To be capable of anything, yet unable to choose–a sad irony. What exactly is it I’m afraid of?
Until now I would have said my problem was some kind of inability to focus, not in the immediate sense, for once I engage something I am not easily distracted. Rather, in the larger sense, stretched out over time. I want to know everything, be open to everything, master everything. This, of course, is foolish, but seductive. There simply isn’t time. We are finite, and must choose this versus that. We cannot take all paths.
Since I know this to be true, the only explanation is that I’m afraid. Afraid of taking the wrong path, making the wrong choice, missing out on what lies around the next bend. In other words, I’m afraid of being what I am–finite–which is ridiculous. I am afraid of committing to something and seeing it through to the end.
If I were a better Daoist I would laugh at myself. I am always looking for the useful tree, too blind and too afraid of embracing uselessness:
Now you have a large tree and regret that it is of no use. Why not plant it in the wild? You might wander about and do nothing by its side or sleep in its shade. An axe will not put an end to its existence; nothing can harm it. What is there to be distressed about its being useless?
Zhuangzi, book 1
I’m carefully reading the “Glossary of English–Latin Grammar” in Jones and Sidwell’s Reading Latin, and am struck by their definition of a main verb: it is the verb, or verbs, left when all other verbs have been cut out. This is brilliant. My instinct would be to try to define it positively, as the most important action or state of being. But we can never really know what that is until we are willing to cut everything out. For me, to focus is not to try to figure out a priori what is most important. It is to eliminate that which is unnecessary.