Why We Do Better

In the physical world, echoes muddle. An echoing voice (say, a friend calling out to you in the forest) gets softer, cloudier with each bounce. We hear the pitch, but the message is garbled.

In the informational domain, echoes do the opposite: they clarify. Take an idea and listen to how it echoes in the history of literature, or philosophy, or political action. With each echo, each occurrence, the theme distills, the message sharpens. When history echoes, we understand it more clearly.

This short movie visualizes a speech by Alan Watts. Watts reminds us of something we knew as toddlers:

“The physical universe is basically playful…the same way [as] dancing. You don’t aim for a particular spot in the room because that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of dancing is the dance.”

When we watch partners dance, we don’t observe the angle of their elbows, the sway of their hips and grasp for a greater purpose. The purpose is the dance.  We may understand our entire life in this way: the goal is not achievement or completion, but engagement, expression, presence.  In this way, we dance with every moment.

Seven-hundred years before Watts, the poet Rumi echoes:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.
In this way, we dance with every moment.

There are many ways to dance. You might smash cake. I might make soup. (More echoes.)

You don’t have to change anything you’re doing. You don’t have to stop; you haven’t been going anywhere. You’ve been dancing the whole time.

In this way, we dance with every moment.


Why We Fuck Up

I walked to town seeking poetry.

My first stop was a used book shop.

This was last night.

I browsed the cart of books outside the shop entrance, a selection of whatever titles the owners guessed might steal the eyes of passersby. I found a blank blue cover in the pile. To my surprise, it was a book of poems.

I flipped through the pages and chose a short entry. The words crawled to me, sat down pat like an old dog ready to sleep.

I went inside to buy the book. The woman who rang me up said, “I just put that book out on the cart a few minutes ago!”

“Wow,” I said, “Looking forward to reading it!”

Halfway along my walk home, I realized I missed the whole point, the whole point of the evening.

When I didn’t ask her, “Why this book?”