Composure

grasshopper

“It’s creepy how this blind old man always follows me around. I think I’ll slap some of this melted wax onto his bald head.”

Whenever I write a blog post I often re-read it and change it. I continue changing my blogs months after they are supposedly ‘finished’.

This morning I was reading through a month-old blog post that I must have read at least ten times before. This time I found it unclear and verbose, and shortening it made it much better. In fact shortening posts almost always improves them.

I wondered why I hadn’t noticed the wordiness before. Was I only reading with half my mind the other ten times? Had I needed the month so as to distance myself from the post and thus be able to see its flaws? After all, a blog written a month ago somehow feels less ‘mine’ than one written this morning. I feel much less inclined to defend an old blog post and am happier to concede its shortcomings.

I think both of these explanations are partly true. It’s likely that the first ten times that I read the blog my mind wasn’t composed enough to read it properly. If I am not composed then I miss a lot. I hurry through passages without really taking them in and my mind and eyes skate over the surface of things.

It’s the same when I am planning a lesson. Often it takes me an hour to plan a lesson that should really only take ten minutes. I have a mind that is neither calm nor efficient. I don’t concentrate well.

I then thought about Christopher Hitchens, who apparently used to write many of his articles at one sitting and would send his first draft to his editor for publishing without re-writing a thing. And he often did this after an afternoon of boozing! I don’t know how he did it. He must just have had one of those minds.

One of what minds? A mind that is calm and efficient.

Having a calm, composed mind must be a wonderful thing. I’m sure this is what meditation strives for and why it stresses the importance of concentration on just one thing. In the same way that having a calm and composed mind allows you to concentrate better, so the reverse is also true: concentrating on just one thing calms the mind. So I am told.

The kind of ‘distancing’ that allowed me to view my post more objectively after a month had elapsed is perhaps another goal of meditation. Buddhist meditation doesn’t just teach that the person who wrote the blog post last month is not exactly the same person as is reading it now. No, it teaches that there is no person! I ask you, how much more distancing can you get than that!

So if it wasn’t ‘me’ who wrote the blog post a month ago, or ‘me’ who is reading it now, then I can be as objective as I like in my assessment of it. I can read the blog post as though a stranger had written it. And I don’t have to wait a whole month before I can see it in its proper light. The idea of no-self is great! If you can believe in it.

Perhaps the desire for more composure in our lives is also an appeal of religion – apart from all the crucifixions, burning of heretics and communal singing. If you were to take away the idea of heaven from religion I’m sure many of its adherents would lose interest. After all, what is the point of a religion that doesn’t offer to get you into the afterlife?

The idea of death is panic-inducing for most of us and religion’s promise that death is not really death but the beginning of a new and better life has the ability to calm a frightened mind. If you can believe in it.

So if I can convince myself that when I die I will go to heaven, I will feel calmer; and if I can convince myself that I don’t really exist, I will feel calmer still; and if I learn to concentrate on just one thing, then I will feel calmer still still; and if I do all three of these things, will I then be able to write better, quicker blog posts that don’t need re-drafting?

Yes, Grasshopper, I believe you will.

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4 comments on “Composure

  1. Anne says:

    Nice idea, but I don’t see believers being any more calm and composed that non-believers! It’s probably simpler just to go back and take out the first paragraph of every draft post.

  2. I think the only way I could be composed enough to strap bombs to myself and detonate the thing is if I thought I was going somewhere nice after that. Some religious people genuinely believe in an afterlife (often Muslims) and some pretend to (often Christians). There is only any benefit if you truly believe. I agree with you that most Christians are no more composed than atheists, but this is simply because they don’t really believe, though they won’t admit this to themselves.

    Of course there are many other things to lose your composure over other than death. Whether I believe in an afterlife or not, I don’t want someone cutting in in front of me in a line.

    It would be nice if the problem with my posts always lay in only the first paragraph but the problem is spread out over the whole post.

  3. We are all many people. Sometimes what we present is the voice that is loudest at the time. The thing is to sometimes silence that loud voice and let the other ones be heard. These days, when someone asks me a hard question I generally reply, let me think about it and get back to you, even when I have a ready answer. I’m generally glad I did that as the answer I often give, in the end, is not the one I would have given at the time.

  4. Hi Barry, thanks for the comment. Yes, I think I agree. Reconsidered opinions are often better than spontaneous ones. This must be a good thing since it suggests that over a lifetime we are edging towards a truer, rather than merely a different, picture of the world.

    I would prefer not to be many people in one mind. My idea of contentment is to have an undivided mind, one that isn’t at war with itself, pulling this way and that. This means believing the same on Monday as I believe on Tuesday. However, what I want and what is the case are two different things.

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