It’s always nice when this happens


You know those days, when you’ve been going full-speed ahead for a week, and then you realize that you’ve got all of the absolutely, positively, critical, non-optional tasks out of the way?

That’s where I am, today. After nearly a week of traveling, then chasing deadlines on Friday, running errands yesterday morning, followed by an effervescent all-afternoon/evening event, and a long drive home after dark, it’s finally sinking in that today requires very little of me.

And that’s perfectly fine.

It gives me time to think. About things that I haven’t been able to think about as deeply as I’d like. You know… work and all. Seriously, researching and writing books that have very little to do (directly) with your day job is a singular experience. Unique. And solitary. Because when you leave it all on the field after every day at work, you’ve gotta find a way to dig deep and come up with the motivation (and the moxy) to create something very different from what dominates your daily life.

Maybe your daytime colleagues are interested in the kinds of ideas that light your fire in off-hours. Maybe they’re not. Maybe people who get paid to work in the field(s) you venture into out of love and all-consuming passion notice you’re there. Maybe they don’t. In any case, it doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things — it really can’t — because what matters in the end is The Work. And the ways that the Work builds out and shapes your life in ways that no day-job, no official title, and no amount of professional acclaim ever could.

That being said, here I am at the nexus of my passionate interests, lingering road-weariness, and a full day to do with as I please. Sweet.

In a way, the weariness is useful. It keeps me focused. It keeps me from allowing my attention to wander too far afield. I don’t have a lot of bandwidth today, and my free hours are sufficiently precious to me to compel me to make the most of them. Monday is just around the corner. What can I do with myself and my ideas before then?

… hmmm …

Oh, I know! Let’s talk about who’s gonna care about this book, Beloved Distance. I was at a friend’s birthday part, yesterday afternoon, and I mentioned the book to a handful of people there. I never really know if other people are nearly as fascinated as I am about the intersection of science and the-rest-of-life, but it turns out, I was in good company. I had some great conversations with people who are concerned about the ever-widening schism between science and spirituality, and who don’t think there should be one.

Now, when we talk about spirituality, that can cover territory from devout Catholicism to Sufism to cross-quarter ritualizing Paganism. It can even extend to agnostics or atheists who feel a connection to something bigger than themselves that they don’t want to personalize. “Spirituality” has become a very useful catch-all for people to connect with one another on a metaphysical level, without getting dragged into dogma.

Of course, the “spirituality” moniker has its drawbacks — it can become a little too fuzzy, and it can be used to justify some actually harmful practices. Co-opting indigenous ceremonies and marketing them to high-priced clients craving a spiritual experience isn’t just questionable from a “spiritual ethics” point of view. It can also be downright dangerous. In only one example why it’s important to “keep it local”, certain Amazonian hallucinogenic ceremonies have a very practical reason for requiring strict diets before drinking the magic elixir that makes you vomit into that plastic trash can: some ceremonies can actually deplete necessary neurotransmitters, and dietary restrictions help offset the potential harm.

But I digress… of course I digress! I have the afternoon to myself, and I’m gonna write what I danged well please 😉

Let me return to the line of reasoning I started with — namely, who’s interested in Beloved Distance. And why.

The folks at the birthday party hailed from all walks of life. A construction contractor had a great conversation with an acupuncturist. And a freelance photographer and artist who supports herself caring for children spent a while talking to a technologist. A nationally syndicated radio show host chatted with a woman studying to become a wildlife rescuer. And an office manager for multiple programs at a nearby university caught up with a workshop facilitator who’s house-sitting for friends for the month of February. Each one of them had a perspective very different from my own — big distance there. And yet, each shared a desire — a need — a longing — for connection. All of us were keenly aware of our differences, and yet those differences drew us that much closer to one another, as we looked for points of contact, avenues that let us merge in meaningful ways.

See, here’s the thing — our human differences are often dramatic. Our politics, our money situations, our personal lives often stand in pronounced contrast to so many others around us, even our closest friends. We know we’re separate. And yet, that doesn’t stop us from actually finding ways that we can bridge the distance between each other and blend into the middle, creating a separate sort of dynamic that’s greater than the sum of each party.

And knowing that our time to connect was short yesterday, we all made the most of it. We didn’t mince words. We cut to the chase. We asked the questions you don’t normally ask in “polite” company. We answered the questions just as candidly as they were asked. We brought up subjects that we often couldn’t outside our intimate sphere. We settled the occasional argument with a mix of patience and exasperation, but always some element of letting each other just… be.

And in the end, each of us left that evening well-fed in many ways. Yes, we shared food. Yes, we had tea and cider and kombucha and coffee. Yes, we ate birthday cake (well, most of us, anyway) and enjoyed the candy that had flown out of the smashed piñata. And we also got fed in ways that went far beyond the physical. As we split up and went our separate ways into the evening, that sense of fullness traveled with us. Across the miles, hours later, it still lingers.

On the screenshot of my Windows Task Manger above, you can see the spikes where the CPU had plenty to do… then as I closed applications, it calmed down and settled into this even keel:

And so am I, now, as I settle into the rest of my afternoon.

I have time to think, which is the most precious (and limited) commodity of my current life.

May you have such a wonderful Sunday, if you’re reading this on such a day. Or, if it’s some other day, may you also find ways you can reduce the digital/electrical spikes and settle into knowing your own mind as only you can know it.

Peace…

Life is trying to tell us something

light streaks coming out of a burstWhen I think about philosophy, letters, learning, I generally get a visual of a medieval monk hunkered over an illuminated manuscript, toiling away in relative solitude, till the vespers bell rings. It’s not a negative image — it actually has really positive associations for me, since I myself love to hunker over books ‘n’ such in the solitude of my own upstairs study.

Or I think of professors delivering lectures before seminar halls filled with note-taking students. Tweed. I see tweed. Button-down shirts open at the collar, sleeves rolled up, hair touseled in whatever way. That’s a familiar sight to me, as well. At least, it used to be.

Or I think of a handful of philosophers (mostly men, er, white men, to be honest), gathered ’round in a office or cozy living room, holding cups of coffee or some other more “spirited” beverage, arguing the finer points of their arguments with gusto. I imagine them reveling in the exchanges, crossing metaphorical swords in bids to either win the point or at least sharpen their weapons and skills in the process. I’ve been in on more than a few of those kinds of discussions over the years. I’m not sure if I ever really won, but I certainly sharpened my wits in the process.

At least, I like to think so.

When it comes to learnedness, study, and devoting one’s life to the love of wisdom (the original meaning of the word “philosophy”), those are the standard-issue images and associations that come to mind for me.

And yet, when I think about my own approach to writing, reading, study, philosophy — which I practice pretty much daily —  I’m struck by the extent to which that happens far from the halls of academia. Indeed, I’m struck by the depth to which I believe that (for me, anyway), it all has to happen outside of academia. My inquiries, my readings, my contemplation, and my writing about it … that has to take place and unfold in the outside world, the everyday world, the domain of the mundane and unremarkable, the place of pragmatic, where gloriously pure theory has “fallen” to the realm of the applied.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the idea of pure theory. So long as it actually is pure, I’m all for it.

The thing is, purity has its limits. And those limits can make it not only impractical, but downright dangerous. If you consider a thing only in and of itself, without reference to how it intersects with other things, as part of an ongoing unfoldment of dynamic change, you can get yourself in trouble.

Killing dreaded pests with a chemical makes a lot more sense in a lab, where all you’re killing is the targeted pests. But if you don’t consider its effects on the rest of the insects and pollinators which further the cycles of life, before you take it out of the lab, and you don’t factor that in and adapt for it before you spray it all over every danged thing… Of you don’t consider the downstream impact of manufacturing bazillions of plastic bags, or improper disposal (read, dumping them in the oceans)… Well, you know…

And I wonder, in the face of the very real threats we’re facing on a regular basis, these days… where and what-for is all our education fitting in? We sink a sh*tload of money into our educations, and yet, here we are.

Here we are.

And the older I get, the better I feel about my choice to pursue my studies and thinking outside of academia. If I’d been independently wealthy, I might have spent a great deal of the past years in the Hallowed Halls. But I haven’t been in that situation — at all — so, I’ve been doing my thang out in the world, where I get to find out, up close and personal, just how well my philosophy works. I get to apply what I learn, and not only in the direct sense.

It’s not so much about brushing up on the latest digital marketing methodologies and search technologies. Nor is it about getting an MBA specific to a certain corner of the commercial arena. Nope, it’s broader and deeper than that — more humanistic, in a way. I study people. And not just in books. I look at the news (such as it is), and I watch what people do very closely. I read up on how we’re built, from our cells to our chemicals to our prostheses, and I think about how that affects us. How it shapes us. How it makes us function in relation to each other and the world in which we move.

Most of all, I invest time in thinking. A lot of time. Sure, plenty of people think through what they read / study, but I find I prefer to really, really think through what I’ve read, rather than devouring book after book. I’ve tried to push myself to read more. And it just doesn’t work. It’s like eating a meal. I need time to digest. I need time to assimilate. Once that’s done, I can move on to the next book. Or maybe I’ll wait it out and see where else my newfound knowledge will take me.

And as often as not, I find that life is telling me plenty that I need to know. One of the reasons great literary and scholarly works are so great, is that they help us make use of what the world has to offer. They have a sort of fractality, which mirrors our own grand dramas and dynamics in their more manageable collections of carefully chosen words. They can help us make sense of what’s going on around us, and they give us more tools / inspiration to deal more effectively with what is. Or at least give us some hope, however fleeting, that we might be getting somewhere in the whole grand scheme of things.

One of the things that’s made writing Beloved Distance so compelling for me, is the correspondence I’ve found between what’s inside us, and what’s outside of us. The same types of processes we find unfolding at the cellular level are also mirrored in our larger social lives. It’s been truly mind-boggling, at times, realizing how much a microscopic process can teach me about how to handle group dynamics… how to steer a project at work away from the proverbial rocks… or even adjust to the largest high-tech merger in history. The deeper I get into the neurobiology, the better I understand the biochemistry, and the more I just plain think about it all, the more meaningful it is for me.

And ultimately, the more useful it becomes.

You don’t have to be a nerdy-geeky type like me, to get a lot out of this kind of stuff. All you have to do is really think about it… and it can add so much to your life and your appreciation of what all the world has to offer us, in terms of lessons, inspiration, and rewards.

It’s all right there. For me, for you, for all of us. Life is trying to tell us something. And it can.

If we pay attention.