“If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work.
The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable.”
~ C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I chose the Lewis quotation, because my experience has come to be something of its opposite. In these times, work has become an awaited distraction. The days are difficult to distinguish from each other. “Remote-work” from my apartment, along with journaling, helps me to know one day from the previous, or the next. But I surely agree with the second sentence in the Lewis quote. For me it is a combination of pursuing knowledge, along with distracting myself from intensely unfavorable conditions. Certainly, I much prefer studying in pleasant circumstances; but as things are presently, the intensity of my continuing pursuits in philosophy amount to an escape portal.
Rather than pound away at all matters obstructive, I’ll continue attempting at the healthier diversions. Under the constraints of quarantining, it’s even more important to think about open ended ideas and to look forward. Journaling daily, I keep up my commitment to honest writing, and that has to mean plenty of venting. Even throughout life before March 16th, my journal has been the safest place for complaints and criticisms. That in itself is healthy diversion. The pages of grousing become launch surfaces for my written ambitions. And writing my hopes is the foundation of my healthier brand of diversion. These times combine an erosion of horizons, with a closing-in of community and mobility channels. I try to force these things back open again, by studying and by writing letters. These are humble and subtle endeavors, but these are movements toward the times beyond this crucible. Investments that strengthen others and self anticipate the sunrise.
Based on persisting conditions, it looks as though curfews and lockdowns are being prematurely lifted. Though I still keep those out-of-my-apartment excursions to the barest minimum errands, behind a mask, I do make sure to walk and look up to the skies. Looking to the nearby ocean, looking upward and outward, I’m trying to remember the vast world. Finding good things to ponder takes a lot of effort. It means seeking very intently. It also means being content with modest blessings, as long they are positive. Just as I’m finding myself fed anew by my numerous years of studies and careful notes, I’m also unexpectedly rewarded by the depth of my spiritual formation through monastic life. The Divine Hours are always part of my days- though not slavishly. So are vigils, meditations, times of silence, and my appreciation for simplicity. Though I did not learn this easily, solitude can indeed be savoured and has its own healthful sense of completeness. The quiet caused by the pandemic is not a peaceful silence: it is tense, anxious, and with a strange void prevailing. By contrast the inward life, founded upon silence, becomes a healthy distraction. At times, quarantining wavers into hermitage, into inviting contemplation.
This time last year, I was at Weston Priory for eight days of unstructured retreat. The monastic community has taught me much about appreciating simple pleasures. Simple, yet eloquent. Notice the progress of the natural elements- how the light, air, and trees evolve and transform with time. Taste the victuals and beverages unhurriedly, and know what they are. Observe the marks produced when writing. Meditate upon the words sent to friends, and even in business correspondence. These times have dropped barricades across so many turns, making diversions necessary.
Through social outlets, many among us refer to things they miss. We can each make interesting lists, and I certainly have. That is itself a diversion. For this moment, I’ll just mention how I greatly miss my usual outlet of making plans for travels and visits- near and far. The action of planning sojourns and assembling provisions has been one of my best healthy distractions through many years of difficult situations. Forward-looking has now taken an entirely spiritual dimension. My reflex continues to be one that reaches toward open ends. Try as I might, life has been forced into a much more humbled state of affairs. In an earlier essay, I wrote about my self-coined daily mantra, that “I’m fine; Stay the course.” Another phrase I hear myself frequently say is: “Everything has to wait.” This is how I address all those desired and postponed plans. It’s how I console myself about what cannot happen for the undetermined time being, thus distracting myself from staring at the barricades. Everything has to wait. No mountain trails in Vermont this summer. Instead, the trails are nearby, circuitous, and labyrinthine. My instinct is to soothe, as it is also to continue pursuing improvement. Faith says that conditions will not always be unfavorable, and also that my studies will generate future sources.