Keep Slogging–Then More

You want to do a start-up?

You want to write a novel?

You want to be a social revolutionary?

You want to do anything meaningful with your life?

Imagine your goal–what does it look like? Who is with you?

Now, imagine your path to that goal as if it were a movie. Tell yourself the story, scene by scene. Envision yourself in the middle of the action–dealing with the problems, rushing in to meet the needs of the crisis, and then reaping the rewards of your success.

I’ve had these sorts of daydreams ever since I was a child. I would go through in my head the way I wanted my life to go. Unlike many daydreamers, I imagine, I always built in crises and difficulties into my daydreams. I never liked when I got to the end of the story, in fact. Reaching my goal was the worst part of my daydream. I always imagined the thrill of the process. I did, however like moving from step to step. I like the process, but only when it was progressing.

slogging

Let’s go back to your daydream, though. Play it through in your mind again. But this time imagine it playing, but with somebody hitting the Pause button on and off and on and off over and over and over. Think of the frustration of living out your daydream that way.

Well, that’s reality. If you want to do anything of merit in life, it’ll be just like that. It’s a lot of slogging. Inevitably you will have a great day–triumphing over some near-disaster. Rarely will you even have time to enjoy it for a minute. Then some other facet of reality sets in, or a new problem arises.

Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled that “life is a series of problems.” Nothing truer has ever been written. It is a hard truth to confront–and an even harder one to accept.

In order to accept it and continue pursuing your calling in spite of it, you must learn to love what you are working toward more than what you are working on. Invariably, what you are working toward will require you to work on many things that you find tedious, boring, or downright miserable. There’s no outsourcing this misery. You can hire employees to do the work you don’t like, but then there will be new things you don’t like.

Every solution creates new problems. Progress more describes a process than a result. Progress is simply the willingness to solve an ever-more difficult set of problems in succession. It is harder to solve the devastation of the world’s fish stocks than it was to solve the problem of catching fish more efficiently. And yet, those solutions made the world a better place in spite of creating a new set of problems to solve.

Acceptance of this succession of problems should not lead to resignation, even though it will always be tempting. It’s easy to say “well if we do this, then we’ll have to deal with that, and that, and that.” Undoubtedly, but that can’t be a reason not to act.

You must learn to solve today’s problems today–and tomorrow’s problems tomorrow.

As the ancient wisdom reminds us, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Two more thoughts in this same realm of lessons learned:

Worry more about what will debilitate you than what will kill you. If you are dead, you won’t care. Much worse to be alive and helpless.

and

Get some Italians in your life–especially if they are from the South. They’ll make you smile and laugh even when you don’t want to. And that might be just the levity you need to pick yourself up and go back to the slog.

 

The Truth Shall Set You Free

There is only one reality.

Whether we are dedicated to an increased, enhanced understanding of it is the chief determinant of our ability to grow and progress in life. To do so requires ultimate humility. It requires us to relinquish claims to having our own truth or our own reality. It means we must live in the same reality as everybody else around us.

It means we must subordinate our interpretations of reality to an ethic of uncertainty. Dedication to reality does not necessitate that we subordinate our dreams and desires to those of others, but it means we must craft them in a way where coexistence and community with others is possible. The ethic of uncertainty allows us to do this without doing unnecessary harm to our identities.

Whenever our identity is impermeable, however, we will do whatever it takes to preserve even the most absurd notions.

Truth sets us free from our absurdities. Truth sets us free from unrealistic expectations. Truth sets us free from all of the things that hold us back from love, peace, and self-actualization.

This is a paradox. We must first sacrifice our rigid identity in order to emerge into an authentic identity. Only when we have humbled ourselves can we actualize all of our possibilities. Like a fruit tree requires pruning, so do our egos.

We reach Truth through self-reflection, to be sure. But the more powerful and effective path to truth is friction with other people and in the cooperative sharing of our “maps” of reality with other people. Through friction and cooperation we are able to acquire better and better information about reality and our unique places in it.

Few people are truly open to this process. It is threatening. It means we must be vulnerable. It means we must disarm ourselves instead of engaging in an arms race of ego that prevent us from relating to other people and building community with them.

Don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to see the world as it is. Don’t shrink from friction with other people. Embrace others, their differences and all.

Nobody else can do it for you.

The Suffering Matrix

 

 

The following is my proposed lens through which to view suffering. The two axes are Voluntary/Involuntary and Legitimate/Illegitimate, forming four types of suffering. I will be writing an extensive exposition of this at some point (hopefully I will get around to it somewhat soon), but I wanted to go ahead and post this to start soliciting comments and thoughts on the subject. This is a by-product of the curriculum development I am doing for Exosphere.
Suffering Matrix

A Prayer for Divine Sensitivity

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O Spirit of God,

That didst hover in darkness over the waters that covered the shapeless world,
Thou Eternal Soul and Source of all life, all love, and goodness,
Quicken my heart to Thy vibrations, that I may hear without ears and see without eyes
Thy sovereign movements in and through all creation,
Thou who dost connect the alienated lives of this mortal existence through Love;
That I, one of the alienated may find rest from my travails in the feeling of unconditional compassion
Shown to us wounded men, through the sharing of wounds and the breaking of bread.
Open my being to the vulnerability of others, that I may be an instrument of healing and whole-making,
And that in so doing wouldst myself be healed and made more whole.
If Thou wouldst but grant me the sensitivity to hear the cries for help of my fellows,
And the courage to cry out in my own distress without fear of being weak.
As Thou made the void infinitely full at the foundations of the earth,
So I plead to you, O Spirit, fill full the void in my heart, and the hearts of all Thy sons and daughters,
That we would not, in our finitude, tear each other down with unreasonable expectations of fulfillment.
O Divine Fount, we all yearn to belong, to come home, to love, and be loved,
And we beseech Thee, grant us the fortitude to humble ourselves perpetually with one another
And create in each of our hearts the space for others to belong, to be at home, and to be loved
So we might ever mirror Thy eternal embrace–
Thou Fundamental Essence of All Existence.

Amen.

 

Learning How to be Irrelevant

We all strive for relevance. We want to be relevant to the concerns and cares of the day, so that people will pay attention to us. Politicians and large corporations hire consultants and engage in endless focus grouping in order to be relevant. Churches have transformed themselves from sanctuaries of quietude and holy reflection into entertainment venues apt for a Lady Gaga concert in their quest to be relevant.

Each of us has some inner longing to fit in somewhere, to something. It stems from our existential pain of alienation. And so we strive to be relevant, wanted, even needed.

I submit that we must learn instead how to be irrelevant.

Relevance means attending to the shallow cares of the day, worshiping at the altar of the Gods of the Marketplace. It requires that we look around, rather than inside. It is a cultural mandate to focus on the superficial plane of existence. This is especially true in the present age of instant gratification and frenetic busy-ness.

The message we hear is “if you aren’t helping my immediate concern, I don’t want to hear from you.”

Reflect on how this affects all of our human relationships.

irrelevance

We should not be surprised that so much of our interaction with others seems to be commoditized.

Relevance is almost always at odds with authenticity. Because each of us is unique. Because each of us has a fragmented and divergent experience and perception of the world around us, the quest for relevance takes on a road away from our true self and toward a projection of what we think other people want from us.

The truth is I don’t know what anybody else really wants from me, or what anybody else wants me to be. The truth is that they don’t even know themselves. So why should you or I journey away from our genuine being to try to be relevant to them?

Instead, we must learn to be irrelevant, not for the sake of being different. Not for the pseudo-individuality or spurious uniqueness pursued by teenagers and hipsters. But rather that our irrelevance should flow outward from the depths of our truly unique and special souls. If we change our way of living in such a way, that our spirit goes out into the world rather than the spirit of the world coming into us, we will not need the approval and affirmation of others in order to feel whole or complete. We will not need the gratification of feeling relevant.

As we are putting ourselves out into the world, then, we have the chance to attract other beautiful and irrelevant individuals, and we will find ourselves being attracted to them as well, who through their own irrelevance call us to understand different experiences of the world, and thereby grow and learn to live better, more loving, more giving lives. But we must take this risk in order to attract such people.

If we live to be relevant, we are likely to attract many of the wrong people into our lives. Relevance, as we have said, means we are appealing to the instant gratification zeitgeist. Who doesn’t want to be instantly gratified? If we are living outside-in rather than inside-out, we will be nothing more than one option among many on the consumerist buffet.

Taking this path will mean enduring much rejection. It will require us to see our efforts to give of ourselves for the growth of others frustrated–probably more often than not. We must be careful not to allow this frustration to lead us into despair and to abandoning our irrelevance for the easier path.

I am here reminded of the Parable of the Sower.

“Behold, a sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

We cannot love and give with the expectation that the return will come to us from those to whom we give ourselves. We can only live united in spirit to the Unknowable, feeling and reveling in the unconditional love we already have. Then, and only then, will we have the strength to practice irrelevance. Then, and only then will we have the power to take up our calling to be ourselves.

Calling From Silence

Much if not most of our behavior stems compulsively from our boredom. We spend hours on Facebook because we are bored. We fill our lives with appointments and events and functions because we are bored. We watch TV, read books, and fill our lives with endless distractions principally because we are bored. Sadly, we even take up social causes for this same reason. We are bored and we think it will not only rescue us from our boredom, but give our lives meaning at the same time.

Such motivation will only lead us to a growing emptiness over time. Our boredom is an incontrovertible part of human existence, and the more we fight to alleviate it, the stronger it becomes, like a bacteria with consistent exposure to the same drugs. Until we realize this–that we cannot conquer our boredom–we will never be able to reach deep within ourselves to find the spiritual motivation to do what it is we are called to do.

Frequently we hear career counselors and academic advisors and other such people ask us the question “What would you do every day if money were no object?” with the implication that our response to that question ought to be what we choose to do with our time anyway. This superficial nonsense is perceived to be a show of wisdom, but it couldn’t be more distant from true wisdom, for it is a rationalistic question that has a rationalistic answer.

 

Valle de la Luna 3

 

The deep mysteries of life–those things that cannot be measured or studied with the scientific method–are beyond the scope of rationalistic inquiry. We may attempt to treat them rationalistically, but this is perhaps why there is a growing spiritual emptiness in our generation. We probe these questions with the mind and come up short. We should be probing these questions with the heart. But that is a far more difficult thing to do.

To explore this question of calling from and with the heart requires us first to quiet the noise inside us, and all around us. We must withdraw ourselves from the endless calculations of the mind. We must withdraw ourselves from being in constant communication with the world around. This means not only that we must cease sending signals outward, but we must barricade ourselves from receiving inbound signals. We must make ourselves totally inaccessible to the world, and the world totally inaccessible to us.

Then we must continue to fight against our proclivity toward processing. Processing and Contemplation are two different, and indeed mutually exclusive activities. Processing is what we do most of the time. It is where we make our pro & con lists in our head, where we review what was said, preview what we might say, where we rehearse and rehash conversations and scenarios, where our mind is at the peak of its activity. Contemplation, on the other hand, is the struggle to stop processing and start listening to the still small voice of the Divine that is always speaking to us, but whose words are rarely heard because we are too busy drowning them out.

We need to learn how to create a desert in our mind so that we can hear perfectly clearly the words being spoken to us from our hearts, out of the Soul of God. The noisome chatter must give way to the providential symphony of silence. Then we might be able to hear that calling. Then we might be evoked to right action, not out of compulsion or boredom, but out of a response to the call.

 

 

My Most Joyful Moment

Chugach

Seven hard days of hiking (and carrying a 60 lbs backpack), through rain and hail, difficult river crossings, a few bear sightings, and lots of thick tundra brush culminated in an ascent up one of the steepest inclines a person could climb without needing special gear. Then there was the moment I looked up and saw the mountains pictured above–the ancient architecture of God standing before me in perfect harmony with itself and its surroundings, carefully crafted–and as yet still being crafted. It was truly the most joyful moment of my life.

But would it have been as joyful had I seen it on the first day of the hike? Would I have appreciated the splendor and majesty of the Unknowable in and through his creation had I flown there by helicopter? I submit that in both cases the answer would be a resounding “No.”

I was asked yesterday by a person I had only just met if I really believed (as I had suggested) that suffering was so essential to the human experience. In my slightly inebriated state I could not give a cogent defense of my position. But I think that suffering is the currency with which we are able to purchase true joy. As long as we understand that all suffering is not equal, and all suffering is not legitimate, and can distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate suffering, then cautiously I say yes, suffering is essential, because it is only through suffering we can emerge into joy. Just as community can only be entered into after going through the stage of emptiness.

Indeed, my most joyful moment would have been dulled without the struggle that preceded it. The joy we have in relating to other people and being in relationships with other people likewise can only be truly achieved after the chaos and pain of realizing we are each unique individuals with conflicting and fragmented perceptions of the world, different wants, different needs. But if we embrace the struggle to transcend those differences, and transcend our egos in the process, then we are able experience the joy of relationship and community.

G.K. Chesterton, in his inimitable work Orthodoxy cites Oscar Wilde’s statement that we cannot appreciate sunsets because we cannot pay for them. Chesterton’s response is “But we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde.”

Hence, joy is derived via negativa, by stripping away, rather than adding to. (Legitimate) Suffering is the friction that helps us strip away all that is unnecessary. When we are climbing the mountains of life, we can only carry with us those things that are absolutely essential, and we must shed the rest. Then when we reach the top, not only do we have the elation of seeing the handiwork of God, but we are able to do so without the weight of those extraneous things that had weighed us down along the way.

 

The Long Emptiness

Building genuine community is difficult, whether it is within a large group of people or as small as two. It is also nearly impossible (except in times of great distress and urgency) to skip any of the stages in the community-building process. Scott Peck outlines the four stages of community as follows:

Stage 1. Pseudocommunity

Stage 2. Chaos

Stage 3. Emptiness

Stage 4. Community

In most interpersonal and group dynamics we vacillate back and forth between pseudocommunity and chaos. We are either fighting or pretending that our conflicts have been resolved. Quite often we become rather effective at making our pseudocommunity more convincing. We fool not only the people outside, but even ourselves.

These pretenses can be kept up for years, even decades. Most business partnerships, working relationships, friendships, and marriages follow such a path, and the road between chaos and emptiness either leads us to a visceral reaction that throws us back into pseudocommunity or it causes a dissolution of the attempt to build community with that person/those people altogether.

We are ill-equipped to deal with emptiness, much less persist through it. The post-modern world is so full of distractions and preoccupations that we can quickly escape the pain caused by emptiness. Emptiness is where we “do the work of depression” in our interpersonal lives, it is where we live out a sort of emotional and public silence.

It is the place where all of the chaos culminates into a collapse of our rational ability to deal with, explain, or try to fix what appear to be irreconcilable differences. Any attempt to try to “fix” just throws us back into chaos, which we may do repeatedly, rather than enduring the legitimate suffering of emptiness.

But in most cases, emptiness eventually leads to simply giving up.

 

lonely-pier

 

In the last two weeks a respected business partner and I have rejoined forces after an unpleasant (though amicable) parting of ways many months ago, and the reconciliation is one of the most joyous occasions of my life. It represents the power of silence and emptiness. We had not spoken a word or communicated in any other manner since the parting of ways.

When we finally spoke again by phone last week, there was that sense of peace and transcendence Peck describes when he writes about achieving true community. None of the angst or hostility was there that had characterized our chaos phase. None of the ego or posturing. The depression of emptiness had faded and we had entered for the first time a spirit of true community.

This has really focused my thinking on the question of emptiness, how it can be understood, how it can be experienced to eventually lead to community even when everybody has given up and actually walked away. It is a subject Peck never addresses in The Different Drum. Perhaps we should take a much longer-term view of these processes, allowing emptiness to run its course.

Solomon says “there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.” Let us refrain from embracing and be anxious for nothing. Let us do the work of depression in our relationships and let silence repair the damage done by the inevitable chaos that flows from the clash of unique individuals. Let us not fear the long emptiness when it is necessary to bring healing and joy to broken communion. 

The Strife is O’er

The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.

Deep within the soul of every man and woman resides the spirit of God, burning like a fire to transform the man into the likeness of the Unknowable. But there is a struggle between our infinite, immortal selves and our finite, physical selves. Our finite, physical selves fight for our evolutionary urges to survive. Our infinite selves want us to embrace the paradoxes of living and put our survival concerns aside in favor of a higher and more spiritual way of existing.

This is why the Resurrection is so essential to embracing the mystical, immaterial way of living–if we fear death, our evolutionary impulses will always override our spiritual yearning. If we live in fear of the grave, or in its shadow, we are incapable of putting aside the gnawing concerns that lead us to seek self-preservation and immediate gratification. For death follows us from phase to phase in our life, reminding us that we have only a certain amount of time. Aging is a sort of slow death that pushes people to waste their youth in pursuit of the most vain pleasures. It pushes older people to go to extreme measures to recapture their youth. All of this is counter to a spiritual existence.

But the Resurrection frees us from these concerns. The reality that Death has been conquered for us, that the grave is not the end of our existence gives us hope eternal that we can quell our evolutionary urges since we can see them as the farce that they are. In the angelic light of the Empty Tomb, we can know that if we make the decision to live in mercy and love, yielding to others, lowering ourselves to serve, we are not actually sacrificing anything, but rather gaining everything by living and walking in unity with the Divine Presence of I AM THAT I AM.

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By forgoing all of the distractions and medications we normally employ to reduce the pains of existence, we paradoxically suffer more in order that we might eventually cease suffering altogether. The more unified we are with the spirit of the Unknowable dwelling inside of us, the more we give power to the Infinite and the more we see the absurdity of being governed by the Finite, the more we are able to embrace our true freedom, and the less our existential pains cause us to suffer.

Indeed, the Resurrection is the ultimate solution to the pains of existence, for those pains are brought about by our coming to terms with our smallness and limitedness. The Resurrection gives us insight into our Limitlessness through the Infinite existence of God who dwells within our soul and who is ever-present in our life and struggle. The Resurrection gives us new life because it bears witness to the gift of immortality bought for us by the suffering of the Living God Incarnate on Good Friday.

Living in the glory of the Resurrection our strife truly is over. Our battle and victory are truly won. But we must then become conscious of this blessed reality and begin living and moving in its Truth.

 

God is Love

We were born to love–to love unconditionally and without cease, to pour out ourselves to others and give from the limitless depths of our own soul the imitation of God’s divine love for us, a fountain of joy and a spring of refreshing hope. Our world knows very little of love. What we colloquially refer to as love, or falling in love, or being in love could hardly be farther from true love. We do not understand it. It would be wiser to avoid the pretenses of love if we are to be ignorant of its substance.

The substance of Love is conceptually easy to understand, but difficult to grasp through our life and action, harder still to feel deep within ourselves its truth. The ancient wisdom of what Love is comes to us through the words of St Paul, “Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not arrogant; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own things, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

Everything else will fail. Money, power, status, health, life itself, but the Empire of Love reigns sovereign over the world forever. Love can, but need not be directed toward A Beloved, of course. Certainly such limitation would be an offensive reduction of that most infinite and irreducible universal quality, that singular beauty and magnificent Identity of God Himself–GOD IS LOVE. No other noun is so blessed with such an elevated place in language–no other noun is so enthroned in the Divine Dwelling. It is Love which as the noumenal identity of YHWH, is ALPHA AND OMEGA, it is Love that is BEGINNING AND END, FIRST AND LAST.

There is neither precedent nor subsequent to Love, as there is neither precedent nor subsequent to God. In the beginning there was Love and Logos, hovering over the waters in darkness. And then Love brought the Light to the world which would become Sun and Son, Light that would from all eternity adopt us in Love as sons of the Living Love, the ever-immanent, ever-transcendent God of Love who made the universe out of the compulsion of Love, for whom Creating was not one choice among many, but written into the Divine Character of Love. Love is always Creative, always Dynamic.

Love can never know stasis, for stasis does not move and all that does not move is dead. Love, however, is eternally living, Eternal Life, and therefore must constantly be in motion. It is here we must pause to reflect on the great mystery of Time and Eternity. If what we say about God is true, if what we say about Love is true, then we must conclude that the universe and God have existed eternally together–that is, that time and space have themselves existed for all eternity as the creative work of the God of Love. For if God is Love, and if Love is eternally creative, then we cannot fathom a God prior to Creation, we cannot describe a God in stasis.

Our finite and limited minds cannot make sense of this. When the saints write of the depths of the mystery of God, this must certainly be among them. Rather than fleeing from such mystery, rather than vainly attempting to explain such mystery with science or philosophizing, let us rather revel in this Divine Mystery, absorb it through the pores of our hearts and permit it to fire betwixt the synapses of our minds, to permeate into the core of our being, to consume our every fiber, string, and cell, to overpower our will until our only thought, our only desire, our only consideration is to imitate the creative Love of the Divine Mystery, to make ourselves timeless through such acts of Love, to disappear from our mortality and become immortal by placing our being in the path of the breath of God so that our lungs may never fail in and through all eternity, with Love as our limitless respiration.

The self, the ego, the super ego fade into utter irrelevance under such conditions, they are suffocated by the pure oxygen of Love. “I need,” “I want,” “Give me,” “Mine,” lose their very meaning as the fiction of what they symbolize is exposed to us as we draw ever-nearer to the Spirit of God, as a mirage in the desert disappears as it is approached, as the representations of things in rocks and fogs and clouds reveal themselves as figments of our imagination with growing proximity–so are do our illusions of separation, alienation, distinction, boredom, absurdity, anxiety, meaninglessness disappear as we submerge ourselves in the depths of the river of life.

As we are baptized into the Grace of Eternity, the sufferings of the temporal life become not merely bearable, but joyful, for they occur to us as opportunities to expand our capacity to Love, to strengthen our ability to reach beyond ourselves, our own limitations, and tap into the ceaseless fountain of Love, that springs from the soul of God and extend it to all people with whom we interact, to expand the universe with such Love, to nurture and feed and thereby grow ourselves and one another, verifying and bearing witness to the Unknowable and Ineffable Spirit of All.

Indeed, if only we would be so bold, so brave, so daring to drown ourselves in this Love, we might find the anguish of existence to be fully extinguished. It is in this we find the merit of the paradox of death and rebirth. Only in dying may we awake to Life, only in ceasing to exist may we find vibrancy in existing in Love, in being connected eternally to the Spirit of God and our fellow man.

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