This Is Water

Last week I was working in Kathmandu. This is a picture I took whilst there. I think it means ‘Water’ in Nepali. If not, it’s still a pretty picture.

It’s the last day of June, a typically pleasant month, heralding in for many of us an array of sporting events and the prospect of summer holidays, before moving us into the second half of the year – as it will do in a matter of a few hour’s time…

In the US, the July 4th celebrations are almost ready. For Muslims the world over, Ramadan began yesterday. The existential crises unfolding in various parts of the Middle East and Africa clog the headlines, in spite of a planet obsessed this month with tales from the World Cup in Brazil (or, for some of those British readers amongst you who have long given up on the football, the ups and downs of following Andy Murray in the tennis at Wimbledon).

I have been lucky enough to travel separately to Amman and Kathmandu over the past couple of weeks, keeping a loose grip on June’s “news” from inside airport terminals or at the end of an evening out with work colleagues – my favourite moment of those being the night Holland beat Spain so resoundingly, whilst a group of us were sat in a British themed Coronation Street pub in Amman, called The Rover’s Return.

How one of the longest standing British soap operas achieved this accolade inside Jordan is a mystery to me, but I have the photographic evidence to prove it’s no lie:

When in Amman….

You’d think with days spent on the move, and the colourful surrounds of these cities, that I’d have been spurned into posting blogs on a daily basis.

Sadly not.

Instead, I kept putting off writing, until then too much time passed and it became harder and harder to contemplate – as when you might find yourself wishing to write to an old friend who had sent you a heartfelt message, but you never found the time you needed to do justice to an acceptable (and long) reply, until you were lagging so far behind in any actual reply, that you started to contemplate never writing to them again, given that the prospect of doing so would then be more favourable than if you actually were to reply (inevitably in a short and trite manner) some six months further down the line.

Anyhow. Exaggerated metaphors to one side, I had my breakthrough last week, in terms of an experience that made me want to divulge some thoughts on this site once more.

Were I on Facebook, then this could be a simple link to share, with a pithy statement – “love this”, or “so true,” or something along those lines.

For some already, the title of this post gives the game away. For others, like me up to about a week ago, the name David Foster Wallace may not mean much to you. Let me apologise in advance, then, to those in the first grouping for wasting your time. I expect the tennis has started by now, so feel free…

Subsequent to reading Wallace’s now infamous commencement speech, delivered just three years before he took his own life in 2008, I now have some of his books on order, in an attempt to make my amends at reading up further on the man (promising myself, whilst I searched him out on Amazon, that I would, one day, do the same for all the other game-changing writers whose work I was supposed to have read at University some twenty years ago.)

No-one wants, nor needs, to read a personal critique on Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech from me. So, fear not, I am not about to unleash one on you [if, as a complete aside, you are interested in critiquing of the HIGHEST order, then youtube is your best friend, and this (“love this”) link is your ticket to a delightful 12 minutes:]

Back to the Water thing…

I merely want to acknowledge what great guidance Wallace gave to those students, nearly ten years back now, about ways in which we might choose to view the world, might choose to think about what is moving around us, how we fit in, and challenge assumptions linked to our own awareness about each of these things.

To me, the elegance of what Wallace put forward in his speech (which to paraphrase a key aspect of it in a handful of words, asks us not to define education as ‘knowledge’, but more as ‘awareness’) is not just that what he is saying offers up a powerful platform of logic and philosophy, but that it’s also so readily available for each of us to test out.

His words are challenging, yet non confrontational. He helps us identify with his subject matter so easily, honestly, and in an effortlessly anecdotal way.

No doubt like all things – meditation, playing the piano, cooking – the more we practice, the better we can often be at something. Choosing how to think is very likely a way of being that requires application and constant tinkering with, too.

What I like about how Wallace constructs his argument around this is that, unlike so many other things in life that we strive to “get better” at, the philosophy of truly making choices about how we see the world costs us no money, no sacrifice, no significant investment of time or emotion, nor – quite brilliantly – can anyone actually tell us how to do it.

It is the ultimately selfish past-time, and yet can have profound effects on those around us, and on humanity.

This Is Water.

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