So, now, even though I have a few jobs, and am very grateful for that, I have yet to be paid by them in any significant way, and so hubby and I are still living on credit. Sometimes, I let this get me down. But when that happens, I remind myself that if only I didn’t want anything, then I wouldn’t feel bad about not having it. So instead of thinking about how I can get the ice cream, the new dress, the museum admission (especially since I already know the answer: by patiently waiting for those paychecks) I concentrate on not desiring those things in the first place. Or at least, I remind myself that I should be concentrating on not desiring those things in the first place. That I should be more like the silent, though much spoken of Percival in The Waves.
For the “pagan” Percival the trick of indifference (one of Woolf’s favorite words) works quite well. Bernard, for example, notes Percival’s “curious air of detachment,” and explains that, "being naturally truthful, he did not see the point of these exaggerations, and was borne on by a natural sense of the fitting, was indeed a great master of the art of living so that he seems to have lived long, and to have spread calm round him, indifference one might almost say, certainly to his own advancement, save that he had also great compassion.” I share Bernard’s admiration for these qualities in Percival. I, too, want to “master the art of living” so that I can “spread calm” around me through my “indifference” to my own advancement. But it’s going to take some time to unlearn what society has taught me – the exact opposite, that ambition is king and acceptance weak.
Percival, who “reads a detective novel, yet understands everything," is observed only from outside and never gives a firsthand account of himself because, unlike the other characters, he has already reached nirvana, a state of non-self, a freedom from personality. His indifference, his solid simplicity, his lack of desire are his strengths. They are everything. They are, in fact, the Third Noble Truth epitomized: “The Third Noble Truth is that suffering can be overcome and happiness attained. This is perhaps the most important of the Four Noble Truths because in it the Buddha reassures us that true happiness and contentment are possible. When we give up useless craving and learn to live each day at a time, enjoying without restlessly wanting the experiences that life offers us, patiently enduring the problems that life involves, without fear, hatred and anger, then we become happy and free. Then, and then only, do we begin to live fully. Because we are no longer obsessed with satisfying our own selfish wants, we find that we have so much time to help others fulfill their needs. This state is called Nirvana. We are free from psychological suffering” (buddhanet.net). Like Percival, when we find the peaceful happiness of being freed from our own fleeting desires, then we can concern ourselves with the real needs of others.
An attitude like Percival’s may make a good life, but perhaps it doesn’t make great fiction. Accepting what life hands you with equanimity creates a profoundly peaceful existence, but it lacks the drama of Rhoda raging against the “violence” of the world, Bernard, trying so desperately to “sum it all up,” or Louis seeking fame and fortune to overcome his perceptions of his less than admirable heritage. It is perfect that Percival is absent, that he is a void, an emptiness, and that he dies as such, without us ever hearing his voice, or knowing his “self” – because he wants nothing, he has escaped the tyranny of the self. Percival is the empty center around which Woolf builds her story, and the truth at the heart of it.