Thursday, June 28, 2007

Better late than never? Better not even late.

With the untimely death of Glen, and the equally untimely death of Alan Harrington a decade ago, and with me writing Bodies and as these things go, here are a few thoughts, few of which qualify as cheerful, but all of which I consider pertinent enough to communicate. Of course, my fiction does anyway, but often it's hidden to all but those willing to see below the surface layer(s).

In Peter Jackson's version of Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf, at one point, notes that he's over three thousand years old and nevertheless right now he's running out of time (to do something that needs to be done). There is a very basic truth in this and it is that no matter how old we get, and even if we as individuals lived to thousands of years, we are always running out of time to do things. For everything has to be done in its time, in order to have it done 'right' or for it to have any effect or for it to make a difference to our lives and those of others.

Of course, sometimes it's more 'timely' to tarry and wait for a better time, but by and large that argument only serves as a pathetic excuse for our continual failure to do the things that need to be done now and to endeavor to do them right. For if we don't... If we don't, time will run out on us. And one day there will be no time to do this particular thing that we should have done, and all we're left with it bitter regret. Or with nothing. For when it is too late it is indeed too late. And while there often are second chances, and third and fourth, with every day that passes there's one less, or many more less, and besides we never know just how many chances we still have left, because we really don't know to begin with, just how large the pool of 'chances' is. As a general rule, it's probably much, much smaller than we think.

In a rather shocking kind of way that recent death proved that. Time runs out. Even if you live to be 5000, time still runs out, for tomorrow what might have been possible today need not be anymore. It doesn't matter how long you're going to live. Clocks tick. Every day the sun rises means that the previous day has been taken out of what's left of your life.

Let me use a martial arts metaphor to explain the way this should influence one's behavior:

When our visitor from Australia was here some months back, we did a practice that had to do with judging spatial relationships and movement. Two people, from opposite ends of the dojo, armed with wooden swords, would start walking toward each other. At some stage there would be a draw and an exchange of simulated cuts and parrys counter cuts and so on.

The point was that both participants were to use the time closing the distance to position themselves appropriately for the best outcome for themselves. Usually, the way one thinks about this, when you're at a far distance, you feel you have ample time to figure things out. So you start walking, with the urgency of working out how to take the next step and time one's movements increasing as the combatants get closer. Our dojo is over 150 feet long end to end, so there appears to be lots of distance and time to figure things out. See what the other guy does and how he moves; adjust accordingly; plan as you go.

The point our visitor was trying to make was that this urgency should not be allowed to 'ramp up' as it were. It should be there, full blast, at the moment you start walking. One's awareness of the task should be fully turned on immediately, despite there apparently being heaps of time and/or distance at the start.

He's right. And, in a purely martial arts sense and the context of that little game, I understand why. I will not explain how and why, because it needs to be demonstrated physically, for 'doing' in this instance creates understanding; and besides, if I told you I'd have to kill you and all that. But when I figured it out, I realized just how simple the effect was—and yet how utterly decisive. It was a lesson I shall not forget.

In life in general we also have a tendency to see things with greater urgency as they approach, especially in time. It's what happens inevitably, merely because one gets older and time to do things, anything, runs out, or at least opportunities pass by, never to be repeated, no matter how long one lives. But one wasn't ready, and so they whizz past. It's been said that 'luck' is when opportunity meets preparation. I believe this to be true.

It is difficult to maintain urgency without seeing a deadline approaching and getting panicky. This is because of habituation, which is the bane of our lives, at the same time as it is a protective mechanism. We have to learn to fight habituation in the things that matter. This is the solution to the problem discussed endlessly by Colin Wilson in much of his writings. Habituation is both a neurological and psychological phenomenon. It's what stops us from keeping our attention turned full-ON when we start walking toward the enemy—which in life is any example of what you might call a 'life-deadline'.

The sudden-death example of Glen should remind us all that there are deadlines we are not and cannot aware of. They could lie in wait at any time and at any place.

How to deal with these? Well, you can't. You don't know what you don't know, though you know that you don't know, and that must needs be sufficient. But you can adjust your life as if you were aware of them, by living consciously as much as you can. All the time. Be aware. Really do make it clear to yourself, every time you get up, that this could be the last day of your life and that the next heartbeat could be your last—and that the deadlines you know are looming require you dealing with them today. Not tomorrow. There is no guarantee of there being 'time enough' to do what needs to be done—even if, as The Immortalist cover declares, 'you may never die'.

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