Sunday, March 31, 2013

Good Enough: Effort Without Desire or Fear
Good enough.  These two words have been on my mind lately.  What does it mean to be "good enough"?  When are my achievements good enough?  When is my professional status good enough?  My students' test scores?  My writing?  My personal life?  Financial status?  Housekeeping?  Body?  Home?  Car?  Clothes?  Appearance?  Spirituality?  The list is never ending.  The list of things to be attained, the list that drives us to strive.

What if the here and the now, this moment, was good enough?  What if it was enough simply to be?  To be on this earth, to live the life you are given.

Some religions and philosophies believe that desire is the source of strife and even evil.  They teach letting go of desire.  Letting go of desire would certainly be one way to accept the here and now as enough.

But acceptance and resignation are kissing cousins.  If you give up desire, don't you run the risk of giving up on effort, on striving?  If "it's all good," as the popular phrase goes, then what's the point of getting up in the morning?  Is desire the only thing that can motivate us to put one foot in front of the other?  Desire, or fear?  Desire for achievement, recognition, validation.  Fear of rejection, failure, loss, loneliness.  They're powerful, powerful driving forces, and they can combat apathy; they can overcome indifference.  But they can eat you up inside.

What if the effort itself was what mattered?  I recently read an articles about the differences in cultural views of education between Eastern and Western cultures (This link isn't the exact article, but a similar gist).  It got me thinking about the value we place on the end result of things - who won the game, what score you got, whether your answer is right or wrong - rather than the process or the effort.  When we focus on whether you're number one, the best, the winner, first place, there is a vast savannah of failure attached.  There will always be somebody better or smarter.  There will always be times when you lose or fail, even if the only time it happens is when you fail to beat death.  When we focus on the end result, we focus on desire and fear.  What if we focused on the effort, the process, the journey instead?

If the effort is what matters, then making the effort has intrinsic value.  Striving is worthy simply because you are striving.  The end result neither validates nor strikes down the value of the effort.  It can't, not if the effort was the goal.  By valuing the effort, you can let go of desire without letting go of life, without sinking into apathy and indifference.

In religion, too, we often fixate on the endgame - the afterlife.  We use fear and desire about the afterlife as our spiritual motivator.  When we do that, we devalue this human experience itself, while giving death more power than perhaps we should.  We end up worrying about that final moment, rather than being in this moment.  Even when we say things like "Live life to the fullest" or "Live each day as if it were your last," we're giving the power to death instead of life.  We're placing a judgment of "good enough" on the very act of day to day existence.

But if we value the journey for itself, we don't have to let go of a belief in an afterlife.  We simply have to let go of the fear, the desire, the question of it.  If I live my life in a way that honors the journey of living, the process of living, the efforts, both great and small, that make up this human existence, do I not honor God and the God-given gift of human existence on planet earth?  And isn't that enough?  Every day to see what effort must be made and to make that effort.  Every day to look at the choices before me and to make the effort to choose rightly, whether my choice is ultimately the best choice or not, the effort to choose wisely and justly has value.

Perhaps valuing effort, while letting go of desire or fear, is good enough.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Genesis to Revelation - the Human Life Cycle.

Reviewing all these seminal stories from Genesis, I started wondering if Genesis wasn't really just a description of the stages of  human development.  Creation - from formless cells into a human being.  Finding companionship.  The development of language.  Basic needs and obedience.  The development of morality (a knowledge of good and evil).  Sibling rivalry.  Standing up to authority and declaring your independence.  Leaving home and starting your own tribe.  There is at least one section of the Bible that speaks  to every one of these stages of human existence.

It gets me wondering.  What are the Biblical stories that speak to the journey of middle age, old age, and facing death?  I imagine we first have to understand the developmental tasks of middle age and old age.  To me, the task of middle age is one of letting go of the past, making peace with my choices and accepting the role I have to play in the great world, a role that includes settling down and providing guidance and support to others.

In some ways, middle age seems to correspond most to the New Testament.  God taking on human limitations.  Jesus accepting the role that has been given to him, in spite of the sacrifices.  Mankind recognizing its failures and limitations, and God recognizing that as well, recognizing that we can never be perfect.  Then the church comes into its own and begins to act in a wider way in the world, faced with the cold realities of sacrifice, opposition and inner conflict, all for the sake of a greater long term vision.  In middle age, we have to have that view, that awareness of a greater vision, and the need to make sacrifices for it becomes paramount.

It ends with this wild, fantastical, allegorical, slightly incomprehensible, other-wordly vision of Revelations.  Maybe that's how life ends, too.  With revelations.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Bit About My Journey

I wasn't brought up religious.  My family didn't go to church.  Once I was too old for the Easter bunny, Easter faded in significance for me (until I found a different significance for it).  It's not that we were anti-religious.  My father was a deep seeker and has read the foundational texts for most of the world's religions.  The deeper things of the soul were highly valued, but there was a wide open view of what those might be when I was growing up.

Which brings us to the part of the story that I never seem able to fully convey to someone who hasn't been there.  Sometimes I just say, "I used to be born-again."  But that is a pale half-description of it.  Though it gets the gist across, for anyone who hasn't been there, they see it a bit the way you'd see the confession of a former cult member.  They joke about being "in recovery."  It's not that simple.  My understanding of faith and God has shifted, and the way in which I connect with the higher power has changed.  But "recovered" seems the wrong word.  And it makes me sad that I can't really convey what the journey meant for me, or that the entire notion of religion and Christianity has become so tainted with politics, so besmeared with human confusion, that it is reduced to something flat and bland when the exact opposite should be true.

Certain moments stand out in my mind for their depth and mystery - the moment when I "came to Christ," as it is most often described, the moment I was baptized, Easter sunrise services.  When I write, sometimes I am trying to find a way to convey the depth of such  experiences, without veering into the known, overused, misunderstood words, phrases and perspectives.  Whatever God may be, it is far, far beyond what we can capture.  The effort to reach for that understanding should be rich, textured, layered, anything but simplistic.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

When the Bottom Falls Out

Yesterday, I had another one of those reminders that it's better not to go it alone in this world.  As I've mentioned in other posts, it's been a rough couple of weeks.  And I've been noticing a kind of numbness, an odd disconnect between my intellect and my emotions, two entities that have always existed in an uneasy detente to begin with.
Overwhelmed, by Ursula Vernon

Then, yesterday, after a week at school that contained more potential stressors that I managed to store in the "shouldn't I be feeling some feelings?" compartment, the bottom quite literally fell out.  I have this foldable cart with wheels that I use to transport stuff to and from school.  It's been around the block and is held together with mini-bungee cords after one too many overloaded episodes.  Yesterday, I pulled up in front of my house, got out of the van, and opened the side door.  The guinea pig was waiting on the front seat.  On the back seat was my wheelie cart filled with papers to grade, piles and piles of papers to grade, all carefully organized by subject and priority in hopes of streamlining the long-overdue process, plus binders of assessment information and scoring rubrics, all topped off with a tub of guinea pig supplies.  Weary and already feeling overwhelmed, I grabbed the wheelie cart and hefted it out of the van.  The bottom fell out and all those binders, supplies and carefully organized papers poured into the street.

I stood in the road by the side of the van with the metaphor of my overwhelmed brain made manifest at my feet and the floodgates opened and I began to sob.  "You okay?" called my dear, dear husband, waiting by the door for me.  "No," said I.  So, he came down the steps and around the side of the van and coached me through picking up the pieces.  

It was upsetting to me how incapacitated I became in this moment.  I knelt on the asphalt moving papers from one square of street to another.  I couldn't think clearly.  I couldn't act.  I'm not sure what I would have done just then if my husband hadn't been there.  But he was, and we got all the papers gathered up and the wheelie cart jerry-rigged back to one piece and together we carried it all, plus the guinea pig, inside the house.

When the bottom falls out, having someone you love to help you pick up the pieces makes all the difference.