And Remember to Breathe

I am writing this on the morning after the election.  You might think that a blogger like me would want to talk about politics this morning.  Not really.  I want to write about adjusting the balance between my life, taken as a whole, and how my life seems when I allow it to be squeezed down into one small part of that life. Even politics.

There are some people who are able to focus very intently on one reality.  This is a “reality” that can be lived in to the exclusion of the rest of your life.  I am one of those people.  

Recently, I have been focusing on politics.  

Very likely, you think that the problematic word in that sentence is “politics.”  Not really.  It is “focusing.”  Imagine that this tendency to focus so sharply that awareness of other realities goes away.  It would be like living in one room of your house.  It isn’t that the other rooms are not there; it is only that you don’t care about them while you are focused on the one room.

I wrote that so it would sound silly.  It isn’t really silly, but it is a mistake.  What I need to do is to remember the other rooms and then care about the other rooms and then make a decision to live in the other rooms as well as this one.  It seems obvious if we are thinking about rooms.  Let’s think about passions. [1]

I am madly in love with…oh….Darlene.  Nothing matters except my courtship of her and the possibility that she will accept me.  I put the proposition to her directly and she says no.  Maybe she even says, “Surely you are joking!”  My courtship of Darlene is the room, the one room, I have been living it.  I will very likely collapse in that room and feel sorry for myself for awhile and experience my failure and I humiliation.

But at some point, I realize that before Darlene, I was looking for a woman I could like and respect who also liked and respected me. [2]  So, after I am done feeling bad, I resume looking for a woman like that.  Darlene is now an episode; a dark episode, certainly, but one among many.  She is one room of my house and when I remember that, I can live differently.

What I need to do is to remember the other rooms and then care about the other rooms and then make a decision to live in the other rooms as well as this one. [3]  

Note the sequence: remember, care about, decide.  That’s the sequence for me.  Maybe you put them in a different order.

It may seem odd, but I have, on occasion been completely focused on whether my beloved Oregon Ducks—mostly football, but sometimes basketball—are winning.  It has become, for the duration of that time, either what I am doing or some part of my personal weather.  A dark cloud that follows me around, like Joe Btfsplk in Li’l Abner.  It is a very constrained and uncomfortable existence and it feels completely inevitable when I am in it..

What I need to do is to remember the other rooms and then care about the other rooms and then make a decision to live in the other rooms as well as this one. [4]  

For the last week, I have been engaged in national politics or have been hiding from national politics.  Last night, election night, I alternated between hiding from the tracking of the election results and attending to them.  For purposes of this essay, those are the same thing.  It takes a lot of effort to watch the election returns and also a lot of effort to pretend to be doing something else.  Both are living in that same room; both are caring only about how Darlene feels about me or whether the Ducks are playing up to their potential.  Neither is genuinely caring about something else.

When I genuinely care about something else, politics becomes just another part of my life.  It is what it is, but it is only one of the things I care about; only one of the things I am acting on.  I am still, in all these other parts of my life, an “agent;” I am someone who is making plans and acting on his own account. [5]  

The specific things I care about are unique to me, of course, just as the mix of things you care about are unique to you, but there are some common elements too.  Take my body, for instance.  When I am entirely focused on how ballots are being counted in Wisconsin, I am not conscious of breathing.  I am not conscious of the sense of sitting on something or of the pressure of the floor on my soles when I walk around.  For as much good as it is doing me, I might as well refer to my body as “it” and say that it continues to do all those things while “I” exhaust myself with politics.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I can withdraw myself from politics and invest myself in the sensations of my body.

What I need to do is to remember the other rooms and then care about the other rooms and then make a decision to live in the other rooms as well as this one. 

I need to remember that “it” is there and that I can pay a great deal of attention to the experiences “it” is having.  When I do that, they become the experiences “I” am having.  A really good deep breath can be a wonderful thing when it has been awhile since you have had one and taking that breath intentionally can be a wonderful thing if you have been passive before all those passions for a long time.

I am going to schedule myself fairly tightly today.  It isn’t that I have so much to do as that I need the help of the schedule to remind me how many rooms I really do live in most of the time.  That’s one of the nice things about obligations—you are tied to them. [6]  You might say, probably not out loud, “I’d really like to go on sulking in the one room of my house where I am living, but I promised Aunt Lois that I would do her shopping for her and pick up a book at the library for Uncle Harold.”

There’s no magic there.  It is just that having obligations helps remind you that other things are important too and that the life you live is diverse and that one part of it—currently the political part—is filled with tension and disappointment.

[1]  I have had a different attitude toward the word “passion” since I learned that it shares a root (the Latin pati, “to suffer,” with passive.  Passions, as seen through this lens, are things that happen to you.  They are active; you are passive.

[2]  “Liking” might seem pallid, but I think of it as something that grows, given the proper conditions and the proper nutrition.

[3]  It is just a little awkward to quote yourself from the distance of just a few paragraphs away, but I am hoping the will become a theme.

[4]  See how nicely that works?

[5]  Just in case the language of agent/agency is unfamiliar, acting for the benefit of others is included in “acting on my own account.”

[6]  The very helpful etymology is from the Latin ligare, “to bind.”  You can think of “being bound” as a negative thing, of course, but in the present context, we are talking about being bound to this or that or—more exactly—bound to one thing or to many things.

 

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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1 Response to And Remember to Breathe

  1. Bonnie Klein says:

    I need to tape this on my bathroom mirror.

    Good post, Dale, and much needed today.

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