Time, the Rolling Stream

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

-Isaac Watts

A year is not a year.

-Venkatesh Rao

No question vexes me more each day of my life than the question of time and our mortal relationship to it. I last wrote about this issue three years ago to the day, which was my 29th birthday. That day could be said to be the most critical turning point in my life, the day that I decided–to borrow Emerson’s words–not to postpone my life, but live it already. I decided not to wait until circumstances were ideal to begin what I have long thought of as my life’s real mission. I decided not to wait until I had enough money, the right people, the right support. I decided not to straddle the fence of my calling anymore, but do what I couldn’t imagine myself not doing.

As Andrew Marvell wrote to coy mistress, I heard “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” and was determined to outrun it, even if for a short while. If I had known then the events that would unfold as a consequence of that truly fateful decision, I would have flinched–I would have hesitated. One of the blessings of human finitude is that we cannot peer into the future–we can barely peer into the past. We have only about three seconds at a time that we can live in the present and everything else is warped recollection or speculative fantasy. Thus, I did not have the opportunity to flinch. 

Primitive man, fleeing into the forest from a larger predator likewise could not foresee the snake or the spider in front of him due to the feeling of the warm breath of the lion behind. Likewise I ran away from the specter of death’s pursuit and into a forest riddled with snakes and spiders. The lion intends to eat us all–the snake bite merely needs urgent attention when it occurs. When we fully embrace the reality that time, like that ever rolling stream will bear us away too, we must resolve to act, to do something in the world, to make something of ourselves. 

Three years ago I was angry with myself for all of the time I had lost, all of the time I had wasted chasing things I didn’t care about in order to be thought highly of by people I didn’t respect and prove myself to people whose standards were not my own. Even as I had had the courage to strike out on my own and do my own thing from the time I finished university, I was merely taking a personalized path to someone else’s finish line. This may be the singularly most pernicious unacknowledged disease in entrepreneurial culture today. At the end, too many entrepreneurs are vying to win the same phallic measurement competition as the rest of the world, and are sacrificing their calling–and often their principles–in the process.

I was angry with myself for another reason, too–for all of the years I had lost not pursuing the kind of deep personal relationships and connections that can only be forged in and through the process of building real community. A life full of only fractured relationships, with no sources of healing, no mutual commitment to reconciliation is nothing more than a torture, and yet, we accept it as normal. So normal in fact that we fear the alternative–we look upon relationships characterized by honesty and acceptance with some degree of suspicion–even “too good to be true.”

I realized that most existential suffering in life is derived from these two phenomena–doing work that is out of alignment with our calling and broken relationships with other people. From within this personal hell and its attendant pain I determined to set out to do something about it, both for myself and for others. Such deep and fundamental pain can only be resolved by addressing the human spirit. It cannot be purchased or bartered for. It cannot be taught or even described. It can only be experienced–and if it is to become a new reality–practiced over and over each day. It must also be accompanied by an acceptance of a mystery, namely the mystery of the deep compatibility, even fraternity, between Self-Reliance and Community.

Only when we live truly to ourselves, embracing and loving ourselves and our uniqueness, accepting ourselves in our shortcomings and yet never losing the resolve to grow and change; only when we are clear about our individual callings and the sacrifices we have to make to pursue them–only then can we accept others for theirs. Only then can we relate to each other genuinely, without pretension or expectation or judgment. But the mystery flows in both directions, for our individual callings require the support of others to be realized fully. We need the ongoing support and influence of other people to become what we have the potential to become.

Here I do not mean superficial or two-dimensional “moral support” when we are depressed or encounter some obstacle, but a deeper, more committed form of support. We need the friction that authentic relationships engender in order to be dedicated to truth. We need to be constantly comparing our maps of reality if our understandings of the world around us are to be accurate enough to pursue and achieve our goals. We must be challenged every day by other people to maintain rigor in our lives–both in our beliefs about the world and in our interactions with it. To be open to challenge is to be open to growth–to be vigorously challenged is to grow vigorously.

We do not have these conversations very much in every day life. Questions of the “spirit” are almost taboo or off-limits, conjuring up ideas of religion or new age woo woo silliness. But the spirit need not be connoted with metaphysical claims. The spirit can be discussed without the need for heaven or God or gods or doctrine or anything else of the sort. The spirit, the mind, the psyche, whatever term one prefers to use, is the non-physical part of our existence. That part of our identity that we might not be able to easily define or explain, but we seem to know it’s there. The thing that makes me uniquely me and you uniquely you–the only truly private part of life to which only we ourselves have direct access.

You may ascribe it further, higher metaphysical qualities or merely see it as the collection of our thoughts, perceptions, and desires–it matters not your particular definition. We do not have to have the same one. Indeed, we certainly and almost by necessity cannot have the same one. We cannot even understand each other’s definitions of it fully or accurately. It is central to our existence and experience of life. And yet, we have no place where we can discuss such questions openly or honestly.

All of our institutions demand of us some sort of orthodoxy. We must believe certain things or deny certain things. We cannot wonder too openly about certain questions in intellectual circles without being deemed anti-rational. We cannot question too openly certain doctrines in religious circles without being deemed heretics. Our institutions purport to love truth, but they are less in love with its pursuit.

This is what rankles me about the movements to have “church for atheists.” It really is church. Certain ideas are ok and others are not. Just like religion.

But I also think I’m not alone in seeing that exclusive attention to the spirit and spiritual growth neglects the fact that we are not spirit and body as separate entities, but our minds exist in the context of our physical bodies in a physical reality that puts certain demands on us in order to survive. We have to eat, wear clothes, have shelter, and so on–the rubber eventually does have to meet the road.

It is easy to pursue a life of the mind in abject poverty. It is easy to pursue a life of wealth and pleasure in abject poverty of mind. But the full experience of life is only achieved with a complex and nuanced understanding of the deep interplay between the physical and the spiritual. 

Everybody understands this at some level, whether they acknowledge it or not. Everybody feels impoverished by the inadequacies of one or two dimensional living–the ignored calling, the broken relationships, the lack of contemplation, the dearth of action.

Even in the most ideal of circumstances it is difficult to pursue all of these things. It is nearly impossible to do alone. Ultimately this is why I founded Exosphere–to have a place to pursue these things with other people. I wake up every morning dedicated to the work to make it become a force for social change the world over. The world has had too many small ideas in recent years. It is time for a big one.

That brings me to my other thought on Time. While it is certainly the case that death comes to all, and Time is its agent, the most important development in thought I have had in the last three years, is that we have a lot of control over how Time comes to collect its due. I am forever indebted to Venkatesh Rao for his book Tempo, and for his insights on time in general and in particular that “a year is not a year.”

All of my anguish over lost years, my own Proustian search for lost time has fallen away by understanding the power of narrative time. Indeed, the last year of my life has felt longer (in a good way) than the other 10+ years of my adult life combined. I have experienced more, achieved more, and seen more facets of my work grow organically and unaided by me in 12 months than in the previous 120, far more than I thought possible. We can indeed make up for lost time. We can reclaim those “wasted” years, but we have to think about time differently. 

We have to understand our experience of time and reality with new intentionality to maximize whatever literal units of time we have left to live. Since few of us know that number, we can construct for ourselves new narratives that will allow us to experience more, achieve more, and most importantly, enjoy more life than we may even have left. 

We can cheat death, even if we cannot escape it. 

We cannot reverse the flow of the ever-rolling stream, but we can row against its current. 

For all of you who are rowing with me at Exosphere, thank you for your support, for helping me grow, and strengthening me to be more than I could ever have been on my own. We have countless not-years ahead of us to keep disturbing the universe, and I know I couldn’t possibly be in better company.

A Sad Song

The heart understands not its void
Incessant seeking
Expecting deliverance
Dangerous assumption.

Soaring hope near-touches the moon
Misses by a thread
And the longed-for embrace
Is grasping for shadows.

Enigmatic, impenetrable
The Soul resists capture
Though enemies besiege
Though lovers assail.

The rib may be shared,
But an eternal flame
Burns not from two wicks–
A Soul in captivity perishes

Like a Lion once caged
Roars in despair,
Not deadly but dead,
Living, but no longer alive.

Infinite consciousness
Bound in finite shackles:
Fear, envy, the self-awareness
Of Adam; shame in nakedness.

Sing me a melody, a song
Of a Soul enthroned in flesh
Abiding deeply in gentle repose
Finding nothing, already found.

Sing me with harmony, a song
Of that Soul’s light
Emanating in every direction
Finding everything, renewed.

Bolted gate and shuttered door
Open not easily
With grievous knocking,
The pathetic love-song

 

Of a half-souled beggar
Though adorned with silver
Thinks himself poor, in need.
He wails in the streets.

Bolt and shutter fall away
When hawkish observance abates
As the fairies of the wood dance
When watchers avert their gaze.

The Soul’s programmed disease
Is psychosomatic–
A phantom emptiness
Though nothing was amputated.

The tiniest threads ensnare
Until She arrives for dinner–
Venomous desires,
Deadliest appetizers.

Stones lie restless in a river bed
Dry.
Mountain boulders look down
Dry.

Particle Kings reigning over
Dry stones and fossil hearts:
Slumbering Souls,
Suicide victims.

Pursuing and Relinquishing

The pursuit of one’s calling in life requires a constant process of letting go. Many of life’s possibilities are incompatible with my calling, and others are incompatible with yours. The ongoing effort of discernment is the way in which we discover these incompatibilities, and the work of depression is the labor required to let go of them. 

But each time we let go of such an incompatibility, even though there is first pain, it is followed by intense relief, for it is a realization that we no longer have to worry about it. It no longer needs to cloud our judgment or figure into our already difficult calculations about how to allocate our time and mental energy.

To achieve our full potential in life, to do what only we can do, we must let go of so many things. We must mourn their loss over and over, without lingering in our mourning. Then we must rejoice in the clarity and freshness that follows the dark cloud of the work of depression. For who I am and who I am to become is made perfect by shedding anything that is who I am not, and which makes me into what I am not meant to become.

You are the embodiment of the qualities required to produce a Mozart or an Einstein, but are held down by the attempt to retain or gain qualities that are not. Mozart was not Mozart because he was special. Mozart was Mozart because he was nothing else than Mozart. He did not endeavor to be Caesar or Da Vinci, but removed all of the half-formed qualities of Caesar and Da Vinci which prevented him from being fully and only Mozart!

What we could be, in the minds of others, is a fixed idea based on an only partial and incomplete perception of our talent, a dim peek into the cavernous depths of our soul which reveals little true and honest insight to the observer.

Yet how much stock do we put in the opinions of the observer? How much do we judge ourselves against such alien measures? How much do we injure ourselves with the broken shards handed to us by other imperfect, struggling beings who can barely manage themselves? If we do not let go of these expectations, if we do not drop these jagged shards, we bleed ourselves to death trying to please one and all.

Let go of all that is outside of you. Far from the vanity of solipsism, the search inside of your own soul is the antidote to vanity, for it is the ultimate repudiation of any concern for how you appear to others or what they might think of you. Only when we succeed in such a repudiation can we truly also be present to others as a healing force for their lives and their pain.

It is not, however, a permanent state of affairs, for our nature is inconstant and indiscreet. The cheap reward of external approval is always in the offing, and it lures us away from the deep reward of what springs eternally from within.

If we hide within ourselves, we will be robbed of everything human. If we seek outside ourselves, we lose our identity, that ungraspable quality that makes us unique in all the ages of man.

Let go of the need to please others, and you shall be gracefully pleasing at all times and in all places. Let go of the need to imitate others, and you shall imitate the greatest souls who have ever lived. Let go of the need for perfection and you shall help to perfect the world.

Let go of every fear which immobilizes you, for when you fear you are guaranteed to suffer at least once. With fear you suffer all the pain of the worst possible outcome even before it happens. With courage you suffer at most once, and only when the worst comes to pass.

The stern courage to be you, to pursue your calling to the exclusion of other callings is the wellspring of any lasting joy, any persistent peace you can hope to find in this mortal life. Find that courage and make it your chief counselor, your ultimate confessor, so that you might not falter under the weight of doubt, or be conquered by a new genesis of fear.

The soul of the world is calling, and the answer to that call is inside of you. Ready yourself within, and proclaim that answer without–every remaining day of your life.

The True Friend

The time I spend explaining
Struggling to justify myself
To win approval from friends
Who want to display me on their shelf,

What waste, what squander
Of precious health and time
On shallow acquaintances who
Would deny me at mere rumor of crime.

‘Tis sweet the rare encounter
Of soul with soul when
“All is well, all will be well”
Assures without, assures within.

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

dark-water-darkness-pitch-black-Earth-Universe-Genesis

 

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.

 

 

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