The nature of my work is such that I can spend hours reading, reading, reading—especially now that I’m also focused on completing a graduate degree. But, I’ve been attracted to intellectual activities my entire life. I remember many years ago in junior college sitting in an obscure corner of the library on a rainy fall afternoon and looking up after some hours of reading suddenly realizing that I was so engrossed in my book I had become completely unaware of my body from the neck down.
Rarely do I have that kind of ability to concentrate anymore. But sometimes, after a period of extended study such as I am undertaking just lately, having arranged a couple of weeks away from paying work to do the non-paying kind, I metaphorically raise my head at the end of the day and realize how much has changed in the world since I last looked at it without actually focusing inside my own skull. The sun has risen and set: that’s a pretty monumental pair of events no matter how often they occur. Children have trekked to school and home again. Somehow, in the last few days, dishes have accumulated as well as dust, and a pile of dirty clothes has somehow materialized. Cleaning the house grounds me.
Today when I picked my dog up from the neighbor who walked him for me because I’d sprained my ankle earlier this week, she asked me if I’d change a light-activated outdoor light for her. I hauled the ladder out of the basement, braced it against the side of her house, climbed the ladder and replaced the globes. She was delighted that the outdoor lights outside her bedroom window would come on again, and shortly, as the sun goes down, we’ll see whether I’d gotten them screwed in correctly.
As I carried the ladder back across the street and through my own back gate, I thought about how different the kind of work I’d just done was from the kind of silent, solitary, deeply focused work I’ve been doing the last few days. She was delighted: another person had immediately and materially benefited from my work. She was there, and we talked while I worked. My intellectual activities are always necessarily alone, though a flow state is somehow beyond companionship. No one will immediately benefit from the reading, reading, reading, thinking, and eventual writing that I do as I work through these ideas, learning new things, making new (at least to me) connections. But, maybe someday someone will.
At the same time, I’ve learned the hard way that too many days in my head can leave me spacey and cranky, vaguely dissatisfied with life and its potential. As I read about collaborative intelligence and quantum theory applied to human systems, I know that, for many people like me, the future is full of delicious possibility. At the same time, it’s important to work in the garden, cut flowers I’ve grown myself to sit on my desk or grace the dining room table, take ten minutes to tease my Manx with his favorite toy, and stare intently at the bumblebees burrowing into one Himalayan Balsam blossom after another in the early morning or late afternoon sunlight‒just to stay sane, as it were, in this human body.