Monday, 19 July 2010

The Mundane

No one is coming to save us from the grace of the mundane.

There is no help on the way. Eternity is all just more of the same. Novelty is a red herring: the last refuge of that dream that is my ego.

There is no escaping the minute specificity of repetition required to move anything (in anyway) from here to there. There is no escaping the minute specificity of repetition required to keep anything (in anyway) from moving from here to there.

(From here to there is nothing but tolls and every toll must be paid. Squatting invites its own taxes.)

Again and again, I must lift this foot then that one. Again and again I must open this book, then close it, then open that one. Again and again, I must read this student paper and then that student paper and then the other one and assign them grades, checking off each and every box in the rubric. Again and again, I must stop for lunch, pause at the water fountain, stop at the restroom, and use the key to open my office door.

Congratulations, you've just done the dishes. Do it again! Congratulations, you've just run ten miles. Do it again! Congratulations, you've just had a good night's sleep. Do it again!

Tonight my eyes will close and in the morning they will open again - then I'll blink my way through another day.

Again I'll breathe in. Again I'll breathe out.

Breath: the mark of the scrupulous and saturating specificity of the repetition that is being.

Breath: the raw iteration of life itself.

Life is nickels and dimes. Every moment, ten thousand points of iterated resistance, ten thousand paper cuts, ten thousand pressing irritations, ten thousand pleasures and ten thousand pains.

I dream of the frictionless, of floating in zero-G. I dream of that symmetry breaking moment when everything will shift into the adjacent possible, my tax refund having finally (and definitively!) arrived. I dream of that "end" at which all of my (spoiled) actions aim.

Thank God such ends never arrive!

Don't mistake me - novelty can and does come. (In some ways, there is nothing but. And in some ways it is desperately needed.) But that novelty, even while freshly salted, will not bring what I hoped.

The fellow fancies a new job. He gets it. But he still must drive from here to there. He still must drink and pee. He still must fill the car up with gas and sit on the seat and turn the wheel and use his turn signal and check his mirrors and tap-tap-tap his fingers to the tune on the radio and wait mile after mile after mile. He still must breathe - inhale again, exhale again, repeat!

The fellow wants to fall in love. He gets it. The paper cuts don't end. How could love, however fresh, be anything other than the buttoning and unbuttoning of a shirt, the tedium of smelly socks, the asynchronicity of libido, the cough of a child, the bruise of a height differential, the sale at Walmart, the tangential pressure of a flirtation, the pull of another piece of cheesecake? What else would such a thing be made of?

The fellow wants to be rich and famous. He wants someone else to do the work, make the effort, wash the dishes. He gets it. Now there is nothing but the scrupulous and saturating specificity of the repetition that is sitting around and waiting for others to do things for him: he flicks through the channels, he gets tangled in the late morning sheets, he crosses and uncrosses his legs on the couch, his BMW still has to stop at stop signs, he still has to check his mirrors, stop and pee, etc., etc. This particular plane of possibilities, like all other planes of possibility, is just as definitively mundane as any other.

Novelty is a red herring. There is no place to go. You won't find what you want over there. You're still going to have to breathe - again and again and again. Repeat. Again and again and again. Repeat.

At every step in the problem, life demands that we show all of our work. No credit is given just for getting the right answer. There's no skipping ahead.

It's groundhog day every day.

Can you bear it? Can you root out that secret wish for the banality to end? Can you cut the cord to this secret wish, the secret wish that animates your basest fantasies, your most ordinary chores, and your most authentic spiritual longings? How many disguises does this wish - this wish for an end to the paper cuts! - have? Have many faces does it wear? How much life does it suck from the color of your cheeks?

If you think I'm being bitter, you've misunderstood. I'm being compassionate.

There is no help on the way. Eternity is all just more of the same. Novelty is a red herring: the last refuge of that dream that is my ego.

No one is coming to save us from the grace of the mundane.

Breathe.

Nothing could be more merciful.

6 comments:

  1. Nice post. Mustn't forget, though, that the mundane has its own beauty. It's not all bleak. Blessings...

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  2. Thanks, Peter. I couldn't agree more. This beauty is precisely what I mean to name when I talk about the "grace" of the mundane.

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  3. Repetition, sameness, mundane-ness is also an illusion. A mind bored by the shadow theatre it itself created. Every moment is utterly unique, utterly fathomless - a co-incidence of a billion equally unique events. That dull, flicker of boredom - that one there - it too will happen never again.

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  4. I couldn't agree more, Shonin. As I mention above:

    "Don't mistake me - novelty can and does come. (In some ways, there is nothing but. And in some ways it is desperately needed.) But that novelty, even while freshly salted, will not bring what I had hoped."

    In a sense, what's at stake here is the endless repetition of novelty. In order to break out of boredom, we have to stop wishing that we could master things in such a way that we won't have to start again in the next instant

    The wish for novelty that kills us is the wish to be done with having to constantly start over again with something new.

    Or another way to say this is: the unavoidability of repetition is itself the world's demand that we always - every moment - begin "a-new."

    Here, novelty and repetition are just two sides (maybe even the same side!) of the same coin.

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  5. Beautifully worded post. I enjoyed it a lot. The mundane and the novelty are indeed two sides of the same coin. I like how you described both the banality and the beauty in the mundane. Each moment has it's own reality.

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  6. I started a new blog called active bodhichitta. its based upon patrul rinpoche's instruction to practice the teachings.

    I wanted to see what would happen if i actually followed the sage's great advice. So i commited myself to a year of practice on the Bodhicharyavatara and its commentary Nectar of Manjushri's Speech

    Also i have made a new Guest Blog. Where my friends and those who are practicing similarly can write a essay and i'll publish it under guest blogs with your name and a link that you would like backlinked.

    Mine is http://activebodhichitta.blogspot.com If you'd like write me and maybe you can do a guest blog for me.

    ReplyDelete

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