(TransParenting • Part 7)


“When you asked me how I was doing, was that some kind of joke?”

– Bob Dylan


I’m noticing a pattern here.

I serve. And you volley.

I cast my doubts.

And you diffuse them by waxing poetic.

Fair enough.

But the cylinder of my revolver still has some fresh bullets remaining. So if you’re down for another round, here comes my next serve…

Your portrayal of faith is glowingly romantic, and while it wreaks of surrealism, I’m not questioning its veracity. But when I look around, I fail to see it in action.

You describe an epic Spielberg film, but all I see are lo-fi infomercials. The only people who look remotely enthused are the schizophrenic prophets who preach their gospels on the Q train. And I’m not so sure I want what they’re selling.

The rest of us seem to just go through the motions, blindly following the monotonous dictates of a mindless herd.

And if we do this stuff because the neighbors do it, does that validate the underlying tenets of our beliefs? Or is conformity just our ticket to communal entry — as, I sometimes suspect, all religions are?

Dear son,

Before I wax poetic, let me share a story.

A few months back, I met with the founding CEO of a massive tech company. He’s understated, and insightful, and oddly approachable, so I figured I’d pick his brain (and maybe his pocket).

He asked me what I do, and I told him that’s the problem. I feel directionless. Like I’m floundering in a low intensity gig that’s cushy and safe and deeply dissatisfying. He asked me why I stay, and I confessed that I’m still figuring out what I want to be when I grow up. And since I’m supposed to be a grown up, it feels too late to play the field. And who even knows if the “right gig” exists? Maybe I just need to suck it up and outgrow the childish fantasy of professional passion.

His response was short and sharp and struck me to the core:

“There are people who can do what they do without loving what they do. But those people usually don’t think and talk like you.”

The relevance of this anecdote will emerge shortly. But first we have some poetics to wax…

It’s hard to gauge inner emotions by observing outer motions. But ritual by rote is a fact of life, and so is conformity and our blindness to its forces. Social norms are inescapable fences. They keep us up to code with communal standards and steer us back into the right lane when we’re falling asleep at the wheel.

But social standards are just the fences, not the inner sanctuaries.

We don’t live on these fences.

And if we do, we’re bound to breach them.

Social Orthodoxy that’s strictly social is a recipe for disaster.

The double life is no life, at all.

But many of us still straddle the lawn or occasionally marvel at the intricate woodwork in the lobby. Few of us penetrate deep into the grand ballroom, and far fewer get a glimpse of the innermost sanctuary. There are endless varieties of religious experience, and William James penned an encyclopedic epic around this very phenomenon.

Some are content with a timid stroll around the periphery. They are not shallow or fake, but simple and pure. They march to whichever beat they hear, barely even noticing the very beat which guides their march. They are agreeable and compliant and, for lack of a better term, normal.

And when they ask you how you’re doing, it’s not some kind of joke, they’re just following the rules, which is what normal people do.

But then there are the questioners, the doubters, the contrarians, the axe grinders. They are not content with going through motions because depth is what they crave. And the deeper the well the harder the draw, but the sweeter their waters when they finally reach them.

And like the muse of an artist, it seems so surreal, but he savors the moment as long as it lasts. And the muse soon departs, as it always does, but if he keeps up the motions the emotions revisit.

Because the job of the seeker is not to chase passion, but to show up each day, and put in the work. And if he honors the rudiments and goes through the motions, the muse will reciprocate and spark his emotions.

And there are many who can do what they do without thinking too deeply about what they do. But those people usually don’t think and talk like you.