Immersing Oneself Is To Be Desired

 

 

If you trap the moment before it’s ripe,
The tears of repentance you’ll certainly wipe;
But if once you let the ripe moment go
You can never wipe off the tears of woe.

 

— William Blake, “If You Trap the Moment,” from the poet’s notebook

 

 

 

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I have had several experiences over the past couple of weeks that have no obvious relation to one another.

Yet, they have caused me to think earnestly and to have an epiphany of sorts.

The experiences were as follows:

After not having done much reading for a while, putting it off, being distracted by activities such as research and writing — and by daily life — I took up a book that I had started a while ago and began reading it in earnest.

I went to a play on an impulse, because someone else (namely, my wife and a friend) had seem it the day before and it piqued my interest.

I had occasion to think earnestly about personal relationships of mine, relationships with persons long intimate with me but with whom friction has arisen from time to time.

What, you may ask, does reading a book have to do with personal relationships? And, what does seeing a play have to do with them both, or at least the latter? The relationships are important to me, the book is of interest, but it’s only a book. And, I saw a play. Nice, but how does that relate to my epiphany?

A common thread ran through all the experiences. I will try to illustrate it below. Sometimes, things that engage our attention can get us to do “mental stretching,” as it were, to think anew about things, to entertain new thoughts, to reexamine our preconceptions, to look at things from another’s point of view, to enlarge our mental horizons. Such things often do not seem that important in and of themselves, but they can serve as catalysts and turning points.

 

 

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The various spokes of the wheel, the driving factors underlying my epiphany, were not uniform and did not occur all at once. To give an example of how something seemingly inconsequential can affect one’s outlook, the other day I saw a play, as I mentioned above: specifically, a stage adaptation of J. M. Synge’s The Aran Islands. My thoughts were wandering, as they often do, when one, say, is in a theater or lecture hall. I started thinking deeply about another person. My thoughts were totally focused on that person; there was a wonderful, edifying (perhaps I should also say liberating) feeling of being outside of one’s self. How or why did this occur? I think in part because of a “change of venue.” I am not a habitual playgoer. I did not know what to expect from then play. Such an experience and setting can result in things getting rearranged in one’s mind, in a fresh perspective.

The Synge play stimulated me in other ways as well. Though I was having trouble focusing on the words, I was interested in the language used by Synge (his vocabulary and style, that is); in the Aran Islands, its people with what I guess one might call their peculiarities; and Synge himself. I purchased his book The Aran Islands. It never would have occurred to me to have done so otherwise.

 

 

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I am reading a scholarly book about Walt Whitman, The Foreground of Leaves of Grass by Floyd Stovall. It demands full attention, which is amply rewarded. What a pleasure to read for knowledge. Tutelage. When someone else knows much more than you do about a subject. To broaden one’s horizons. Become more learned. Concentrate (the locution of Samuel Johnson, in a memorable phrase), engage, and focus the mind. It puts one’s mind in neutral gear, so to speak. Obviates self-absorption and petty concerns. Or, to put it another way, forces you to stop and think.

Also, concentrated reading — and its corollary, scholarship — enable one to achieve a state of intense concentration in which the mind is very focused and becomes cleansed. It’s a liberating experience. Being able to do such mental work is an indicator of having achieved for a duration mental stability, in which petty concerns and upsets have to take a back seat, at least as long as one is engaged in the mental “task.”

I suspect that that same thing occurs with activity, work, that is not necessarily or exclusively mental. Say craftsmanship, perhaps drawing or carpentry; building or engineering; professional activities such as medicine and health care; and so on.

 

 

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The morale of this brief post: it’s often beneficial to act on impulse when something arises that gives you the impetus to do so.

To be willing to say, guess what, I would like to see that play too. This book, film, or whatever looks interesting. I’m going to read or watch it. You have to kind of “clear the decks” to do so. Make a little space in your life and your schedule. But, you know what? I have found that “room” to do it can always be found somehow.

 

 

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Here’s a final thought. People. Relationships that begin casually. Somehow you make a link. Often, because you click somehow on some point or other, perhaps a shared interest or enthusiasm.

I don’t want to get too personal on this site, but I met my wife by serendipity. It would have seemed that we would have not had much that much in common, but we clicked off the bat. A relationship developed just like that. Without premeditation. It just happened. Once or twice, I was inclined to ask myself what was happening, but I LET IT HAPPEN. Thank God I did. My life was changed so much for the better.

 

 

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A corollary. Things take one by surprise. The big things in life. The important things, that is. You have an idea perhaps that you would like to get married in the future (though perhaps you’re not quite sure) and envision it, vaguely, happening. When it happens, it’s never quite like what you expected. You know in the abstract, or as a medical certainty, that someone is likely to die soon, but when it happens, you’re never prepared for it.

 

 

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I would be inclined to say that we can’t actually control things, can’t stage manage our lives, when it comes to the big things. Best policy: don’t try. Let them happen. Welcome them (as Walt Whitman said in his poems on the topic of death), and, when it comes to tragic events, accept them. And, when you get an impulse from above, a siren call, heed it.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Besides (1) rogersgleanings.com, a personal site, he also hosts a websites devoted to (2) the author Theodore Dreiser and (3) to the sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin.
This entry was posted in personal psychology (Roger W. Smith observations re), personal views of Roger W. Smith, relationships (general comments re), William Blake and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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