T.I.L.T. #147 — Action Without Action

Let the floodgates open. Fireworks just went off outside my home. Or were they all just in my mind? The wind is blowing now, rustling and shaking the large trees outside my window. The active sounds of the Earth come and go but is the Earth actively doing anything? Or is it just, well, is?

A booming voice flies across the sky, the announcer of a local football match at the sports fields across the street. I can’t hear the words, just the sounds of the announcement. But am I listening or do I just hear it?

I’m trying to practice the age-old art of detachment. I have been so overloaded by the external world recently due to the intense hyperactivity of the last months of moving, traveling, setting up house, and working too many days in a row at my day job trying to survive the onslaught of a new semester, a new batch of students, my sixth new boss in the last year, and all the fun that comes with trying to explain everything again and again and again. My internal world has in turn become very fractured and frazzled with all the competing input vying for my attention. In short, I need to tune out. I need to slow down again and find some time to not think.

This doesn’t mean I want to be inactive. On the contrary, I’m trying to put into practice what is at the heart of several Eastern philosophies and religions — the idea of stillness of the heart and mind in the midst of action, work, service. Productive in what you do, not in what you think. In short, turning off the chatter of the ego of the mind with all its emotions and opinions and worries and doubts and fears. Focusing on the now, the task at hand, the present, and not the unchangeable past and the unknown future. Zen, baby.

In a way, it’s like trying to be a tree. Outside the window of my new study I have a great view of lots of tall, large trees: oak, maple, beech, sycamore, and God knows what else that I can’t name. They are constantly changing, growing, striving to reach the sky. Their deep green leaves of summer are just now starting to shift, to tilt, to yellow, orange, red. The trees are very busy. But somehow they don’t seemed stressed about it. They just go about their business no matter the weather or what people may think of them. They don’t seem to have much ego as far as I can tell.

Same with the insects that seem quite attracted to the lights in our windows or the warmth of our home now that the weather is cooling. They come in, make webs, fly around, eat each other, try to eat us, all in the non-stop mission to survive. Are they stressed? Perhaps on a primitive level. But I don’t think they’re wasting any time worrying about what they need to do. They instinctively know when they need to do what and just do it. Animals would be great athletes if they were inclined to compete without human interference. They don’t need to spend hours visualizing or working with a coach or sports psychologist. They just run, fly, jump to the best of their ability without worrying about how good they may be or may not be at running, flying, or jumping. At least as far as I know. Ever seen a three-legged dog? He knows he’s missing something but he doesn’t waste time missing his leg, he just keeps on going.

The clearest way to observe the serenity of animals is watching them sleep. I’ve never seen a cat or a dog or any animal who looks like it has insomnia. When they need to sleep, they sleep. When they don’t, they don’t. That’s one skill I wish I could master. How many countless hours have I rolled around in bed thinking, ‘I ought to be sleeping’? What is the point of that? Either sleep or get up and do something, silly old man!

Yes, man is a silly creature. We’ve evolved to the height of consciousness that for the most part of our lives we’ve lost touch with the ability to live without needing to think about everything to death. Hence one of the reasons mankind has found many ways to alter its state of mind with escapist habits like drinking, taking drugs, or healthier pursuits like yoga and meditation. Either way, our modern nature seems to have lost a good part of mother nature’s ability to just be without thinking about being. The curse of man’s philosophical nature.

Then again, without the ability to think too much like we do, would we be able to enjoy life the way we do? To just stop and enjoy the beauty of the trees? Or muse about whether they think or not? Who knows, maybe I have it all wrong and trees and insects and animals think just as much as we do or even more and mankind is just too dumb to understand them.

I can tell you this though, sitting down, thinking about such things, focusing on such trivialities and writing them down, is very relaxing for me. For a while I forget about all the chatter in my head. Like, damn, I ought to be writing more and why don’t I just sit down and do it rather than think about doing it and letting myself get distracted from doing what I actually like to do when I finally manage to get down to doing it?

Ah, the vicious circle of thinking too much. It reminds me of one of my favorite Garfield comic strips my mom cut out and put up on the wall of the bathroom years ago. Garfield is lazing in bed trying to get motivated to get up and go jogging. He goes back and forth about the pros and cons of the jogging with the cons far outweighing the pros. It’s a stressful debate in his head. Finally he admits that jogging probably wouldn’t be so bad, but the anticipation is killing him.

Hmm, funny how a comic strip can sum up in a few pictures and words the same point I have been trying to make in about a thousand words. Maybe I should be a cartoonist. Hmm, there I go thinking too much again! At least some things never change.

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