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     Volume 6 Issue 49 | December 28, 2007 |

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Writing the Wrong

Soul Polish

Sharbari Ahmed

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day. - E.B. White

The above quote, coined by the writer of the children's classic Charlotte's Web, pretty much sums up my life. I re-read it on Christmas Eve and started thinking about the new year ahead. I try not to make resolutions for the new year because one, it's impossible to keep them when you build up such high expectations, and two because every one else is making resolutions and I like to pretend I am different from other people. The only definitive thing I am going to try and perfect about myself next year is detachment.

I used to confuse detachment with apathy and callousness. I could not imagine caring for people or wanting anything with detachment. How can one love without attachment? Well, apparently this whole detachment movement has been going strong for thousands of years. Those of the Zen Buddhist persuasion have built a whole religion on the concept. I am oversimplifying of course, and one does not have to be a Buddhist to learn the art of loving without the need to possess.

Detachment isn't just limited to relationships but also the material world, notions of success, wealth and recognition. I find the practice of detachment particularly difficult because I have, according to a friend of mine, an ego twice the size of Texas. When my ego is revved up and ready to go, I start to lament how little I have achieved in terms of tangible success in the past year, like having a feature film already in post production, or a published novel, etc. I am too attached to my version of success. This leads to unfair comparisons with others in what I would consider to be in “better” positions. It is now I am beginning to realize when I do that, I am thoroughly dishonouring myself and the things I have achieved some of which have nothing to do with material gain.

Learning to be detached is a 24/7 job. It requires (for me) constant awareness of what I am feeling and thinking and how this affects others with whom I come in contact. It requires maturity and being rational two concepts that I have been railing against my whole life. It means when one of my friends cancels dinner plans on me, I cannot take it personally and must actually consider the fact that they probably have a very good reason. Even if they do it all the time. You see, that's the rub. One cancellation does not test one's mettle, only multiple cancellations some at the last minute. The old me would have eventually lost my temper and given this friend a what-for, the new, detached me asks them if everything is okay and reassures them that whenever they are ready to have dinner, I am here. It's not easy. The first two times I had to literally force myself to utter the words, but found that if I concentrated on her needs, instead of my own, I was able to let go. I mean really what is the big deal? So I wasn't going to have dinner with her? Again. All this also means I have to forgive people who I feel have wronged me. I don't have to like them or want to exchange Eid gifts with them, but I have to detach myself from the pain they have caused me.

My mother told me that one of the comments she has gotten a few times on my columns is that I sound angry. All artistic types ( if I may call myself such a type) are by nature malcontents. If we become too satisfied with the status quo and settle happily into a comfort zone, then usually our creativity comes to a screeching halt. Being a bit off kilter helps a person think outside the box. But I don't want to be viewed as angry. I would prefer honourably outraged at the various injustices wrought upon the innocents in the world. I guess angry just sounds more to the point. What I am discovering is that actually one can be worried about the state of the world and detached at the same time. This is what one of my friends calls “soul polish”. Whenever she says that I just imagine myself taking a soft cloth and gently rubbing my heart muscle until it glows in the dark. I expend a lot of energy feeling honourably outraged about the world at large when I should be taking half that energy and looking objectively at what if anything I am contributing to the world and how I can do this without having any expectations of getting anything in return. I must lose the desire to possess people or objects or to gain more nebulous things like praise, or approval or to have any resentment when someone says to me (and someone actually did just last Wednesday) that my short film “sucks”. This is an interesting story at least to me. A small excerpt of a short film I am now in the midst of editing was put up on the internet. We did it hastily because there was a deadline to get it on the site. I did not love it, neither did my co-producer but we wanted to get something up. Reviews have been mixedsome praise, some dismissal. Last Wednesday, an associate of mine said to me, “The feedback on it is all bad. No one I showed it to liked it, etc, etc.” Was he insensitive and not constructive? Yes! A resounding yes. But, after my initial ego attached, un-soul polished reaction when I alarmed my soft spoken editor/producer by threatening to beat that man about the head with his own kidney, we sat down and looked at the film, and realized this: it was not very good. We dissected exactly what was wrong with it and then cut together a better film. It's not a work of staggering genius I had no money and an actress who is still learning her craftbut it is better and that is something. This is what a certain detachment achieved for me as well as bringing me a calmness, and I was conscious of it and so thought: why not commit to trying to be rational most of the time? Now that's a revolutionary thought! Then perhaps I'll actually be able to both savour the world and if not save it, then at least contribute to it in a detached and useful way. Well, I'll give it an honest try and let you know how it works out in 2009.

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