In recent months I have been contemplating the various meanings that are attached to the concept of motion. In particular, I have been considering how representations of motion might aid me in furthering my understanding of self. I spent just about every summer of my adolescence in the back of a brown Ford van as my father drove my family to assorted vacation destinations. There was always considerable anticipation of what lay ahead. Indeed, there was anticipation at either end of the zeniths of these familial motions—perhaps the thrill of a rollercoaster at one end or the comfort of one’s own pillow at the other. For me the rolling landscape out the side window of the van was an indispensable component of these family adventures. As I recall those vacations it is the unfurling panorama that I miss the most. It occurred to me long ago that there was a similarity between the alternating fence posts of the undulating landscape—a sort of visible thump…thump…thump—and the dates on a calendar. It is this rhythmic character of motion which occupies me as I prepare to usher in a new year.
One way of assigning meaning to the rhythm of motion is to emphasize destination. Think of the sign post, the date on the calendar, the fence post out the car window. Thump…thump…thump becomes tick tock…tick tock…tick tock. This is goal-oriented thinking and it certainly has a place in the rhythmic onslaught of daily life. A certain Buddhist parable tells of a monk traveling to a temple in a distant province. Nearing his destination in an unknown land the monk crosses paths with a farmer tending to his field. Excuse me. How far is the journey to the temple? The farmer only looks up and insists keep moving! Taken aback by the rudeness of the farmer the monk turns and continues on his way. After 30 or so paces the farmer shouts to the monk about two days from here. Irritated, the monk turns and asks why didn’t you just say that in the first place? To which the farmer responds how was I to know anything of your journey without first bearing witness to the determination of your stride? There is a certain utility in sign posts. Yet we should also recognize that the obligatory antithesis to our list of goals and objectives for the new year is our list of failures and disappointments for the previous year. Tick tock…tick tock…tick tock. Enjoy the shit out of that New Year’s glass of champagne for there is now one less for you to enjoy.
But what happens when I leave well enough alone? What meaning might reside in the unadulterated onomatopoeia of thump…thump…thump? To borrow from Lee Scratch Perry “seeing is believing but hearing is a feeling.” One metaphor draws a distinction between traveling and dancing. The former is goal-oriented while the latter is process-oriented. That is to say, the point of dancing is not to end up at a specific point on the dance floor any more than the point of a song is to rush as quickly as possible to the end. In fact, with respect to particularly good songs I find myself immersed in the rhythm and averse to the cessation of the beat. Why not such an accord with the rhythm of daily life? Right here. Right now. Always. Thump…thump…thump. There is another Buddhist parable of a traveling monk. Desiring to meet with a great thinker who lives in a remote fishing village the monk sets out on a path alongside a peaceful stream. After a day’s journey the monk crosses paths with an old woman cleaning vegetables in the water. Unsure of how to reach the village the monk asks the woman if she knows how to get there. She affirms yes, but I would not start out from here.
I have an uneasy relationship with the concept of synthesis but it’s useful for exposition and occasionally fun to do. I use it now to do my year-end list of what I am most thankful for so that I may lay emphasis on process rather than goals, on happening rather than happenings, on unfurling landscape rather than destinations. I am thankful for departing Austin and arriving in Toronto as I build a new life; I am thankful for my divorce and new love as I evolve as a person; I am thankful for my past and current students as I develop my career; I am thankful for old and new friends as I cultivate compassion and understanding; I am thankful for family already departed and those yet to arrive as I enjoy the company of my loved ones; and I am thankful for the ledge and the ground as I endure each and every day.
I think 2012 was the best year of my life thus far. But there’s no sense holding on to that feeling as the year is soon gone. Tick tock…tick tock…tick tock. I have some goals for 2013 but I won’t get too caught up in them. Instead I am placing the joy of wandering on equal footing with the satisfaction of traveling. Thump…thump…thump.