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the numinous and growing old

After watching the movie tonight and reading an entry in kijjohnson's LJ, I got to thinking about that momentary rush of... what is it? Connection with something greater, communion with genius or something; how it's always momentary, and once experienced one always seeks it again, but doing the same thing doesn't always stimulate the same response, at least not for me. I need to have all the elements in place. So it's not easily repeatable, and when one stops getting the same emotional reward, one faces the prospect of losing interest in continuing to seek that something magical.

For me, this happens when motorcycling: Once in a while, for no apparent reason other than everything in the universe of my mind is aligned just so, I feel this surge of pleasure, and the world is brighter and smells fresher and I feel alive. When I was first riding, every ride was ripe with excitement and rife with danger; I would ride for hours on the most uncomfortable mount imaginable, heading nowhere. Now I find myself forgetting the joy of the ride and often just hop on to go somewhere and hop off when I'm there. Also when skywatching: When I was a kid, I could feel in touch with the holy so much more easily than now; now I need to keep scanning the skies past the "I've seen a blue star before" until I find that something which offers the reward. I need to remember to ride, say, out to Target not to buy something but to enjoy the sensation of moving.

I have found that patience is more difficult to summon now than it was when I was younger, because then everything was shiny and new. Now it's not just about the newness - which, itself, can be a reward - now it needs to be about the thing that really matters, the thing that woke my sense of the numinous when I first learned that I loved the thing at hand: That's still there, still shining from behind every color of star and within the surprise puffs of nebula that I discover when my patience holds; those fleeting glimpses of storm-cloud detail in the clouds of Jupiter or snow-caps on Mars; that haze of the Milky Way which resolves into millions of stars, at least in my mind's eye, when that I open that eye. It's all there, just as magical as ever: As is typical for so much about humans, I'm the thing in my own way most of the time.

I often forget the pleasure I feel once I make an engine work again, or that jolt of transcendence when I write the perfect sentence, or engage in the perfect class. I think that this forgetfulness is what drives us to stop seeking those perfect moments. Perhaps that's what it means to grow old: To lose the desire to seek those moments of magic. I'll call this lack of desire by it's true name, "death." It approaches us by inches, sneaks up on us hidden in the shadows of time and our own blindness.

I realize now that this is one of the things that made me so teary-while-smiling while I watched "The World's Fastest Indian" tonight. Burt Munro was like that, a man who never forgot the beauty and power in going fast that got him going as a kid. He seemed to possess that same sense in his 80's that he had when he bought his bike back in the 1920's. That's rare and beautiful.

Do me a favor and remember to do something today something that gives you joy.



( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 13th, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
I keep catching myself using the phrase 'when I was younger'. Then pause for a minute realizing that I'm not old. After reading your post I remembered the days when I would hop in my car in the middle of the night and drive in a direction decided by a coin toss, and that I should do that right now. Then I remember that I have an exam in an hour. I find anymore that even when there isn't a valid excuse keeping me from enjoying life, then I'll most likely create one.
Nov. 13th, 2006 05:01 pm (UTC)
I find anymore that even when there isn't a valid excuse keeping me from enjoying life, then I'll most likely create one.

- That's so true. Why is it that humans, who seek comfort, also seek to reduce their joy, discovery, and excitement? Is comfort antithetical to the great experiences, or is it just that those aren't necessary for comfort? Hm. We end up causing ourselves discomfort and dissatisfaction after denying ourselves those things for long enough, and perhaps it's at those moments that we reject comfort and make changes in our lives.

This might be why humans have our 7-year cycles. Silly humans.
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:51 pm (UTC)
I can't remember the last time I said, "I'm going driving," with no notion of where or of when I'd be back. Day jobs and classes curtail this, but still I don't do it even when I could.
Nov. 13th, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
Fill your sink with ice cubes and water. Take a deep breath and plunge your face into it for as long as you can. It will cleanse you right out :) That..and you'll be WIDE awake.

Glad to see you on a deep path.
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:35 pm (UTC)
One of my favorite books* is Verdi by Janell Cannon, who also brought us the incomparable Stellaluna. In a sweet and gentle way, from the perspective of a young and exuberant pythonling, it explores the concept of what it means to grow up, to grow older, and how youth and the no-longer-young view each other.

Yet however much I want to have adventures, to stave off the mental and physical calcification, these desires are always overwhelmed by the ever-growing need to avoid risk and to behave with prudence. There are things that you and I have done in the last 6 or 7 years that I would *never* do today.

Man, I got nothin'. But I loved this post.

*Most of my favorite books are children's or young adult books. Why is this?
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:56 pm (UTC)
Yet however much I want to have adventures, to stave off the mental and physical calcification, these desires are always overwhelmed by the ever-growing need to avoid risk and to behave with prudence.

I've thought some about this. Why does the need to avoid risk grow? I know that our bones mend slower now than they did when we were sixteen, and I know that we are also 30 years closer to retirement, when money in the bank will be a good thing; but that's no excuse not to go for an all-night drive once in a while. Sure we'll be sleepy the next day, but we'll have seen the mountains under moonlight.

Maybe what needs to happen as we grow older is not risk avoidance so much as risk assessment.
Nov. 13th, 2006 07:02 pm (UTC)
not risk avoidance so much as risk assessment - that's it: Use earned wisdom to seek the numinous, to seek living, and we become more likely to find it than the dangerous stumbling-around we did in youth.

"Live as if you might not have a tomorrow, but plan as if you will live for a thousand years." Someone said something like that once, and I like it in this context.
Nov. 13th, 2006 07:48 pm (UTC)
I've seen the mountains under moonlight. I did that when I was still yellow-Verdi and not green-Verdi. I don't need to do it again and be sleepy and ineffectual at work the next day and risk a car accident as a result of my fatigue. I guess I could plan to do it on a Saturday when I could get enough sleep beforehand and not have to work the next day, but then it wouldn't be spontaneous and living for the moment.

Do you see how insidious this all is? I watch you and your life with a kind of desperation, to try to learn what being brave and adventurous *looks like.*
Nov. 13th, 2006 08:39 pm (UTC)
Well, you'll notice that I have a dayjob and an apartment and a 401(k). There's adventurous and then there's stupid. That's a hard line to detect.

I hear you about this: "I've already driven in the mountains at night, and if I go now I'll just be sleepy tomorrow, and for what? Something I've already ticked off my list?" Risk assessment again: Is driving in the mountains tonight worth being tired tomorrow?

My theory is that different personality types should handle questions like this different ways. If you're the foolhardy type, then when you're offered an option like that, you maybe should take the low-risk option, because you'll be doing the Dumb Thing often enough anyway, no need to strain your luck. And if you're the risk-averse type, then you should maybe force yourself to say yes to something new or strange once a week. I was so amazingly pleased for you about the geocaching and getting outside because I knew how big a deal that was on so many levels.
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you, and I know what you mean - though I continually fight the urge for comfort. A couple more thinkies on this:

Re: "one always seeks it again, but doing the same thing doesn't always stimulate the same response" - Epiphanies/divine communions/etc. are unique. Rarely does one experience it the same way twice, and they happen for no apparent reason: They can't be forced. We can't expect it to happen. I know that people have different ways to help them achieve a state of open-ness, and I listed several of my own above; being open increases the chances of experiencing the divine, but it doesn't guarantee it. This is kind of like the FL notion of creating a clearing. To experience that magical sensation, we simply need to become open to it, accept it if it comes, and accept when it doesn't.

In short: Live in the moment. (This as opposed to doing things that provide temporary gratification but bring grief and pain later; living vs. seeking comfort.) Living in the moment is radically different than living for the moment. A lifetime of living for the moment can result in selfish, destructive behavior. After all, if all you have is the moment, why try to improve the world or struggle to better yourself for a tomorrow that you might never see? However, living in the moment means that we make the most out of the short time we have here.

I find this a challenge: to enjoy each moment for what it is, not what I want it to be, and at the same time, understand that each moment follows the other.

Nov. 13th, 2006 07:42 pm (UTC)
PS: I should read that. I loved "Stellaluna."
Nov. 14th, 2006 03:14 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post. It reminded me of a comment that my best friend and I share regularly: "Kicks just keep getting harder to find" (referencing a song from our youth) (thus showing how old we **really are**).

Two things I love are good food and a good show ("show" covers anything from a movie to live theater to a concert). But they rarely seem quite the same...quite as good...the second time around.

Nov. 14th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
I hear you. And what are we to do with that? I suspect that being a passive recipient of "kicks" or whatever else leads to a numbing effect, but what about those monks who spend their lives meditating with the aim of reaching Nirvana? They must be getting something out of it every time. I do things that give me great pleasure each time those things work (but not every time, as when they were brand-spankin'-new): Teaching, riding, music, movies, reading, star-gazing, driving fast, etc.
Nov. 14th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
Me again. ;)

Your thoughts also reminded me of my mantra "A trip/vacation begins the moment you step out your front door, not when you arrive at your destination." I usually use that comment to encourage someone to take the train rather than plane on a trip...but it seems apropos in general in response to your comments.

Thanks for a nice thought-provoking post.
Nov. 14th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Nov. 15th, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC)
doing mindful meditations can make this feeling strong for me - the 'in tune' where everything is just a bit brighter - I try to practice mindeful meditation when I am doing dishes.

Pooch and I try to take long driving trips at least every other year
( 16 comments — Leave a comment )

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