Monday, April 20, 2009
We are besieged by the images surrounding us, and all too often overrun and enslaved by them. We see those stunningly serene photographs, of a Japanese garden, say, or dawn over a mountain lake, and we want it; not what is shown, per se, but what is felt, though the distinction is lost on us these days. So we go out in search of that feeling, represented in our minds by a picture which froze a temporary conduit of peace. We hike, climb, run, and these days even fly the world over. We scour the guidebooks, set our cameras to burst mode in hopes of a “lucky capture,” and race against our limited time to find stillness by lightly sprinting from one sight to the next, like window-shopping with loose change or visiting a buffet on a half-full stomach; we can’t afford to commit to anything exclusively. We are mystified that we’re never able to grasp what we came to find, that the city we saw in that movie looks more like a movie set, that the pristine wilderness is filled with bugs and tourists, that seeing the perfect picture through our lenses doesn’t bring our spirits closer to it. We seem to really believe that quantity will bring us quality, that given enough 25 minute visits sooner or later one moment will magically open and reveal eternity. The picture may be captured, an escape from routine may be achieved, but like wisps of cotton candy these can only tease at substance; and we know, in those moments when all attempts at distraction fall short, that we are starving. The irony is clear, that the deep peace we seek is exactly what cannot be found in the shallowly ferocious way we hunt it. The tragedy might be less clear, that what we catch whiffs of through glossy magazines and flashing screens is not something to seek, but something to claim. The longing we feel from that glassy mountain lake cannot be captured, it comes with stillness and deep breaths and quiet rejection of the frantic pace of life (a pace that most travel embraces). Real purification and serenity is exactly what we don’t have time for, and in our hurry to find it we rush past every opportunity to stop and claim it. But cannot the same be said of peace no matter where we are? Sitting on the floor in the middle of a silent room, eyes closed, breath deep, petty complications put aside, can we not feel peace, touch eternity, taste the renewal that all the travel agencies try to sell us? Perhaps the view, once we open our eyes, of a cluttered room will not compare to that quiet lake, or the interruptions might be a crying baby rather than a startled deer, but the moment, the stillness, the renewal, is the same. Wherever we are, we must know what we seek, rejecting all cheap (or expensive!) substitutes and flashy counterfeits, and claim it firmly. No more desperate snapshops, no more escapes to new cages, no more dreaming of shadows. It’s time to be where we are, be who we are, and be at peace.