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30 - The Practice of Stillness - Part 4: Vision

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

Mornings in my house are a tension between kids that want to get up early and adults that want to sleep in late.

My oldest is usually up first. Sometimes he's up as early as 4am, but usually around 6am. One kid up at six is not too bad, but add in another and things can get loud. It seems we’re always wrestling to teach them to be quiet, so we can sleep.

I’ve been thinking lately about why we want to sleep in, and why they’re raring to go at 6am. I think it's because they’re eager to embrace each new day. They have a lust for life, and look forward to what each day brings. As adults, sometimes we don’t have the same kind of gusto for each new day. We’ve been there, and been around long enough to know that any given day can bring good and bad, so there’s no reason to rush into what may not be worth it.

Kids have an optimism that adults sometimes lack. But stillness isn't a lack of exuberance and gusto for life.

Stillness isn't calmness, or tamped down emotions.

Inner stillness can bring the kind of excitement my kids have to embrace each morning with eager expectation, because it restores the flavor and fervor of life.

Not only does reconnection to God bring rest from what can sour life, it renews our hope for good days, and better days. We always have something to look forward to when we are walking with God. God desires to lead us through seasons of growth, harvest, peace, and newness. The normal monotony of predictability gets replaced by the rhythms of a God revealing ever new things about who we are and what we were meant to do. Stillness replaces a downward stumble into death with an upward renewal into the hopeful expectation for better days.

God has good things for you.

God is not predictable.

But neither is God safe.

The safe route is boring. It's the pre-prescribed path of external acquirement. It's the normalized routine of work and play with no great purpose, other than trying to punctuation the daily grind of survival with a few feel-good moments. We think we're working to play, but are mostly just working without much thought to what we’re working for. Life with God is good no matter what we're doing. Even our work takes on a different meaning and purpose with God. God has a vision of life for you that’s better than any vision you could have. Your vision will always be tethered to what you think is possible, which is always a limited field. We view life as a zero-sum game, where the possibilities of our purpose and path are limited by our limiting circumstances and abilities. But not so with God. With God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

We’re all born as a person, in a place and time, with a limited set of choices set out for us based on circumstances we didn’t choose. We live in a time where so many are chaffing against those limitations, frustrated by their lack of opportunity, especially in light of a culture where anything seems possible, but where only a few seem to be able to tap into those possibilities. Weren’t we all told as kids that anything was possible, that we could be anything we wanted, that life was ours for the taking and nothing stood in our way? But that’s not the reality of the world. So, it’s easy to grow up into disappointment, resentment, and victimhood. The childhood mantra of "you can be anything" seems to turn into the adulthood mantra of "make the best with what you have." Is the sky the limit, or do we just make lemonade from lemons life gives us?

God is not a zero-sum game.

God is an eternal, inexhaustible energy that is ever new.

The First Law of Thermodynamics establishes that the energy of the universe is constant. It does not diminish, die, or go away, it just transforms. God is the source of that energy, which is ever in the process of renewal, and has ever new things for you. The trick, and the irony is that God’s vision for you is not an open field with limitless possibilities, it is a narrow road which leads in one unified direction, to one single purpose. The limitless energy of God will lead you to one limited possibility; the very purpose for which you were made. Focused vision, by definition, means eliminating many possibilities for the one.

The problem for most of us is that we simply don’t have any idea what to do with our lives. It doesn’t help to tell me I can be anything I want. First, I can clearly see that this is a lie. Not even all the money, power, and access in the world can allow for that. An old, rich and powerful person will still die. Money doesn’t buy life, and it cannot buy purpose either. Every one of us, no matter who we are, are limited people with a limited set of possible paths to follow. We never get to choose whatever we want. We must always choose from what is available. Whether we like it or not, we cannot be anything we want.

To have vision literally means that we can see, in some way, the place to where we are going. Vision actually brings the hopeful expectation that we are heading somewhere, and also leaving certain things behind. We want to believe that there is a unified vision for our lives, that there are new things for us around every corner of the path we are walking in life.

Let's paint a word picture to help conceptualize this idea.

Imagine that you're standing in a large, open field. Overhead is a beautiful, blue sky dotted with small, marshmallow clouds. Green grass stretches far away all around you. To the right there is a mountain range stretching to the horizon. To the left a gentle slope to a faraway river. Behind is a dense forest. Ahead are open, rolling hills that disappear into the distance. You are like a dot on a grid with lines extending out in every direction, like a geographic spectrogram connected to an infinity of end points. You could follow any one of those lines, in any direction, to so many places, but none of which you can see. You have no idea where any of these lines lead, or what the road of each will be like. How do you choose which way to go?

The mountains are beautiful, but you know that mountain hiking can be hard and treacherous. The river looks inviting, but you know that water can turn into uncontrollable rapids with undertows that can be deadly. The woods are also inviting, but also dark and filled with wild animals and other dangers. The hills seem calm and pleasant, but you have no idea where they go either. How do you decide what direction to choose?

This is life without vision.

Then imagine you get the flash of a picture in your head, a feeling in your heart, and an instinct in your gut. You see yourself climbing up a mountain, you somehow feel the goodness and rightness of that image in unexplainable ways. Also imagine that you are able to trust in that momentary vision, and decide to set out towards the mountains. This vague sense has enabled you to set out down a path. There will continue to be the need for further vision, because direction is a continual choice, but faith is the ability to keep going in one direction until you are directed elsewhere.

That is how life with God works.

We are not struggling to decide what direction to take, in a limitless field of possibilities. We are struggling to discern what direction God has for us, knowing that walking any path entails the possibility of a single outcome towards a single goal.

We often think self-determination equals a self-created vision, not just choices within a pre-determined vision. We think we have decided who we are, where we are, by making choices about our lives. We don’t realize that these are choices within the larger vision of no larger vision. We are operating in the biggest frame under a kind of anti-vision, a narrative which says there is no greater vision than our own ability to choose. Our purpose and meaning in life then becomes to create our own purpose and meaning, which is circular and relative. But in a world of infinite choices, we must create a mechanism for that kind of decision making. Limited beings with finite function facing an unlimited, infinite universe must fracture reality into something more manageable. We do this through the creation of the ego-self.

The ego-self must eliminate large chunks of reality through dualistic selection. The small self, separated from the only source able to handle all reality, must create a small framework within which to choose its own direction. For the small self, standing on an open field of endless possibility is overwhelming. So, the small self must begin to manage the data through division. It is the smaller field I create in order to pare down reality to a manageable sum.

This is how it works. I am human, not animal. I am boy, not girl. I am white, not black. I am heterosexual, not homosexual. I am monotheistic, not pagan. I am Christian, not Atheist. I am Western, not Eastern. I am protestant, not Catholic. In all, this would not necessarily be a negative process, unless I end with the absolute declaration, “I am right, not wrong.” It is in that conclusion that I not only divide the world between what I am and am not, but what I see as good and bad; and as humans, we cannot see the world any other way.

We naturally translate our vision paradigm into a moral stance. We cannot help it. The autonomous self must believe that it has chosen, not just the best path for life, but the right path. Otherwise, we have no good impetus to follow that path. We will not live life without meaning. We have to know that what we are doing fits who we are, even when we have simply created who we are in order to know that. But here is the dilemma. We cannot trick ourselves by telling ourselves we are on the right path. We always look for some kind of outside source to affirm the rightness of our self-created identity. To affirm our self-created identity, we must have self-created systems of truth. We will not believe something is good for us unless we also believe it is good for everyone. The ego-self must impose its self-referential truth system on the world, because that is the only way to legitimize that system as true.

We do not except small truth, because we were made to live in a world with big truth. What is true for me must be true for everyone, or it cannot be true for me. We understand innately the need for truth to be universal, or it simply cannot be true. But when we start with the idea of relative truth (I can make my own meaning), then what we end up with is a relative source for universal truth (what is true for me is true for everyone). The problem is not the choices we’ve made, whatever they may be, but that we began with the idea that we could make those choices to begin with. Limited beings deciding to take on an unlimited universe is anti-vision, the largest frame of meaning we are operating under, which also denies the largest frame of God.

We need a single source for reality. That unifying vision can only come from God. But God as a unifying vision is too large for us to handle. Only God can help us sort through the raw data of an infinite universe without the divisiveness of dualistic thinking. This is where the practice of stillness is beneficial.

Think of reality like an infinite river, flowing under the black sky of the star-lit universe. Imagine you are floating along in this infinite data stream, a small human speck with no ability to get your bearing, or control your direction. You try to touch your feet to the river bottom. To your surprise, the bottom is close. Your feet graze the bottom but cannot get a firm grip. The river current is too strong. Then you notice in your hand a magical staff, called your will. It is the only power you have. It is the power of choice. What do you do with it? You feel lost in this river, helpless, overwhelmed. Then, in your mind you hear two voices, one is yours, the other you don’t know. Your voice says, “cast the staff down,” the other voice says, “lift the staff up.” You decide to strike down with the staff.

You strike it down toward the river bottom. Instantly the river divides in two. You go one way, and the rest of the river goes another. The data of reality has been split. But it is still so massive. You still feel lost in the massive river of reality, swept along uncontrollably. So, you strike the staff again. The river splits again. You do this again and again until the river becomes a small, narrow, gently flowing stream. Finally, you are able to stand up and walk. Now you are finally in control. However, what you are in control of is such a small fraction of reality. You can't tell just how small, and just how fractured. Still, it is the best you can do, given the circumstances. You realize that there is a greater reality still out there, floating somewhere far way, and that you are now vastly disconnected from it. But at least you are in control.

Then imagine you hear that other voice again. It says, “lift up the staff, so I can pull you up.” Now that you feel more calm, in a more manageable stream, you decide to give this second option a try. You lift up the staff, and some invisible force begins to lift you up out of your small stream. Just as your feet lift out of the water, you get scared, you feel your own sense of control slipping away. You feel a “no” rise up in your soul, the invisible force lets go and you fall back down into your stream. You hear the voice again, and decide to try again. This time you get a little higher before that “no” rises up and you fall back down. But you keep going, getting higher and higher each time. As you rise, you begin to see some of those others streams you’d split from. Each time you rise, you see more, and each time you fall back down you experience a gentle landing, but the inner experience of falling feels painful. You know you must make a choice. Keep going up, or just stay down. This is a picture of the spiritual journey, back out of our small stream of reality and to the largest frame of reality.

The goal is to get to a place where we are floating above that stream, not caught helplessly in it. The only thing we can do with the infinite stream of reality, on our own, is divide it into small, manageable parts. We cannot rise above it on our own. The goal is to let God take hold of us, and lift us up out of it. We do this through the practice of stillness.

We learn to let go of our control over reality, which fractures it, and give God control. When we are completely still, not trying to manage or control reality, then we are in a place where God is managing it for us. We are floating above the data stream, able to see it clearly, but not pushed around and drowning down in it. We can then still experience that infinite data stream without being overwhelmed by it. We are floating above it, held by God, who then begins to pull bits of it out for us to experience as He decides. We are then able to live life in full view of reality, because we have released our desire to control it for ourselves. We are operating by the will of God, guided by God’s vision of reality, instead of our own. It is now God who decides how we experience what we experience, and why. We get to “see” all reality holistically. God has us in a place of inner stillness, of surrender to His will concerning our experience, which allows for the space to register any part of that data as God decides.

The amazing truth about vision is that getting somewhere is not the point of life. The enjoyment of life isn’t in getting anywhere, but in being with God. When we know, in the most trusting way, that we are heading in the only direction of life we were made for, we no longer have to focus on that. Then we can be content in every moment to focus on that moment alone.

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