The Worst Thing We Do

August 20, 2009 at 4:37 am (By Amba)

— is make up a story that explains, for us, how life is and how it should be, a story the logic and form of which so captivates and convinces us, so satisfies and seduces us, that we prefer it to actual life.  (Is this why we seem to prefer a screen to the real world in front of our eyes?)  These stories become the greatest obstacles to living.  Forlorn fidelity to them makes us miss many a chance and kill many a spontaneous response.  Through their coarse grid much of life escapes; draped in their fine mesh we drown.  A mind is a terrible thing.

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8 Comments

  1. Donna B. said,

    “Through their coarse grid much of life escapes; draped in their fine mesh we drown.”

    Made me think of Jonathan Edwards.

  2. amba12 said,

    Huh! Really?

  3. david said,

    Made me think of Shunryu Suzuki. And Monkey Mind. See also today’s post by Richard Lawrence Cohen.

  4. trooper york said,

    Made me think of getting sand in my bathing suit at Coney Island. Man I hate that.

  5. Donna B. said,

    okay, I’m strange. We all knew that, right? Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God scared me sinless for at least two days and those words prompted the recall of some of the strange imagery he used.

    I didn’t say it made sense!!

  6. Ennui said,

    But we need the stories to provide meaning, situate facts. I remember reading, some time back, an analysis of nursery rhymes written in the sixties. The author recounted her observations of children at play. The “disadvantaged” kids sprang quickly and silently to the top of the monkey bars. The white middle class kids moved less quickly and easily, to her eye, inventing stories as they went (“When I get to the top I’ll throw thunderbolts” or whatever). Her conclusion was that the “stories” were a kind of (almost physical) weight … but weight isn’t always a bad thing (think of an anchor). On her analysis, (she was very much of the early sixties whitebread do gooder breed) the disadvantaged kids had motion without meaning.

    Also, think about a walk through a modern art museum. If you don’t know what it’s reacting against it’s just all lines and colors and commodes and so forth. Bad interior decorating.

    Culture is a lens. And an individual story (I am supposed to be this or that) can at least act as an anchor. It’s a way for the present self to tie itself to the past and future selves. Cut those ties with care.

  7. amba12 said,

    I take your point. Certainly we navigate through life by stories. It’s almost the definition of a human being: we’re the narrative animal. But I’ve seen too many people (myself included) cling to a story while some huge piece of life passed them by because it didn’t fit the story. There was something called “narrative therapy” which maybe was about doing therapy on the story, allowing it to open up, change and evolve. Not sure. You know, “the map is not the territory.” We are often the equivalent of Creationists in our own lives, clinging to the notion that the earth is 5000 years old because we’re emotionally attached to it. We can revise the maps, and leave large “terra incognita” spaces for life to fill in.

    The “American Dream” idea encourages us to get a story and cling to it and force it into fruition. That’s our idea of “success.” It gives us somewhere to go and allows us to (necessarily) exclude some of the welter, but sometimes life has a better idea and we refuse it. You see this a lot in love — people let really good mates get away because they’re fixated on one real or unreal person, or some prescription for who they’re supposed to marry and what love is supposed to be like.

  8. Ennui said,

    people let really good mates get away because they’re fixated on one real or unreal person, or some prescription for who they’re supposed to marry and what love is supposed to be like.

    True. With the complementary case being the 40 something spouse who goes off script in order to find himself or herself (I’m looking at you, Mark Sanford).

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