(Lent 4) – The Lent Tank

April 5, 2012 § 9 Comments

I know you might think that because I gave up my silence vow on Twitter in the beginning of this Lent, I’ve also given up my meditative assignment, but I haven’t. A date comes closer which marks a very important moment in my life. It’s nothing I want to discuss in public, but that’s the reason why (and not deep religious conviction) I took this Lent as occasion to remember, reflect, and heal myself if possible.

As I grow older I find out that the questions I ask myself now are not much different than the questions I asked myself when I was sixteen, and that even the ones I thought I had found answers for, mockingly reform themselves behind question marks again. I guess the same questions will occupy my mind forty years later as well, if I’m lucky/ unlucky enough to live that long. It is obviously the answers to these questions which change with time.

It occurred to me that many of you might be dealing with the same questions and that it would do me, and maybe my handful readers too,  good,  if I’d wrote down for all of us these questions here. Then, my thought moved one step beyond that: What if I’d start my own private survey? Ask you to answer these questions? You wouldn’t have to answer all of them. Just the ones you feel you have an answer for, at this phase of your life. Your answers would certainly help me to sort my thoughts and this post would form a little worship/ meditation place for this Lent.
I decided to give it a try, although this blog has not so many readers, and Lent is almost over (one extra week if we followed the Orthodox calendar). But Lent is just the inducement, as I explained, and so there is plenty of time for you to answer if you’d liked. And even if one of you takes the trouble to answer, I’d be grateful and touched. I, myself, won’t answer, so don’t be disappointed. Not because I don’t want to share my opinions, but because I’m in a transitional state of mind. But in sharing the questions occupying my mind, I do share a piece of me with you, too.
Please, even if you’re regular readers and we know each other, feel free to answer anonymously, although, as you will see the questions are personal, but more of philosophical nature than of a private one, and so you might decide to use your online name nevertheless. Do as you feel confortable to do. Just try to be honsest with yourselves when answering.
This is also not to open a personal discussion with each one of you. This is something like writing lists and comparing them with lists other people wrote. Lending and borrowing ideas in this Lent tank. A chance for each one of us to sort his/her thoughts. The only private question which you should answer if you don’t mind, is your age. It helps me and the other readers to reflect on our own progress in answering these questions.
And try to keep all answers as short as possible. This is also not an academical discourse. No essays, please.
Thank you and here we go:
0. How old are you?
1. Why do you believe in God? /Why don’t you believe in God? / Why don’t you care about God?
2. Do you still want to change the world, and if yes, what do you do to achieve it?
3. Do you love enough? Do you feel really loved? How do you define this “enough” and “really” in this context? (Don’t exchange position of enough and really in these questions.)
4. Do you know your biggest weakness of character? Have you accepted it, or are you working on improving it?
5. Do you say “thank you” and mean it?
6. Do you say “I’m sorry” and mean it? Do you recognise your agency on other peoples’ lives?
7. Do you forgive, and what does it take for you to forgive?
8. What does really give you the power to go on with this life?
9. Do you feel as free as you’d like? Do you take steps to more freedom? How do you define *your* freedom?
Thank you!
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§ 9 Responses to (Lent 4) – The Lent Tank

  • Yan Zhitui says:

    0. How old are you? I’m 53. But I’ll be 53-and-a-HALF next month!
    1. Why do you believe in God? /Why don’t you believe in God? / Why don’t you care about God? I AM God, and so are you. The universe is “atoms and void and nothing else” – if one wants to call that “God,” it’s ok with me.
    2. Do you still want to change the world, and if yes, what do you do to achieve it? I want to change my immediate environment for the better, always. But I don’t have the genius, or the energy, to change the world. “You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.”
    3. Do you love enough? Do you feel really loved? How do you define this “enough” and “really” in this context? (Don’t exchange position of enough and really in these questions.) “To be in love is not necessarily to love. To be in love is a state; to love, an act.” If here you are referring to the ACT of loving, then Yes, I love enough, and yes, I feel really loved. I define “enough” as the love I receive from simple, everyday encounters with humans and other living things, and “really” as the joy that I am able to generate, sometimes, in the nice beings that I meet.
    4. Do you know your biggest weakness of character? Have you accepted it, or are you working on improving it? I’ve decided that fearlessness is a virtue. When hesitant and fearful I ask myself why, in light of what I know, I should be so afraid.
    5. Do you say “thank you” and mean it? Yes I do. Other times I say “thank you” out of social expediency.
    6. Do you say “I’m sorry” and mean it? Yes I do. Other times I say “I’m sorry” out of social expediency. Do you recognize your agency on other peoples’ lives? Yes, of course.
    7. Do you forgive, and what does it take for you to forgive? Yes I do. Even the worst of us has his reasons. Besides, when you forgive someone you free up mental and spiritual space for better things.
    8. What does really give you the power to go on with this life? If I knew THAT, I’d bottle it and sell it. But I’m glad it’s there.
    9. Do you feel as free as you’d like? Do you take steps to more freedom? How do you define *your* freedom? I know that governments are doing terrible things to repress personal freedom, and I don’t want to trivialize your question. Having said that, I think that this passage from Alan Watts’ essay on Time should be memorized: “When we speak about freedom from karma, freedom from being the puppet of the past, that simply involves a change in our thinking. It involves getting rid of the habit of thought whereby we define ourselves as the result of what has gone before. We instead get into the more plausible, more reasonable habit of thought in which we don’t define ourselves in terms of what we’ve done before but in terms of what we’re doing now.”

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  • MayB. says:

    I felt very silly and insecure (a fourteen-year-old and her confession album) for posting my version of something like Proust’s Questionnaire, but it really feels good reading your answers, and it *does* have the meditative, and also soothing, effect I hoped for.

    As I promised I’d be, I’m thankful and touched.

    Thank you!

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    • Yan Zhitui says:

      I don’t see anything silly about your questionnaire. It is a good thing to ask oneself questions like these. It causes one to gather up and synthesize what one has learned on the journey so far. So, thank you! YZ

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    • M. says:

      Yes, I agree with Yan Zhitui. It’s not at all silly to have posted these questions, and it is indeed helpful to ask them of oneself. But now I wonder whether it’s better never to verbalize the answers. Maeterlinck described this kind of _Sprachskepsis_ in a somewhat famous paragraph that Musil quoted as an epigraph to _Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß_:

      “Sobald wir etwas aussprechen, entwerten wir es seltsam. Wir glauben in die Tiefe der Abgründe hinabgetaucht zu sein, und wenn wir wieder an die Oberfläche kommen, gleicht der Wassertropfen an unseren bleichen Fingerspitzen nicht mehr dem Meere, dem er entstammt. Wir wähnen eine Schatzgrube wunderbarer Schätze entdeckt zu haben, und wenn wir wieder ans Tageslicht kommen, haben wir nur falsche Steine und Glasscherben mitgebracht; und trotzdem schimmert der Schatz im Finstern unverändert.”

      [Which I translate into English like this: “As soon as we express something, we diminish it in a strange way. We believe we’ve plunged into the depths of the abyss, but when we return to the surface, the drop of water on our pale fingertips no longer resembles the sea from which it came. We imagine we’ve discovered a wonderful treasure trove, but when we return to the light of day, we find we’ve brought back only false stones and shards of glass; nevertheless, the treasure still shines in the dark, unchanged.”]

      [And for those of us in perpetual _Sprachskrise_, here’s Maeterlinck’s original French for comparison: “Dès que nous exprimons quelque chose, nous le diminuons étrangement. Nous croyons avoir plongé jusqu’au fond des abîmes et quand nous remontons à la surface, la goutte d’eau qui scintille au bout de nos doigts pâles ne ressemble plus à la mer d’où elle sort. Nous croyons avoir découvert une grotte aux trésors merveilleux; et quand nous revenons au jour, nous n’avons emporté que des pierreries fausses et des morceaux de verre; et cependant le trésor brille invariablement dans les ténèbres.”]

      May B., as a poet you regularly plunge into the depths of the abyss and return with genuine treasures that you artfully illuminate for us. Perhaps your poems, then, are more valuable responses to these questions than the false stones and shards of glass that we (and you) can reveal in the ordinary light of day.

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      • Yan Zhitui says:

        I love the Maeterlinck, and hadn’t heard it before – thank you. Then there’s this from Nabokov’s Speak, Memory:

        “Items of one’s past are apt to fade from exposure. They are like those richly pigmented butterflies and moths which the ignorant amateur hangs up in a display case on the wall of his sunny parlor and which, after a few years, are bleached to a pitiful drab hue. The metallic blue of so-called structural wing scales is hardier, but even so a wise collector should keep specimens in the dry dark of a cabinet.”

        But hey: All treasures break down into worthless stones and broken glass, given a long enough timeline. So why worry? Maybe Maeterlinck’s expectations were too high.

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  • M. says:

    0 + 1: I don’t believe IN anything, and don’t recall ever having believed IN anything, probably because whichever noun follows that preposition represents an ideology, and I’m much too small to be dragging around entire systems of received ideas.

    However, faith — born of my own experience and light as air — springs spontaneously from within and self-modifies reliably, so after nearly 64 years, I have great faith that whatever is generating and perpetuating this preposterous circus does so very well without my input or attention. No, I don’t dub the mechanism “God” (for one thing, the name is already taken), and I certainly don’t believe IN it, but I’m quite content to leave it to its own devices because it rules, and I don’t.

    2. All the sages, saints, prophets, generals, dictators, and do-gooders since the outbreak of civilization have failed to change the world. I’m neither stupid nor insane.

    3. I have no idea how to measure love or the feeling of being loved. (In fact, I doubt that they’re measurable.) So I can’t define “enough” and “really,” either.

    4. All of my (many) weaknesses of character are big, but none is so big as to permit me to fantasize that “improvement” is ever anything but hubris.

    5. Of course.

    6. Of course. Of course.

    7. Well, it’s not as if I’ve known (or observed) people who could do anything other than what they do/did. What’s to forgive?

    9. It’s an ongoing struggle to remain free of the shackles of identity, and to recognize those shackles as confabulated. The day I awaken from sleep without immediately recalling who and where I am, I’ll know the struggle is over. In the meantime, I can only reject every impulse to imagine that I am ______.

    You’re welcome. Good luck!

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  • M. says:

    Ha! I forgot to answer #8: Tea!

    Like

    • MayB. says:

      Ευχαριστώ, Μαρία.

      Like

      • M. says:

        Παρακαλώ. I hope it’s clear that my responses to your questions are actually addressed to me, and not to you or to any others who might reply. In other words, when I write, “I’m neither stupid nor insane,” I’m not suggesting that anyone who thinks otherwise is stupid or insane, but that if I were to contradict my own understanding, I most certainly would be. Etc.

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