Going Silent (Installment Four)

Aside from not being able to speak for three weeks due to a surgery on my vocal cords (one week down as of today), I’m also forbidden to exert myself physically. Boxing’s out. Instead, I’ve taken to walking down to the bluffs that overlook the Pacific Ocean every morning before the fog burns off. It’s a two-mile walk each way, but nobody walks here it seems — they run. Why wouldn’t they? Walking doesn’t get you in shape (or so they say) and in Santa Monica, if one can’t be svelte, many folks seem like they’d just as soon kill themselves. I jest. I don’t suspect they really want to die, they just want to be thin. Very thin and very young.

The reason I mention all this is that in my forced-silence I’ve noticed the degree of constant, sometimes pointless, striving that goes on. I do it as well. The sense of being satisfied with what any given moment has to offer, or being grateful for the small gift of being alive is hardly ever felt.

While I was walking this morning I tried (mostly in vain) to truly consider this idea. I didn’t succeed in getting to the bottom of it of course, and suppose I shouldn’t get down on myself. This kind of focused thinking takes a lot of training. I imagine it’s as difficult and precise as music or any other art form. It requires the ability to endure the ignominy of constant failure.

Heading back up the slight incline towards home, I tested myself to see if I could focus on the simple grace of being able to walk. I wondered if I could hold my concentration around this idea for seven straight blocks. I can’t say I was entirely successful, but what I did achieve, was to be able to come back to the thought after several other thoughts intruded. The intrusive thoughts were all very random and not particularly important. “Oh, look at that bunch of crows. Are the playing or are they fighting?” “There’s a guy in a Maserati. Is there a reason his Bluetooth is cranked up so loud?” “I wonder if I’ll have time to eat before I have to leave for Pasadena.”

None of these things my mind was drifting off to was especially compelling and yet, the amount of mental energy it took to pull my attentions back to my original intention of focusing on the gift of being able to walk, was astounding.

And then there arose the question of why I so rarely feel settled in any particular moment. This has been going on with me as long as I can remember — and I’m sure it’s fairly universal. It’s as if I’m always looking forward to the next moment and then the next, as though wherever I’m going to land in a minute, or an hour, is going to be far better than where I am right now.

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In my current state of silence, this fast of words as I call it, my dissatisfaction with never being fully in the moment is more troubling than usual. As I neared home I tried to make a list of all the times I haven’t been compelled to think ahead, to race out of my life, and into a fantasy about what my life might become in another five minutes or five years. Here are some of the places in my life where I’m least apt to do what I will now coin as, The Jump-Ahead:

• While eating a good meal with my friends and family
• While having a deep conversation about philosophical matters for which there are no definite answers
• While having sex with my wife
• While talking one on one with my children
• While playing with cute animals
• While drawing
• While on a walk with my wife in nature
• While writing songs
• While performing onstage (most times)
• While praying for people I love
• While teaching

I suppose I could go on, but one interesting thing I can see from this list is how none of the things I’ve described, costs anything or was proffered to me through advertising.

Think about that. The things in my life (and I imagine the list you’d come up with would be similar, in the sense that the things you don’t Jump-Ahead with, are things that don’t cost much and that are available to you at almost any time).

This is bad news to people selling Maserati’s.

And while you’re at it, if you happen to see the guy that I saw this morning in his Maserati, tell him to keep it down. I won’t be able to tell him myself for another two weeks.

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