does not meet the fantasised version we are massively disappointed.    As a result we may take an angry vow not to participate in that part of reality again because as we’ve experienced, it never works out.     But our vow is slightly misaimed.     Perhaps it is the fantasy itself that we need to curtail as that is what gets us in this mess in the first place.     Why do we do this, why do we set ourselves up for such disappointment time and time again?     

What comes to mind before anything else is how irresistible it is.    We just can’t seem to help ourselves and on top of that it is also the easiest thing in the world to do.    We can conjure up a fantasy in seconds and do it anywhere anytime without having to express it to anyone else.    It is all in our own head as they say.    Stopping an action is one thing, stopping a thought is an entirely different matter.     A fantasy also serves an important function; it allows us to see the world from our perspective and ours alone.     It is a solitary pursuit no matter how many people our fantasy involves and therefore we have sole control over what happens within it.     We do not have to take into account other peoples thoughts or feelings because we’ve already done their thinking for them.     And of course our thinking of their thinking is perfectly aligned with ours, how convenient!    This is the point where the fantasy is set up at its highest peak later leading to its biggest drop because we can never really and adequately rob someone else of their own responses and swap them with our own.     We sure like being in the drivers seat don't we; managing all the controls, choosing the destination and generally being the only one on the road.     Maybe it has to do with something most powerful and most necessary in an unknown world; it gives us a sense of certainty and security.     If we can pre-empt the outcome of something then we know where we stand with it and this is very reassuring.   A fantasy is a way of controlling a reality that has not occurred yet, it is our way of making the ambivalence of not knowing what the future holds more tolerable.   But the security/certainty it gives us is not a real one and we learn this the hard way each time things don’t work out the way we’d imagined they would.     

I’m not for a minute suggesting that fantasies are bad and should be eradicated from our thinking, that would be the most impossible fantasy of all.     No, I’m wondering whether we can have our cake and eat it too.     Can we live in the real world and alongside it enjoy our fantasy worlds as well?    There is nothing wrong with fantasies, the problem lies in their lack of separation from the actuality of our lives.     When we believe that our fantasy could be or should be more than what it is then we’re heading for trouble.    If we are able to have the fantasy but then come back to our lives as they really are, a bit like holding on to the string at the end of a kite so it doesn’t get carried away, perhaps with time and practice we may be able to bypass the set up altogether.     A fantasy does not have to result in actuality, in fact it rarely ever does.      A fantasy does not have to be created as a one-way moving bridge to what we hope will take us to reality on the other side.      But I don’t think we need to burn our bridges either, perhaps we can create a sort of two way traffic of thinking; one lane for our fantasies and another lane to bring us home again.     

For LM, with thanks. 


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Starry Starry Night

When I was a child I had a fascination with the sky at night.    I would stare out at the blackness from my window and wonder who else at that moment in time was also looking and counting the stars they could see.     The more stars there were the less I wanted to sleep.    I always felt I’d be missing something, something that would happen if I closed my eyes.     I had a strong sense that things were already happening at night but that these things weren’t visible to human eyes, darkness was the perfect camouflage.    The next morning I would wake and the thoughts and feelings I had had the night before would no longer seem real as though evaporated in the light of day.      To me it always seemed that there were two worlds that went on side by side; day and night.     Many years later I read a short story called "Night and Night's Travellers” by Banana Yoshimoto and it captured my fascination with the night once more.     As with so many of Yoshimoto’s stories an atmosphere is created that floats around long after the book has been read and shelved.    This particular story was no exception, it instilled in me the impulse to leave my house in the middle of the night and go for long walks when everyone else would be sleeping.     
I imagine that if I had given in to these curious urges and came across a fellow night walker I would want to talk to them and tell them things, tell them my thoughts and feelings because the night creates an intimacy and a willingness to share.     I think we talk more when it’s dark outside, I think there are conversations that only take place when it’s dark outside.     The darkness of the night encourages an anonymity that perhaps allows us to feel safe and more trusting.     Maybe because we can’t see the world as clearly and the world cannot see us so then we are less afraid to show ourselves.     How much braver we are at night over the telephone where we say what we want and not lose face since there is no face to our words.      During the day our words are endlessly interrupted, our sentences cut short (by ourselves as well as others) and time is always working against us hurrying us along to say whatever it is we need to and move on.      But some things can not be said quickly, they need time to formulate and reveal themselves.     The night provides a peculiar backdrop to intimate conversations, it almost nurtures them and we are granted a freer rein to express ourselves with less constraints and structures to consider, so often the case in daytime living.     I would imagine that the majority of secrets are divulged at night.   

But the other side of night is also all too visceral; the dark side.    Fear of the dark is something none of us I think ever truly grow out of.     Yet the fear is not the same for children as it is for adults.     When we are kids the fear lies in the unknown-ness of what cannot be seen.     In time the unknown-ness becomes more of a friend that we willingly opt for and it is the dark which brings to light a clarity where perhaps too much can be seen.    Do we not think our darkest thoughts in the dark?      The darkness lends itself to our fears and seems to exaggerate them all the more.    It is therefore a common consolation that things always feel a little better in the morning and though there is some truth in this I think, perhaps how we feel at night may serve us better if we didn't wish it away so fast.     Perhaps that is why our dreams take centre stage and show us, vividly at times, what we're not thinking about during the day.                     

I think my blog posts in the day but I write them at night as I am doing now.    At night I write with a voice that I can’t quite find in daytime.     The darkness brings things to light.   It is quiet and still outside my window, the only sound I can hear is the wind thrashing against the trees.     I find this quite soothing and it helps to settle my thoughts.     The stars are out and I don’t feel much like sleeping, perhaps tonight I’ll give in to my urges and finally take that walk.     

"The night glittered brilliantly then.
The night seemed to be infinitely long.   And I could see something stretching way off into the distance behind Yoshihiro, whose eyes sparkled with the same mischievous light as always.    I caught sight of a vast landscape.
Something like a panorama.
I kind of wonder if that wasn't The Future, as my childish heart saw it.
Back then my brother was something that definitely wouldn't die, he was both night and something that travelled through night - something like that".       (1)


(1)  Yoshimoto, B.   2000.   Night and Night's Travellers in "Asleep".    Great Britain: Faber and Faber Limited