I remember, as a student, that feeling of something resembling despair greeting my waking conscious on each July 5th morning, like the unmistakable scent of coffee beans releasing their particles, pent up and dying to break free, when showered in hot water. July 5th was a realization:
I had already broken free and had been living my freedom since school ceased for summer. Despair crept in because time, I was beginning to learn, would never stop and take note of itself, much less wait upon me to do so.
But despair is not necessarily an inevitable response to this realization. Nor is it simply a matter of one's lack of will. It says more, rather, about one's awareness. By awareness, in this case, I don't mean the awareness that today is July 5th and that there's no other big holidays before school begins (that which reminded me of the fact that breaking free was temporal, causing my despair). Awareness is, simply put, seeing the overall picture--especially noticing ourselves reacting in it. Despair, then, may be something like the state of being unaware. If we're not careful, we can lose ourselves in unawareness. For example, maybe my distaste for the pace and pressure associated with the typical school year stirred such an unhealthy dose of dread that my mind responded with such an unhealthy dose of elation in June, tricking me into believing that THIS is how it should be. When equilibrium closed in, it was already July 5th. Vacation was half gone.
In my experience, it's the very nature of the mind to lose itself. Surely there's an evolutionary advantage for that, or else you'd have no idea what I mean by "lose yourself." But you know exactly what I'm talking about. So if the mind gets lost in unawareness, then the mind must be able to lose itself in awareness. Awareness tells me that the pressure and pace causing dread are real in their effects, but they aren't inescapable realities. We never escape such archetypal monsters by running away from them. Monsters lose their power in the light, when we put our awareness on them in the spirit of discovery. Despair is the opposite of discovery. It feeds on paralysis and longs to freeze space and time, attached to could've, would've, and should've in an unrealistic space and time. That is unawareness. We get lost there a lot. Discovery is the epitome of awareness. It approaches each moment as each moment truly is: the first of its kind and the last. Discovery drops concepts and allows new forms to take shape however they will, leaving off assumptions. That is awareness. We can lose ourselves there--or maybe it's better said, we can let go of ourselves there.
Today is July 5th, as I recall the old patterns of that unawareness. I was lost there then, and that's okay. Like each new character taking shape from the movement of this pencil, I've let go into discovery more these days; and the moments take shape as they will. I simply watch and joy in the unfolding.
We'll look at Paul this week in worship (Romans 7.15-8.2) and wonder at the lack of despair in him at the awareness of his inability to control what's next.