the literary life 9/3/09
Today I wonder if I'll ever make it to Japan again. I wonder if I'll ever visit Prague, or even see Pakistan again. The last time I visited Lahore, the city of my birth, was over ten years ago.
When I was younger, I thought I would always be traveling to distant places, returning to places I once visited. I might have been about ten the first and only time I visited Tokyo. Back then, every visit seemed a first visit with others to follow. Now I wonder.
I even wonder with books. I used to finish a novel in my early twenties and think, I'll probably read this again. Now I'm not so sure. There is so much to read. Time moves faster than it ever has. And I seem to be getting less sleep.
With aging, the way I experience time has changed. The way I experience the world has changed. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It just is. Maybe it's what happens when adulthood settles in. There's a sense of loosening one's grip on things. For the first time this year I've sensed myself loosening my grip. The irony is that I still feel quite ambitious. I WANT to read, to write, to be actively a part of the world. A couple of years ago, when I first became heavily involved in Buddhist thinking, I cultivated a sense of detachment with things. According to the noble truths, attachment and desire lead to suffering. I tried to cultivate the opposite of ambition, whatever that means. But in detachment life seemed to lose its zest a bit. Then I thought about the benefits of attachment. And I found myself getting ambitious again.
The strange thing is that something happened during those years I was meditating frequently, reading about dharma, and focusing on my breath. Some kind of permanent shift occurred because in my attachment I am still detached. It's kind of like I care about accomplishing things but seem to be less fixated on outcomes. Some things work and others don't. The disappointment, though real, is fleeting. The joy when something gets published, for instance, is awesome but also temporary. This doesn't mean I don't get frustrated or fed up. It just means I seem to be more okay with it. I still meditate and read dharma books, but I see dharma as one element of my life. For a while it was THE element. Now, in addition to Buddhist texts, I read poetry and novels and newspapers and blogs and comic books.
Maybe I will make it back to Tokyo and Lahore. Maybe I'll reread those books I planned to reread back in college. Time may be moving faster, but it also feels richer. And I still surprise myself. The past swells behind me, the future a mystery. I tackle the same questions again and again. My mind recycles similar thoughts, similar ambitions. What might be happening is that I define ambition differently than I once used to. Ambition used to mean accomplishing what I wanted. Now it means, in part, wanting what I accomplish. It means voicing wishes without clutching to these wishes.
Meanwhile, there are sunsets to watch and salads to prepare. The days are ripe with colors and tastes. There's no need to get singularly caught in the net of extraordinary ambitions. Can wanting a slice of cake for dessert be almost the same thing as wanting a book published, as flying seven thousand miles to vacation in history?