Friday, August 27, 2010

repose in action.

That, according to Jules Verne, is how a physiognomist would describe the face (and therefore character) of Phileas Fogg.

I was reading Around the World in 80 Days to my boys this evening and that line stopped me cold. I kept reading and re-reading it, my brain churning furiously, my gut twisting in that hollow way that usually signifies a) an epiphany is coming and b) I'm not going to like it.

"Repose in action", Verne goes on to say, is "a quality of those who act rather than talk."

Yep! There it is! Epiphany! Don't like it!

Because, much as I hate to admit it, much as I have always aspired to be one of those elegantly sedate-yet-effective doers, repose in action is a quality that eludes me.

I do take refuge in action, and often. Outings to the park, the woods, the ocean, the store are my go-to remedy for bored children or midday blahs. I am prone to bouts of superhuman physical activity (lawn to raised-bed-garden plus pond in one day, and all with a baby on my back!). It is the efficacy of the action, the economy and deliberation, that I aspire to. At the end of the day, I'd like my actions to have been effective, a means to an end rather than a distraction. I'd like my actions to deliberately, carefully, intelligently mete out my life force in service to carefully considered values and objectives.

As I grow older I become daily more aware that the meaning in my life is not measured in glamorous work or grandiose gestures. It is in the cumulative impact of small daily choices: the decision to build a new lampshade of handmade paper and bamboo rather than buy one at Target when the old one cracks. The decision to wake thirty minutes earlier every day to meditate. The decision to take advantage of an unexpected evening off to practice violin instead of watch a movie.

It disturbs me to find that I have increasingly been taking the lazy way out. I sleep in rather than meditate. I read a mystery rather than take the time to record ideas in my journal. I let Xir watch Walking with Dinosaurs for the umpteenth time rather than make the effort to set up the paints and make art with him. The scary thing here is that, even though it is the quality of my life---and, by extension, my children's lives---that suffer from this laziness, that is not enough to stop me. The laziness is stronger than the desire for a better life. And how, pray tell, does one address THAT? The prescription would seem to be diligence, industry, but if laziness is the problem how on earth is one to miraculously sprout enough diligence to overcome it?

Two methods spring to mind. I was recently reminded that in co-counseling, the idea of the brain aging and becoming less flexible with time is considered hogwash. It is built-up emotional baggage, say RC enthusiasts, that causes these incursions of entropy. If we take the time to release built-up emotions and clear our heads of distress, we can come to life refreshed and ready. Our intelligence can respond directly to the issue at hand without having to sort through years of accumulated games.

Or, there is the more direct route. Benjamin Franklin used to prescribe himself one virtue at a time--sincerity, say, or industry--and steadfastly try to incorporate it into his every action, recording his successes and failures every night in his journal. Only when he had gone several days in a row with no failures at all would he allow himself to move on to the next virtue.

For some reason I find this method more appealing. Industry through industriousness! Diligence by means of diligence! I'm going to try it. I'm going to diligently, sincerely, industriously pursue repose-in-action.

And if obstinate, thoughtless repetition should fail to bring my actions in line with my values, I can always fall back on dealing with those messy emotional patterns. Ugh. I've got that hollow-gut feeling again...

1 comment:

  1. love the Ben Franklin story. superpower: zoom back in time and watch B.F. at work. Was he born destined to be a Big Deal or was it chance and circumstance?