Wandering and Deliberation: The Importance of Nothingness

Photo of Birds in Park

I took this a few weeks ago, while wandering in Brooklyn.

My “ideal” state is that of The Wanderer. I don’t know that it makes me much different from most other artists — or writers in particular. But, on many occasions, if I had my way, I would say that I’d like to do little else than wander about New York City with no particular agenda.

Of course, constraints of time and money and responsibility and attachment — make true wandering difficult. Also, wandering too much is almost certainly unhealthy in the long term. This is why being The Wanderer, in the long run, or permanently, is not actually an ideal. Over time, anomie invariably creeps in; the romance of the idea evaporates over time, trails off into the changing, moving air.

On top of this, in terms of the present discussion, I only set up half my point in admitting my wanderlust. Because, when I do take time to walk out into the city with no agenda, I invariably find just as much pleasure in settling down, somewhere, to eat a meal, or drink a cup of coffee, or to people-watch. At this point, the wandering ceases and I’m (usually) able to melt into the fogscape of an least temporarily directionless mind. This sort of break from Time and Place can be peaceful — because it is an embracing of the fact of life’s inevitable march, not an avoidance of it. This sort of break engenders a sort of rare, quiet deliberation. It offers rest to the overworked, active mind.

I grow increasingly distrustful of my active mind, lately. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it here, but I recently realized that, a year or so ago, I had stopped remembering my dreams. That hasn’t been the case for a few months now. My subconscious has apparently decided it’s safe, for the time being, to rejoin the interplay of day-to-day life. This mostly pleases me, even if it sometimes leaves my active mind with a lot of work to do, in terms of unraveling the results of whatever it is that’s been going on in my head while I sleep.

I’ve come to cherish the insights my dreams provide. I’ve had to lean on them. It isn’t easy for me to be with myself, currently, when I’m awake. I’ll admit it. It’s an ironic twist, considering where I’ve gone lately in progressing as a person.

As has probably been made obvious over the past year, one result of the work I’ve been doing both professionally and personally has been the discovery of “new,” tenderer layers of myself that just aren’t resilient to the winds of the outside world quite yet. Just as I’m getting comfortable with not being alone, as a result of making Multiverse, and by keeping up with this site, I find it necessary to force myself to incrementally reengage with solitude anyway.

I know the only way for these new layers to become resilient is through exposure. If I have learned anything in recent months, it’s that lesson. Another lesson, though, that I’m taking some time to truly absorb, is that this process must happen on its own. It cannot be controlled. Only guided — compassionately.

In the past, wandering performed two functions for me. As I have alluded, it was a slower, safer form of running away from life. It allowed me to pretend I was unattached to Time and Place, which was never true — especially in my case. I rarely wandered anywhere for longer than a day, or very far. Usually, I would disappear only for a morning or an afternoon. At the same time, I think I wandered symptomatically. In this way, my walks were arguably healthy — an emotional reset at a time of high anxiety or incredible sadness.

Now, I feel compelled to incrementally resume the incremental wandering for a different reason — for the exposure. I feel that, when I wander now (as it also happened in the past, to an extent), I invariably end up replicating something like the subconscious patterning that happens when I dream — but while in a conscious state. Because my active mind isn’t tasked, it can go where it pleases, or needs to go. Because it isn’t completely at rest, I can more easily trace and recall the resultant paths it takes. This fosters learning.

It can be so easy to lose ourselves with all the somethings we need to do or obtain. It can be maddening, to always have to be somewhere, in pursuit of someone for some reason. Tasks and tactile goals and wants and needs — they all have value. But nothingness, I would argue, has an important role in life as well. Nothingness is not only the terrifying symbol of the mystery of death. It is not only The Void. Nothingness can strip away distraction and falsehood, can expose hollowness. In this way, it is capable of infusing the experience of living with virtue, virtue that comes directly from the self.

Value and virtue are subtly different things, and I wonder often about the space between them that defines their difference. I lately feel compelled to explore that space more fully.

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