Ahimsa

n. non-violence (lit. the avoidance of violence), to do no harm.

I should be doing my class prep right now.  But I'm tired.  I was up yesterday at 6am preparing for that morning's class and since then I've been either in meetings or reading applications to our graduate program or at fencing practice or asleep.  Today was spent reading yet more applications, listening to a job talk for our department, reading more applications, and then, this evening, in a two-hour committee meeting at our church.  Literally the only time I have had to think my own thoughts has been walking to and from campus with the Dragon Baby, which is fun but not entirely contemplative when the ground is covered in ice and snow and the Dragon Baby wants to chase cars.  I need to sleep, but if I go to sleep now, that means waking up at 5am (or thereabouts) to review the reading and prepare discussion for tomorrow's class.  Do I force myself to stay awake or go to bed now and set the alarm for 5?

This is not about feeling sorry for myself about being so busy, although I could list more of the things that have been occupying my time (and preventing me from blogging).  It's about my relationship to myself and my work and how I talk to myself about what I should or should not be doing.  Some of the time that I've spent not blogging the past week or so has been spent escaping from work by reading romance novels.*  Which is not in itself a bad thing (see footnote), but doesn't get more work done.  And why should it?  Ah, there's the question.  See, I could punish myself for slacking.  Or tell myself that I'm not allowed to read romance novels (or walk the dog or go to fencing practice or sleep) until I have all of my work done, but why would I do that to myself?  Effectively, given that as an academic my work is more or less by definition never done, that would mean--yes, you got it--I had no life.  No life, that is, other than what I do in my role as professor.

You will not be surprised to learn, given some of my previous posts, that much of the appeal of those romance novels that I've been reading (by, let's say it, best-selling novelist Jennifer Crusie--read her!  She's fabulous!) is that almost invariably what the heroine learns in the course of falling in love is how stifled she has been in her previous career and how much happier she feels when she allows herself to express herself properly.  (Nor is it a coincidence, I suspect, that Crusie started writing romance novels while researching her still-unfinished-twenty-years-later Ph.D.)  More importantly, even if our heroine (or her newly discovered beloved) does not end up changing careers, she or he almost necessarily ends up changing something about his or her life other than simply to include this new person: where to live, how to dress, what to eat.  What strikes me about these novels (other than, let's face it, their gorgeously hot sex scenes) is how compassionate they are to the characters involved.  It is not that the characters have necessarily been doing anything wrong in their previous lives; they simply haven't been loving enough--and not just some significant other.  Falling in love, Crusie teaches us, means falling in love with ourselves as well as with another human being.

Ah.  This has gotten rather more profound than I thought it would for a post written on the edge of a headache and inevitable collapse into bed.  I've been holding off telling you about Crusie because a) I was embarrassed to be reading romance novels (for antidote, read this) and b) she tells it herself so much better, I didn't know where to start.  But mostly because I'm exhausted from reading applications (there was a whole other set this past weekend and another still to come next week) and having to make judgments about other people's work.  I wonder if romance novelists have to read applications.  I know that they have to make deadlines and that successful novelists write more or less full time, but how much of their time do they have to spend forcing themselves to do something that is a) required by their job but b) draining rather than fulfilling?  See, this is what I've learned from the past week or so's meditation on ahimsa, a.k.a non-violence or compassion.  It has to start with oneself.  And that includes not beating oneself up for not wanting to do certain things, even if those things are your responsibility. 

My head hurts.  I'm going to bed and reading a bit more in my current Crusie and then falling asleep.  Which means I'm going to have to wake up at 5am to reread Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman so that I can talk about it with my class at 10:30am.  I'm sure there's a theme in here somewhere, but right now I need to take care of myself.  Not punish myself for not being able to keep up with the boys.  Or tell myself that if only I were stronger I would be able to punch through this.

*Yes, you read that right, romance novels, not mysteries.  And boy oh boy are they good ones!  Go here if you want to read more.  And go here (same site, different tab) if you want to read why you should be reading romance novels if you aren't.

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