Fading Away

I’ve been in Auckland for a week now, although it feels much longer.

I am not doing well. Life is becoming unreal. I feel myself fading away.

Work is successful enough. My client is happy. The people I’m working with are glad to have me around. Nothing I’m being asked to do is beyond my competence.

I have a small suite in a nice hotel downtown, a few minutes walk from work and  maybe fifteen minutes from most of the things a tourist would want to see.

I ought to be on a kind of sponsored holiday; a form of corporate tourism: consultant by day, world traveller by night.

Instead, I feel my sense of self slowly slipping away from me, stripping me of the desire and the ability to do anything  while leaving me vulnerable to wild swings in mood.

I understand some of the factors contributing to this: travelling halfway around the world gives major jet lag problems, I know no one here except the people that I work with, the ten-hour time difference between here and home has left me isolated, almost dislocated, my recent change in writing habits means that I am without the online community that has been part of my life for many years.

If you want some idea of what all this is like, watch “Lost In Translation”. It captures the sense of unreality that can overtake isolated people in an alien environment.

But I can’t shake the sense that these things are catalysts, providing the energy to fuel a reaction that has been latent for some time.

It seems to me that my sense of self is a little fragile at the moment. It is fuelled less by desire and more by anxiety. I have strongly ingrained patterns of behaviour that I see as going a long way to defining who I am: focused, problem-solving, solitary, comfortable (or at least, not uncomfortable) in living and working in a society that is not my own. Recently I’ve been analysing those patterns from a different perspective and not liking what I see. The same things that make me successful at work, effectively isolate me from the world and free me from the need to be socially and emotionally involved.

In “Up In The Air”, George Clooney gives a speech about imagining that your life is a backpack and that you have to put in it all the things you value. The more you put in, the heavier the burden, the harder it is to go anywhere. Relationships are the heaviest things in the backpack. Initially he recommends that people travel light because movement is life. By the end of the movie he questions his assumption that travel is freedom and life is a bag full of burdens and wonders whether travel is a refusal to stay still long enough to understand how empty our lives are.

Being here has shown me that, in the absence of my wife, I not only treat myself as luggage on a flight but, when I arrive, I treat myself as some kind of robot focused on getting a particular task done with the minimum possible interaction so that I can go home.

Other small things nag at me. I have a tendency to mimic accents. It’s not something I think about, it just happens. I bought some stuff in a store here yesterday and the assistant told me that my accent was so neutral, she’d assumed I was a Kiwi until she saw the foreign credit card I paid with. Given how strong the New Zealand accent is, it seems to me that the voice I’m using must be a performance piece, which makes wonder what else is in the performance or what is really me.

This is the first English-speaking country I’ve worked in for a while. Here people in shops expect to engage me in conversation about where I’m from and what I’m doing here and what my plans for the weekend are. Normally, I avoid all of that because I don’t speak the language well enough to take part. Here I can see that I just don’t expect to speak to people in stores and have no need or desire to watch-us-covertell them anything about myself.

I’m reading “Watch” by Robert Sawyer at the moment. The book is a about an emergent consciousness on the web. Sawyer argues that consciousness is about focus. About having a point of view. Without focus we don’t truly have a self.

Well, my focus is slipping or is on the wrong thing. I feel as if I’m within a few degrees of autism and I’ve no idea what to do about it.

There’s a term for this: identity dissolution. American psychotherapists  see our sense of self as being under attack by consumerist pressure and the rate of social change. They recommend therapy (of course).

Eastern thought sees it differently. Adyashanti teaches that the dissolution of identity is step towards enlightenment. He says that Identity dictates perception and should be approached  with humility. This means being willing to be exactly where we are and letting all that is false about our identity fall away over time.

I have no idea if that makes any sense of it is just another way to take things out of Clooney’s backpack and live up in the air.

Tomorrow, I’m back at work, my mind will be occupied and for most of the day I will know who I am supposed to be. Perhaps this is life for most of us most of the time. Yet I would like more. I want to add things to my backpack. I want to carry the weight of loving and being loved.

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