Monday, June 26, 2006

two quick thoughts

1. It is good to be down once in a while. Those are the times you cry out to God and are closest to God (or at least trying to be).

2. We try to relive the past by visiting the places we grew up in and doing the things we used to enjoy but find no joy in any longer. But there is a link to the past, and it is very much alive, unlike the dead memories we try to resurrect. It's prayer: the thread of prayer is the link to the past and to the future. We prayed as children, we will pray when we are old, we pray now--it is the one living link.

I used to find it boring to pray the breviary and the rosary. Both consist of prepared words--nothing is extemporaneous--and the rosary in particular is very repetitive.

The paradigm shift for me was to imagine that I am saying them in the presence of the One to whom I am praying, which in fact is what is really happening. I imagine God to be listening with a satisfied air as I recite his praises and glories.

Reciting prayers becomes a lot more meaningful when you realize that someone is listening to them, someone is enjoying them.

Monday, June 12, 2006

And now I would like to talk about Sickness. I recently went to bed three hours past my usual time, to finish my work, as I have this habit of finishing whatever I am working on regardless of the hour. The next day I put on a brave face and began work at the usual time, but by the afternoon my brain was functioning at half-capacity, and by early evening I experienced severe nausea after looking at the computer screen for a minute. So I would nap for an hour, which would give me enough brainpower to work for a half-hour, then the nausea would begin again. I eventually decided to stop and go to bed three hours earlier than my usual time, and the following morning I was almost completely restored as if by miracle.

While the headache persists you are haunted by such thoughts as, How long will this migraine last? Or will it never go away? Or will it return periodically? And while your head is in pain, there is nothing you can do about it; nothing you can do about anything in fact--even listening to music brings on the nausea.

I learned some lessons that day. Firstly the disaster I bring upon myself by choosing to go without sleep, even for some noble cause. But more importantly I had a glimpse into what my life will be like when I am old and ill. Or even not so old, yet ill with some unfortunate sickness that befalls me in middle age. It is a sobering experience: to be prevented from doing what you most enjoy--to be prevented from doing anything really. Nothing but the waiting, and the hoping. I wish sickness upon no-one, and yet despite my wishing I know it will befall almost everyone. There is yet one kind of work that can be accomplished in sickness (though in truth it lessens the misery very little), and that is the work of becoming a saint, which I shall discuss more in a separate post on Sentimentality.

First I would like to talk about the word Sentimentality. As I understand it this word means the cherishing of the past, the longing for the days of childhood, the long summers when the living was easy. Or if it does not mean that nevertheless that is what I am referring to.

I could easily live in my memories, worshipping the past. There are so many pleasant memories, and I find such pleasure in re-experiencing them in my imagination--or even tangibly by visiting the places of my childhood, which I do on occasion.

But to live in the past--to live for the past, discussing and contemplating only the past--would be to fail the present. At whatever age we find ourselves, there is work to be done today, there are dreams to aspire to today. And we do a disservice to these dreams if we have forgotten them, lost as we are in memories and trying to recover former glories. There are glories that await us today.

And I will make no secret of my dream, which is the one recommended by Thomas Merton in his autobiography: to be a saint. St. Jonathan Aquino--I rather like the ring of that :-) This goal has two important advantages over other ambitions. Firstly it is guaranteed to last, unlike most lifeworks which are soon forgotten. And second I can continue to work at it even were I to fall sick and confined to bed.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I'm currently on a DeHaviland Dash-8 en route to Seattle. It's a clear, sunny day, and the flight is smooth so far, thank God. The wakes of powerboats criss-cross in the tacky waters below us.

It's Sunday and I feel the constant urge to work. It's been like that all week - just one more thing to do, one more feature to implement, and after that, another, no obvious point at which to break, to stop, to take a breath. I feel uncomfortable leaving things on the table; I breathe easier when things are complete or at least stable. The problem is that completion points occur on a different timeframe than the 24-hour cycle of waking and sleeping, the cycle of weekdays and weekends. So I am torn between two kinds of time: project time and biological time.

On one hand I need to recognize and take advantage of the flow state, getting on a roll, momentum. On the other hand, I need to recognize that sometimes I can't do it all in 24 hours, that I need rest and play, that the world will somehow go on without me, that I am human, that I'm not perfect. Though I wonder sometimes if the "flaw" of perfectionism hasn't been a factor in some of the world's most creative and beautiful works.

what the heck are we doing letting life carry us along like this instead of a journey to a destination we tread the same circle with each passing day until one day the circle stops and what have we to show for it

"i am the vine you are the branches" is how i wanna live driven by a purpose a lifesource not carried along by the waves some people are so smart and yet they forget what it's all about

Pause. That's what today is for me -- a pause in two weeks of intense activity -- meditative and tumultuous hours birthing, chastizing, wrenching forth beautiful cathedrals of Javascript code.

But today is a break in the activity. The email inbox is mercifully empty, and so today is a day of reading -- both catching up on the latest news from the internet, as well as plunging into Thomas Merton's spiritual autobiography.

Working in a startup is a bit like monastic life. Or so I'd imagine. You rise in the morning and begin your austere work. At times you are absorbed in deep contemplation. And so your work continues through the day and into the evening. Then retire for bed. Day follows day, your life consisting of rising, work, followed by sleep, a cycle which, if unpredictable in some ways, is nevertheless consistent in the intensity of the work. Brother John, contemplative in the Order of Bytes.

As I say, I've been reading Merton, and a half-dozen other spiritual books from Amazon. My soul has been feeling a bit numb lately, when I've felt it at all, and so these books are helping me to remember that it's there.

Gameplan for this week is primarily intense coding alongside my colleagues at Ning, and also austere evening hours of exercise (yourself!fitness) and singing psalms.