Listening

I read something interesting today. I’ll do you the favor of reposting it here:

“The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare, which means “to call.” It suggests that you are listening for something that is calling out to you – something that is particular to you. A calling is something you have to listen for, attuning yourself to the message. Vocation then is not so much pursuing a goal as it is listening for a voice. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen for that voice telling me who I am. Vocation does not come from willfulness but from listening.”

I found this startling. Here is someone writing about an entirely different topic than one we are concerned with on this blog and yet it appears to be incredibly apropos. The fact that most seekers I know, including myself, seem to be using seeking as an avoidance tool to life made this statement jump out at me. I’ve been struggling with this question myself, and found the above excerpt exceedingly useful. We all, to a man, long for something. And we all have to articulate and define what that something is if we have any hope of fulfilling the longing. Before you think, “I know what I want, I want X.” I ask you to consider the following questions: What have you done to listen to your calling? What have you done to discover God’s will for you? Are you pursuing this goal because of a calling or because of willfulness?

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Love

I’ve had glimpses of love, and feelings of love, and ideas about love, and, well, physical love. And all probably quite average at that. But something is happening that began a year ago and is hard for me to understand. My concrete heart was delivered a blow I don’t think it can recover from. My heart seems to be steadily softening and the only way I can explain it is, Love. This is the sort of love that dissolves, and thus, destroys. It’s the same kind of love that must be in the ingredients of lye-based Drano because that’s what it feels like. Love-Drano is dislodging years of accumulated bitterness and anger and hatred. It is painful and intermittently beautiful. Love.

I believe all sorts of things. About love and God, and myself. And I don’t actually *know* very much, either. This makes for a disastrous combination. And yet again, somehow, what I’m speaking about seems to be able to dissolve even that explosive mixture. I can’t say I understand it, much less fully describe it, and I’m probably at least partially wrong about it, if not totally, but again…Love.

Pleas From a Broken Heart

I can’t keep these crumbling walls upright
forever, their punishing weight is crushing
my mind, my soul.
I’m like a man balancing a broomstick
on his nose; the slightest breeze
has me scurrying to retrieve
my shattered pieces of pride. Yet I can’t
help myself, I’d lose this gig in a
heartbeat if I could.

The holding pattern of
wanderers idly wasting their time in this
earthly waiting room is unbearable.
Painfully and delicately spending our last
precious moments trying to sneak
in one more look at our worn-out minds
which seem like old magazines left behind by
a kind soul.

Before my name is called, to relieve me of this
lifetime of waiting, perhaps I’ll step outside
and enjoy the mild autumn breeze. The golden glow
reflecting off the fiery maples beckons me oh so.
But I fear I’ll miss my call, and there,
I longingly watch the swallowtails dance
in the evening twilight, wishing I were
one of them instead.

Order

It occurred to me yesterday that getting the house “in order” is not an underrated part of spiritual work. Here’s what happened: I had been driving a rickety old car that had served me well for a number of years. The thoughts of what to do about the car, whether to repair it, or sell it, or junk it, or buy a new one, how much to spend on a new one, whether or not to buy a truck or a sedan, whether to keep waiting or act now, whether to buy used from a dealer or used on the private market, whether to wait until winter or buy in the summer, all coursed my mind. Endless, endless thoughts. Triggers for these thoughts were common and included whenever I saw my car, or was driving my car or seeing cars for sale or seeing used car dealerships or seeing cops that might notice the loud exhaust or lack of an inspection sticker. In short, triggers occurred quite often and were numerous.

I pass by a used car dealership on a drive I take multiple times a week. With the car situation in mind I scanned the lot for deals or vehicles I might be interested in. For anyone who’s watched their thoughts and internal reactions many times over knows this pattern: an external percept kicks off an internal reaction which is perceived and reacted upon, and so on. It takes a certain amount of energy, and a certain number of mental cycles. If one is trying to conserve additional cycles and energy from being dissipated then a turning away of the internal head is required to avoid a cascade of, let’s say, tertiary reactions and so on. This reactive process happened each and everytime I passed by that particular used car dealership.

The car issue eventually came to a head, and through some good fortune and financial preparation it solved itself after a few stress-laden days of details. The next time I drove by the dealership I noticed a peculiar thing. My mind reacted to the lot as per its usual habit (the power of habit!) and immediately thereafter the mental reaction was, “Wait, the car problem is solved.” Since this portion of the house had been gotten “in order”, the effort to turn the head from a now far less “sticky” train of thought was very easy and required almost no effort. The mental reaction and boil-over that had been common over the past few months was absent and it all seemed uninteresting. The profound difference in energy spent was notable and I saw the incredible value of taking care of basic disorder in our houses, both physical and psychological. It saves us energy and reduces distractions. For those of us who have become energy misers, this can be a very useful tool.

A caveat: The same which holds true for all efficiency projects holds true here also; the rate of return is largest for the biggest offenders of energy expenditure. That means that if, for example, my financial situation is so bad that I worry incessantly about paying the rent, tweaking how often I do my laundry a week won’t really register in the efficiency column. Getting my financial house “in order”, however, will! Get the idea? Big stuff first!

Habits

It occurred to me the other morning that habits are a powerful tool. Though most of the time we think of habits as being bad, I believe habits are, in and of themselves, neutral. It may simply be that we have more of, or notice more critically, our bad habits. Anyone who has struggled with a bad habit probably noticed that *we* don’t actually have habits so much as *they* have us. This is why we hate bad habits so much; they seem to have us snookered. And, we only can seem to notice the negative effects after the bad habit has played out. Yet, this post is about the good habits, not the bad ones.

The habit I am most fond and proud of is the habit of waking early(ish). This sounds insane to a natural night owl who could be found reading until early morning hours and would regularly sleep until 11 am the next day. If I “go with the flow” this is the natural pattern which only takes a few days to fully develop into near nocturnalism. I won’t go into what might be creating what’s arguably an *unnatural* circadian rhythm for a human being, considering that for the past million years or so our species woke and rose at dawn along with the rest of diurnal creation. (There is in fact a very small percentage, 0.15%, of the population that may truly suffer from what’s called Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_sleep_phase_syndrome).

I’m sharing all this background because a few months back I decided that I was going to take more seriously a pledge to, let’s just say, “meditate”, on a daily basis. Anyone struggling with performing a consistent daily practice has made similar promises himself. I had found that to follow through with similar commitments in the past consistently, I simply *had* to complete it in the morning *before* the day’s activities began. Otherwise, the odds were severely reduced. To illustrate, I used to have a personal deadline which was to meditate before going to bed. Unfortunately, that deadline often merged with sleep. Now, that being said, I do have a good friend who has set a 2 AM meditation deadline for himself. Also a night owl, he has found if he waits past 2 AM he is unlikely to follow through with his commitment.

And, I have a wacky morning bird friend who once made some suggestions to set an alarm and, without hitting snooze, actually get up. One day I decided to experiment with getting up at 7 AM for just one week, rather than snoozing in until 10 AM. One reason that kicked off this experiment was that a day started off in the morning has always felt better than one started off at noon, despite equal numbers of waking hours. The other major reason was that in an attempt to more efficiently set up the body-mind for a daily meditation, conditioning it to the same time each day made enough sense to outweigh all the counter arguments. So I began the experiment.

It wasn’t long until I noticed several unexpected side benefits. The most significant of which is the hallmark of a habit: mental submission to the behavior of the habit. By the end of the first week (!) the mental arguments against getting up and meditating at that early hour began to subside. When the alarm went off the habit took over and I got up and began the routine.  This took a surprisingly short amount of time to happen. I decided to continue the “experiment” and have thus far been subjecting myself to this habit for some time now. At this point there isn’t so much as a murmur of discontent nor argument with what’s about to happen anymore. My body and mind have submitted to the habit.

The other more minor side effect is that I’ve been going to bed earlier. Since I was unwilling to negotiate on the waking time, I’ve found in order to have enough waking brainpower I can’t afford to go to bed much past 10:30 or 11 PM too often in a row. While going to bed earlier seems a harder habit to establish than waking earlier, I have noticed less desire to spend the late evening/nights frittering away my time.

In the game of trying to outwit nature and define ourselves, every little bit helps. I’ve found that this bit has helped a lot in consistently carving out some time to put first things first(er).

Death

If this were you, where would you be now?

Where would you have begun, and would you have ended?

Where and what are the boundaries of you in space, and in time?

If this were your body, where would you be?

Heat Death of the Universe

I was catching up and re-learning some very basic thermodynamics a while back. I came across this very excellent page describing entropy (a key thermodynamics term), which I never *really* understood in school. (http://entropysite.oxy.edu/entropy_is_simple/) In college, they always likened an increase in entropy as an increase in chaos or as an increase in the disorder of a system. This analogy actually often leads to an opposite understanding of what increasing entropy truly means. Newer textbooks attempt to describe this abstraction of physical reality as an increase in energy dispersal, something my visual non-math mind understood immediately. I bring this up because the Second Law of Thermodynamics happens to state that, “In a system, a process that occurs will tend to increase the total entropy (or energy dispersal) of the universe.” (from Wikipedia, my parentheses). Let’s not miss the simplicity of that statement. It says “a process that occurs.” That’s all. Not a specific process, but any process, period. In other words, any process that one can conceive of is basically moving energy from high concentration and individual uniqueness to greater homogeneity and distribution. In addition, this is an irreversible process. The frightening thing about this law is that it will ultimately lead to complete and absolute homogeneity of the entire universe. This is termed the heat death of the universe.

The heat death of the universe might be described by a simple analogy. Imagine if the entire universe were only comprised of a cup of cold milk sitting next to a pot of hot coffee. After pouring the cold milk into the hot pot of coffee the heat energy is completely dispersed. In other words, both the milk and the coffee are the same temperature and completely mixed. There is no way to “unmix” the differing temperatures. Nor can we “unmix” the once separate entities of cold milk and hot coffee. They have become completely and utterly none-unique, neither the formerly hot, black coffee nor the cold, white milk exist anymore. It has become a maximized energy dispersal of the two, a warm, tan latte. If the coffee and milk were sentient beings this might be experienced as death to them.  In our terms, the loss of uniqueness of the hot black coffee and the individuality of the cold white milk was the heat death of their individuality…

As these ideas and thoughts passed through my mind-machine the follow up thought was one of hope, since this process is constantly occurring, and is utterly inevitable. Anything that is done, thought, existed, thing-ed, or self-ed simply moves this process forward. It’s impossible to move the universe to a state of less entropy, also known as the arrow of time. I wondered if it’s therefore impossible to prevent ourselves from our own “heat death” of individuality. Certainly the universe seems to comply with this law. However, heat death will only happen very slowly if things are energetically insulated from each other. In our analogy it might be akin to surrounding an insulated styrofoam cup of cold milk with hot coffee. Eventually the two would reach the same temperature or “mix” energetically so to speak. (To truly increase the entropy to its absolute maximum the molecules would have to mix, too, and then evaporate, ionize, break down into their subatomic constituents, then their strings, or whatever, and be distributed homogeneously). Naturally, in order to drink the coffee the same day we ditch the pot or the cup and mix them both into one container.

If we dare to apply this analogy to ourselves we’d have to admit that we are currently “insulated” from the heat death of individuality. Can we see what our insulation is made of? Are we willing to wait and gamble for the process to possibly occur naturally, irreversibly, with the stark inevitability of a 100% probability? Or do we take action to remove our insulations, if we can? Can we remove our insulation ourselves or must we ask for God’s grace to remove it for us?