I am aware that I am constantly at work on my choices, especially the big one, my constant re-choosing to be the person I have decided to be. To do otherwise would lead me into insecurity, discontinuity, a major loss of identity. Choosing and re-choosing is my stability and home base. Each day I am going places, from one conversation to another, one project to the next, but underneath the shallower choices that allow me to accomplish these feats, I am constantly re-choosing to be exactly who and what I have been. It’s my gyroscope at work.
So the question is what might cause this gyroscope to stop, and to make an entirely different choice, one that is downright inconsistent with my interior version of the laws of physics. The standard answer, I believe, would be “obstacles;” that is, walls, barriers, untoward events and disasters, sand in the machine. I change only because I must.
But we are not gyroscopes, really, are we? We do need stability, but we also need to step outside that stability, that “reality.” We go to new places for all sorts of reasons, for the adventure of it, the newness, the fun.
And for meaning.
Meaning is any quiet thing that can knock you for a loop.
I was up in the hills in Colorado a long time ago. The day was gray with low clouds as I walked far off the trail into a deep pine forest. Dry underfoot, the only sound was me walking. Otherwise, the place was absolutely silent. But then, suddenly and out of nowhere, the wind came pouring through the branches of the pines, tearing at them fiercely. I felt a shudder run through me. There was something in that sound, melancholy and ominous. I turned my face into it. It was not cold, but it seemed to enclose a timeless foreboding, of what I’ll never know. After a few minutes, the wind receded and the silence returned. I was thinking about that when suddenly a huge black crow set off from the branches above my head, raucously cawing. In the emptiness, that sound, too, shook me. Wind. A crow. Well, you could say it meant nothing, just my imagination at work. Except that it all seemed to come from outside, from nature, and I’ve remembered that moment for thirty years.
Maybe our ancestors did not struggle with meaning the way we in our “modern” society do. Meaning was all around them.
A lot of people right now, because of the recession, are wondering what they are going to do. There’s a great deal of sand in the machine. So it is good to remember that it isn’t just the sand that causes us to change direction. It’s not just the obstacles, it’s also an inner thing. It is meaning that creates the genuine change, and learning to follow it. It’s the wind and also what we make of it. It’s nature that touches us, and who can tell, really, if that’s something outside or inside. Nature is still with us underneath the day-to-day events that noisily stream past. And it is also us.
All I know is that when I heard the crow, the gyroscope stopped turning for a moment, and that was exactly the instant I turned around and headed for home.