There are some days when time is like a machine through which experience becomes stretched, when minutes thud like stones into a shallow pond and seem to pile up around you, constructing a physical prison from which it is impossible to escape. And at times it is hard not to try to fill time, to use it up through almost any little bit of activity, no matter how meaningless or insignificant. Perhaps this is the domain of housework in an era when everything is over-clean, sterile even, and our environments airless and disinteresting. I am trying not to fill my time, yet I say this even as I’m filling it with my words, with typing, with my computer sitting in front of me and the washing machine spinning in the background and one part of my mind on the meal I will be making soon and the activities I will undertake afterwards. I am not sure why it is so hard to be still, to just exist, to allow the mind to wander or to focus on something. I am not sure why it is so challenging to listen, more so to feel, the emptiness of my stomach and to resist the idea of filling it with something, no matter how nutritionless, no matter how unwanted or unneeded. I am not about to die of starvation. I am not, in truth, either particularly hungry, I am merely bored and in my boredom I latch on to the promise of fullness, of repleteness, of a life filled with meaning and a belly filled with substance, yet even as these things tempt me I know them to be without meaning and without substance. To fill my soul, I must first allow it to empty. Not that I believe in a soul, per se.
I have been thinking about the sterility of the lives we lead today, or perhaps it has been true of lives spanning back all through time and it is only through our labour-saving devices, our consumerist frameworks which allow everything to be accessible almost instantaneously to those fortunate enough to have a bank, or a debt, balance to support it, that we’re allowed the illusion of spare time. Perhaps there is much to be said for the necessity of activity for survival. I have been thinking about a friend who really longs to go to the theatre, a friend I used to visit the theatre with, and to whom I am unable to say that I no longer want to go to the theatre because despite being a terrible friend I wish, at least, to protect myself with the illusion of being a good one. I cannot say to her that I no longer want to visit the theatre because I can no longer be a mere spectator, because I no longer want to watch my way though life. I am sick with seeing. I see everything: landscapes, buildings, stories played out on stage and screen, and I no longer want to go to places just to watch. I want to be a participant. I am willing to spend acres of time sitting in the quiet and the darkness, not doing anything, so that the path of participation can become clearer to me. It is too easy to spend, to expend, all of my time filling it with other people’s words, other people’s thoughts, other people’s actions and constructions and desires brought to life on canvas or in stone, in plant-life and paths hewn in shale and concrete, and never doing anything for myself except consume, observe, repeat the actions of others. What is the value in it? So we can imagine ourselves a better life? So we can imagine ourselves better than others, more fortunate? We are all fortunate, and we are all suffering. Perhaps I need to embrace both of mine so that instead of seeing my way through life, instead of simply observing what is happening, I can feel and be a part of it.
In the Tao Te Ching it says “The Tao never does anything, yet through it all things are done.” Perhaps this is a lesson I am yet to learn.