Supposedly Fun


 A great title from a David Foster Wallace essay says so much. It captivatingly reads: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, a title that encapsulates so well what I have often felt as I've sat kicking myself, full of regret, for having allowed myself to be persuaded to attend some event (that people I won't listen to again) had promised would be 'lots of fun!

 The upcoming so-called 'fun' event has so often turned out for me to have been yet another form of torture, as the ear-splitting music, the inane laughter and the displays of gimcrackery, descend and close in on me. Ruefully, I would sit there slumped, determining never again, figuratively, to be boiled to death at some such party cauldron. 

 You see, for me - almost every time - the more 'fun' people are having, the more do I feel dislocated and alienated. The atmosphere of 'fun' surrounds and  suffocates. At the 'fun' event, I therefore feel a call to offer up resistance to becoming a member of the herd of bleating sheep who are increasingly penned in together as the evening progresses. You see, my imagination is such that momentarily I'm expecting poison gas cyclinders to be thrown in to the crowd. I plan to be gone by then.    

 Now, I'm getting much better at avoiding being trapped at 'fun' events. However, there are times when, to be polite, I show up. Still, you can expect to find me, if you care to, nowhere near where the crowd has gathered. You'll find me sitting either in a corner with some newly found kindred spirit who intrigued me by the 'far away' look on her face, or you'll find, if you can spot me, that I have been quietly edging towards the door. (Though I've also been known sometimes to have bolted for the door when I just couldn't take it anymore.)

 Thus I identify with David Foster Wallace who soon after boarding a 'fun' seeking cruise ship, found himself feeling suicidal - an understandable and appropriate reaction, as it seems to me.

 Says David about the supposedly 'fun' cruise: "There is something about a mass-market Luxury Cruise that's unbearably sad."  

 I concur. It's sad because the people on the cruise or at the party are, all too typically, connecting without connecting. Of course they may well be 'partying hard' as all kinds of pseudo-intimate extravagant gestures are made by people caught up in the supposedly fun time they're all having. But I know, from long experience of 'counselling in the corner' sessions, where people tell me their troubles while the party rages, that what not a few beings really,really want - their deepest longing, is actually to have someone to talk to - to really talk to, when the party is over! 

 I often think of what a wise Pastor once said - that the real test of the value of some supposedly spectacularly fun weekend event is the quality of the conversation you enjoy with your spouse on the following Monday morning. 

 The kind of questions I'd like to ask about the weekend of supposed fun are these: Because of the inspiration you found at your weekend event, is there now increased sensitivity to your wife as you listen more deeply than you ever have before? Is there deep joy when you talk with her? Could the conversation go on and on because of the energy it creates? Is it that she now feels heard and understood in a way she never felt before because of your well spent time on the weekend? 

 Yes, you went to the great party, dancing till you no longer felt any pain (as people say), or it was last weekend that you pressed in with the crowds to behold the latest touring weeping icon, or perhaps it was that you deliriously shouted "Yes we can!" or "We can do it!" all weekend long as spiritual superstars strutted their stuff across a stage. But, now, now, now, that you're home again, what's it like when you actually sit and talk to another human being? What kind of energy field do you create when you simply talk with another being? 

 You talk about making a difference in the world. What kind of difference are you making with your wife and children? Or for that matter, how's it going with your mother and father? Are you a presence to these people such that they marvel at your bright, shining, listening, presence?  

 Someone said to me recently, a psychologist, with long experience of listening to lonely people, that people rarely if ever talk to each other on a soulful and meaningful level. They don't even know, she said, what it is to do that! Yet they will expend huge amounts of energy always to be up and doing, to be on the go, going places and doing things. And my, my, my, how they like to party! Boomshakalaka! Boomshakalaka!

 Is there a relation between how hard you party and how empty your primary relationships are?  I suspect so. 

 It's my sense that David's response to the 'fun' cruise was appropriate, an indication of health and sanity on his part. Sensitive, he was driven to such a state of despair "especially at night, when all the ship's structured fun and reassurances and gaiety-noise ceased.' Lord, save us all from 'structured fun' sessions!

 That's how it goes - when there are no more party noises and you're alone again in your room with the lights out, a certain lucidity may be possible. David felt at those times a sense of dread or angst and thought of "jumping overboard," which I understand, though I wish that this gifted man could have met a guru or someone somewhere, who somehow could have helped him to find peace of soul, for eventually, tragically, he did indeed take his own life. (David Foster Wallace A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: An Essay, p. 8 of 112, Nook book) 

 I could wish to have met David on a cruise somewhere and to have shared with him his hatred and disgust for the goings-on of cruise ships and the like. Thus my idea of 'fun' is to meet someone like a David and to really hate together the party atmosphere at some event. For my sense is that behind such a holy hatred is a deep love for what truly raises and deepens the human spirit towards a sense of joy and bliss. If you are someone who 'hates' strongly, it may be that, in a certain sense, it is because you have character and strongly love what is good, true and  beautiful. 

 What I am after, in contrast to what some supposedly fun event has to offer, is to connect more deeply with what John O'Donohue, the Irish poet-philosopher, called a point of "absolute non-connection" within us. He calls it "the incommensurable in us." The incommensurable in us is "a sacred opening in the soul that can be filled by nothing external." (John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, p. 120 of 265, Nook book) 

 Thus instead of living outside of that inner connection, which is to live outside of ourselves, we learn to find our deepest belonging in solitude. Otherwise, as O'Donohue warns,"your external longing will remain needy and driven." 

 O'Donohue states that "there is a wonderful welcome within. Meister Eckhart illuminates this point. He says that there is a place in the soul that neither space nor time nor flesh can touch. This is the eternal place within us. It would be a lovely gift to yourself to go there often - to be nourished, strengthened and renewed. The deepest things that you need are not elsewhere."

 I experience that lovely gift through a regular meditation practice. It was my good fortune recently to be in the tropics and to find its atmosphere calling me to rise early in the morning. Thus, there I would sit on my meditation cushion, repeating the holy words that take me to that place within that no external anything can fulfill.

 My best times on vacation were those times on the meditation cushion. Sadly, somehow, people don't want to hear about it at the party!

 Now, I do not always feel great ecstasy when I meditate, though I've had some glorious times. Most of the time it's a sense of quiet peace, a feeling I cannot live without.

 People tell me all the time that this is rarely, if ever, their experience. Not long ago someone said to me: "In the past thirty years I have never experienced what you're talking about." 

 Even the people I know who have expressed enormous interest in spiritual practice tell me that they do not engage in this kind of practice, though they are sure that nothing could be more important. I don't want to ask, but somehow quickly learn that it's almost always the case that months have passed, even years, and they still do not experience a regular quiet time, or being time.

 My message this day is that for any of us to be living without that inner connection may indicate that we are likely to be spending our days, as O'Donohue put it, "wallpapering the void." It sounds terrible and I do not wish to be such a being. Therefore I return time and time again to that cushion - finding joy there and caring less and less about what people call 'fun.'


 Audio: At The Beach, Paul Jackino