Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Hiatus and Happiness

I've been in an odd frame of mind for the past month.  I've barely read anything.

This is not like me.  In fact, I can only think of one other time--the summer after I finished my Ph.D.--when I went through a similar phase.

I started off great-guns in May, with a pile of books that I was all set to work my way through, and then little by little, listlessness drifted in, and I've set them all aside, even though I can't say that I'm not actually enjoying them--when I pick them up and read them.

I'm also finding it hard to get motivated to write.  I look at pages I've written and think, "oh, yes, I can fix that a bit..." or think, "Oh, I need to write that up..." but then the thought trails off and I just don't feel like doing it.

But I don't mind gardening and knitting and biking and swimming, so I don't think it's run-of-the-mill laziness taking over.  I find myself paying attention to small things--things that are said or done or felt in small-scale ways--instead of feeling the need to push through to something "more."

I think some of it may be the after-effect of a very cold winter marked by all kinds of ill health on my part.  I had more health problems this winter than in many a winter past--than ever, actually--and I think there's a part of me that is just enjoying feeling good and enjoying life without all kinds of pressure to accomplish something "substantive."

I also think I've simply had a busy year.  I did a lot of work last summer and during the academic year--several substantial projects, several new courses to teach--and I think I'm feeling like, "enough!" for a bit.  Time to slow down and take it all in.

I'm rationalizing the reading part of it by claiming that, in another month or two, it'll be too hot to do anything except read, so I'll catch up on it then.

But will I?  I kind of think that I simply haven't found an idea that fuels and fires my thinking and makes me want to read more, so I'm simply paging through things, waiting for that to happen.

I've found small bits that have interested me.  Like this picture that appeared on The Greater Good website.


You may have seen it already: last fall, an angry mob of bikers attacked a man in an SUV, dragged him from the car and began beating him in front of his wife and 2-year-old child. 

The man whose image is circled didn't know what had happened.  He simply knew that no one else was doing anything, so he stepped in and told the attackers to "stop it" and "let it go."

I've been thinking a lot about this image because what he did in a moment so terrifying was so surprisingly simple.  A few simple words stopped a scene of escalating violence, and reminded the attackers of ... their humanity.

I've been thinking that maybe that's the best thing we can do for each other sometimes: offer reminders of our own humanity when life gets crazy.  It's such a rare gift to be able to stop in the midst of the insanity and see what really matters--and what doesn't.

I like this 2004 TED Talk by Matthieu Ricard, a former molecular biologist who is now a Buddhist monk.  It's entitled, "The Habits of Happiness."

Enjoy.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."