Thursday, August 11, 2005

Strengthening the Infrastructure of My Soul

Ok, I don' t just want to be posting about my inexplicable string of bad luck, so let me catch up on some other things too!

As I take stock on whether I've accomplished anything of major importance this summer, I cannot help but first be aware of the specific goals that are as yet unfulfilled. But, in truth, I think I needed most of all this summer to strengthen the infrastructure of my soul.

That statement implies an interesting metaphysical theory of human nature. But I have to say more before I can fully draw out those interesting metaphysical implications.

In between trips, I've spent more time than I would like to confess immersed in learning technical details of web world. I justified this in part because I manage several web pages and needed to brush up on my skills in web design. My exploration of blog world has been related, because much of what I read indicates that static web pages are being replaced (or supplemented) by dynamic, interactive pages. I also justify this because of my philosophical interest in the power of words, and my wondering whether the web has the power to change the world in positive ways. Sometime soon I hope to sum up my current thoughts on this.

But what does all of this have to do with the "infrastructure of my soul"? I get absorbed in this kind of work, and kind of lose myself in it, and there's something both very refreshing about this, and disconcerting. I think it has helped soothe my sense of emotional burnout. It's given me a kind of emotional peace, maybe even healing. And so maybe as long as I don't make this my permanent way of being, it's okay that I've immersed myself in a far less emotionally-charged life than I usually live. But I find it disconcerting too, because the wholeness I seek requires the positive integration of my emotional self into all of the rest of what I do. I can tell that my approach this summer will not work long-term because I have definitely been avoiding certain emotionally-charged issues as much as possible, including (as I wrote about last time) the more anxiety-producing dimensions of my work, that I simply must face soon, as other people very much depend on me for that.

But there have been other ways that I have definitely been strengthening the infrastructure of my soul. For example, my music practice has been going very well, and I feel like I am at last lifting out of a very long plateau and getting somewhere better in my playing -- I'm starting to feel a lot more solid and consistent on my most difficult instrument (the 19th century flute). It's a real joy to play. As I've discussed before, music is deeply tied into spirituality.

Also, I'm finally succeeding in getting exercise integrated into my life. There was a time in my life when I bicycled regularly. There was another time when I was running regularly, and even doing some 5K races. But in the complex busyness of my work, it all gradually fell away. I felt that adding music back in, when I started this job, made the exercise fall out. I could only sustain one form of demanding physical discipline. And now that I was in a group, the music had a kind of urgency -- I had to make time for it, but then reached a certain limit concerning how much more I could force myself to do, since I was already working just about every waking moment of my life. I became convinced that it is imperative for us to have some truly unstructured time, in which we are not forcing ourselves to do something particular. Such time was hard for me to find at all. Establishing an exercise program seemed destined to erase any hope for this at all.

But of course I still rationally knew that regular exercise can so energize you that you are more efficient in other respects, and so, in a certain kind of way, it maybe doesn't really need to take time, because it can give back energy and therefore time in other ways.

This is why the metaphysics of human nature is so interesting! We are not machines. And so the usual laws of space, time, and energy, do not apply in the ways we may initially think they should.

This is why then I held out hope that I could re-integrate exercise into my busy, complex life.

My plan was to try this during the summer, when my daily schedule is not so intense. After one false start, I had the absolutely brilliant idea of trying first a very simple program, that I called the "30 minutes, 30 days" program, for the month of July. (Ok, July has 31 days.) All I had to do was go for a walk for 30 minutes, every day. It didn't matter what time. If it could be integrated with running errands, that was fine. If it was raining, I'd take an umbrella. The main goal was just to begin integrating it into my life in as low-stress a way as possible. The brilliance of this plan was that I didn't have to feel daunted by my summer travels. A person can walk for 30 minutes no matter where one is!

I succeeded in this, for the full 31 days -- 33 in fact. Then, a little daunted by the prospect of upping the intensity, I did nothing for a few days. Then I said, "No! Don't give up! Now all I have to do is at least the same, but run a little during the 30 minutes -- just as much as I feel like -- no more!" Still, this was something new, because I had to plan a little more -- I had to wear running clothes. I couldn't just drop work for a bit to take a walk in the middle of the day. I decided to just do this as soon as I got up in the morning, no matter what time. This would simply become the new way I'd start my day.

I'm on day 4 of that. The rule is still "every day," to guard against erosion, but again, if I walk, that's good enough. I don't have to push myself too hard. But what I am re-learning about my athletic self is that I do push hard. No wonder it's been hard to be serious about bringing this back into my life. Not only am I dismayed about how far I am from where I was before, but I see that I cannot help but push myself very hard.

So, I ask myself, "why not just accept this about myself? Observe it, accept it." How did I get where I am in life without this quality? Maybe it's not an entirely fun way to live, but it is richly rewarding. It's risky (you can push yourself to injury), but I know that, and I know that what you need to do to guard against this danger is to pay attention. So, why don't I go ahead and just accept that this is how I approach things, and trust myself?

I cannot help but think that when a person is serious about making some changes in life, and sets upon a path that goes somewhere new, the person encounters "resistance" from the universe (breaking new trails is all about encountering resistance). This may explain the recent bad luck I've experienced.

Now it should be even more clear that I'm operating with a pretty strange metaphysical theory here. Bypassing the most strange aspect (why my tire would go flat just because I've started running again!) and focusing simply on the metaphysics of human nature -- how can I call "exercise" part of the "infrastructure" of my soul? Would it not be a kind of external support instead of internal? In Western thought, we tend to associate the body with the "exterior" and the mind and soul as "interior."

But when I regard my life phenomenologically (that means, when I pay attention with honesty to my actual lived experience, instead of being quick to interpret it through the theories handed down to me from Western thought patterns), what is front and center of who I am is not my body, but my consciousness, and what is front and center in my knowledge of other people is not their bodies, but the quality of their being as conveyed to me through our relationships. (In fact, I am one of those people who usually cannot remember what others were wearing unless I make a conscious effort to pay attention to things like that). So instead of thinking of people as bodies with souls dwelling somewhat mysteriously inside, I think of people as souls supported by bodies. Bodies thus are part of the infrastructures of our souls. The "happening" part of human nature is the energy our souls project into the world, and the ways in which that energy then affects and changes the world.

There is of course much more that I can say, but I'll pause for now. This is only a rough sketch. The most important technical philosophical point I would need to develop from here would be why this view of human nature is non-dualistic, but I'll save that for another time.

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