“Keep us, Lord, so awake in the duties of our callings that we may sleep in Thy peace and wake in Thy glory” – John Donne
Yesterday, I looked at the difference between “contentment” (as a mindful “in-the-moment” sense of satisfaction) versus being “well-cared-for” (as an ego-imposed sense of satisfaction). The distinction is between trust and imposition.
Like it or not our egos cannot be neutral – which is why we have such difficulty entering into the moment. There is a natural and experiential draw towards seeing “the moment” in whatever way our egos prefer.
For most of us, being “well-cared-for” is more highly valued than being mindful. By imposing predictability, we resolve tension. We gain the assurance and peace of mind of knowing that we count, BUT we lose the empathetic awareness of being “in-the-moment.” of how that awareness fits us to whatever is happening.
Let’s look at an example: Jane was on her way to work. She forgot her day planner. When she got into her car, she noticed that it was missing. She then invented two thoughts: “I’m an organized person” and “I left it at work.” Once she got to work, she realized it wasn’t there.
Being “well-cared-for” meant that Jane could honor the two thoughts she made up. Ironically, she thought she became larger by making her context seem smaller. She put her context under her control by asserting predictability. And, if she had allowed the context to be bigger, then she would had to shift her awareness away from fulfillment long enough to test her reality. In a subtle way, she let power replace relationship by making herself bigger than her context.
The more we give over to the gravitational pull of being “well-cared-for,” the more our comfort zones dominate and control us. The small invented thoughts we make up to “prove” we are right – they take us by the nose and move us to places where we stand alone and apart from others – and sometime even apart from our own desires.
In Greek mythology, Lethe was the name of a river in the underworld that was also called “the River of Unmindfulness” or “the River of Forgetfulness.” Legend held that when someone died, he or she was given a drink of water from the river Lethe to forget all about his or her past life. Eventually this act of forgetting came to be associated with feelings of sluggishness, inactivity, or indifference. The name of the river and the word “lethargic,” as well as the related noun “lethargy,” all derive from “lethe,” Greek for “forgetfulness.”*
My point here is that our egos generate a kind of sleep. It might be called the “well-cared-for” sleep, or the sleep that allows you to forget relationship, or the sleep that allows you to impose “power-over-relationship.” But the truth is once we are asleep, contentment is always out of bounds, always out of reach. Ironically, we must be awake to experience contentment. We must offer ourselves in ways that from make the “well-cared-for” reach of predictability seem unnecessary and superfluous. Only then can contentment make us larger than our context — not by making it small and imposing ourselves on it, but ONLY by allowing us to join it, by adding ourselves to it, by trusting the moment we are in and by fitting ourselves within it.
John Donne has an amazing insight: “Keep us, Lord, so awake in the duties of our callings that we may sleep in Thy peace and wake in Thy glory.”
We cannot be awake … if being “well-cared-for” holds so much value that we prefer to stay asleep. What we lose is the contentment we find … only once we are awake … only once we are awake to our callings and duties … only once we are awake to the larger context of peace and glory … once we are awake to the trust that always surrounds us.
Thanks for listening!
*My thanks to Merriam-Webster for the Lethe description.