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- Added May 17th, 2013
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Taken for Granted?
By Laura Black in All Sorts
ways to experience the sacred in the daily grindThere is a parable that David Foster Wallace, an American novelist, once told. It goes like this: there are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says "Morning, boys. How's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes "What the hell is water?"
Which is a story about how much we take everything around us both for granted and as inevitable.
I want you to think about the water you spend your life swimming in. Not the actual water, it's far too cold for that this time of year! I mean the taken-for-granted, unmoveable experience of your daily life.
The grind. The hassle. The amount of organisation it takes and then the frustrations when you are stuck behind others in the supermarket or on the road. The routine of it - every day the same get up, get dressed, get going, work, get home in time, keep the house running, the laundry of it ...
How inconvenient every single disruption to that routine is. (By disruption of course, I mean "other people".)
Not all other people, just the ones who get in the way. Who are driving at 40 in a 50 zone when you're late. Who are blocking the aisle to have a chat in Pak n Save when the store is packed. Who said they'd do this or that by then and haven't.
Because we live in a city, there are enough people for at least one or two of these frustrations to pop up each day.
And so that frustration becomes the water we swim in, that we take both for granted and as inevitable.
But what if we knew that the people driving at 40 in a 50 zone are doing it because they are learning to drive? Or the folks blocking the supermarket aisle are passing on news about a sick neighbour and one of them is volunteering to check in on him? Or who didn't get their part of the job done in time because their partner was rushed to hospital two nights ago?
We usually can't know whether those things are true or not. But we also seldom wonder if they might be. What we usually do is decide that these other people are just idiots.
Which is a very affirming thing to do! Much easier that someone else be an idiot than we think of ourselves as uncaring. Unimaginative. Inattentive.
It turns out that other people have the same grind we do. The same hassles. And they too are often frustrated by idiots getting it wrong. And unless you are perfect, that includes you.
The problem is, once we've decided that someone is an idiot; we're free to feel frustrated.
What a waste of time. If I'm going to be stuck in the queue at the shop, caught for an extra 10 minutes on Cumberland Street, or have to hang around with my project until someone else comes through; I could spend it steaming with frustration.
Or I could realise that there is a choice. As David Foster Wallace said:
But if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not all the time of course. No-one's that perfect!