Heraclitus'Insight

Heraclitus'
On the Island of Earraid, N.C. Wyeth, 1913


"No man ever steps in the same river twice", Heraclitus, Fifth Century B.C.

"No squirrel ever entered the same deer meadow twice."

Heraclitus might just as well have said that no man ever steps into the same morning twice, or sits in the same chair, or reads the same book. Further, he might have just as credibly insisted that no two people ever read the same book, not even once. Any author might, as I have, ask, "What book did you read?" when receiving feedback about their work. We seem to live within an almost constancy, surrounded by seemingly familiar objects and people, but these relations seem surprisingly fragile as we continuously rediscover that each might not be quite what we'd earlier concluded about them. Shocking moments of inconstancy punctuate our experience here, amplified, no doubt, by our abiding sense that things properly stay more or less the same, when they don't and never have. My continuing disorientation might well be self-inflicted, but I cannot seem to uncover any balance or Golden Mean between these two apparently opposing forces: stability and flux. Heraclitus also insisted that "panta rhei", everything flows, that nothing ever stays the same. I wonder why, then, we evolved to believe so vehemently in constancy, that everything's more or less frozen in place?

Glib self-helpless pundits blithely insist that the more things change, the more they stay the same, by which they might mean that most change seems insubstantial, a rearrangement of the proverbial Titanic's deck chairs.
An underlying if subtle pattern persists beneath and just beyond the changes we experience. The car might not be precisely the same car I parked here last night, but for most intents and purposes, it's essentially the same, a good-enough-for-government-work similarity. The slight dusting accumulated overnight doesn't materially affect how I might use the thing, and so amounts to essentially nothing. Over longer periods of time, though, slight dustings successively laid atop each other become clear indication that the vehicle's different enough to warrant a drive to the car wash, so as to reclaim its former sovereignty, so it might more believably appear unchanged. Maintaining even the appearance of stability sometimes demands expending considerable effort to keep something seeming the same.

Nothing seems to sit still here, even the turmoil within continues through successive meditations, each uniquely different, each also seductively similar. Which sensation qualifies as real? Both? Neither? I sometimes insist the I cannot do the same thing once, having long ago ceded the absolute absurdity of the concept of repeatability. I never was the guy to design any process because the details always bedeviled me. I couldn't seem to divorce myself from the clear impression that even an internal combustion engine might not repeat precisely the same motions over and over again, that pistons slam around within their cylinders more than they smoothly recoil. The oil in there sort of kind of resolves the major inconsistencies, but these eventually ruin the illusion of repeatability. Their magic is clearly temporary. How temporary, seems a matter for speculation and, probably, an insurance policy to resolve. Eventually, no matter how carefully I maintain those wheels, even The Schooner will ultimately resolve back into dust, which will be quickly carried away by insistent winds.

Some mornings seem more welcoming than others. I'm up at a similar time, but the light's shifted ever so slightly since yesterday and much more from a month before. The view from my writing window appears distinctly different while also barely warranting a sideways glance. Could it be that I'd forgotten precisely how the keyboard keys are arrayed? This happens almost every day, encouraging me to continue typing with only my two and a half fingers while staring at the keyboard all the while. I don't remember precisely how to finish off my latest pot of beans, though my diary insists that I've produced easily a thousand similar pots before. I can't quite recall how I finished that last batch and I finally accept that I'm actually all on my own out here, thousands of years of cooking lore useless in the moment, which also reliably and quickly slips into the past. How I finish the pot of beans might not matter, but if it doesn't, nothing likely matters.

I suggest, and not merely due to Heraclitus'Insight, that we're all on our own here, endlessly approximating, as if cursed or blessed to be drawing circles employing only squares. I understand, some mornings. that I'm called to make everything up as I go along, that my prior knowledge, while never completely erased, might be wasted when I try to apply it to any fresh challenge. I dare not dwell overmuch on such things, and am probably much better off considering Heraclitus'Insight a mildly amusing parlor game, since we all know for certain that everything usually seems more or less the same. I might better consider inevitable changes as surprises attempting to delight me. The squirrels come into the backyard deer meadow searching for the nuts they found there yesterday, and seem confused to find their expectations disappointed. They'll be back again tomorrow, searching for their past, and might well repeat this pattern for weeks before finally forgetting how their world should have been. They they'll begin again, probably after stumbling upon another discovery to replace what should have been. No squirrel ever entered the same deer meadow twice.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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