Funny that I would notice the hills and valleys of attention while trading stamps. I even remember the the room in Jastrzebie Zdrój, where my friend and I sat; and even the stamps we looked at when that thought approached and entered me. We were at his apartment, in front of his aquarium and near the collection of coca-cola cans on a high shelf. We had our stamp albums open and we wondered where some of the countries could be that had issued those little pictures that were printed with much more attention to detail than almost anything else around us. He left the room to get something. I looked at the fish. I looked at the cans. I looked at the stamps. There was a window nearby. But I have no idea what time of year it was. I must have been eight.
I think I wanted the series of tall ships from Panama. (Though that’s a fuzzy thought.) I remember being upset about the fact that I was excited about things in unpredictable waves. I could see how I would be pulled into the world of fish and dive into the little ecosystem with all its joys and dangers. Then I would flow away from that and turn to something completely different, but again with full passion. So it was stamps at that very moment, but I knew something else was coming, something very different would pull me into its complete context. And I would be there then, suddenly in a basement of a school an hour away, playing the drums, or a drum, or not even a drum, a piece of wood. Well, maybe that was not the actual passion then; I was actually a bit obsessed with the girl who played the drums. But that’s a different story.
So while trading stamps I was a bit disappointed with myself. I imagined what amazing accomplishment I could have achieved if I had only stuck to breeding the little fish in the aquarium, and how amazing the consequences of that could have been. I would probably soon be able to join Jacques Cousteau on his travels around the planet, hold on to fins of blue whales, while letting off little bubbles from the air tanks strapped to my back. If only I stuck to those fish. Those fish.
But here I was looking at ships on little toothed rectangles of paper. And I wondered about Panama and Guernsey and the always present CCCP. Thought that was all in a time before search engines, and I was living at the frontier of Silesia in the 70s. So a few of the little stamps might have as well been printed on Mars.
I remember even being fascinated by the thought that I was not able to stick to just one thing. I think that might have been the moment when I realized that there is some sort of reward in sticking to one particular something, and that there is a bit of a punishment, or lack of accomplishment when one dares to enter a different world.
I look at some of my journey of life so far, and it is fascinating how strange and oddly true that observation of the eight year old me was. And also how silly at the same time.
As a living meta organism on this planet we appear to be much more rewarding to those who stick to one particular track; be it one place, or one career, or one set of beliefs. Switching tracks is maybe accepted when it happens once, and in some way that triggers some sort of measurable progress. Though only when that progress becomes eventually useful or beneficial—or at least relevant—for enough people so they can see some sort of improvement?
But the actual switching of ideas is seen as silly, or bad, or a waste. We are advised that we can only reach a certain level of accomplishment after spending 10000 hours on some task. Or we are told that those who go to the same church their entire life, are able to live beyond the magical 100—or maybe even longer—as they become a fixture (the word) of their community.
Even those who switch jobs every two years to advance in some industries that have stripped themselves of the possibilities of rewarding those who stay, actually tend to do that thing consistently, with a certain determination that eventually makes them reach that sweet observation deck of measurable, agreed upon success.
Changing one’s opinion, or discovering something new or different can be quite painful for the discoverer. Especially those who dare to be among the first group get hit by the club of the guardians of the status quo.
And the conflict does not need to be external or big. Since we humans are bizarrely programmed to actually only notice the differences between things and ideas and moments, we tend to compare, and measure and prove to ourselves that what we are doing is better or not quite as good as something else. It happens a lot actually and often subconsciously.
So what’s the point again?
Perhaps it is actually quite rewarding to be able to find beauty and harmony in systems that in themselves might have been created through a long and steady process (or not). Setting complete predictability into one’s life carries obviously huge advantages, and the stability is probably healthy and indeed one can experience something of a scale that could be awe inspiring. But the traveler or dreamer is not only punished. The possibility of falling in and out of complex systems and realizing that they are similar or different or in some way connected or not, is also a reward. It is a different one. It creates something that might be intangible, and immeasurable. And there might be no monetary award attached at all. But it is apparently rewarding enough for some to continue. Being able to throw oneself agains that boom of the universe, again and again is dangerous and crazy and not recommended for most. But it is potentially one of the ways how we managed to get to this point in evolution and also one of the ways how we will travel beyond. And we will and we must.
So while it is all incredibly frightening while it happens, and while it is insane and wild and there is even medication to surpress it, the idea of daring to discover a variety of points of view—not just in a very narrow sense but on a much larger scale—is quite amazing. And it is full of beauty and glimpses of the divine. Perhaps even longer glimpses than one can describe.
It would be a bit boring now if I wrote a long and logical piece about the benefits of the seemingly inconsistent. And so I will step aside now, quickly. I should probably go over there to the bookshelf and look for those stamps of tall ships from Panama. I think I still have them, unless I exchanged them on that afternoon I remember against some portraits of the Pope.