Freeze the time

Our lives get busier as we navigate ourselves through both real and virtual worlds, juggling time between our responsibilities, commitments, work, social and various web activities.

When we send a text or an email, we expect instantaneous response. I do feel antsy when there is a network problem and I cannot send off the email or upload a file for work. Wherever I go, availability of internet access is a prime consideration whenever I make a hotel booking for the family. Increasingly as a result of modern amenities, I become intolerant of inconveniences and discomfort. It is time to slow down.

 The web world holds the allure that  it presents immense possibilities; the line between what is real and what is not is blurred. Whether you are a conformist or a radical, we are all trapped in the world we think it is. As we are social beings, we  learn, we reinvent ourselves with a view to adapt to the constant changing landscapes around us .

I find myself multitasking hoping to maximize the time I have, I end up feeling unproductive and much less accomplished. To do a good job at anything, we need to have our heart and mind in the right place. Being mindful is essential but often I find that it is my subconsciousness that drives me through my tasks and it does not work well when my mind is not calm.

Whenever I feel antsy, I bake scones or some chocolate biscuits with an easy recipe found online. Baking can be therapeutic but not today. After an hour busying myself around, I usually feel a little lighter but not today. I was simply too distracted. I was going to make oatmeal cookies with a view to have them for breakfast during the week, I then changed my mind and made chocolate biscuits instead. Indecisiveness and fickle-mindedness are signs of a restless mind. As the sweet aroma of butter and cocoa permeated our pantry, I saw that the biscuits were spreading far too thin. I enjoy watching the dough cooking in the oven, but today, I knew it was going to be a flop. Perhaps I could have still taken them out and added more flour. My first three attempts with the recipe had turned out good but not the previous time when I made them. I thought I would make them again and then I realised that I had made the same mistake again. Now they are impossible to hold. I felt like making fresh ones but had the presence of mind not to and made the oatmeal cookies that I had initially wanted to make. The oatmeal cookies turned out OK. In examining the flop and agonizing about how I could have got it wrong again when the recipe is easy enough for kids and subsequently washing the cake pan to make the oatmeal cookies, I ended up spending hours not achieving much on a precious day off.

In  his  memoir  Nothing to be Frightened of Julian Barnes talks about death and mortality after having witnessed his parents’ decline as they advanced to their old age  and eventually passing. Here are some of the excerpts that strike a chord with me.

A question, and a paradox. Our history has seen the gradual if bumpy rise of individualism: from the animal herd, from the slave society, from the mass of uneducated units bossed by priest and king, to looser groups in which the individual has greater rights and freedoms-the right to pursue happiness, private thought, self- fulfillment, self- indulgence. At the same time, as we throw off the rules of priest and king, as science helps us understand the truer terms and conditions on which we live, as our individualism expresses itself in grosser and more selfish ways ( what is freedom for if not for that?) , we also discover that this individuality, or illusion of individuality, is less than we imagined. We discover, to our surprise, that as Dawkins memorably puts it, we are “ survival machines-robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” The paradox is that individualism-the triumph of free- thinking artists and scientists-has led us to a state of self-awareness in which we can now view ourselves as units of genetic obedience. My  adolescent notion of self-construction-that vaguely,Englishly,existentialist ego-hope of autonomy-could not have been further from the truth….’

That is the paradox; here is the question.We grow up; we trade in our old sense of wonder for a new one- wonder at the blind and fortuitous process which has blindly and fortuitously produced us; we don’t feel depressed by this, as some might, but “elated” as Dawkins himself is; we enjoy the things which Dawkins lists as making life worth living- music, poetry, sex, love(science)–while perhaps practicing the humorous resignation advocated by Somerset Maugham. We do all this, and do we get any better at dying? …’

Nothing To Be Frightened of is peppered with humour even on  serious subjects such as  faith, religious beliefs and death as Julian Barnes takes us masterfully through the  insights of various writers  and his musings. Julian Barnes writes,

“ If I called myself an atheist at twenty, and an agnostic at fifty and sixty, it isn’t because I have acquired more knowledge in the meantime; just more awareness of ignorance. How can we be sure that we know enough to know? As twenty-first century neo- Darwinian materialists, convinced that the meaning and mechanism of life have only been fully clear since the year 1859, we hold ourselves categorically wiser than those credulous knee-benders who, a speck of time away, believe in divine purpose, an ordered world, resurrection and a Last Judgement. But although we are more informed, we are no more evolved, and certainly no more intelligent than them. What convinces us that our knowledge is so final?

Brilliant.

Prague astronomical clock (orloj)
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