ONE THING SLOWLY
There’s haste in my mind and movement now as I write. There are so many things to do—so many ways I could—should perhaps?—be spending my time. Maybe if I move very quickly now then I can squeeze in some of those other things before the day is done? Maybe I can attempt several things at once? How efficient that plan! Imagine all I could do today… All that I might complete.
To what end?
Something needs to be done. That is, life. I need to live well. Not pleasantly perhaps, but well. Not productively perhaps, but well. A well-lived life is the noblest goal, where “well-lived” is defined as a life lived in pursuit of virtue. And where virtue is defined as the improvement of well-being. And where well-being is the general movement of the dial away from the direction of suffering and towards the direction of comfort, happiness and peace. Part of this is how we actually live from moment to moment. How we spend our time. How we think, act and the attributes and opinions we develop, support and share.
So, the ends then are less the goal than the means by which we achieve them. Unless there is a fire we must hastily extinguish with water—and maybe not even then—it’s best we think and act slowly, at the pace of self-control and the cadence of reason. Let’s not do any more than one thing at once, and then let our lives become a passage and succession of disciplined thought and action: a form of individual endeavor—each as clear and complete as a single day between sunrise and sunset.
I think we all desire to do well. And by this, I mean to not just get by, but to complete our work to the level of satisfaction of a job well done. Only, so often we cannot see or remember this aim for the distraction and folly of intemperate living. We get lost along a meandering pathway of unworthy answered emotions; feelings which we hear and hastily hearken to like breadcrumbs carelessly followed into a dark wood; followed and consumed one-by-one until we look up, disoriented and confused, suddenly wanting the safe home we can no longer see, and striking out recklessly in the first direction our panicked mind suggests. It is then when we fail to do well. It's then when we suffer the consequence of our folly in not minding the way; of not looking carefully at the next breadcrumb before us before taking another measured step into the weeds, of not asking ourselves after the worth of such an endeavor, of not providing oversight of our want to consume and to possess and to satisfy the base desire to have.
I did not wake today to simply act and re-act
But to do well the things which are well
And to mind the things which are not
When I assess the next breadcrumb as worthwhile; only then will I proceed...slowly...to attend, engage and possibly possess or even consume the object of my determined will. But not without first lifting my head to look ahead at where I am going, not without noting where my next steps may take me, and looking back at where I've just been and considering where I wish to be overall. And if the breadcrumb is shrouded in shadows such that I cannot clearly know where these new steps will lead, then I will engage reason to reflect upon the merit and risk of such a venture—what good or bad may come of going into the dark after such a thing? And if my ruling faculty does then sanction the journey, I may next need to attend my fears, which perhaps plead with me to cower behind current secure ways: "Please, don't go! Don't bring us with you... We'd rather remain here. That thing you perceive in the darkness there - let someone else attend to it. Stay here with us. Stay - or think - just what we now know, and what is now safe, the reassuring certainty of our current certitude." I'll listen to my fears. And I'll give us an honest hearing. But then I'll turn and go - and drag the fearful me along into the dark should the better me decide the darkness a better place to go, and the place where all of me can best do our necessary work. All of me is going into the dark, for good or bad, and for the sake of right.
Wiping glasses with an empty mind
It is a difficult thing to wipe my glasses while doing nothing else. My mind, my deep and inner mind, knows how to do this chore without the full attention of my consciousness; like a master sending a servant to fetch something from across the room—a task requiring little active supervision--which delegation allows the master to carry on with other business, like talking to a companion or reading a book while the servant completes their assigned work. So too, when I wipe my glasses, and my servant of muscle activity is commanded to perform this routine and mundane task, while the thing at the seat of my being watches from afar, while perhaps looking for something else to do. It is a good distraction, this ability to do more than one thing at once, and my example is a simple one, as we are all capable of far more complex simultaneous action. But is this simultaneity of action good? Is such concurrent behavior really a most effective use of our time? Or would it be better to perhaps focus more solely on just one thing, even a mundane thing, rather than on many things at once? And just what kind of distraction is this activity of multitask?
We might claim to do several things at once as an attempt at efficiency, or of necessity, as though good and timely ends are the best we can hope for. But isn't an end just that, a completion, and a finality of whatever moments we'd had to "improve the nick of time"? Why such haste, lest our aims be no more than the accumulation of another one or two tasks to better earn our bread, or some repute, or some seeming sense of worth? Ah yes, I think it's that last which is most interesting...though I'd offer that it isn't so much worth we are after, but meaning. This is because our work grants us meaning in the truest sense, though we won't likely enjoy the idea of meaning being gained through our work, though it is, as it is also gained through the development and maintenance of relationships, and through whatever we do to identify ourselves as members of this society, or that institution, or some other fellowship of our kind. We are what we make of ourselves. Our worth and worthwhileness are gained through our decided actions and associations. And so too our sense of meaning through this thing called business--or more accurately, busy-ness, for when we are busy we are engaged, and involved, and so clearly, seemingly, needed, or at the very least we are confirmed as still being alive. And thus I remove my glasses and scrub the lenses with my shirt ends, while looking up meanwhile for someone to speak to, or for something interesting to see, or at least something to do with my mind while my fingers are so engaged. And at once I am busy, and working--albeit for cheap ends--and best of all...I am distracted.
Back to that distraction bit, for this is the crux of the matter, and the root of why we do so many of the things which we do, not just for efficiency, or profit, or reputation, or for the achievement of some small and local fame, but to tell ourselves though the many voices of engagement that we are yet alive, and that death is nowhere nearby, and that living has some objective and real meaning found in our simple being, and doing, and especially this very busy doing of many things at once, which we are so good at. And when the charade of meaning is raised, and we are too busy to not think, it's then that the veil of the emptiness which pervades the universe cannot be seen, and we are so grateful to be blind, though even the acknowledgement of such gratitude is heresy to the empty sense of meaning which we have found, the meaning of simply being busy, of being distracted and far away in the moment of now, of consuming our fading time with something...anything...which will help us to hide the night.
But now, I'll remove my glasses and slowly, gently, begin to wipe. And I won't ask for something more. I won't reach for a toy of mind to fondle and toss. I won't ask my inner-voice to speak. I'll just wipe the glasses now with an empty mind. I'll stand alone as the empty beyond becomes an empty within. I'll do just this...one...thing...slowly. And I'll live for a few moments now like I have never lived before.