The Inner Murmur

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.


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