Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Human Dichotomy

It is part of our uniquely human experience to feel pulled in different directions. It's unsettling to confront all of the contradictions I face, internally and externally, on any given day. I love summer, but on the hottest days I wish I could bundle up and feel cozy like I do in the winter. I thrive in routine, but by the end of June I'm thoroughly fed up with structure and want a more relaxed pace. I enjoy hosting friends and socializing but I also crave time to be alone and quiet.

I wonder why we have so many conflicting desires. I long to live in each moment; to enjoy what is in front of me without being mired in the past or lost in dreams for the future. Being human means complexity on all levels. Nothing is ever simple or easy, and I'm not certain it ever gets easier.

Children are much better at doing one thing at a time and enjoying themselves. When my kids are playing, they are fully immersed in the activity they have chosen. I don't see them experiencing any angst for what they are missing out on. They aren't thinking of the last activity or the next one, but simply engaging with their current pursuit.

I really don't have any concept of how to do that. I can master this concentration in very short doses, but then I tend to fall right back into looking ahead or behind, wishing I was doing something else or anticipating an event which has yet to happen. Is it a sense of discontent which causes this dichotomy?

I don't feel dissatisfied or bored when I yearn for something else, but I think too much of one thing causes me to miss the opposite effect. If I'm constantly around people, I long for solitude. If I'm crazy busy for a few days, I want to be lazy. If I'm making a ton of dinners, I want to eat out. I long for these things in a visceral way, but I'm aware that I'm missing out on what is right in front of my face while I spend all of this time longing for something else.

On paper, it seems like a foolish way to live, but I know I'm not alone in this contradiction. It doesn't mean we are unhappy when we dream of the next thing coming, but perhaps it speaks to our deep need for variety. Too much of anything exhausts and frustrates us, even if it's too much of a good thing. Maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself for this dichotomy, but instead learn to recognize when I'm wishing away my time and focus on enjoying what I'm doing. Dreaming about pleasures to come or vacations isn't wasted time, but I must choose when to allow my mind to wander and roam, and when to rein it in.

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