I’m in Ohio, so I suppose it’s reasonable I’m having angsty, existential thoughts to accompany the bleak, flat landscape surrounding me. This and I’ve been thinking after several my friends who have recently lost close family members. I’ve been wondering what it means to hold onto something given how fragile life can be. Should we hold tighter or lessen our grip? How do we decide where to put our energy, time and treasure? Do we lean into each other for support or go it alone?
The humanistic psychologist Fritz Perls writes about these pushes and pulls we feel toward and away from intimacy. Essentially, we all have this drive to draw others close. We hold on for dear life, pushing back the anxiety and panic when these connections begin to inevitably ebb and flow; when things fall short of our expectations. And then, at the same time, we push others away and distance ourselves for protection. We understand no one stays forever. We relax our hold on our possessions, realizing they are a façade; a dream. Nothing lasts, nothing remains.
I think how tenuous these connections can be and wonder how we define ourselves with our possessions, relationships, experiences, children, family… pets. How do these connections provide fortification against the void? And…how does this help when we become sentient, realizing these are illusions we cast in vain to resist the terror of lonesomeness? Despite the Matrix telling us it’s juicy and delicious, the steak doesn’t exist.
And yet—the more I touch this idea, the more I am reminded of how I cherish these comforts and relationships that surround me. How good it feels to have friends and family who worry after me, take care of me and love me.
As I was visiting Pittsburg to teach yesterday, I stumbled onto a showing of the musical The King and I. I wasn’t drunk or anything, it was just one of those stumblings where I ended up at the door of the theatre about ten minutes to showtime. I hadn’t seen the play before, and while I like musicals, I wasn’t 100% sure about this one. But it felt like kismet, so I bought a ticket.
And I liked it. I liked the newness of it and how the songs and performances floated around my head today. I kept coming back to lyrics of the song Puzzlement.
When I was a boy, world was better spot
What was so was so, what was not was not
Now, I am a man, world have changed a lot
Some things nearly so, others nearly not
Neither of these extremes offers a solution. As I cling too closely to what I know, what I’ve been taught; it falls short. As I choose nothing and avoid possession; I feel alone.
And yet…when I reach out, am I holding onto the ghosts of my desires? Grasping at something ethereal and transient? I just don’t know.
But maybe that’s ok. Like so many things in life, perhaps the answer falls in the middle. We should love, but not so deeply we lose ourselves. We should enjoy our possessions, but not so much they end up possessing us.
But ultimately, it remains a puzzlement.
For me, I’ll keep trying to find that sense of balance. I’ll try to hold the things I love and understand possession(s) and experiences are temporary; as life is temporary.
And yet, there is this temptation to embrace the melancholy in this line of thinking.
But for now, I resist.
I will try to be mindful and hold tight to the freedom that comes from being present in the moment; the freedom that comes from drifting with the river.
But ultimately, it reamins a puzzlement.
My flask is filled with….et cetera, et cetera, et cetera….