Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hi, yeah... oops ... sorry

I guess it's been a while since I've been around here. You might have noticed a couple of posts down there's a thing about my art classes starting again, and, thanks to the generosity of you all, I'm suddenly exceedingly busy.

It's been an exciting couple of weeks and quite a sudden change from my next-to-comatose winter. I've been leaping out of bed at 6:45 every morning six days a week to get the 8 am train that gets into the City at nine. This gives me a nice hour of quiet morning time to myself before class starts at ten. I've been taking the bike into town with me and having a blast getting my metabolism up. I've written before about how walking around Rome is like playing that old classic 80s video game, Asteroids. Well, crank it up a few notches by doing it on your bike, and it can be ... rather stimulating. Gets the early morning blood pumping.

I've also found a nice little out of the way church, tiny by Rome standards but with all the Baroque frescoes and gilded curlicues you could want, that has Adoration every week day morning, so that's a nice little refuge. Then it's off to the farmer's market for a basket of fresh strawberries and a tea.

After that, it's class for three hours until one, one-thirty on Saturdays, then I go rushing off somewhere with internet access to work. Tuesdays and Wednesdays have been extra exciting because of the Figure class in the evenings, from five to eight, then more work after that.

Between the conclave and the Vatican's stem cell conference, as well as some looming legislative developments in Ireland and Britain, things have been a little nutty with work too. Nights have often been late, and mornings always early, and the time I have left is usually spent face down in the pillows. There has been little time for throwing stuff up onto the blog. So, anyone who only follows me here, and not on Facebook, sorry I've been kind of absent.

I've been pushing my limits a bit, and in a way it feels wonderful, like getting a stretch after a long time sitting down - which come to think of it is more or less exactly what it is. Leaving the house every day, getting some exercise in, seeing people, interacting with the world...

It was two years on March 9th, Ash Wednesday 2011, that I was diagnosed - a day I'm probably never going to forget. I started chemo in June, and had The Surgery the following January. I'm amazed that it's been two years, honestly, because it all seems still quite present. A lot of things have changed, and some old things that I'd long forgotten about or pushed to the back of my mind have come back. It's been a hell of a long Lent.

Anyway, last year when Andrea came back from Australia and classes started in early April, I dove straight in, and added Pilates classes, in an effort to force myself to come back to life as quickly as possible. I did it for a month or so then fell flat on my face. Only two months after the surgery, I wasn't ready. I spent a goodly portion of the winter trying to get the energy back to move and think and function, or even to want to, but I guess it took art classes to get me moving again. Funny what motivates.

Thinking about vocation again, and what it really means. I've been reading this very interesting book, Fire Within, by Thomas Dubay, about mystical prayer according to the teachings of St. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and it is bringing back many Thoughts about the nature and purpose of our existence, why we do and don't do the things we do and don't do. I suppose I'll have to share a bit at some point. But not now.

There's a kind of depression, I think, that comes with the absence of the spiritual life. I think it happens when you have lived a strong spiritual life in the past and do so no longer. Maybe its the thing the Scholastics call Acedia. I think I was suffering from Acedia over the winter. Maybe from living alone. Maybe from thinking too much about all that happened in the last few years. Maybe as a symptom of what I do for a living, the kinds of things I have to look at every day. I had a conversation with a colleague who said a few days after we came back from our Christmas break, "It's only been three days and I'm already sick of reading about the perverts." Human evil is a hard thing to look at all the time.

That, and I hate the short days. When it's dark by five, who wants to do anything?

There's a kind of torpor that can come over one, almost a paralysis, and even without strong feelings of sadness or bouts of crying it's, apparently, also classed as depression. Sometimes, especially when you're on your own, existence itself can seem overwhelming.

Unlike Modernia, we know that a human being is a unified whole, that the mind and emotions cannot be separate from the physical being and the spiritual reality that makes up a person. We moderns have a habit of trying to separate these things out. When we get depressed, we go to a headshrinker who looks only at the one thing, your thoughts and feelings - and inevitably prescribes a drug to deal with the symptoms. This habit we have of treating the different aspects of ourselves as separate and distinct comes from the 18th century's obsession with categorizing everything and with the materialists' desire to swat away anything that it can't classify in a Linnean system. And Rene Descartes' awful idea of the mind-body split. If it can't be understood easily, its characteristics can't be fitted into a taxonomic key, it doesn't exist. Or at least, it doesn't matter very much.

But one of the things I think I've learned in All That, is that the Catholics have been right all along (surprise!) and that we are indeed, unified whole beings. That a person can't be physically healthy, at least not for long, without being morally healthy. And this doesn't mean just avoiding sin. It means doing things with yourself that are oriented towards fulfilling your (teleological) ends. Mental health is a material concern, but it is closely entwined with spiritual health.

I think I'm starting to get beyond the health-related and personal shocks of the last few years, but these have led me more deeply into the bigger issues that have remained unresolved. It's impossible to hide from life, even if you can spend months at a time trying. And the things I want to know, the thing I've been looking for in my meandering and apparently aimless life, still want finding.

At the moment, I'm trying to find them by looking in a different way. But the obsession that drove me to come nearly 9000 km away from where I started is reclaiming my attention.

It ain't over yet.


1 comment:

Zach said...

I look forward to your thoughts on Fire Within. It's probably about time I got back to that.

I'd always been kind of put off by the little bits about "The Interior Castle," the seven stages, etc. that I had picked up by rumor - always seemed excessively esoteric to me.

But then, at least as Dubay explains it, I found a few aspects of my own interior life described that I had never seen touched on before. So, that's hopeful. And the first step to advance - "make a serious effort to obey the Commandments" - seems pretty practical.