I have often wanted to have a great idea. But it hasn’t happened yet.
I spend a lot of time reading books, hoping that the wisdom I accumulate from them will dislodge the banal encumbrances which pass for my brain, and reveal some gleaming, pearling, coruscating kernel of deep insight.
Sadly, this hasn’t happened, and, on the occasions when I have managed to burrow through the staid preoccupation with remembering to pay my council tax and talking half-coherently in meetings, I usually only find a barren landscape populated by tumbleweed.
I have done many things in search of wisdom: I go on long walks to feel inspired by the majesty and joy of nature; I have tried meditating, yoga, praying, spending long periods of time in a room thinking really very hard, and eating lots of oily fish. But none of it has come to anything. My being, like my veins when they were once tapped for blood, returns nothing.
Of all places, the bath feels like the sort of place to have a great idea. So I have spent a lot of time in the bath. And I am good at creating the right conditions: I know the right temperature, the right position, even the right time. Sometimes, I also combine this with other activities, like reading, or thinking. I lie there – or wallow – with my arm bent awkwardly over my stomach waiting for the epiphany to occur.
In reality, I often leave the book on the bathroom floor and spend my time looking at my toes. I waggle them, raise my leg so that I can use them to trace the grouting. And I then find that, rather than sudden Satori, I begin talking to myself. I talk about my dinner: a recipe I found online, how I left the stew on for just a little longer to give it extra flavour.
Or, approaching a more rarefied and metaphysical topic, I sometimes attempt to explain my views on religion for the benefit of the discomforted pholcid spider which has taken up permanent residence in the corner above the toilet. “Reductive explanations often don’t even attempt to understand religion on its own terms,” I contend, but then quickly wither, like the puckered skin on my fingers.
So my life in the bath, I find on reflection, has brought me closer to the first sign of madness rather than the ponderous heights of a great spiritual awakening.
Unless, of course, there is more at work in my commonplace indolence and mental indiscipline than at first appears. The expectation that I might suddenly ‘arrive’ or, after a period of olympian thinking, work out something profound, implies an arrogated and determinate way of thinking about wisdom – one in which it can be drawn down from a dusty shelf and assembled into a tidy shape. For all their disagreement, most metaphysical speculations aver, in one way or another, that transcendence confounds this sort of ‘dualistic’ mindset.
So might – just might – my inability to match the empyrean heights of my ambition actually amount to an ability ‘to be’ free from the knotted illusions of rational thought? Or am I just incorrigibly lazy and incompetent?
Either way, I think Mao had his ‘great’ ideas in the bath. Which may suggest it’s a better place just to wallow.