June 15, 2006

Who's afraid of stillness? (Or, why I'm not Buddhist)

Have you ever noticed that when you are completely still, you can almost trick your body into believing it's not there?

Try it. Sit or lay completely motionless. Even your breathing so it's shallow, silent.

Within a few minutes, without the friction of the seat against your moving legs (table against your palms, hair across cheek, skin against skin, body against air against body), your extremities, to your mind, dissappear.

I've always found this fascinating and a little terrifying, because it means that it's only when moving (or, more specifically, moving against something or someone else) that we really feel like we exist. And, while this could be a launching pad for a dissection of the fast pace of American life, or a titillating digression on promiscuity or our unending attraction to sex, love and connectedness, I'm going someplace else with this today.

The cool pit of unease in my gut about this sense of stillness=dissapearance may well be related to the way I go through my own life. You may sympathize, as I don't think it's particularly unique:

I'm in constant motion, welcoming conflict, challenge, hardship but also glorying in noisy, sensory celebration; Bearing the scars of overcome difficulties like little badges of honor; A little proud and satisfied by both war and resolution but at best disinterested in peace. I practice both excruciating tactfulness and a brutal frankness that disembowels those standing by and surprises me. I am perplexed by apathy - maybe even offended by it. I am passionate in love, passionate in fear and debate, passionate about sex (both about the having and the not having of it), passionately self-critical. And though it can be problematic, I'm proud of this approach, because the reward is sensation, even at my own expense.

I'm not sure if I'm apologizing for this, or even if I mind it so terribly much. My gut feel is that it is innately me: no amount of training will tame an unwieldy, racing mind, a vicious and critical imagination, a deeply soft but carefully guarded heart. No, more than apology or explanation, I offer this as an observation on the feeling of life and what it teaches me.

From sound to touch, the friction of life -- its feel -- colors my existance, setting off moments with little sensory road markers. It gives me points of reference, making instants memorable [the bitter taste of need, the sound of strain, the prickling of goosebumps, a spreading tingle, hot splaying of desire, the scraping of words across ribs].

And the friction of our lives, however we create it (because we do -- I hungrily, constantly, unfailingly do) defines our direction. Importantly, it reminds us that we're always going a direction to begin with. Isn't that sometimes so simple (and lovely) to forget?

But most significantly, in the end, there is this (which may get to the core of why stillness is a little unsettling to me):

Doesn't the feel of life (the recognition of the friction itself) constantly urge us to consider whether this direction (the one we're going at this moment, and this one, and this one) is the direction we would choose purposefully, deliberately and with pure, joyful intention?

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