Monday, July 31, 2006

Let me tell you story...

1. I was cycling home on my bike under a warm early evening sun down a wider stretch of Palatine road; wide enough to allow my mind to wander and think less of the passing busses that otherwise rumble by within 12 inches of my elbow. And as my mind was wandering I got to wondering about my long term goals for life and I realised that, for better or worse, I was driven by the ambition to make some kind (I haven’t worked out what kind yet) of positive difference to the world at large. Now this might sound all very noble, but perhaps it would be better described by the fairly firm belief that if my life was to have any value, that if I was to have any value, I had better do something pretty darn good with myslef. The road narrowed; I dodged some drains and wobbled from the wind of a passing car and my mind moved on to the more mundane.

2. That night I lay awake as my wife drifted into sleep beside me, and I became aware that I was anxious. Suddenly I’m high above and looking at the whole of the world and the whole of time, and everything that was and is and will be (pretty low resolution from that height, don’t ask for details) and my small place in all of it. [I usually attribute an episode of this sort to spending too much time thinking and not enough time being specifically task orientated. If I had a job with projects and daily dead lines and practical applications I would probably be fast asleep by now.] Anyway, so I was thinking about life, the Universe and everything, and my place in it, and it became apparent that I was anxious because I was worried that I wouldn’t stand out enough, that I wouldn’t make a difference, that I would screw up, or worse, completely miss out on the opportunities handed to me. I feared my life would drift along in a mist of mediocrity.

3. This story has a happy ending. I have been skimming through Alain De Botton’s Status Anxiety (rather appropriately) and so I lifted it from the bedside table and crept into another room. Part 2 ‘Solutions to Status Anxiety’, Section IV ‘Christianity’, p.248, de Botton is describing the benefits of gazing upon ruins to remind us of the fleeting nature of human achievements. He writes:

‘We may enjoy local victories, a few years in which we are able to impose a degree of order upon the chaos, but everything is ultimately fated to slop back into a primeval soup. If this prospect has the power to console, it is perhaps because the greater part of our anxieties stems from an exaggerated sense of the importance of our projects and concerns. We are tortured by our ideals, and by a punishingly high minded sense of the gravity of what we are doing.’

And perhaps de Botton has a point. There is nothing like ‘an exaggerated sense of the importance of our projects and concerns’ to keep us awake at night. I needed to let go, to relax, and to enjoy the gift of life without worrying, so much, about the bigger picture, because in the end I’m really not that important. And although this is only one small facet on the diamond of life, rather than a truth to live by, it sure helped me to get a good nights sleep.


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