Thursday, April 7, 2016

Impermanent Marker

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A lot of things are changing in my life right now. My first reaction when reflecting on change is to begin to judge the changes: are they positives? Negatives? I want to try to quantify them and then aggregate their net effect into some overall statistic. Am I better or worse, and in what magnitude? I suppose this is the computer scientist in me.

No matter whether we perceive changes to be positive or negative, I think there's value in taking a step back and realizing that changes just are. They exist free of any context. Any emotional response we may feel toward them is separate from the changes themselves. It helps me to ground myself when I think like this. It's always important to remain sensitive to life and also to the opportunity to influence events. But certain events--especially those we can't directly influence--exist outside of us. We are just observers and are left to contemplate their impact on us.

 I often tell kids that I've found it to be a useful technique to visualize emotions as clouds that pass through our bodies. Emotions can build on themselves and strengthen if we begin to question them or become attached to them. I do spend energy trying to figure out why I feel the way I do. But I try to do it with a detached mindfulness. When I was younger I remember getting worried when I was experiencing negative emotions. It's like I expected not to have them and felt slighted by the universe because I was feeling them. I would get more and more upset as I experienced the original emotion plus the amplified effects based on feeling like I didn't deserve my fate. Now, I think I know better. In the words of an immortal (and temperate) philosopher: excrement happens!

A friend told me a story today that relates to the concept of impermanence. The Persian king Xerxes stood atop a hill as his massive army passed below him. His aides were startled when they noticed that Xerxes was weeping. Incredulous at the sight of their king in tears as he witnessed the spectacle of the passing troops, they asked him why he cried. He replied: "In a hundred years they will all be dead." Maybe our emotions are like that passing army. No matter how grandiose they may seem, they will fade into nothingness soon enough--provided we can just let go of them. The challenge is for Xerxes to stay on the hill and not descend into the torrent.

The astute reader may have noticed that the preceding paragraphs have amounted to little more than an elaborate distraction from an update on my writing progress over the past several weeks. The good news is I have made some progress--albeit less than I had hoped for. I did succeed in writing one sequence featuring dialogue with a divine presence that I found particularly challenging. Getting into the voice of this character was something I just had to wait to come to me. I couldn't will myself to write that dialogue--I just had to channel it. The bad news is I'm not done the story yet! I had planned to be done the first draft by now. So I am a little frustrated by my lack of progress.

 I really am entering the final lap of this novel, but these life changes have me in the proverbial pits. I promise you that I will get moving again very soon! I miss the writing and I need to complete it before I lose too much of the story's context that's sitting in my mind. My mind tends to wander, so I have to be mindful of striking while the iron is hot.

I briefly thought about doing another interim book release rather than waiting to release the completed final volume. I typically get anxious like this when I reach a potential stopping point in a manuscript. But I know this isn't the right answer this time. I have to forge ahead and reach the finish line of this multi-year journey--I have to complete this series of novels. And then, flush with victory, I can consider what I hope you will be there to complete this journey with me, dear reader.