Saturday, November 14, 2020

Surging Benevolence

I've tried, fitfully, to offer this observation before, but it's slippery. The problem is that it resembles more banal observations. The miraculous part is subtly elusive (the miraculous part's always subtly elusive, isn't it? We expect miracles to involve, say, mass drownings amid parted waters, when real miracles lurk in the grout and are easily missed).

I stretch out my back every day by lying on the floor and pressing the soles of my feet into the wall. It's fussy to get my positioning right. The first few hundred times I needed to back up a little, or scoot forward a bit.

If I were a more serious person, I'd have marked the floor or taken note of where I needed to position myself. I'd have trained myself. But I conserve my attention for more important matters (e.g. perfectly toasting bagels). I never tried to perfect this because I don't mind backing up or scooting forward. I'd happily have done so forever. I live to scoot forward!

But after a few hundred iterations, I always lie down in the prefect spot...without trying. Without having ever tried, even the tiniest bit.

There was no effort to improve. I never marked the floor, or catalogued any adjustment tricks. From my perspective, the world improved, not me. It's like a gift. I lie down and the wall perfectly obliges me. A benevolent wall has been added to my circle of friends.

At age 57, this effect has manifested in ways too numerous and diverse to catalog. I never expected aging to provide the sumptuous experience of an effortlessly improving world; of surging benevolence. So many tiny hitches and shortfalls resolve themselves of their own accord - mostly below conscious recognition, so the aggregate easing is delightfully impossible to account for.

I've worked hard at many things, and can take credit for all sorts of improvements. But such improvements have improved me, not the world. And that's nowhere near as good. What's the benefit of staunchly improving within a seemingly devolving world? Isn't it more alluring to sloppily let go into a world growing increasingly benign and solicitous?

Iteration (repetition of life's mundanities) delivers gifts. I don't mean the purposeful iteration which spurs quality, per my explanation here:
Every time you cook something, criticize it like it's a restaurant. And next time, make tiny adjustments to ensure it comes closer to your pref. Think Grand Canyon: macro progress via cumulative myriad micro-iterations.
Again, that's self-improvement. World improvement comes from stupid rote iteration; iteration sans aspiration (or, most interestingly of all, with just the tiniest feathery touch of aspiration, which yogis refer to as samyama). No one ever told me that the walls would settle into perfect position as a gift of aging.

There are, of course, more widely-discussed benefits of aging, but they always struck me as apocryphal. As I once wrote,
As a kid, I never understood the "wisdom of old age". Sure, old people had specific skills and narrow areas of expertise, but I rarely spotted much wisdom. Most continued to pointlessly shadow box with themselves, refusing to love the universe unless it gave them precisely their expected results. Like everyone else, they were entranced in toxic foolishness, and the only difference was their impenetrably thick crust of irritability, built up over a lifetime of frozen perspective. Some wisdom!
Same for "experience". By the time you're 35 doing whatever you do, you're probably pretty competent at it (or never will be). 60 year old plumbers and pianists aren't, as a rule, better at any of that stuff. We plateau.

But, yet again, that's self-improvement, not world-improvement. World improvement occurs in the grout; in the tendons. Unless you've wasted your allotted decades feeding feelings of victimhood, anxiety or depression, occluding serendipitous progress (and any cognizance of this progress) and paying scant attention to this beautiful world as it actually is (as opposed to the conceptual world we frame as an oppressor), it all gets better as your toes more and more effortlessly touch the wall.

Who could possibly blame old people for their notoriously shrunken comfort zones? Outside one's luxury palace of mega=iteration, the intoxicating easefulness swiftly dries up.

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