The inner murmur
Like the humming of a large machine, we know the sound that it makes. Not loud, just inexorable. Not threatening, simply insatiable. Yours is different than mine, but we both know what it is saying… “I need more from you”, “prove it again”. And so, we do. Again. It has a companion. Weariness. Weary from trying and not getting fulfillment. We may have improved. We may have given our newest “best”, and still, it cries out for more. The list is filled with many forms of the thing not satisfied, notability, money, power, friends, better friends, work, play, approval from someone of note to us… and still… the level of achievement is not fulfilled from outside. This is a work from within. I cannot give it to you, nor can you give it to me.
There is a place in the Alcoholics Anonymous program that we can apply here, knowing that whatever it is that I do, it will not be enough, and paradoxically then it is. I cannot do more, and I am ok with what I have done. Knowing that it is all that I can do, and that that makes it ok to stop, I can then stop. Like Death being endless and never satisfied, that inner murmur of discontent must be stilled in some way, or we will be ever yearning for more. To satisfy the ever yearning need to be OK. Arbitrary is not even close to the right word for this capricious and ever illusive fiend, a tyrant that compels and is yet to be satiated.
We have seen it in our friends. We have seen it in our siblings and even our partners, but we miss that it infects us as well. Until the weariness consumes us and we fall. Bedrest and even a vacation will not still the murmur. More achievements will not last and being “more than” those we deem as competitors will drive us to even greater levels of daring -do. Thrill seekers and industrialists are the same in this regard. Unsatisfied with their achievements or fearful that some other ne’er-do-well will out do us. A man I knew wanted to buy the most expensive bull for his breading stock. When asked by the guy bidding against him, who stopped at over 1 million dollars, what was his top dollar that he would bid the answer was “when I won the bid”. There is always “that guy” that has more resources to put into the task than you accounted for. And so, you have finally lost. “Second place is just the first loser” is the new t-shirt that you wear.
To what end? Others will publish more books, earn more money, set more records. One day you will be done with your sports career, do your last surgery or the last trip to the retirement resort down South. You will be confronted with your mortality and the reality of entropy in your body or your career. Monuments to those that are rich enough to get them, ignominy to some and anonymity to others. 2nd place. That day will come, and the murmur tells you it is so.
What then are we to do to stop the murmur? To quell the noise of shame in our minds and our hearts? What will fill the gap of our inadequacy, and yet not simply be the stuff of false achievements. In the ‘80s-‘90s the push was to give everyone a trophy. To not “keep score”. To tell our kids that they were all “special. The trouble is that the kids knew better than the adults and they kept the score in their heads. They knew that getting an award that was not the result of an achievement was hollow and demeaning to those that actually did the work and had the skill to achieve something of merit. This is not what I am speaking of. Doing your best is always worth the work. So, what then is this that fills the gap? The awareness that it cannot be filled. Fighting for the approval of a parent that will not give it to you is hopeless, so what is left? When do you decouple from that tyrant of a goal? What do you replace it with? How do you gain such mastery? Is there a mentor for such things as deep as these?
Interestingly enough, one of the best mentors of this education into satisfaction is mockery. To be the butt of jeering and ridicule, for all of your best efforts, and yet falling short, is humbling. This is the path to maturity, though it doesn’t look like that at the time. To realize that you are deluding yourself about your own greatness, or the need for it, is a very liberating thing. To look across the horizon and know the sophistry of your attempts at immortality is to come to “the end of yourself”. This then is the secret sauce of quieting the murmur. To know that you don’t have to, and that another may soon do so shortly after you have done so. When the first person to run a mile in less than 4 minutes (Bannister) did so, achieving that which was impossible, suddenly in a matter of months it was followed by half a dozen others that did that same thing. Now some 1,400 athletes have done so. It is that which is only an example, but it is with us all, regardless of the topic.
Humility, knowing that which is our boundary for our best, is the beginning of quieting the murmur. It becomes the “white noise” which silences the beast. It is an internal machine that silences the internal machine. To match the cadence and harmonic of that which calls forth our inadequate and meager attempts. To silence the need for the insatiable “more”. To know in the part of us that is outside of us, and says I am enough. The measurement, which is arbitrary and capricious, can be quieted, but it must be done from a knowledge of something more that says it is so. And then we must accept it. This is not to settle, but to know it is true.
Only you can hear this harmonic for you. To come to the awareness that you were competing against that which will not satisfy, and to stop. For some it is to go into the wilderness and stay for more than a few days. To stop the demands of the clock, and to come into the rhythms of nature is a path of discipline and needed action. The word Sabbath was given to the one day a week that would disconnect you from the week. To worship something greater than you, your boss, the list, etc. To engage in the mystical, long enough to find your place. For some it is the dissonance of an activity that they are not best at. To try to paint, or some other hobby that you are still learning, or to serve those less fortunate, to give without expecting reward or compensation, or to do something that you are not good at yet. Try and yet fail and try again. Find a place that makes you human and expects you to accept that. Be a beginner, needing help and asking for it, and grinding through the work to get there. It is this dissonance that has its own rewards.
Find someone that needs to learn what you know, and yet is simply beginning. Show them it is ok to fail. It is humbling to not know and then to learn more. Be Curious. Growth is fine until it is a tyrant as well. Stop pretending you are not human. You too will pass through the splendid gates to ignominy and or anonymity. Two generations from now you will be a footnote… three will only have a rumor of your time on earth. Stop the chase long enough to enjoy it. Do so with others. They will tell of their joy of that journey, and in this is more life than you have had. Begin today.
Popular posts from this blog
In Times Like These “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or so the poet says. Part of the problem that we confront is that we are new to this part of history, so it feels unknown and scary. When you are confronted with the “unknown” it is called chaos, and out of that comes truth and awareness that is new to you. It is found when a child is taken to meet a new friend and they are wary of all that is new. It isn’t new, really, though it may be to the child or to us. This may be the year of the internet millionaire or the Covid small business death, but it is your year. Alone in the way that it is yours, and yet collective in that many can tell the same story. It is the time of our lives. Your story is simply that, your own. From the beginning of your life through the teaching and experiences that brought you too today, it is specific. Good or bad, long or short. Well-seasoned, with history as perspective or simply the musings of the narcissist absorbed with you
The purpose of this blog is to send out a piece of writing from time to time, mostly each week. It is a path of randomness (the rabbit trail) and yet is connected to many other parts (the spiderweb). In this case the web is three dimensional (more random connections) and has at times been a place some people have gotten lost trying to follow the trail... I hope you will be fine with having to start over and see if you get the point. Most of these writings are personal, I have never published any, and are simply a framework for you to put your own story into. If you were to print them most are 2 pages or so, so they are a reasonable quick read. That doesn't mean they are simple, just short. While personal, they are not a diary, polemic, or a screed about some political high-horse issue, but then too, neither should the comments be that either. The best part of these is that if any particular one is of little value to you, I am fine with it. Simply come back and see if ther
Habakkuk – A story for today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVSTKpJBq-8 Only 4 min…. Listen to the first 2 min Amazing Grace: a story to sing… start at 33 sec in… to 2:07. Can you sing the story of Jesus? Habakkuk is a prophet that tells the story of a people in distressing times. This is not the Amazing Grace story of your Grandma… This is a story of corruption, injustice and out of control heathens…. It is a story of a man and his God and an honest cry to understand what is going on and the feeling of abandonment. Of being alone in a wilderness that he doesn’t understand nor feels secure about his future. It is my favorite book in the Bible, and that should tell you much about me…. Hab: 1: 1-4 Question… Are you paying attention? This place is a mess and you seem absent! This lament is honest, heartfelt, direct, an accusation, questioning, nearly angry. Is this how you pray? It is a place of honest conversation with the God of the Universe that you disagree with about how
On Divorce This is not a complete work, but a few observations. It is not all personal, but it is all true. It is about the parts that move, and the ones that don’t. The issue, at its core, is that of failure. Failure to listen, failure to tell. Failure to hear what is not said, and to do things that drive you to the edge of hope or fear. The church doesn’t know what to do with it. Society doesn’t know what to do with it. Those that are adamant about how correct they are, are the most afraid of it happening to them. Our friends are unclear about what to do with it when it happens. Most of the time it is only a trail of loss and the crumbs of our past strewn along as we go. The rending of the fabric of our relationships and lives is a sound you cannot not remember. You can imagine the lamb that has it's tail docked and has to re-orient its life and adapt to the new reality. No one wins, but some have hope of the pain stopping, and the possibility of
Crucible Why is it always a surprise how hot things get and so quickly? Crisis builds slowly and then all of a sudden it is intense and endless. The story is always the same. Things are simply going the way things go, and then three separate decisions combine and all hell is raging and your hair is on fire. It comes as a surprise, or I would have been prepared. Why am I surprised, again? Friends suck, that is why it hurts. That is why you are not prepared. That is why you were guarded. How then did it happen again? What did you miss, that let them get past the barriers? The heat will not let up, this I know from the last time. Ok, the last several times… Here I am, in the vessel filled with the debris of many bad decisions. Good parts and bad. Broken and whole. The heat will melt it all into a soup that will easily pour into a new mold. First will come the flux that grabs what I thought was important and take it away. It has happened time and again and it is the same eve
The music It sat there, in the corner. Hasn’t been moved in years. The man that used it is gone, but the memories are still resonating, vivid and clear. I watched him play the accordion and was in awe of the music that he made. The polkas, of course, and the many happy dance tunes. But at times, in the most incredible ways, the tune would become something that would penetrate deeply and with great soul and the curious mix of disconnection. You would wonder “how can that tune come from that machine?” The accordion is not generally a mournful and melancholic machine, and yet there it was. The sound that pulled you in rather than pushed you around the dance floor. The box is curious, and how it came to be is a quirk of history and need and serendipity. It was used on the ships in the days of sail, and languid winds, to pass the time. That version was small and quite limited, but the function was the same. A few buttons on one end, to change the pitch
Personal Pain The transformation of the pain in our life into something that can be processed is quite a challenge. The notion that it can be converted into a power source is not even a thought to most people and if mentioned is a laughable one at best. Pain is to be endured at the least and avoided if possible. Inoculation and hedging against future blows is the road most traveled… Personal pain is a reality of ownership. Not for everyone to know, these are items taken out of their own private box for a very select group. Sometimes it is a group of only one. This is the pain that is scary, sticky, and sometimes not yet congealed into a shape that can be corralled with adjectives. Real and very powerful, this is pain that is a “slow to heal wound”. Like a broken rib or shin splints, the pain is inside and in certain activities debilitating. But the knowledge that it cannot be shared is a wound just as real. This is the boomerang pain. Residual