What follows is a quote that I underlined recently, and has been in my head – to ponder over the weekend.
”Trust in God – but tie your camel first.” – Sayings of the Prophet, “Caravan of Dreams,” by Idries Shah
A life of fear and anxiety is not worth living. Most of the misfortunes that plague us – as Mark Twain once wrote – never happen. Facing life with a belief that everything will work out for the best may not always be the most realistic attitude, but the alternative is to suffer for things that have not yet happened.
And yet, it is true that luck is something that happens to those who put themselves in a position to receive it. No one ever won the lottery without playing. What appears to be an overnight success to people looking from outside has a life of failed attempts behind it. And those who sleep with unlocked doors will find their homes burgled much more easily than those who lock doors and windows…
We all serve at the mercy of the Lady Fortune. But we can always choose how we play the cards that we have been dealt.
Painting: “The Caravan” by Alexandre Gabriel Decamps
The power failed at dinnertime. It was a bit unnerving at first – especially as I was trying to handle everything while a cat was meowing for food. For Peach, absence of electricity is no justification a late meal.
But then I came to that state where I have the good fortune of usually arrive when the power fails. It’s a state where the stresses of the unexpected dissipate, and the balm of possibility arrives – the possibility of a relaxing dinner by candlelight, of quietly reading a book, playing a game on a portable system (props to the battery quality of Nintendo consoles, which remain charged after months without use).
I was grateful to get the power back, of course – there are essays to write, after all. And there is no joy in having the freezer start leaking.
But a temporary interruption does not have to turn into a crisis.
It can even be an opportunity to relax.
Painting: “The Vigilia di San Pietro” by Canaletto.
As someone who grew up with video games, and who has advanced through a career of almost pure science before turning to the arts, I am very attached to systems. The basic thesis in my head is that everything that happens can be explained by a set of preceding factors.
As a result, I’m frustrated when I can’t identify the root cause of a problem. Not for the sake of pride; not because I suffer from the defeat of my capacity for reasoning – but because without identifying the cause, I feel that the problem is bound to repeat in the future.
The problem with this thesis is that it is not computable by the human brain. Causal factors are sufficiently distributed in time and space that I have no chance of including them in the calculation. Not to mention the inherent chaos in the randomness that a quantum conception of the universe implies.
In other words, if I were omnipotent, I would be able to know exactly what led to the present state; but since I am only human, there are a multitude of factors that I do not have access to, and an infinite number of factors that are impossible to predict before they occur.
And that is why there is no alternative to the practice of acceptance. Not in a passive sense, of not reacting to what happens – just the opposite: our response to events is the only thing we can control; the events themselves are often unpredictable, and therefore unavoidable.
There was nothing you could have done to prevent what happened. But you have the power to take the next step.
Painting: “Aeneas on the Bank of the River Styx” by Pietro Testa