Plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness

All of us — whatever our natural serotonin level — look around us and see plenty of reason for doubt, anger and sadness. A child dies, a woman is abused, a schoolyard becomes a killing field, a typhoon sweeps away the innocent. If we knew or felt the whole of human suffering, we would drown in despair. By all objective evidence, we are arrogant animals, headed for the extinction that is the way of all things. We imagine that we are like gods, and still drop dead like flies on the windowsill.

The answer to the temptation of nihilism is not an argument — though philosophy can clear away a lot of intellectual foolishness. It is the experience of transcendence we cannot explain, or explain away. It is the fragments of love and meaning that arrive out of the blue — in beauty that leaves a lump in your throat, in the peace and ordered complexity of nature, in the shadow and shimmer of a cathedral, in the unexplained wonder of existence itself. 

Michael Gerson, published in the Washington Post 

Surviving the brain-dissolving internet

I’ve been a technology journalist for nearly 20 years and a tech devotee even longer. Over that time, I’ve been obsessed with how the digital experience scrambles how we make sense of the real world.  

Technology may have liberated us from the old gatekeepers, but it also created a culture of choose-your-own-fact niches, elevated conspiracy thinking to the center of public consciousness and brought the incessant nightmare of high-school-clique drama to every human endeavor. It also skewed our experience of daily reality. 

Objectively, the world today is better than ever, but the digital world inevitably makes everyone feel worse. It isn’t just the substance of daily news that unmoors you, but also the speed and volume and oversaturated fakery of it all. 

And so, to survive the brain-dissolving internet, I turned to meditation.

The fad is backed by reams of scientific research showing the benefits of mindfulness for your physical and mental health — how even short-term stints improve your attention span and your ability to focus, your memory, and other cognitive functions.

Farhad Manjoo writing in the New York Times

Time Alone

Find a regular time and place to be alone. People in transition are often still involved in activities and relationships that continue to bombard them with cues irrelevant to their emerging needs. Because a person is likely to feel lonely in such a situation, the temptation is to seek more and better contact with others; but the real need is for a genuine sort of  aloneness  in which inner signals can make themselves heard. Doing housework after the kids leave for school or paperwork with the office door shut are not being alone in the sense I am talking about.

The old passage rituals provide the person with this experience of deep aloneness, often in a wilderness setting. (Interestingly, the Hebrew word for the “wilderness” in which Jesus, Moses, and Buddha spent time during critical periods of their lives is the same word that means ‘sanctuary.” This unmappable “nowhere” was also, as several of these heroes were explicitly told, holy ground.) Traditionally, time spent in such “sanctuaries” was a continuous period; but you many have to plan your time to accommodate your own life situation. One person manages that getting up every morning forty-five minutes ahead of the rest of the family and sitting quietly in the living room with a cup of coffee. Another jogs regularly after work for a half an hour. Another plays ocean sounds and temple bells on his car stereo whenever he drives along. Still another has cleaned out a little storage room off the upstairs hall and sits quietly alone in there for an hour after supper.

William Bridges, Transitions

Meanwhile, where is God?

Life is lived on the grocery aisle and in the check book register. It’s cleaning toilets and fixing holes in ceilings. It’s being told, “no” one too many times. Life is knowing there are more things to fix and problems to solve than there are hours in the day. And you don’t have the energy, even if you had the time.

Meanwhile, where is God?

"Go to Him," CS Lewis wrote, "When your need is desperate, when all other help is vain and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting an double bolting from the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away."

If one of the greatest apologists of the past century can find himself in such despair, what can we expect?

The great Chi­ca­go Fire of 1871 financially ruined Horatio Spafford. Not long afterward, he suffered another devastating loss. The ship taking his wife and four daughters across the Atlantic collided with another vessel. When his wife finally arrived in England, she sent Horatio a chilling two-word tel­e­gram. It simply read, “saved alone.” Several weeks later, as Spafford's own ship passed near the spot where his daugh­ters had been lost at sea, he wrote down these words that became an enduring hymn:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

We’re bracing for our own storms. We know from past experience how they can interrupt and dramatically change lives. You’ve probably walked across piers built deep into the water that failed to survive. How quickly our plans and dreams can quickly be dashed on the rocks by a hurricane. The powerful winds and raging flood waters serve to remind us of life's brevity. We face the clamor of the enemy, determined to wear us down, discourage us, and defeat us.

We have choice when the winds of the world beat against our windows. We can join Spafford and build on a firm foundation, so we’ll still be standing long after the storm has passed through.

Stephen Goforth

the self-esteem secret

You can either let your self-esteem ride on the answer to questions like:

Do people think I am smart?

Am I shaped like a model?

Do I look weak and foolish?

Or you can let your self-esteem be based on the knowledge that you are of value because you are made in God's image and that he has set his affection on you.

You've made quite a journey already, struggling to keep going and learning to rest in that knowledge. Won’t it be enjoyable to march down that path, head held high and a big smile on your face? It’s there, not because you are ignoring your trouble, but because you know the secret.

Stephen Goforth

Filling Up on Digital Junk food

We’re becoming quite intolerant of letting each other think complicated things. To hear someone else out, you need to be able to be still for a while and pay attention to something other than your immediate needs. So if we’re living in a moment when you can be in seven different places at once… on a phone here, on a laptop. How do we save stillness?

Erik Erickson talks about the need for stillness in order to fully develop and to discover your identity and become who you need to become and think what you need to think. Stillness is one of the great things in jeopardy.

When we’re texting, on the phone, doing e-mail, getting information, the experience is of being filled up. That feels good. And we assume that it is nourishing in the sense of taking us to a place we want to go. And I think that we are going to start to learn that in our enthusiasm and in our fascinations, we can also be flattened and depleted by what perhaps was once nourishing us but which can’t be a steady diet. If all I do is my e-mail, my calendar, and my searches, I feel great; I feel like a master of the universe. And then it’s the end of the day, I’ve been busy all day, and I haven’t thought about anything hard, and I have been consumed by the technologies that were there and that had the power to nourish me. If kids feel that they need to be connected in order to be themselves that’s quite unhealthy. They’ll always feel lonely, because the connections that they’re forming are not going to give them what they seek.

Sherry Turke, Alone Together