Tag Archives: thinking

Seeing below the surface.

Repentance is not self-flagellation;
it is an opening flower.

-Met. Kallistos Ware

In the last weeks I’ve been more aware than ever of the truth that What We Need is Not More Information  – all the while collecting more books and reading, reading, reading. When I read Neil Postman in Technopoly say (in 1992) that our society’s glut of the stuff makes information into so much garbage, I was primed so that the word and image brought me great clarity.

“From millions of sources all over the globe, through every possible channel and medium—light waves, airwaves, ticker tapes, computer banks, telephone wires, television cables, satellites, printing presses—information pours in…. The milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.” -Neil Postman in Technopoly

Even more recently Fr. Stephen Freeman re-posted this little meditation on simplicity, When Belief is Complicated, which, though it wasn’t particularly Lenten in focus, brought to mind Metropolitan Kallistos’s quote at top. Now I have two images in my mind, garbage overwhelming and weighing me down, and my soul as a tender flower struggling to open to God’s love and grace, but nearly crushed by the weight of a myriad of non-essentials. And Fr. Stephen introduces another metaphor:

“Kierkegaard wrote that ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’ But we don’t will one thing. We will everything, regardless of the contradictions.

“Faith is not a matter of ‘belief,’ an act of intellectual willing. Faith is a perception of things that do not necessarily appear obvious. In the language of Scripture – ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen.’ But the perception of faith is similar to the perception of objects beneath the surface of a lake. If the surface is disturbed, the objects disappear. The objects do not go away – but we can no longer perceive them.

“In a world of manifold complication – the surface of the water is rarely still.

“The journey of faith thus becomes a movement away from complication.”

For those of us who feel that life is too complicated; that we ourselves are difficult to understand; and that trust and faith are impossible, Father Stephen has suggestions. My favorites:

  • Quit caring so much. The world does not depend on you getting the right answer to life’s questions. Answers often come when we learn to wait patiently for them.
  • Quit thinking so much. If thinking would solve the problem and make things less complicated, you’d be through by now.
  • Look for beauty. Beauty doesn’t make us think so much as it makes the heart a better listener.
  • Take some time off – from as much as you can.
  • Get some sleep.
  • Give away money. At least someone will benefit by this discipline.
  • Sing (beautiful things). The part of your brain that sings is much more closely wired to your heart than the part that thinks.

To put my hopes in terms of these evocative images: I am encouraged in the work of throwing off the garbage, opening like a flower, and peering down through the limpid water of a quiet lake, to glimpse the beautiful realities that my heart craves.

The ethic is called forth.

On Hierarchy and the Reduction of Complexity in the World

“The world is, for all intents and purposes, infinitely complex. Even if there isn’t a truly infinite number of things, phenomena and facts, there is a sufficient infinity of combinations of things, categories of things, potential and real. This complexity has to be reduced to a level that is manageable at the level of moment-to-moment perception (we can only attend to one thing) and action (we can only undertake one action). That is accomplished through the cooperation and competition that is part of the general social hierarchy, which specifies through collectively-established value and through language itself what is to take priority and why.

“The hierarchy says: ‘Here’s what’s valued. Look at that (perceive that) and not something else. Pursue that (act toward those ends) and not something else.’ What the hierarchy truly specifies, therefore, is not the value of things, but the value of behaviors or perceptions that create, maintain or distribute valued things. That’s an ethic. The ethic called forth is a set of principles for acting in the world of value.”

-Jordan Peterson

Doing sensible and human things.

Not only is my mind typically scattered to the four winds, but it is also buffeted and pushed down and downright dominated by currents of thought — and current events — that somehow turn into raging hurricanes. But in my daily life, they are only passing and mental hurricanes, so when I read this quote from my daughter Pearl, I was freshly encouraged to call frequent moratoriums on the practice of wondering whether it might be a Viking or a bomb or a car wreck that will eventually make my loved ones suffer.

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

“This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

—C.S. Lewis, “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948)

I also don’t need to spend (all my) time researching how bombs are made, or why the Vikings are so ruthless. Which is great, because it leaves more time for writing a chatty blog post to my friends, which is a very human thing to do, and I hope sensible as well.

September 1st really felt like the first day of fall! It hasn’t warmed up much since, but I’m sure we will get some hot days in the next weeks. My fig tree is absolutely loaded, and one of the four winds that my mind goes to is Preparation for Preserving. Get out the dehydrator, and gear up for the harvest: pushing through the perennials and bushes that surround my tree, and stooping under the low-hanging branches to extract the plump fruits, which are revealed by contrast with the big green layers when one by one they turn black.

I went to a nursery the other day to lay in a supply of echinacea purpurea plants to set out this month. Some areas of my “new” landscaping need reinvigorating after six years, and I have been longing for the standard echinacea species that I used to have. The white ones in my front garden are thriving, the multicolored ones in the back are not.

A friend who was moving across the country asked if I would like any of the potted plants he’d kept on his small patio. I evidently hadn’t paid much attention to them when I’d visited his duplex, because I said I’d take them all, and was quite surprised to end up with 37 pots of plants. Three of them are quite large, and two of those are gorgeous jade plants.

So — I have more lovelies in my garden to keep me company and give me good work to do. This morning I  went out to take pictures of a couple of them to post here, and ended up watering. Not one but two blue jays were visiting my property, and adding to the ambiance with their scratchy voices that make me feel for a moment that I am in the mountains. I noticed a ripe fig, and ate that as a fast-food breakfast. Then… a few ground cherries for dessert! Ah… September.

I find the oomph in flowers and prose.

My first sewing teacher used to tell me that she found sewing relaxing. I have never become skilled enough that I ever found that to be true for me. Even when I generally derived great satisfaction from sewing darling doll clothes, my neck would get stiff doing the tiny hand stitches at the end. It would never occur to me to pick up a needle and thread for fun or sustenance, during the days of preparation for a big expedition.

My usual way is to endanger my overall health by snacking and forgoing exercise as I become more anxious about setting off, so I was surprised at myself for taking several walks this week. This morning I even walked the whole two miles of what was formerly my daily routine. I saw a family of quail, and some old favorite plants, but it was too early for the bees.

And now here I am working on yet another blog post, after reading and thinking and perusing this and that… one might think it a pretty inefficient use of my limited time, because I am up against looming deadlines. But, I am finding that these activities are as necessary to my overall well-being as the walking is to my legs and back — sometimes I think they are more so.

Evidently there is something about engaging in creative activity that is calming, and clears the mind. The preparations for a big social event also constitute a creative work, but that one is not my favorite, and requires a lot of extra oomph, plus a type of thinking that is a stretch for me. So I sustain myself with words and flowers. 

My first Love-in-a-Mist flower bloomed today! This was a Big Event, a project that started off with my longstanding admiration for these flowers, and a desire to grow them myself. It took years, and the donation of seeds from two friends, and then a couple more years, before I got them planted in the greenhouse in the spring. I put them in three different places in the garden, and hope that they will self-sow at least a little and keep themselves going from now on.

All the white echinacea are standing up tall and elegant, not losing their gracefulness even when the overeager asparagus fronds drape themselves on them.

When the sunflower that the bee sleepers were using began to fade, they rearranged themselves on others. The three above were seen yesterday morning, but last night and today, no bees at all were bedded down in the open — only this small creature was nestled in a sunflower bud:

I am traveling next week, driving nearly to the bottom of the state, which I’ve never done before. My trip will involve lots of visiting with friends and family, a wedding, and a mountain cabin. I hope to tell you about some of the bloggy details as they emerge, but once I’ve torn myself away from my desktop and my garden, there’s no telling what might happen!