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.