Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.


Those long hot Balinese silences left me relishing words in a way I have not for some time. And here, now, home, I find myself still swimming in the heady words of writers and thinkers like, yes, Pema Chodron below, but moreso, namely, somehow, tonight, (this morning?), David Foster Wallace.

On DFW's tragic death three years ago, several media outlets republished the strikingly bleak and refreshingly honest commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. I found myself drawn to it tonight, drawn to its remarkably yogic and Buddhist emphasis on choice and the control of the mind. Though DFW writes not in classically Buddhist or meditative lingo, the mind-training he speaks of -- the revelatory and fundamental project of paying attention, the learning to be present with details, the difficult practice of stepping out of oneself and applying compassion to the way we view one another, in spite of our own initial revulsion and impatience and disinterest -- in what is, really, of course, the recognition of the self as a construct, that bleak understanding that our myopic ego-driven vision is in fact a cloudy approximation of what is real and true and lasting -- well, it's all so very profoundly rich and gut-wrenching and true and real and necessary.

And I know people will revisit DFW's stuff and read his writing and see it only, largely, through the shrouded lens of his eventual suicide, but I can't help but relish, and wish, and want to share, the profundity of the things he's saying, the ways in which he calls out the bullshit and puts words to the experiences most of us rarely speak, his uncanny ability to make real what is often left unsaid. And it's not just the jet lag and the post-yoga-retreat wankiness and the exaggerated post-travel perspective suddenly harping on, opening to this, I promise. It's the breadth and the depth and the grey beauty of this:
As I'm sure you guys know by now, it is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotised by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about "the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master". ....And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.
and this,
But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she's not usually like this. Maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.

Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.
and this:
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving.... The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
Whew. Go. Read. Pay attention. For your own sakes.

David Foster Wallace, in his own words: "This is Water"

Comments

Sarah McCarron said…
i cannot tell you what timely, lucid, cut-through-the-myopic-fog reminder this has been. if ever there was a town whose entire infrastructure fostered "the so-called real world of men and money and power.... in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self" - that town would be Los Angeles. i am currently writing for a television show and live every day in this delicious and horrid ambivalence between the genuine joy of collaborative story-telling, and the planetary collision of massive egos desperately trying to affirm a notion of "self" as DEFINED by success and achievement. And I am grateful for this environment, because its heightened aggression even more quickly illuminates the trappings of the human mind. For it is everywhere. Not just in Hollywood. And the imperative of story telling is, paradoxically, the saving grace of this industry: that hopefully one can cultivate and nurture and tell a story that transcends. Story has the possibility of illuminating for us the very trappings we all share and suffer through in loneliness. And by illuminating, bringing us into the creative magnificence of present awareness.

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