On the Speed of Losses

Things that are easier or faster to lose than they are to gain or keep (in random order):

1. Travel luggage
2. Money
3. Respect
4. Time
5. Real friends
6. Teeth
7. Peace of mind
8. Hair (in the right places)
9. Perspective
10. Interest (in anything)
11. Novelty
12. Jewelry
13. Trust
14. Nail polish
15. Hair color

Anything any of you would like to add?

On the Speed of Gains

Things that are easier or faster to gain or keep than they are to lose (in random order):

1. Emotional baggage
2. Age
3. Weight
4. Loose change
5. Addictions
6. Facebook friends
7. Facebook applications
8. Email
9. Dust
10. Hair (in the wrong places)
11. Refrigerator magnets
12. Paper clips
13. Fruitcakes
14. Angry Birds merchandise
15. Online coupons

Anything any of you would like to add?

On the Fragility of Faith

A friend wrote me a few days ago, asking me questions about religion.

I let the questions simmer for a few days before finally typing a brief response—a response that largely went along the lines of: I don’t have any answers, but this is what I do after having spent years looking for answers.

Few things today are as trying as faith—and few things are as easy to sustain on tiny, unexpected graces. When one stops expecting assurance and certainty, consolation shows itself in the smallest things. I don’t think I’ll ever stop wanting to know the reason why—for better or for worse, we’re designed to live in two worlds: the one we see and which we know exists and the one we do not see and which we believe exists—but I’m postmodern enough to realize the futility of my desire.*

Of course, there are days when I lapse into my old habit of yearning for simple and solid truths; days when awareness itself (of contingency, of impermanence) occurs to me as the most nauseating and hateful of burdens. Then I wonder what the point of anything is—what purpose is served by the perpetual motions of striving and struggling.

And then there are days when I wear the burden lightly—joyfully even—knowing that consolations should be savored precisely because they never last.

So this is what contemporary faith looks like to me: It’s about teetering constantly between desolation and consolation. It’s about being sustained by small graces (and the memory of small graces). It’s about being able to see it all and, more critically, being able to embrace it all. It’s about possessing a hope that is inextinguishable precisely because it requires no guarantees—a hope that taxes because it liberates. And finally, it’s about having the courage to admit the fallibility of faith itself while still celebrating the fact that it exists at all.

And no, none of the above are answers, really. But they help—and that’s good enough for me.

* Most of the time, it’s the invisible world that’s far more real. For a species that thrives so much on its sense of sight, we rely disproportionately on the unseen.

On the Challenges of Sightlessness

At yoga class today, our teacher Editha had us practice the first half of the ashtanga primary series with our eyes closed.

On the one hand, practicing yoga this way is consistent with many of the discipline’s intentions. It strengthens one’s sense of proprioception (our ability to perceive movement and spatial orientation based on stimuli provided by the body itself); it trains one to fully surrender to a teacher’s instructions; it provides an opportunity to trust the body’s innate ability and mastery; and it facilitates the inward reorientation of one’s focus.

On the other hand, it’s very rarely done. Many of the instructions given in yoga rely on visual perception: the alignment of feet, toes, heels, arms, hands, fingers, wrists, thighs, knees and legs are often confirmed by the sense of sight, and the gaze itself is a tool for facilitating the meditative aspects of the practice.

So today’s practice was a revelation in many ways. A few of the things I discovered: (1) my body is far more intelligent than I give it credit for (I was far more balanced and coordinated without my eyesight than I anticipated); (2) I obsess about how I look even when other people can’t look at me (I was endlessly ensuring I was staying in the middle of my mat by furtively fidgeting around with my toes); (3) when all else fails, I can always trust the solidity of the ground beneath my feet.

And one more thing Editha said: the eyes facilitate the process of judging. Shut them and the reflexive act of calculation (Am I doing this right? Are they doing this right?) gives way to the deliberate task of surrender (I have no idea what I’m doing but I’m going to do it anyway). Which is why, I suppose, blindness and faith are often said to go hand in hand, although blindness in this context is often taken as the folly of ignorance rather than the courage of trust.

So the next time I practice, I think I’ll take a blindfold—and “see” how that goes.

On the Reditus after Exitus

(CIVILIZATION Screenshot) Sid Meier's brilliant creation. (Image sourced from Google.)

An odd memory: in long-ago days when I would play PC strategy games like Civilization, Dune or Warcraft, one of my first priorities would be to map the edges of my virtual world. I’d navigate straight out from wherever my “center” happened to be until I’d hit the limits of shore or world, then move tile by tile until the outline of my game’s universe emerged.

Then, and only then, would I start navigating inwards to map out the rest of my universe’s terrain, filling in the edges until the whole picture emerged.

I find this strategy mirrored curiously (yet unsurprisingly) in my life. I’ve spent the majority of my early adulthood exploring the boundaries of the world and my capabilities (hence the rambles through countries, continents and careers). Now, I’ve begun the long—and possibly more fraught—voyage inwards, looking for that postmodern version of Shangri-la we all call “home.”

Curiously (yet unsurprisingly) this leg of the trip has turned out to be far more alien and exotic. Leave yourself long enough, and you turn into a strange and marvelous thing even to yourself.

And this time, unlike before, I’m determined to enjoy the journey.

On the Randomness of Gratitude

Various reasons to celebrate in the middle of a day in the middle of a week:

1. The baby silver cypresses in the flower boxes have grown three inches! It’s hard to mope when their feathery tops start waving just a little above the window sill.

2. One of my most favorite people in the world, J., celebrated her 30th birthday just the other day. Thirty years of J.! What an undeserved blessing to the world.

3. I have one 5-kilo bag of Lavazza Cremoso coffee beans left. These beans have kept me going, literally and metaphorically, on countless mornings these last several months. And it takes the effort and generosity of friends halfway across the world just for me to get them.

4. I’m writing a blog post (I’m writing, period) in the middle of a day in the middle of a week. And after this, I’ll get to practice yoga for an hour-and-a-half. Come to think of it, there isn’t anything I’m doing in my life right now that isn’t in my life by choice. That’s another undeserved blessing right there.

5. Undeserved blessings exist.

Happy random Wednesday, everyone.