Empty Space

Last week I reached up onto one of my bookshelves and cracked open a book I’ve had for years and years, have carried from one home to the next, but have yet to really open. Truth be told, I bought it entirely on a whim, cruising a second hand store, noticing the gorgeous green cover; the title with my initials, Ka; the evocative subtitle, Stories of the Mind and Gods of India. All for only $11.

Finally opening it, years later, I found on the first page, an astonishing paragraph:

Garuda flew and remembered. It. was only a few days since he had hatched form his egg and already so much had happened. Flying was the best way of thinking, of thinking things over. Who was the first person he’d seen? His mother, Vinata. Beautiful in her tininess, she sat on a stone, watching his egg hatch, determinedly passive. Hers was the first eye Garuda held in his own. And at once he knew that that eye was his own. Deep inside was an ember that glowed in the breeze. The same he could feel burning beneath his own feathers.

~ Roberto Calasso

Oh what imagination! The consciousness of a bird who has just hatched from an egg!

Immediately, I wanted to dive into this book, into this world with such soaring imagination… and yet, I know I currently am struggling to maintain the concentration for deep reading.

People who’ve known me a long time know what an avid reader I’ve always been…stacks of books forever by my bedside, several books, both fiction and non, on the go at once much of the time… both parents are English profs, what can I say.

But I have lost this capacity for deep reading – maybe it’s been gradual over the last couple of years? I did really notice my stunted attention span last year at work – I found that, seated by myself in a little dark room for hours on end, day after day, I’d spend so much of that time on the internet. While waiting for a render to complete, I’d check my email, and while that was loading, have a look at my phone, checking for new texts, notifications.

There’s an increasing amount of writing about this problem in the population generally – the addiction to the dopamine hits, the living out of shallow parts of the brain, the inability to access deep focus and concentration.

And then on top of everything, the pandemic… the doom scrolling, the obligatory news information check ins lasting hours longer than was truly necessary.

So, for the moment I’ve moved to audio books, listened to in extended quiet moments with no other stimulants (except maybe the lake or a tree). And I’ve been making the studio a wifi free zone. No phone allowed.

My desk there now has notebooks for writing, but also a few books to read, a few books about writing, so that I have the option of spending time just quietly with my thoughts, or even with the thoughts of otherss…

We can’t fully participate in the mystery of life if, as soon as we approach the depths where ideas reside, our own anxiety, negativity, and self-doubt make breathing difficult. If the depths unnerve us, we’ll search for answers in safe places, where the air is plentiful and the sun scares demons away. But the answers we seek can’t be found in those sun-drenched places. We really must dive.

Eric Maisel

Right. This is why it’s important.

Lens Artists – Negative Space