Connection, Emptiness, and a Magic Ring

I’m being challenged, in reading Coming to Our Senses, to think about connectivity and identity.

Contemplating connectivity is ironic, I guess, in this age of instant connection. I’m checking time on my cell phone these days; I don’t even own a watch anymore. I type on my IPad; when we travel, I bring that and/or my laptop. Having embraced, like the other slow-flowering technology users of my generation, Facebook, I am now slowly dipping my toes into the world of Twitter.

I do turn off my cell phone or put it on vibrate sometimes; I do create boundaries for checking email and Facebook. I do try to write at least one pen and paper letter every Monday. But the reality is, there is never a time when I’m completely disconnected from the electronic information expressway–not even when I sleep. What does this mean for us today?

Kabat-Zinn says it fosters a syndrome called ‘Continual partial attention,’ and he asks, “Can we pay attention to just one thing, the matter at hand, whatever it may be? Are we ever going to be off duty, so we can be rather than just do? And when might that be?”

It’s a question with big implications in my life; I’m always partially listening for the ping that means a new email, the buzz of the muted cell phone, the post on the Facebook page. So here’s a goal, to be implemented right now: I will make zones in my life where electronic communications cannot intrude. The early morning hours, before work and before necessity mandates one hand on the keyboard, can be a thoughtful time; the hour between 8 and 9 PM, when the family tends to gather, will no longer be an ‘Uh huh, uh huh’ time of distracted focus.

And if I can wrestle these two hours–two small but sacred hours–into ‘total focus’ times, maybe, just maybe, that can be expanded. And maybe I’ll connect more with myself…

****

I’m wrestling with Kabat-Zinn’s discussion of identity. He uses the image of a business, a big corporation–proposing that the identity depends on the functioning of each component–from the clerks in the mail room to the head honchos in the big corner offices with lots of windows. The identity, the being of the entity, shifts as people come and others leave, as mood and illness and bursts of productivity or inspiration change daily patterns.

That’s true with each of us, too, he points out–each cell that contributes to our total being does so without awareness of the whole. Our body functions like a corporation, with separate jobs being handled by separate components. If one’s productivity changes, the body as a whole is affected.

Perhaps a more through awareness of our bodies could change our total perception of the world and our place in it…

Emptiness is where this discussion is headed, and this is a concept that will take some struggle, for me–that idea of letting go my concepts of myself. Self-concept is such a concern in this land; don’t we believe that a good one is a personal necessity? Exploration needed; I approach page 200 of Coming to Our Senses feeling like it’s a muscularly thoughtful endeavor!

*****

I needed some good story-telling to balance out all the challenges Kabat-Zinn poses, so I grabbed up a paperback by Edith Nesbit. I bought the two-book volume after reading a novel based on Nesbit’s life–in that book, the author proposed that the fictional writer’s craft supported not only her family but her husband’s infidelities. The non-fiction bios I’ve read support that–the Nesbits had an unconventional and controversial life, to be sure.

Her work, however, remains vital and readable, and great fantasy writers–CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling, Philip Pullman, are a few Sanford Schwartz invokes in his introduction–have been inspired by reading Nesbit.

Back when I first bought the book I read the first offering, Five Children and It, and I saved The Enchanted Castle for later. Later finally arrived, and I rescued the book from a dusty shelf, delighting myself by finding a BookWoman bookmark my friend Marsha gave me for a birthday many many years ago, and set to reading.

I can see Lewis’s later premise in this book–two brothers and a sister, Jerry, Jimmy, and Kathleen, are forced to spend the summer holidays away from parents and family. In Lewis, it’s the war that forces the children to stay with strangers in the English countryside; in Nesbit, a cousin’s measles makes home off limits. Jerry (who narrates life with himself as the hero–“The young explorers,” he intones at the very beginning of the adventure, “dazzled at first by the darkness of the cave, could see nothing.” He continues, “…their dauntless leader” –Jerry himself, of course– “whose eyes had grown used to the dark while the clumsy forms of the others were bunging up the entrance, had made a discovery”) takes charge and organizes their explorations.

The children are staying at Kathleen’s school; Mademoiselle, the schoolmistress, has allowed herself to be thoroughly charmed by Jerry. And so the children have unprecedented freedom to wander and explore and, of course, to meet an unusual friend, find a place of enchantment, and to get into trouble. There’s a magic ring and unsettling consequences; there is an invisibility spell, statues that come to life, and wishes that come true at unforeseen cost. There is a wonderfully happy resolution to an old, old sadness we couldn’t predict when the story begins.

Unique and interesting, Nesbit’s books are, and the reading leaves me adding a biography of the ground-breaking writer to the list of things I want to read once my shelves have been read.

Will that be soon? Even this year? I’m dubious. I confess to picking up two more books during a weekend foray to Half Price Books–Pat Conroy’s My Losing Season, and Marcia Willett’s Second Time Around. Just when progress has been made, I listen to nature abhorring the vacuum of space on a shelf, and I fill that space back up.

And next week, we’ll be working the Library’s buck-a-bag book sale. As Jerry might say, “Will our hero resist temptation? Or will she trundle home bearing unread volumes in capacious paper bags?”

I will report back with the bitter truth.

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