Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Begin each day as if it were on purpose."

A couple of weeks ago, I read this (somewhat lengthy) article.

And then I thought.

And thought.

And thought.

For days.

And I've kept right on thinking and thinking since I read that article. Bear with me while I try to use this space to work out a few of my meager and personal conclusions . . .

Initially, I felt there was something enviable about being self-assured enough to live on the fringe of LDS culture and still remain so faithful. But then I realized those choices come with a cost, just like any others we make – even “right” choices.

Still, there's something I admire about Joanna. I think that sometimes the majority of individuals steeped in mainstream church culture feel like her friend did: that those on the fringe are dangerous. I find myself thinking that exact word about deviations from the centerline. In fact, I stopped reading some of those feminist housewife blogs because they treaded into territory that was uncomfortable for me, they walked too close to questioning authority.

I think a lifestyle that varies from the mainstream is different and sometimes hard for the collective LDS culture to understand, and our individual human natures react to differences by ostracizing and/or successively approximating others back toward mainstream ideologies.

After spending a morning deep in thought, I decided that what it comes down to is that how close to or far from center we walk is a decision each individual has to make. It’s why we are given personal agency and personal revelation – so that we can each determine what level of worship/faith/commitment brings us the most satisfaction and happiness, and helps us feel the closest to our God.

M and I are trying to get back to church regularly (nap schedules, morning sickness, and residual holiday-induced complacency be damned), and this article made me realize I’m still trying to determine if a life just left or right of center works for me and if it will get me the mormon legacy I’ve often envisioned, complete with photographic proof on my walls that my children all married in the temple and the safely tucked-away knowledge that they are active participants and partakers of the faith.

I also wonder if that legacy is the ultimate goal, one of the ways to achieve the satisfaction and happiness I mentioned earlier, or if it is simply the byproduct of living a faithful life and doing the best we can, which effort is never constant for me but always ebbs and flows. I hope it’s the latter.

We went to an entire block of church meetings for the first time in a long time and it felt good to be there. Right. But also highlighted the fact that LDS doctrine and LDS culture are indeed different species, and not always mutually exclusive at that.

Then, my sister shared this article about a guy who used to be LDS before he had a mid-life crisis of sorts and decided he needed to stop making decisions for every one else in his life and needed to start living for himself. It was an interesting read. I think that in some ways, he's right: our lives do evolve and change and sometimes that evolution fits the lives we've chosen for ourselves and sometimes it doesn't.

But I also realize that sometimes people have a huge mid-life crisis and need a complete life overhaul to be happy while others can make gradual adjustments and be fine.

However, I also think many of the problems he talks about would be avoided if people made decisions based on logical thinking and with their eyes wide open and not because "it's what you do" or "what society/my parents/my friends expect". I think not making decisions for yourself and your own life is what breeds the kind of malcontent he experienced and now writes about. But I do think that you have to find happiness in your own life and put 100% effort into making things work before calling it quits. There's too much temptation to sit and think "sure, I'm happy enough, I guess. But I'll be much happier when I'm rich/skinny/single/etc."

Then, several days later, on a whim, I pulled out my old Norton Anthology of American Literature with a hankering to read some Emerson. I settled on the essay that had the most markups in the margins - a very uncharacteristic thing for this poor excuse for an English lit student to have done. And so it was that I settled into reading Self Reliance.

While reading, I decided that I must be a trancendentalist at heart. I believe there is innate goodness and badness in all of us, and that the portion that first our parents and then we ourselves actively and attentively nurture is the one that becomes dominant in us. If the innate goodness is nurtured and nourished, we can manage - even in the madness of this world - to avoid serious trouble.

And then, I thought a while more.

Emerson's theory of self reliance is sort of amazing. He says we should learn to recognize our own thoughts and not dismiss them because they seem ordinary to us. Envy of others is a waste of time, says Mr. E.

Each person must accept himself, for better or worse, simply because each person is unique, completely new. He says no one else knows what we are capable of, and even we ourselves don't know it - until we try. He goes one further, saying "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string."

He advocates a careful nonconformity, and encourages each person to search out the truth for him or herself, saying that nothing is as sacred as the integrity of one's own mind. Then, what we must do about the truth - about our own cognition and understanding of it - is all that should concern us, not what other people think of us. He says that this is the harder lot, because "you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. "

A nonconformist will not meet a warm welcome in most circles, he says. In fact, it's for this reason that one "must know how to estimate a sour face". But, since "the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows" there must be some other thing that keeps us from real self trust, and therefore self-reliance. . .

Ourselves. Emerson says that the terror of our own consistency keeps us from trusting ourselves to the degree necessary for true nonconformity. There is in us a certain "a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them."

And then, the famous quote: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . ." We need not be afraid to contradict our own selves for fear of tying ourselves to past perceptions and statements, but "live ever in a new day".


My conclusion?

I wish to adopt a credo of sorts, penned by Mr. E himself.

It is this:

"Be it known unto you that henceforward
I obey no law less than the eternal law. . . .
I must be myself.
I cannot break myself any longer for you or you.

If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier.

If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should.
I will not hide my tastes or aversions.

I will so trust that what is deep is holy,

that I will do strongly before the sun and moon
whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints.

If you are noble, I will love you;
if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions.
If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions;
I will seek my own.

I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly.
It is alike your interest,
and mine,
and all men's,
however long we have dwelt in lies,
to live in truth.

Does this sound harsh to-day?
You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine,
and, if we follow the truth,
it will bring us out safe at last."

[Title quote is from "Hitch"]


Danielle said...

Hmmm.... so many thoughts, but I lack the ability to write them down in a way that makes sense. That, and I always fear saying something that might offend someone. But yes, there are many thoughts running through my head right now.....

Danielle said...

Oh, and my overly opinionated thoughts would have been about the articles you linked to, not what you wrote. ;)

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