Friday, July 1, 2016

resting enough to be able to wander...

We were sitting at a small picnic table outside the main viewing area of the
Ottawa Jazz Festival last night watching people, taking in the warm breeze and getting ready to hear Chick Corea, Christian McBride and Brian Blades when Dianne said: "You can really tell the difference between extroverts and introverts when asked, 'What are you going to DO on your vacation?'" She when on to say something like:

When asked about what we planned to "do" on sabbatical last year some people looked baffled when I said, "Well, mostly walk around and explore small neighborhoods and new museums - and also take in a few new, weird eateries, bookstores, concerts and then rest and talk with one another." The extroverts among us responded with a quizzical gaze of barely disguised horror before saying, "You could really DO that for four months?"

The introverts, on the other hand, looked rapturous and said, "Oh, man, now THAT'S what I call living!" It is, perhaps, what Di and I do best: savoring, trying to slow down long enough to experience the small joys all around us, noticing the tone of one another's replies as well as the deeper significance. We are "les flâneurs" by nature: connoisseurs of the street.

Walter Benjamin's critical analysis of Baudelaire's poetic "flâneur" as the very antithesis of modernity's frenetic productivity resonates with me. Benjamin understood le flâneur as the embodied critique of capitalism's obsession with productivity. By moving slowly and engaging the city rather than merely consuming it, a measure of alienation is overcome by relationship. I would add, like Barbara Brown Taylor noted in An Altar in the World, that the goal is not the rarefied aesthete who so dominates contemporary Western criticism, but rather a living, breathing person who is in love with the moment. This person is willing to get lost - and learn new truths - rather than always travel according to well-established road maps.

You can get lost on your way home. You can get lost looking for love. You can get lost between jobs. You can get lost looking for God. However it happens, take heart. Others before you have found a way in the wilderness, where there are as many angels as there are wild beasts, and plenty of other lost people too. All it takes is one of them to find you. All it takes is you to find one of them. However it happens, you could do worse than to kneel down and ask a blessing, remembering how many knees have kissed this altar before you.
- Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

I know from experience, however, that a willingness to get lost let alone have the ability to be awake and present to challenges requires an enormous amount of rest. When I am stressed, harried, anxious or unfocused I rarely choose the road less travelled on my own. I may take a wrong turn accidentally, but when I am exhausted - or just under the gun - I rarely celebrate this choice. I curse it and try to go backwards rather than into the moment. That's why we are practicing resting and being still more and more.

To see takes time, like having a friend takes time. It is as simple as turning off the television to learn the song of a single bird. Why should anyone do such things? I cannot imagine—unless one is weary of crossing days off the calendar with no sense of what makes the last day different from the next. Unless one is weary of acting in what feels more like a television commercial than a life. The practice of paying attention offers no quick fix for such weariness, with guaranteed results printed on the side. Instead, it is one way into a different way of life, full of treasure for those who are willing to pay attention to exactly where they are. 

Last night the jazz trio fronted by Chick Corea and supported by bassman extraordinaire Christian McBride and primo drummer Brian Blades was just such an exercise in taking time: they took time setting up each jazz standard, they gave themselves times to play with the melodies and their respective improvisations, too and they created space in time to listen carefully and reverently to one another. It was gently ecstatic - not explosively moving nor even exciting - just deeply satisfying music that was respectful, creative and truly beautiful. You can't mass produce this blessing. And you can't fake it either. So as we walked back to our place in the cool Canadian night air, we felt nourished and encouraged.

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