When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning,
they distract themselves with pleasure. Viktor Frankl (quoted in Simple Marriage)

For about 20 years I didn’t have a television. One day this quirk came out when I was chatting with some work colleagues. One of them blurted out, “I’d die if I didn’t have a TV!” She was shocked – and so was I. Her exclamation indicates how endemic television is in our culture.

Television, and other screen-based entertainment, fills you with the stories of fictional scenarios and characters. Their lives take on at least as much psychic reality as the real people in your life. You are Jason Bourne or Bridget Jones or (my personal favourite) Leroy Jethro Gibbs. You live vicariously.

This Lent I have given up watching TV. (It is what Gibbs would do!) To be honest, I have hardly noticed. I have unplugged the TV and thought little more about it. I have one exception: I will sit with my children when they are watching a film. All rules have limits.

The do-nothing space is difficult to defend.

It has been instructive. As I quit one addiction, I cast about for a replacement. I turn on the radio, surf the Internet, read fiction, sort out my music on i-‘You’ve never been so easily entertained’-Tunes.

When I give up one pleasure, I distract myself with another. Emptiness is difficult to bear. As a friend of mine said, “The do-nothing space is difficult to defend.”

From what meaning does pleasure distract you? What are you avoiding? To know the answers to these questions you must stop, feel into this body, and wait to be shown.

At the heart of human being is emptiness. The Buddhists call it ‘no self‘ – David Loy calls it lack. The Christians call it ‘poverty of spirit‘ and ‘the loss of all things‘. It is the emptiness of being from another. You are a creature – by, in, from, of, and for God: God is what you are. This is your meaning.

For some reason, you don’t like this. You like to think that you make your own life, that you invent yourself, that freedom is choice. This is at best a half-truth, at worst the propaganda of a socio-political-economic ideology that exists for its own ends and is careless of you.

Quitting an addiction is akin to receiving the gift of a palimpsest. The old stories that you tell about your life are scraped or washed off. It is forgiveness. It is remembering your original face. It is receiving a clean sheet of infinite potential – for creativity, or for waste.

What will you do with this gift?
Who will you allow to write your life?

6 thoughts on “Palimpsest

  1. Gibbs would never give up TV for Lent because he NEVER watches it! When he’s not chasing murderers, “bringing our boys home”, putting his life on the line and clouting De Nozzo he’s endlessly sanding down his boat. That is the means by which he exorcises his ghosts… in other words, distracts himself from his own emptiness and dark places. But because it’s creative and the work of his hands it’s not seen as an addiction.

    Oh, and… are you recording anything good you’re missing or bookmarking things to watch on iplayer after Easter, or truly going the whole Lenten hog..???

    1. Thank you, Silvana. This makes me laugh. You’re quite right: I’ve never seen Gibbs watch TV. And he is completely addicted to coffee, and redheads. In fact, the whole team is a pretty wounded lot. Perhaps that’s why I like it – so much to identify with.

      I’m not sure I agree about the boat, though. He goes down to his ‘basement’ and a lot goes on in our psyches when we work with our hands.

      On another tack… I am interested in how much we all like whodunits. Why do we find them so compelling? Is it a catharsis of our desire for justice, order, safety and the denial of death?

      And yes. I intend to go the whole Lenten hog. I also intend not to watch TV post-Resurrection.

  2. Yes, we all love whodunits! And the interesting question is, whether Colombo (where we watch a cat-and-mouse scenario, knowing Colombo will eventually reel his victim in) is more compelling than Midsomer Murders (gentle, except for all those truly weird and gruesome people and murders) where we’re kept guessing alongside Barnaby. In other words, it isn’t solely because we enjoy playing detective, because with Colombo we don’t and with others like Endeavour the plotlines and motives are usually very complex and we’re all confused!

    So maybe there is something more, to do with justice, order etc – though we wade through a lot of mess to get there. And our favourite detectives are usually wounded, vulnerable or in some other way struggling – while also being tough, dogged, loyal, kind and generally showing an inner strength we all admire.

    Hey – maybe now that you’re not watching any whodunits you have more time to reflect on them!!

    Gibbs names his boats after his dead daughter or ex-wife, which is why I say he’s exorcising his ghosts. Although the work is always shown as being slow and meditative, and a labour of love, there is a compulsive aspect to it (especially as he never seems to finish it, like he needs the building process more than the finished article)

  3. Wow – palimpsest – what an amazing word. I had to look it up – new word for me. I really like that idea of having all the old stuff wiped off.
    And emptiness got me thinking too – maybe we tend to associate emptiness with ‘nothingness’ but actually an emptying of all the ‘stuff’ can take us to an emptiness which is actually a fullness. Thinking of Psalm 16:11 ‘In your presence is fullness of joy’

    1. Thanks, Janet.

      I like what you say about the possibility of emptiness being a kind of fullness. I am thinking about (i.e. trying to practise) gratitude, which turns a fear of poverty into an appreciation of abundance. This seems to me to be related to what you say.


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