Thursday, 2 December 2010

Musing about something I read ...

Recently, someone wrote: "...  I walked my dog (pathetically fettered as I am) ... stared at the hot bar at the Piggly Wiggly ...  refreshed my Facebook news feed. What would my life be, if I freed it of circumstance?"

I began to try to unravel the quote.

Exactly what is "circumstance"?

It's just all those things that make up a life, right?

How could anyone be absolutely free of circumstance if s/he were alive?

S/he could, I suppose, simply clear life of all the ties that bind ... everything from relationships to jobs to possessions that make demands on time and other resources.  Then wipe out hobbies.  Possessions make demands too.

So ... if I were to clear my life of everything that makes demands of any kind, I would get rid of my dog, my house, my car, my computer, books, DVDs, CDs, most of my clothes and household goods, all my art, everything to do with teaching or creating funky furniture, my bike, kayak, skiis, snowshoes, and kicksled, and all the human bonds: my friendships, family ties, group memberships.

What would I be left with?

The clothes on my back and a pack filled with the basic needs I take on trips.  My bank book would be heavier, and I would feel infinitely lighter ...

But ...

I would also feel awfully lost.

I derive pleasure from my dog, my home, my computer, my books, my DVDs, my art, from teaching and creating funky furniture, and from the important relationships in my life.

But more importantly they all help to define me.

And I don't think she was talking about clearing out closets or selling off CDs you seldom listen to.  I think she meant the things in our lives that demand time, energy and money (which are just other names for time).

The problem with being footloose and fancy free is that it leaves you without a home base and without the security of love. 

I have been a nomad (but even then I had my life in storage waiting for me).  It taught me that how much I needed to have a home where I felt, not only secure, but enriched, and free to be myself. 

Except for Kenya, I have no one depending on me these days, and it is liberating, but it also leaves a hollow space that cannot be filled with activity.  If I were to lose the other relationships I value, I would be very lonely.

I think my response to her question is this:

Without circumstance, without all the things that make demands on us, our lives would be empty and meaningless.

It is probably a good little exercise to remind us that we can do with fewer things, fewer demands ... but I honestly don't think it is possible to strip away circumstance and still have a life that is worth living.

What do you think?


hybrasil said...

No, it isn't possible --- unless you have some kind of vocation to fill up the empty spaces. I suppose some artists have done it... but one would have to be very sure of one's gift/talent, whatever, before taking that kind of risk.
However, the problem arises when the 'circumstances' DON'T in fact bring the pleasure, security, etc, that you describe, and when one doesn't have, or has never been able to access, such a gift.

Oma said...

Hi hybrasil,

Glad to see you back. I think a vocation WOULD be a circumstance ... like a job or a hobby.

But where I think you are absolutely right is in your final sentence. I think that if you are not deriving any real benefits from your circumstances then you should be getting rid of those burdens and trying to find rewarding ones to take their place.

Do you really think that only talented artists derive pleasure from their art? I suspect that those of us who putter away are also finding happiness.

The teaching I am doing now is very different from my full time teaching career ... which I think was a vocation ... certainly I loved what I did for a very long time ... and I am finding related but quite different rewards this time round.

Barbara Carlson said...

My idea of perfect happiness is working to make something I don't know quite how to do... It
puts me in a Zen state, forgetting my Self and all its whiney demands (circumstances??) And I don't think that applies just to artists but to everyone making their lives and the lives of those around them better & more's reach must exceed his reach and all that.

But I think the quoter was using circumstance in a very odd way -- not physical stuff in life, but required actions? I'm not getting his writing, but it did lead to an interesting post by you.


cir·cum·stance (sûrkm-stns)
1. A condition or fact attending an event and having some bearing on it; a determining or modifying factor.
2. A condition or fact that determines or must be considered in the determining of a course of action.
3. The sum of determining factors beyond willful control. Often used in the plural: a victim of circumstance; work that will begin on Monday if circumstances permit.
4. circumstances Financial status or means: "Prior came of a good family, much reduced in circumstances" (George Sherburn).
5. Detail accompanying or surrounding an event, as in a narrative or series of events.
6. Formal display; ceremony: the pomp and circumstance of a coronation.
7. A particular incident or occurrence: Your arrival was a fortunate circumstance. See Synonyms at occurrence.
tr.v. cir·cum·stanced, cir·cum·stanc·ing, cir·cum·stanc·es
To place in particular circumstances or conditions; situate.
under no circumstances
In no case; never.
under/in the circumstances
Given these conditions; such being the case.

kingmisha said...

The state the writer hankers after in the quote, can only be achieved in death. The very act of living and breathing provokes circumstance.

The quote is a Rubix Cube for the mind: interesting but so what?

Oma said...

Barbara: I like your version of happiness ... I agree that creative acts are the best possible means of attaining that Zen state. Some people swear by yoga ... but I think too much, I am afraid.

kingmisha: Your first paragraph sums up my original premise well.

The quote came from a writer working on a novel and doing some work with characters. I suspect she was trying to breathe the right kind of life into them, and so she asked herself what they would be like if she deprived them of everything that gave them life and then gave them their "circumstance".

I thought it was fun to try to see just what I could painlessly remove from my life and what elements are as essential for me as water and oxygen.

I still haven't answered MY final question yet though. "Is a mate one of the circumstances that will enrich my life or rob me of its joy?" Guess I still haven't met the person who would make it possible to answer that one!

kingmisha said...

Why are you still searching for a mate to define your circumstance? You are the sum total of all life's encounters, deep and shallow and deserve your own fullest attention. You need no other to be more fully you. Stop searching and be the gift you are to yourself.

Oma said...

I don't think of a man defining me or my circumstances. I am a fully realized human being, of course. But what I feel is that I would like to find someone who would enrich rather than impoverish my life.

It all may have something to do with the fact that I live an isolated life and have become increasingly insular since I moved out here.

That has had two effects:
1. I become ever more happy without a two legged companion.

2. I miss two legged companionship and stimulation.

I guess what I would like to find is a man who can relieve the loneliness without destroying the serenity.

Dunno if such a paragon exists.

But maybe one exists with whom I could work out some kind of compromise that would make us both happy ... maybe we wouldn't actually have to live together.

It would be nice not to be pulled in two opposite directions ... but then ... I am a Gemini ... and human!