Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Few Words From... Leo Tolstoy

"The old man sighed, and said: 'You go about the wide world, Ivan, while I am lying on the oven all these years, so you think you see everything, and that I see nothing. . . . Ah, lad! It's you that don't see; malice blinds you. Others' sins are before your eyes, but your own are behind your back. "He's acted badly!" What a thing to say! If he were the only one to act badly, how could strife exist? Is strife among men ever bred by one alone? Strife is always between two. His badness you see, but your own you don't. If he were bad, but you were good, there would be no strife. Who pulled the hair out of his beard? Who spoilt his haystack? Who dragged him to the law court? Yet you put it all on him! You live a bad life yourself, that's what is wrong! It's not the way I used to live, lad, and it's not the way I taught you. Is that the way his old father and I used to live? How did we live? Why, as neighbours should! If he happened to run out of flour, one of the women would come across: "Uncle Trol, we want some flour." "Go to the barn, dear," I'd say: "take what you need." If he'd no one to take his horses to pasture, "Go, Ivan," I'd say, "and look after his horses." And if I was short of anything, I'd go to him. "Uncle Gordey," I'd say, "I want so-and-so!" "Take it Uncle Trol!" That's how it was between us, and we had an easy time of it. But now? . . . That soldier the other day was telling us about the fight at Plevna (A town in Bulgaria, the scene of fierce and prolonged fighting between the Turks and the Russians in the war of 1877). . Why, there's war between you worse than at Plevna! Is that living? . . . What a sin it is! You are a man and master of the house; it's you who will have to answer. What are you teaching the women and the children? To snarl and snap? Why, the other day your Taraska -- that greenhorn -- was swearing at neighbour Irena, calling her names; and his mother listened and laughed. Is that right? It is you will have to answer. Think of your soul. Is this all as it should be? You throw a word at me, and I give you two in return; you give me a blow, and I give you two. No, lad! Christ, when He walked on earth, taught us fools something very different. . . . If you get a hard word from any one, keep silent, and his own conscience will accuse him. That is what our Lord taught. If you get a slap, turn the other cheek. "Here, beat me, if that's what I deserve!" And his own conscience will rebuke him. He will soften, and will listen to you. That's the way He taught us, not to be proud! . . . Why don't you speak? Isn't it as I say?'

Iván sat silent and listened.
The old man coughed, and having with difficulty cleared his throat, began again: 'You think Christ taught us wrong? Why, it's all for our own good. Just think of your earthly life; are you better off, or worse, since this Plevna began among you? Just reckon up what you've spent on all this law business -- what the driving backwards and forwards and your food on the way have cost you! What fine fellows your sons have grown; you might live and get on well; but now your means are lessening. And why? All because of this folly; because of your pride. You ought to be ploughing with your lads, and do the sowing yourself; but the fiend carries you off to the judge, or to some pettifogger or other. The ploughing is not done in time, nor the sowing, and mother earth can't bear properly. Why did the oats fail this year? When did you sow them? When you came back from town! And what did you gain? A burden for your own shoulders. . . . Eh, lad, think of your own business! Work with your boys in the field and at home, and if some one offends you, forgive him, as God wished you to. Then life will be easy, and your heart will always be light.'
- A Spark Neglected Burns Down The House

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Acting Against God

That moment when you realize that you have been acting against God.

Oh, you did not view it that way, of course.  You were doing it for the very best of reasons - if you were really selfless, you were doing it for someone else (You were not, of course.  But it is always better to think that you are).

God tries to tell you, of course.  You hit a wall, bounce off.  If you were paying attention to what was going on around you, you would have realized that things were never going to go "your way" in the situation.  But somehow you magically ignore that and try again and again, always with the same result.

"Ah", you say to yourself.  "It must be because I am not serious and committed to (fill in the blank)". 

And then, when you least expect it, that something seems to move in your direction. 

You are ecstatic.  Finally, the noble intentions of your heart were able to do (fill in the blank).  You have enriched this situation, you have helped this person - you are doing it!  You fell yourself to be smack in the middle of God's will.

Never mind, of course, that you really are not, that if you looked at it clinically (the way you look at anyone else in the same situation) you would sniff your nose in disdain. 'That X.  They are always out for themselves.  Is this not evident to everyone?"

But then you fall flat.  On your face.  In fact, so flat on your face it is pressed into the earth.  You get up after a while but somehow in the back of your mind, something is wrong.  A thought is back there, the thought that maybe, just possibly, something is amiss.  You examine it, perhaps even roast yourself a bit over the coals of remorse - but all in the context of not questioning the underlying assumption.  You were "helping" - maybe just not in the right way.

But then you try again.  And get batted out of the sky like a cat catching a bird on lift off.

And then - maybe only then - you begin to see things very clearly.

It was never about you.  Your actions were ultimately about you, but not the situation or relationship.  Ultimately that was about something else, what God was doing in someone else's life.  You misunderstood your role:  you were meant as a support or resting place or even a pack mule to carry someone else.  But it was never meant to end in or at  you.

You were the obstacle.  You became the wall or wandering path or time sink that diverted the person from where they were really going, moved the situation away from what it was supposed to be about.  in the very worst of cases, you were in fact the very thing blocking them from where they were meant to go.

And just like that, everything turns to ash in your hands and in your mouth.

It is at that moment that you have one of two choices.  The first choice is to simply snap yourself back into the illusion of how you were before.  To think that the realization somehow will allow you to approach things or people differently next time (It will not, of course).

The second one, the far more painful one to the ego, is to -with actual humility - admit that this is what you have really been doing all the time.  And then to accept the fact - really accept it in your heart, not just in your head - that you are more than likely the support, the resting place, the pack mule.

And that it really, really is not about you.  And that your reward lies not in doing the situation or having the relationship or being with the person, but in simply obedience to the role - that actual role - that God has called you too.

Does it mean that such things will never work out?  I would be a fool to say "No" definitively, but to say "Yes" would mean a level of obedience and humility that I have never yet been able to observe.  But I suspect that those who actually do this would never actually consider things "working out" in their favor as an option at all.  They understand what their real role is.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Visit With Infatuation

Infatuation dropped by on a Friday Evening for a talk.

"How is going, friend?"  he asked with those dreamy eyes he always seems to have on - anime eyes, any normal person would call them.  He sort of waltzed in and simpered his way into the lounger that I kept for visitors with the big "sigh" he always - always! - seemed to have when he did any action.

"Oh, pretty well"  I responded, finishing up what I was working on and turning around to face him.  "Thanks for stopping by."

He smiled at me with the sort of smile that tells you he is precisely not thinking of where he is or what he is doing but dwelling on something internal that could not be seen by anyone else.

I sighed.  This was going to be harder than I thought.

"Look"  I said, "there is no easy way to say this so I am just going to do it the hard way.  Your position has been discontinued.  You are being retired."

The smile snapped off his face, replaced by the look of shock I had come to know only too well over the years from hearing the same thing.

"But why?"  he stuttered.  "It is not as if I am doing any real harm.  I think you could make a pretty good case that I am good for morale.  Better than those fools Duty and Obedience, always droning about how we "have" to do this or that.  Good heavens!  I actually a little zest to things around here instead of the gloom and morose feelings that those two spout off.  If it was left to them, we would have nothing but gray days and an ultimate death."

I nodded -after all, I could make the same exact argument about Duty and Obedience.  They did tend to be a little over the top when discussing every that had to be done.  Still, ER (Emotional Resources) was going to throw a fit if something was not done.

I gave a half hearted smile.  "What is or is not is not relevant now.  The fact is that we have had a number of complaints - and yes, before your ask, you know I cannot tell from where.  There is a sense that you running hither and yon is creating expectations that cannot ever be met and starting to force attention to a reality than can never be.  It was perhaps allowable once, but now we are simply past the point where it is anything more than at best a danger and at worst a distraction."

Tears welled up in his eyes. "But what will I do?  I cannot work in the Reality division and apparently Imagination will no longer have me.  I am not aware of another place within the corporate structure."

I smiled gently.  "We know.  And that is why we are not asking you to make the move.  It is a permanent traveling assignment - guaranteed income, health care, and even a travel stipend.  Write some articles that we can put in the corporate newsletter from time to time."

I handed him the letter detailing everything.  He took it with a faintly shaking hand, scanning its contents, then putting it down and sighing again.  "So I have outlived my usefulness, then."

I shook my head.  "Not that at all.  You are right - you do give zest to things around here and your accessorizing will continue to be legend.  No, it is just that we are all in a different place now.  We need you to continue as a morale builder and bringer of joy and brightness  - indeed, we cannot do without it.  It is just that we need to focus our attention on other areas now."

He got up, taking the packet of papers and sticking out his hand.  "I will clean out my office then"  he sad, grimacing.

"Not at all"  I replied.  "Like I said, you are a correspondent at large.  Go find us an interest to get excited about."

I could see him thinking for a moment, then the old smile returned to his eyes.  "Now that you mention it"  he said, "there is a great deal in Bulgaria that I have thinking needs to be investigated further.  I could start with the Thracian tombs..."  And with that he was out of earshot, already planning his next trip.

I sighed as I sat back down.  He was right, of course - Duty and Obedience were a lot duller taskmasters than his bright, shiny face.  But perhaps it was better that he got out now, before the real consequences of trying to have one heart in multiple places a came up at the Quarterly Review Meeting.

Hopefully he would enjoy the yogurt in Bulgaria.

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Process

The Art of Manliness' interview with Ed Latimore (mentioned already here) gave me another concept, one of the most stunning and powerful I can remember hearing in a long time:

If you do not like the process, you will not succeed.

Latimore's point is a profound one.  If you do not enjoy the process of becoming better at something, you will ultimately fail in it because all you interested in is the end product - and if that product is terrible or unsuccessful, you will eventually stop doing it, because of course who wants to do something that ultimately ends in a failure.

Mind you, the enjoyment of process is not just something that comes easily.  Repetitive practice and action of any kind often goes through periods where there is no enjoyment involved. But buried within that grind should come something that we take pleasure in, even if it just the fact that we were able to do it again - all on the road to an ultimate goal, even if it remains unachievable in our lifetimes.

Think on it:  Any activity you have done and enjoyed required far more time that you probably intended:  the garden that needed to be tended every day, the writing that takes place every evening, the golf swings or basketball shots or heavy weight throws, the (literally) thousands of draws and sheathings without a single cut. If we did not somehow like this part - seeing the garden progress, occasionally writing the outstanding essay, visibly doing better as we practiced, or earning a commendation from our sensei - we would have stopped doing it a long time ago.

So the challenge to myself - and you - is twofold:

1)  Look at our activities and our life.  Do we find pleasure in the daily doing of them, the process?

2) If not, we have two choices:  to either find where that enjoyment is and embrace it, or to acknowledge that we do not really care for it and give it up for something we would enjoy.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Unadulterated Moment of Knowing

Occasionally, one gets an unadulterated, unvarnished view of how one appears in the eyes of others.
It can be a shocking thing.

In that moment, one of two things happens: either one's worst fears are realized or (less frequently) one is surprised by a reaction that was unexpected.

Sadly, the former is usually the case, something that leaves one reeling the moment after it happens.  The moment can never be called back of course, no matter how hard the other person tries or even pretends that it never happened in the beginning.  The truth is there, stark and unyielding, in a moment that a novel cannot express and and a cinematic trilogy cannot gloss over.  

That moment is the like the splitting of an atom, where the waves of power and destruction ripple around and through one while, somewhat shockingly, everything else in the room remains completely static.  To the outside eye, nothing has changed in the least.  The only evidence of devastation is in the eye's and the unseen realm of the soul, which suddenly resembles the burned-out court in a housing development overrun by fire.

We are a polite society of course, so we tidy ourselves up and pretend that somehow nothing significant has really happened.  An apology may be offered and accepted - as much for appearances as anything else - and the day continues on as if nothing had really happened.

Excepting, of course, the pain in our heart and the dimming of our vision with what might be tears.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017