Monday, October 29, 2007

Why do our best?

Why do our best?

It makes us happy. It's who we are.

God does His best. He would not do less. We are created in God's image, and are therefore designed to do our best.

"The very word 'man' implies 'God,' the very word 'relative' implies 'Absolute.'"
- Frithjof Schuon

God exists in an eternal dimension. We are designed to aim towards that which has eternal value, such as: love, courage, grace, forgiveness, wisdom, loving action, et al.

We have free will. Thus we may freely choose to act in service of eternal values.

We are designed not merely to understand eternal values, but rather to be filled with them. For instance, we are designed not merely to understand the definition of love, but rather to be love - to embody love - as an active state of being. This is more profound than merely understanding love as a definition.

Thus empowered, thus inspired, we will naturally choose moral action. We will naturally choose to do our best. How could we do less? Our choices will have eternal value.

"the devil ... never sleeps but goes about seeking whom he may devour."
- Thomas a Kempis, in Imitation of Christ

We are also designed to be imperfect. We exhibit both eternally useful values and eternally useless values. We are moral, then immoral. We do our best, then less than our best.

Yet, we are not designed to aim ourselves towards that which is temporary and eternally useless. Truth and happiness do not await us there.

When we have moments of weakness: when we temporarily believe we will be happiest doing less than our best; when we lie to ourselves; when we succumb to devilment; when we succumb to the base parts of our nature - whatever your preferred description: in those moments, we fail to be true to our design, to our Designer, and to ourselves.

In those moments, we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we will be happier doing less than our best. This is a lie and a fantasy. In the moment, we do not recall why it is a lie and a fantasy. In the moment, we pretend the fantasy is truth.

"Everything has already been said, and well said; but one must always recall it anew."
-Frithjof Schuon

We are designed in God's image. We aim towards that which has eternal value. In the aiming, and the being, and the taking of action: we experience wisdom, virtue, and love. We experience fulfillment, satisfaction, pleasure, accomplishment, and life.

Why do our best?

It makes us happy. It's who we are.

And it's just more fun!

Companion post: Do your best

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Envy, psyche blogs, sports laboratories

I have learned much via skimming these psyche blogs:

Dr. Sanity
One Cosmos
Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred

I've learned about Psychological Defense Mechanisms and Malignant Narcissism. I've learned despair is the emotion behind much anger. Today, I learned about envy:

The psychoanalytic understanding of envy is that it is an unconscious fantasy aimed at attacking, damaging, or destroying what is good, because of the intolerable feeling that one does not possess and control the object of goodness. As such, it is an aspect of what Freud called the death instinct, since it ultimately involves a destructive attack on the sources of life and goodness. Particularly envious individuals cannot tolerate the pain of not possessing and controlling the "good object," so they preemptively spoil it so that they don't have to bear the pain.

Envy is a fantasy! Of destruction! Oddly more exciting, and definitely more horrible, than I had previously considered. We can see this instinct for destruction in the interplay of one year olds. We can read about it in Genesis - in the story of Cain and Abel: destruction made real, then repeated over and over throughout human history, and up to the present moment.

Cain and Abel, by Titian

If we can tolerate "the pain of not possessing or controlling the 'good object'", we can move through situations without envious fantasizing, or worse.

What underlies "the pain of not possessing or controlling the 'good object'"?

This pain must occur when we define ourselves according to something outside ourselves - such as other persons. Conversely, we could define ourselves from within: such as defining our best possibility of performance; or defining our best previous performance, then attempting to best it.

In this area, youth sports can provide valuable lessons. Yet, those lessons are rarely learned. Most coaches have not themselves internalized the skills of creating self-defined parameters of measurement, and of creating self-defined possibilities of performance.

Youth sport is the perfect laboratory and classroom for such lessons: sometimes an opponent simply cannot be defeated on the scoreboard. The opponent is too fast, or too well-coached, or too something or other. Except for flukey circumstance, NO AMOUNT of in-game effort will bring victory, and NO AMOUNT practice effort will create victory.

What is the lesson? That we ought be thrilled and fulfilled when uncontrollable circumstances favor us with a weak opponent? That we ought be devastated and unfulfilled when uncontrollable circumstances disfavor us with a strong opponent?

The lesson is to define ourselves by what we can control: what is inside of us? What is our best possible performance? The lesson is to refuse to define ourselves by uncontrollable circumstances. The lesson is to refuse to define ourselves according to opponents who equate to little Ladanian Tomlinsons, little Michael Jordans, or little one-name Brazilian futbol stars; AND to refuse to define ourselves by opponents who are smaller, slower, and less coordinated than we are. The lesson is to refuse to define ourselves by the beautiful woman who married into her husband's inherited fortune and moved in down the street; AND t0 refuse to define ourselves by other women with maybe less education, less polish, and less wealthy husbands.

Tom Landry used to say: "I do not worry about what I cannot control."

I understand his statement at a deeper level than I used to understand it. I respect it more.

Defining ourselves from within, rather than being defined by outside forces, is often a struggle. The youth sports players and parents on the opposite sideline are celebrating awfully hard. The beautiful woman befriends you exactly well enough to apply the needle to the insecurities she discovers in you. The pain of not possessing and controlling the good object rises within us - maybe is designed to again and again rise within us. Yet, we are designed to move through the pain with the aid of spiritual understanding (and psyche blogs). God doesn't give us any challenges we cannot handle.

How disrespectful are we, to ourselves, if we measure ourselves against sports parents and trophy wives, as opposed to measuring ourselves against what God created us to be? To measure ourselves against others in this fashion is to be INCREDIBLY disrespectful to ourselves, and INCREDIBLY disrespectful to the God who created us as unique individuals. Pish, I say.

Consider a topical story: the New England Patriots.

Bill Simmons says the Pats are running up scores via late-game "Eff You TD"s: "New England continues to send a message: We're going to keep winning and embarrass you in the process."

Might we have enough self-respect to decline to measure ourselves according to Bill Belichik's dicta? Might we have enough self-respect to measure ourselves against self-generated criteria, regardless of how the Pats perform, and regardless of what might be the Pats petty motivation?

If Simmons is correct, the New England Patriots are not embarrassing us. They are embarrassing themselves.

Sport is about many things, including moments of beauty which hint at the greatness of God - which hint at the existence of something beyond that which is strictly Earthbound, and horizontally affixed. If you watch, you will notice transcendent moments infused throughout sport, and saturated all around it. You will be moved.

The New England Patriots reveal their motivations to be base, lowdown, covered in muck and nastiness. The Pats are not steering towards transcendent light. The Pats are not steering towards love. I am embarrassed for them.

Worse, their naked baseness makes me shudder. It hints at something neither virtuous nor transcendent.

Gustave Doré: Cain kills Abel

Fitchburg, 10:45 AM

rust red leaves twirl down
prompting my yuckifying
suck-ass leaf haiku

leaf haiku which doesn't suck

cool photo

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Fitchburg, 6:45 AM

Niece: "It's my birthday!"
smile smile smile smile smile smile smile
smile smile smile smile smile

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Fitchburg, 6:10 PM, soccer game

Me: "Go kick the ball!"
Niece's thoughts: Fall back! Waaay back!
Does Uncle see me?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fitchburg, 7:14 AM

red and blue backpacks
marking spots in schoolbus line
beget warm-up play

Monday, October 08, 2007

Do your best

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, also called Nike of Samothrace,[1] is a marble sculpture of the Greek goddess Nike (Victory)
A partial inscription on the base of the statue includes the word "Rhodhios" (Rhodes), indicating that the statue was commissioned to celebrate a naval victory by Rhodes, at that time the most powerful
maritime state in the Aegean. This would date the statue to 288 BC at the earliest.
The Victory is one of the Louvre's greatest treasures, and it is today displayed in the most dramatic fashion, at the head of the sweeping Daru staircase. The [unintended] loss of the head and arms, while regrettable in a sense, is held by many to enhance the statue's depiction of the supernatural.

Do your best.

You will, of course, make good moral choices along the way. This is part of doing your best. Pray for guidance.

Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love God, and to love your fellow man. Doing your best is the finest expression of love for God, and of love for fellow man. Any moment you are engaged in optimal activity is a moment you are contributing as much as you possibly can to both God and man. You are being all you can be. This is the path of love, fulfillment, and happiness.

We are designed to do our best. We are happiest when we are faithful to our design and our Designer. Doing our best is faith in action. It is living fully. It is glorifying God.

We are designed to thrive. The injection of human intelligence onto Earth was an event of cosmic importance. The existence of our intelligence argues for the conclusion that we are designed to thrive. Therefore, do your best is not an exhortation to unhappy or painful martyrdom. It's an invitation to thrive upon the Earth, as we are designed to do.

Consistent with thriving, and with "not martyrdom", we honor the human design which requires both stress (activity) and rest. Rest - both physical and mental - is critical to our well-being. It is part of making good choices. The same applies to appropriate physical and mental stress (activity). We are not created to speed the wearing away of our minds and bodies. Balance. Do your best to actively stress your mind and body. Do your best to rest your mind and body. This pleases God.

A side point, also related to the "not martyrdom" meme: in a market economy, creating wealth is a tremendous contribution to one's fellow man. Wealth begets wealth for others. It contributes to the welfare of others. Creating wealth is loving action. Go forth. Create wealth. Love. Laugh. Thrive. This pleases God.

Rather than being an exhortation to martyrdom, do your best is an invitation to life. It is an invitation to join the game, and to play amongst the friends you will naturally acquire along the way.

Do your best.

Above: The Winged Victory of Samothrace, displayed atop the Daru staircase at the Louvre.

Postscript: why?

Gaghdad Bob once said it's best if we do not question whether or not we ought do our best, i.e. we ought not agonize over: If we're all going to die anyway, why even try? He believes our best course is to simply open ourselves to God's light, just as a flower turns and opens itself to sunlight.

I have agonized: If we're all going to die anyway, why try? Why suffer pain and discomfort in any effort to accomplish anything?

The answer is that our existence is not merely about our time on Earth, and our existence is not merely about what humans can understand and conceive. If our existence were strictly about an Earthly dimension, inside of which we were barrelling toward the certain oblivion of death, there would be no purpose in giving effort towards any goal. Fortunately, our existence is about more than an Earthly dimension.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace is the finest artistic example of the melding of human effort with eternal, supernatural spark. When Liza Minelli was asked to sing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", she would reply: "It's been done." In depicting the melding of human effort with eternal spark: Winged Victory has been done. h/t

Some things - such as Why even try? - cannot be understood via strictly Earthbound logic. The answers can only be sensed, and only in light of the eternal, supernatural, vertical element of existence.

When doing our best, why are we more comfortable, in the presence of inherent discomforts ... than we oppositely would have been in the face of the ephemeral (and often false) comforts we might have perceived while doing less than our best? When doing our best, our comfort in the face of discomfort occurs partly because of a supernatural spark of love, and partly because we are designed to do our best.

A not completely fathomable eternal spark creates the condition of us being happier when doing our best - even in the face of attendant discomforts. We might define the not completely fathomable as love. It's a clue that our entire existence is not limited to our Earthly existence. It sparks the satisfaction we experience when we are doing our best. It sparks the moments of joy, and the bone deep senses of fulfillment.

Separately, yet related, we find comfort and pleasure in doing what we are designed to do. Doing our best is like coming home. It is fulfilling our intended purpose. Doing our best is a familiar place. Our souls know that place.

Doing less than our best is like being cast into a hostile wilderness, with only a snow-cone for comfort. That snow-cone is melting fast.

Do your best. Come home to life.

Related: Victory; Bliss; Unfinished