Saturday, August 13, 2011

Step by step

Something inside me is highly susceptible to method.  I read about a Regimen or Process or Diet or Discipline, and I start feeling a deep longing.  I want to push all my chips in and follow the plan.  I want to devote myself singlemindedly to its rituals and ways.  I sense that all the meaning one could want is buried there for the patient seeker, that it would only take steadfast resolve and dedication to peel back a lifetime's worth of layers.

Mysticism, therefore, exerts a pull on me.  Highly complex texts attract me because they are well-suited for structural analysis; I remember one of my teachers noting how well I took to the study of Aquinas.  But so do instructions on how to wash your face correctly, or get a book written, or train a child to sleep through the night, or declutter your desk.  It's not the significance of the goal, but the assertion by some confident person that they know how to get there.

In a word, orthodoxies.  Always this, never this, and for God's sake, if you value your life, avoid that.  Two of these, then one of those, unless the moon is full.  Make it a way of life and you will find what you seek.  Failure is not the fault of the method but of those who fail to follow it religiously.

I would have made an excellent nun, in other words.  I am more prone to blame myself for any lack of success than the advice I'm following.  I resent the multitasking necessitated by my many responsibilities, and believe I'd be able to fulfill my desires if my life were simplified to a single goal and a clear process. Even though I know that longing is mythological to some extent, I still look forward to retirement when I  can test out the theory.

Meanwhile, I try to remember that the methods that attract me so powerfully do so not on the basis of their promise, but simply the rigor that they demand -- for their elitism, selectivity, and demands for complete commitment.  They are avatars of the authority I wish I did not have to exercise over myself, the freedom I want to escape, the choices I would prefer were taken out of my hands.

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