Next time you feel that you’re not being productive, that your day amounts to nothing more than an exercise in wheel-spinning, take heed from some lovely words in Chris Arthur’s recently published essay collection, “On the Shoreline of Knowledge: Irish Wanderings” (Sightline Books/University of Iowa Press).
Success is measured in linear terms in our society. If you’re not moving from point A to point B, you’re not succeeding, right? It’s an unfortunate situations. And it makes Arthur, whose home is Fife, Scotland (lucky guy), start thinking of his stoop-shouldered mother. At trying moments in her life, she mutters “I’m just going round in circles,” despairing that:
“…her energy has been frittered away on a treadmill of trivial distractions that have claimed more time than they warrant. She’s annoyed at her own lack of focus, the way she’s allowed herself to become mired in unimportant chores.”
Sound familiar? (An old professor of mine, British poet Geoffrey Hill, had a really grandiose way of referring to this situation: He’d say “we’re all trapped on a carnal treadmill.” Pretty fancy, but then again, he’s a poet.)
But Arthur’s book of ruminative essays is an effort to recall the virtues of repetition and aims at restoring the dignity of that much-maligned geometric figure, the circle:
“The circle is variously taken to represent enlightenment, clear seeing, the absolute, one-pointedness of concentration, the universe…. Instead of impatience with some treadmill of time-wasting chores, instead of any kind of frustrated vacuity, a sense of pointless repetition and being stalled, think rather of the great wheel of the seasons, the orbits of electrons and planets; think of life cycles, the circulation of our blood and breath and the water that sustains us. We are cradled in a myriad of circles.”
He then offers up the Zen practice of enso, the practice of painting circles of black ink. Beautiful.
Try not to be frustrated (though it’s difficult – take it from me). You’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Maybe the wheel-spinning is trying to tell you something?