Aim for the New, not the Best

There are two topics which I had thought about previously, which only now I see are related.

The first: the motivation, or aim, of being saintly (or, what we can simply call “good”) is greater than the fulfillment of being saintly.

The second: I must stop aiming for the “best” and start aiming for the “new.”

Putting these two ideas together, I think I am realizing that the aim of saintliness is not to be “best,” but to ride upon the ever present, ever eternal wave of the “new.”

“Best” is an abstraction–impossible to implement in reality, often impossible to measure. What makes it “best” is merely the quantity of its human support, or a result of a man-made measure. “New,” on the other hand, is concrete. It is what we are and what we are experiencing. It is objectively our present place and point. It is what we make manifest. “Newness” is a qualitative point of reality.

If this is the case, then, being “saintly” or “good” becomes more simple than I thought. To be saintly is to be qualitatively new–to embrace the present flow of experience–to not get sucked into the illusion of living “best,” of comparing oneself to another. Only by living presently can we live well. To aim to live “best,” then, is to aim to live in a kind of hell.

So this is what I need to work on, especially in my work as a teacher and writer. I do not need to aim to be the “best” at these things. Perhaps I even need to stop aiming at being a “good” teacher and writer. I need to start being a “new” teacher and writer, one who brings the reality of experience into the present. This is not so much a shift in practice as it is a shift in mindset. But those are sometimes the hardest.

And so I will aim for a childlike embrace of what is new. I need to seek newness instead of the best, child-like freshness instead of frequently used practice. In this, I am worried, as chaos seems to be on the other side of that door. But even chaos has its own kind of order. And within that confused order is newness.

Originally written 10/28/19.

Photo by Erol Ahmed on Unsplash.

Like a Mustard Seed: The Practice and Discipline of Growth

“Faith should become so transparent that it does not need experience. But it takes a lot of experience to reach that point,” wrote Thomas Keating. This idea came up in my last Alpha meeting. A group member talked about Jesus’s mustard seed parable: If you have faith like a grain of mustard, you can move mountains. Bob, the group member, said he never understood what it meant until he started to have faith, and build upon it. And what he realized was that he didn’t move the mountain, it was his “big God.” All he needed to do was put a little bit of trust in God to do so.

And what is ‘a little bit’ but a small incremental change to our current state? What is a seed but a blossom in waiting? What is a blossom but a sapling in waiting? And a sapling a tree in waiting? (Mustard isn’t a tree, but you get the point…) Experience of life is what allows for learning which allows for these small, incremental growths in faith.

Faith, then, is a habit. We start out with it, and only through practicing it in the experiences of our lives can it grow. This, I believe, is true of all of the good fruits of life. They must be made practices if we want to know them.

Brene Brown, in her audiobook, The Power of Vulnerability, discusses how an “attitude of gratitude” is not enough to experience actual gratitude. In order to experience it, we need to make a practice of it: by a gratitude journal, prayer, whatever–so long as it is a continuous discipline. Likewise, an attitude of faith is not enough. We must experience life, pushing its margins, relying on faith to help us reach a point of serenity, peace, equanimity. And only by doing that can faith grow incrementally, from seed to plant to mover of mountains.

There is no quick and easy way to find peace in the world. There is no simple way to realize our vocations. There is no shortcut to growing into God’s presence, into peace, into equanimity, into wholeness–whatever you might call that thing in which you place your faith. It takes work. It takes the creation of habits, practices, disciplines. Attitudes and good thoughts will only get you so far. But ultimately, in order to grow, one must put in the work, day in and day out, moment to moment.

Adapted from a journal entry written 1/19/20.

Photo by ross tek on Unsplash

Journal

Writing Into Who I Want to Become: The Hope and Optimism of Daily Journaling

Week of 1/13/20

This morning, in bed, I found myself thinking about my journaling. So much of what I journal on is not about “who I am,” but about “who I want to become.” In other words, I write into my future self. I do not write as my current mindset, but that mindset which I wish to move into. My journal self, in this way, drags my real self with it, pulls it along into new being and new creation.

Is this journaling a false self? No. I don’t believe so. Is it a hypocritical self? No. I believe, because I am aware of this ‘disparity’ between the two selves (I hesitate to even call it a disparity as the two are not really in conflict) they are actually part of a larger, unified identity.

As Father Erent says in “The Fourth Stooge”: “There is something about fools you fail to see. When the fool knows he is a fool, he becomes something more. He becomes both actor and audience. He becomes both fool and sage, stooge and scholar, sinner and sacred, alive and dead, existent and non-existent.” This holding of my two identities in creative tension with each other is what drives me toward growth and change.

It is as if I have become, in many ways, my own teacher. I think this is what contemplative practice does. And yet, it is not I who is the teacher. Perhaps the better image is of myself as observer (or audience) and practitioner (actor). The teachers are actually others: Rohr, Merton, Keating, the Stoics, the Bible, philosophers, thinkers, writers, all. But I, like Father Erent, see myself in a kind of dual role of paradox. This perspective, at least at times, grants me insights into God and myself that I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Before journaling, I lacked any capacity to think of myself. That sounds bizarre, but it is true. I could not really perceive myself. I perceived the world around me through myself, but I never perceived myself directly. Only in the silence of these mornings, only when I’ve learned to be comfortable here, without the noise and distraction of the day, have I begun to see myself through a lens of continuous evolution and roiling thought.

Only here can I stand awed by my experiences, be humbled by my blessings, be patient withmy failures and frustrations, be blessed by love. It is only in this space, where I write into who I want to be, who I can be, that this is possible. Once the din of the day begins, I backslide into “who I am.” But always, in that eternal silence, I know who I can be. And that hope is why I journal every day, why I think, why I live. Journaling has made me hope to become a better person. And even just that hope is enough.

Originally written on 1/8/20. Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash