Getting Centered

I woke up this morning in a fog. No, really. When I drew the shade on the kitchen window, I was stunned and somewhat comforted to see the mist shrouding the garage and rising into the canopy of maples arching over the yard. A friend who dropped by last night described it as cathedral-like as we had drinks and cheese and crackers on the deck. Kind of ironic. But you don’t have to be religious to be moved by beauty.

I appreciate company, which puzzles some of my acquaintances who consider me anti-social – or even a sociopath. I’ve looked it up a few times but can’t remember the precise definition. But it’s bad. You don’t want to be called a sociopath. It means you use people – I remember that. It sticks in my mind because it was the part of the definition that seemed least applicable to me. I’m more of an introvert. But then, some people can resent you for that, too. As though, by denying them your attention, you are committing a malicious act.

The fog was unusual. My waking dream was unusual, too. I was with a man – not someone I know in “real life,” but a close friend in the dream. I was responsible for putting him through some kind of tanning bed or booth – actually more like an oven – setting the dials and the time. He wanted me to, and he trusted me, and he thoroughly believed in the benefits of vitamin D. I left him in a little too long. When he came out, half his face and neck were charred black. His t-shirt had melted into what was left of his skin. He was uncomfortable, but not accusatory. I curled up and covered my face and wanted to die.

And then, as they say, I woke up. And walked down to the kitchen and opened the shade. And picked up my phone and read about the high-rise fire in London. And I felt ripped up inside and unable to think about anything but all the pain and suffering in the world, and all that’s asked of me – which is next to nothing in this stage of my life: feed the cat, go to work, pay the bills, vacuum the floor now and then. I did not turn on the radio, as I usually do, but instead visited the Brain Pickings web site for some kind – any kind – of uplifting inspiration, and I read this by Wallace Stevens:

By the pressure of reality, I mean the pressure of an external event or events on the consciousness to the exclusion of any power of contemplation.

It seems to me that the exclusion of any power of contemplation is the most destructive phenomenon of our age. Information overload, multi-tasking, call it what you will. You can’t contemplate or reflect or feel centered as long as you’re reacting to “the pressure of reality.” This vague feeling, endemic in modern society, that something is missing even though we have more of everything than we ever had. What’s missing is stillness and silence and the chance to contemplate.

This weekend I’ll be heading back down to Naples to spend another day chopping down knotweed. There’s a huge stand in front of the barn. If I’m lucky, it will take me the rest of my life.

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