Saturday, February 23, 2013

In defense of things staid, slow, stitched

Lately, whether it's a growth-focused state-of-the-union address or a bandwidth-obsessed commercial or a line of got-important-places-to-be customers in line for this or that, the messages are blurring together into a monolithic one that leaves me somewhere between weary and panicked. I often feel disillusioned about the increasing emphasis on things like multitasking, perception, innovation, and efficiency, and a general disgust for our economic system as I learn more about its associated inequalities and indignities.

Probably I am quite late to the party on all of this. Coming to grips with "the way the world works" seems like a life lesson that hits many in their teens or early twenties. But as I watch my third decade rapidly draw to a close, I know I have a ways yet to go as far as accepting and working within (and against) various disturbing realities and constraints. I've struggled to write, and I think that has something to do with this. It can all be a bit paralyzing.

But if Mother Theresa was right about anything, it's the idea that we can do no great things--only small things, with great love--and whenever a frustrating combination of powerlessness, sadness, and anger is present, I think I'd do well to remember that thought of hers. Try to do small things, with love--and, if I may add an addendum to her wise advice--without thinking so much. Thich Nhat Hanh's words have helped me, too, when I feel overwhelmed with things to do or full of dread:

"To my mind, the idea that doing the dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you are not doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in warm water, it really is not so bad. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have a cup of tea, the time will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle ... If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully. With the cup in my hands I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavor of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment."

Looking back through the photos on my phone today, I realized that, along with walking and biking a lot, I've done much more crocheting (and some tatting) this past year than I have in a very long time. On a day when my to-do list would appear to be growing far longer than any possible list of accomplishments, I'm taking some comfort in these images of completed projects, however small or ornamental they may be in the grand scheme of things. Part of their value, in my mind, is their blatant inefficiency and time-consuming quality. They are a quiet protest against the impatient spin of this mad world, a small departure from the grid that helps me to simply be.