Thursday, April 21, 2011

To suffer, to be restless

Warning: this will be reflective and rambly. Until tomorrow, when I reluctantly drag myself into the office to get caught up on work, I'm on spring break. I'm sleeping a lot, observing cats, reading, hiking, doing yoga, and catching up with friends. As a result, the normal constrictions of time, routine, and purpose have been loosened. I love it.

One of the things that often comes up when I'm "on break," though--be it summer, spring, or winter--is a sense of restlessness. When I am in the throes of grading, when my day is accounted for in 15-minute intervals, I crave a break. Try as I might to balance things out by taking it slowly and appreciating the moment, at a certain level of business, I shift into a hyper-manic mode. Whatever I might be feeling deep down is completely washed aside by the tsunami of activities.

Then, the break finally does come. And it's beautiful. I have a deep appreciation for things I ordinarily don't even notice: the cats' daily routine. The feel of the finished wood on top of my computer desk and the rough, unfinished wood beneath. I notice way the dirt crunches under my feet; the way the pavement refuses to break apart under my weight; the squish of mud next to a creek.

I also notice a profound sense of restlessness. "The break is here! Lovely! ....And, now what? OK, we'll read for a half hour. Then, some light yoga. Then, a snack, meditation, a nap, and finally, Bikram." And before I know it, half a day has been spent in planning the day. It was this dharma talk by Sally Clough Armstrong that gently reminded me how great a part restlessness plays in Westerners' lives. (In the talk, she also refers to her experience teaching meditation to new converts from India, and how students from the region don't seem to have the same problem. Interesting stuff.)

If you find yourself also noticing a deep sense of restlessness, maybe this insight I got will help you too: it's progress to notice your restlessness. If you notice this at any particular moment, treasure that realization, because that feeling is probably there most of the time, but it's been hidden beneath layers of activity. As I see it (and as I derive from Armstrong's talk), restlessness is one layer beneath the "doing," the relentless onslaught of activities we schedule to avoid boredom or anxiety.  Under the layer of restlessness is probably something even deeper we've been avoiding. But we can't get there unless we keep diving past the layers!

I remember reading literary criticism of Toni Morrison and William Faulkner, and critics referred to both of these authors as having an "unflinching gaze," a willingness to look, and look, and look, despite how ugly (or restless) the picture seemed. So, I'm thankful for the break's opportunity to continue looking, despite that continual urge to run away by going to Target or out to dinner ;-)

To end, here is a quote by Woody Allen on suffering that Armstrong refers to. On my better days, I compare myself to Tina Fey in 30 Rock. On my rougher days I've been known to think of myself as the female Woody Allen. That can't be a good thing. Don't be like Woody Allen.

“To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.” --Woody Allen

1 comment:

bikramyogachick said...

Ah, watching the cats. I love it. I'm ready for a vacation. Enjoy!