I’ve recently pulled my copy of Montaigne’s “Essais” off my shelf and dived in again. The stimulus was a special edition of a literary magazine which I found in the local “librairie” (a common confusion for the English speakers in France is that a “librairie” is a bookshop and a library is a “bibliothèque”). The focus of the special edition is Montaigne so I’ve been reading a few writers and thinkers perspectives on the man and his writing.
Given that he lived almost 500 years ago his writing seems astonishingly modern. According to the articles I read he was the first French writer to write as “je” (“I”) – his essays are reflective and he made no claims for them to be anything other than an exploration of what it was like to be Michel de Montaigne. One of the writers called him “patron de bloggeurs” – the “boss/leader of the bloggers” – which made me smile.
I’d say that this blog, and many other blogs I’ve seen, are exactly that. They are one person’s unique reflections and expressions of what it is like to be [insert blogger’s name here]
I reckon I only have each day once, and nobody can tell what this day was like for me. That’s up to me. And it’s up to you to share your unique experience of the everyday too.
Because when we do that, not only do we enrich ourselves with the sharing, but we find that we learn what it is to be human.
I’m going to share a few of the gems I uncover in Montaigne’s “Essais” with you and I’ll start with this, (which I read yesterday)
Men do not know the natural infirmity of their mind: it does nothing but ferret and quest, and keeps incessantly whirling around, building up and becoming entangled in its own work, like our silkworms, and is suffocated in it.
It thinks it notices from a distance some sort of glimmer of imaginary light and truth; but while running toward it, it is crossed by so many difficulties and obstacles, and diverted by so many new quests, that it strays from the road, bewildered.
Isn’t that so true? Thoughts never seem to stop, do they? I remember reading about the Tibetan Buddhist concept of the “bardo” many years ago. A bardo is a kind of gap. The author of the book I read suggested a good meditation technique was to become aware of the bardos, or gaps, between our thoughts – the spaces between the ending of one thought and the start of the next.
Good luck with that!
It’s not a skill I’ve ever managed to achieve.
Most meditation techniques seem to involve gently, patiently and repeatedly bringing the focus of the mind back to something specific, be that a mantra, an image or an awareness.
I do think it’s good to practice some form of meditation. It can help to counter that incessant “whirling around”.
There’s a second aspect to that passage of Montaigne’s – how difficult it is to stay on track. Isn’t it true that we often set off with a new insight, a new goal or a new intention, only to stumble when the going gets tough or something else interesting comes along – and there we go again, off the road, “bewildered”.
I think it’s good to read these reflections from five hundred years ago. They are insights into the natural condition of the human mind. If we are aware of these features we can begin to learn how to work with them, rather than beating ourselves over the head for having minds like this in the first place, or trying to wrestle ourselves into submission.
The photo I chose for this piece is one I took a couple of weeks ago. One day I noticed these little blobs of bubbles in the grass. I’ve no idea what they are, what kind of creature made them, or why, but I thought they were pretty wonderful!
Busy, busy, busy….busy blowing bubbles….oops, there I go again – that’s interesting. What is it? Yep, there’s a certain pleasure in following your mind as it “strays from the road”….