I just finished reading Barry Lopez’s “Resistence”. After I read it I lay in bed as the sun arced past the window, weeping for a long time and yet feeling fierce, too. The questions the book asks threatened to split the fragile veneer of calm that I’ve fitted myself into over the last few years so as to survive this spell in Tokyo without going mad. And it is a form of madness, isn’t it, to hate the place you live, to sit days on end behind the window without ever talking to a friend, or to have lost the joy that once filled me every day in making food or singing songs? I want so desperately to step out of this costume I’ve fitted myself into and not be afraid to run naked and free. I’ve never done well with walls around me and yet, in spite of the turmoil inside, here I am.
Lopez’s collection of short fictional stories highlights defining moments in the separate lives of a group of people who are bound by a need to define their worlds in new ways. In many respects it is Lopez’s battle cry against the shape that society and our behavior towards the natural world has been taking. His lessons are quiet and inward, a plea that we begin to explore our inner landscape and seek value in our participation in the world. His premise, based on Navajo spirituality, that before everything the world is beautiful and we should be learning to fit ourselves into what already exists rather than throw ourselves at redemption, runs through all the stories. Lopez manages to put a face on the ambiguous yearning of those who try to define the value of nature and beauty, amorphous ideals so disparaged by those in love with civilization’s progress.
I’ve been reading a lot of books and websites about seeking an alternative way of living to what the whole world seems to bent on following (“Radical Simplicity” by Dan Price, “The Seventh Cross” by Anna Seghers, “Guns, Germs, and Steel” by Jared Diamond, to name a few…). I guess all my life something beyond the fray has been calling me and that is one reason why I have never been able to quite fit in anywhere, among any group of people. Recently, though, say in the last five years, the sense of, as Lopez describes in his book, “the premonition of disaster” has grown disproportionate to my own need for belonging, and I feel myself on the verge of making a drastic, and most-likely very unconventional change. I need to act before what is swelling inside me turns violent in some form or other.
Recently Andy of Older and Growing and I have been discussing what it means to live an authentic life and how one might go about achieving it. Both of us harbor an almost desperate compunction to reconcile our biological existence with the physical world around us and a mythical comprehension of what it means to be alive. We sense the possibility of such a way of life, but cannot see it around us, except in our jaunts to the mountains.
It just cannot be that the complexity and depth of our minds and hearts stop at the producing and acquiring of possessions. If I recall all the most lasting and joyful moments in my life they almost never involve things at the center of those moments. Even in work and health frugality has nearly always helped to keep things running smoothly. And mentally, freedom from the tyranny of possession has always allowed my mind less pull in too many directions.
At the end of the book, the character Eric Rutterman declares, “It is good to be fully alive.” I certainly don’t feel this at the moment. But it’s where I’ve been struggling to head toward. I hope the steps I am taking this year will help get me there. One part, I hope, will be in the new focus on the redesigned blog, soon to be up.
7 replies on “Glint”
Glad to hear from you, wishing you well… empathy over here for your dilemma.
Oh Butuki, it’s so good to “hear” from you! In your struggle to find peace and happiness, I sense some hope again that things will be improving. Your conversation with Andy et al was fascinating reading too. I’m really looking forward to seeing your new blog and reading about your new directions.
Counting one’s blessings and enjoying the simple pleasures in daily living give me joy. I wish you the same and for your dreams to come true this year!
. . . I can’t help but read this post of yours and think that you are going through some sort of enormous growth spurt, and that they inevitably seem to hurt so intensely . . . what is it that you long for more than anything else when you are feeling that lost empty alone joylessness? What do you most want?
I’m glad to see you’re returning to blogging, and that it will be part of larger changes going on in your life. The stories of your gardens and landlords have left me hoping something would break for you for awhile. It pleases me, too, that literature was such a big part of the start of it. Oh, I checked out the exchange over at Older and Growing, and if you need any help with coding, let me know. I’d be glad to help.
I’m a bit surprised to find people still stopping by! After all, I’ve hardly written anything for quite some time. But it’s good to know that there are still regular visitors…
Kate, you asked, “…what is it that you long for more than anything else when you are feeling that lost empty alone joylessness? What do you most want?“. I guess we all seek to know what this gelled state of being might be. For me probably more than anything else I seek four things:
1) A place that allows me very intimate and intense interaction with a rich natural environment all around me, every day. I need a habitat in which humans are not the only living things around.
2) At least one or two very close friends whom I can call up or meet… and the same for them with me… any time I want. I used to have this while I lived in the States, but not for over 15 years here in Japan. I don’t remember the last time I sat back with someone and just had a good laugh. It’s so hard to make close friends with Japanese, in great part because they feel that it is not possible to see non-Japanese as anything but curiosities.
3) An occupation in which I can use my creative bent and feel I am doing some good for the world, instead of contributing to its damage or mediocrity. I have found through my English teaching job that I do love teaching, but would rather it be a subject that I find joy in learning from and about myself. I would love to teach about nature, being outdoors, learning to see, drawing, walking, observing animals, getting people to see how much a part of the natural world they are and how beautiful it is.
4) Being a part of a community in which rich differences are encouraged and rejoiced in, and in which I can contribute some level of responsibility and concern towards its future. Here in Japan I am a nonentity, living almost every day like a ghost, my words never given weight and my presence very often resented. I’ve been living five years in this present place and only twice has any of the neighbors ever bothered to return my hellos. This is not something “cultural”… in the last neighborhood I lived in many of the neighbors became acquantainces; we even took care of each other’s pets and children. Japanese are so suspicious of the rest of the world that you wonder why they even bother to participate at all in it. Definitely not my type of community.
There are a million other things that I would like to be different, but these things are perhaps the most telling and urgent. They are things I’ve wanted for a very long time, long before I returned to Japan. It doesn’t help that my wife sees things in a different way, and that is a hurdle that I must get over before I can move on.
Youâ€™re way ahead of me on this road, butuki, and I truly value your engagement – both supportive and challenging at the same time – with my mental founderings.
It sounds as though that moment on finishing Lopezâ€™s book was one of those moments of deep insight, when you KNOW something, know its deep truth for you, with a visceral certainty and conviction that has no need for proof or rationalisation; a time when truth grips you so tightly, so insistently, it threatens to choke you with its grasp.
And yet, over time, and almost incredibly, the power of that certainty can fade; without reinforcement, the new knowledge becomes old and gets supplanted by the pressing matters of the moment.
I think weâ€™ve both been there; I know youâ€™ve known the insights and Iâ€™m guessing that, like me, youâ€™ve also seen their vitality wane, as daily living provides them no sustenance.
How to keep that insight alive? I donâ€™t know the answer for sure, but I suspect the best food for ideas is more ideas â€“ and it sounds as though youâ€™re already feeding them that way – and allowing them to become grounded and grow and develop through dialogue and sharing.
Easier said than done, I know. In my case, I think that what keeps me hanging on here more than anything else, is the fear of losing completely the self-knowledge and hope (which in my case already seems to be on that downwards waning path) that Iâ€™ve found through blogging, and especially through dialogue with the handful of those like you who are on a similar journey.
Andrew (I really dislike some shortenings of names and Andy is one of those), you seem to ignore all the practical issues connected to the search of the self. How can your inner life substantially change if your external life has to be the same, that is if you have responsibilities toward your family and you need to work to make your living? I feel that reflecting upon these themes is fascinating but then, if I cannot even decide to take a one-day trip when I feel like it, I don’t feel much encouraged to go ahead for a real change.