Lightness

Ceci n’est pas un chapeau

When all the world seems heavily laden with grief, loss and pain, can we find lightness? Can we put aside the heaviness of the world today and seek some hope, joy and levity. We can only try. Perhaps if we succeed we will fly together.

The weight of the world

Stoicism is back. Serious young men with beards are advising me to lean into stoic philosophy across my social timelines. Older gurus with beards are expounding the unknowable complexities of life (to which they alone hold the key). I understand their passion. I have read enough stoics to know that there is comfort in Marcus Aurelius and Seneca when it feels like republics and empires are collapsing, when crisis rolls into crisis and when plague is rampaging. After all, stoicism can at times reflect advice to simplify your aims, bear your burdens and place one foot in front of the other. It is worthwhile to discuss stoicism, because burdens are the reality of life, persistence matters and if only to relish the joy of the truly magical word vicissitudes.

When we are thrown into a liminal state, with plans on hold, incomes and adventures curtailed, heavy forbearance can be a comfort. Whether sent by randomness, by nature or by your god, suffering is hard work, just like days full of back-to-back videoconferences. We can see the shadows clearly in this time, but shadows mean that somewhere there is a strong and upliftng light. We just can’t see that clearly at the moment. There is little joy in the news, precious little distraction and even the rampaging puppies of social media are losing their lustre.

Light as a Cloud

Another voice has been struggling through my social channels and other reading of late, a quiet call to lightness. This invitation to levity doesn’t come with the gravitas of Seneca, but neither is it the jokes of Twitter comedians. This call to lightness is in the voices of children, explorers, artists and poets. It is an invitation to proceed with a light and hopeful step into the world.

I found it in Clive James’ last poem, in Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the New Millenium, in William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, in poems, tweets, blogposts and of course in Milan Kundera’s Unbearable Lightness of Being. I discovered that Basho made lightness the philosophy of his poetry. I even discovered its joy in the impermanence of a dipped painting:

Flight of Hope, Not Escape

This is not the lightness of escape. This is lightness because the world is real, concrete and heavy. It is the lightness of engagement with a world which may not change. Calvino talks of shamans:

‘flying to another world, to another level of perception to change the face of reality.’

Arthur C Clarke famously said ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ We live in a world that right now cries out for a little magic to change the course of history. It is less widely known that this was a part of three laws and the second of these laws is:

The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

We have to create our own magic now. We need to venture into the impossible with a light heart. Succeeding in that venture is going to require a new level of thinking and new levels of action. We are going to have to explore, invent and fly a little together. There will be risks and there will be failures, but we must seek to lift each other up a little higher.

I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that was the secret of the universe.

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Lightness is not escape. Bearing our current situation with lighness requires us to be present in the current situation. We must acknowledge what is or everything is illusion and will lead us astray. Douglas Adam’s in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy pointed out that we must very much have the reality of the situation in mind if we want to fly:

There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss…. Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties

We need to see the world as it is, then turn our head slightly and look at it again. Looking with the curious wonder of the child, the artist or the poet, we can hold the world in light-filled compassionate hearts. Perhaps then with a new lightness of view we might see some new way forward. We can rediscover the lightness of hope. We can use our relationships with others to create, to share and to spread that hope. Hope is light. It lifts hearts. Hope is after all the ‘little thing with feathers’ that asks little of us, but gives us so much.

I hope to show that there is such thing as a lightness of thoughtfulness, just as we all know that there is a lightness of frivolity. In fact, thoughtful lightness can make frivolity rather heavy.

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the New Millenium

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