On the Cycles of Life


The older I get, the more I gravitate towards a cyclical versus linear conception of time. Said less philosophically, I’m beginning to get that life really moves through ups and downs.

I’m saying this because for the last three to four years, I’ve noticed palpable yet inexplicable shifts in my disposition and outlook that seem independent of my actual circumstances. I’ve had really bad months of waking up every day present to nothing but the utter pointlessness of life (despite the conditions of said life being good to stellar), and, I’ve had really good months of floating serenely through the day while accomplishing a disgustingly large number of things.

The first time I hit one of these enigmatic rough patches, I went off by myself and spent three weeks backpacking through Indochina. The happiest moments of that trip were the days I spent sailing down the Mekong. There, confined to a tiny boat with absolutely nothing to do (I didn’t bring any books or my laptop or a music player), I was simply . . . free. I didn’t have to be anyone (not even myself), I didn’t have to go anywhere (except where the river was already taking me) and I didn’t have to do anything (except breathe). Of course, the moment I got back home, the bleakness reclaimed me with a vengeance—only to mysteriously vanish a few months later.

That initial experience was instructive, because it taught me that I couldn’t fight the blackness—couldn’t (pep) talk or (brute) force my way out of it. Subsequent episodes taught me other things: that for all the desolation and emptiness of the experience, there’s actually much that’s going on underneath the surface—a quiet, almost furtive, gathering of my self’s deepest sources of vitality. And when “I’m” finally ready, the bleakness will lift and a period of immense creativity will follow—

—until the next fallow period, of course.

But for now, at least, I’m on the upper part of the cycle.

And it’s a gorgeous view.

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