Maturity comes hard

I am working with two competing thoughts: how the search for “The Best” holds one back from the true depth and breadth of life and how “less, but better” rings true.

The search for The Best means that you don’t recognize the meaning of context and diversity. The Best means there is only one possible solution, instead of a myriad of delightful solutions. There is a right way, and many wrong ways; there is one good thing, and the rest are all inferior. In essence, you are talking about a mindset that leads to constant dissatisfaction that comes from falling short or settling for less than. It is also a mindset that discourages creativity and breeds comparison and imitation. It says the that you just have to pick from the best.

Endemic to this is pride. That you chose, built, bought, found or embody The Best. Along with this is judgement – on anyone who did not chose, build, buy, find or embody The Best. This also means competition. Maybe someone else did better than you in achieving The Best. There is also guilt, when, invariably, The Best is out of your reach. And there is also the inexplicable sadness you can’t quite pin down that The Best is not really a reflection of you, but of hand-me-downs you found washed up on the beach and thought were beautiful, but maybe in a strange, alien way that didn’t quite suit you.

The fear of missing out, the grasping, the imitating, the dissatisfaction . . . it tends to bury you under a pile of More and Stuff. Less, but better, the chant of Greg McKeown, is an updated version of Occam’s Razor, or: Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem. (That is, More things should not be used than are necessary.)

The trick is, what is necessary or essential? If you truly are ‘obsessed’ with your latest weight loss product, I suppose, to you, it is essential. In order to define what is essential to you, you must first define yourself. When I was a child, I thought this sort of statement was the epitome of stupid. You are you. Duh. What is there to discover? You’ve never been anyone besides you. Did you think maybe perhaps you used to be a different being and half of yourself got lost in the detritus? Well, live at least a quarter of a century, and suddenly that mocking rhetorical question seems quite pertinent and not at all rhetorical.

Surely, it would be essential to strive for the best — saith the chronic (and exhausted) overachiever. Tangle with a few serious health upsets, and suddenly “Survive first, deal with the aftermath later,” seems more reasonable. Somewhere between those two extremes is the quiet pondering that, since the world is irreparably bent toward a certain degree of suffering, is there a way to enjoy pleasantly as large a portion of life as one reasonably might?

Less, but better – to my understanding and current thought process – says that the context and complex situation matter. There isn’t Best, unilaterally. There is most appropriate given the circumstances. Younger me says that is a cheap cop-out from pursing Best, but older me says “the circumstances” are so complex as to require a set of encyclopedias, a few bi-lingual dictionaries, someone with an engineering degree, and a medical professional. It is by no means a cheap cop-out; it’s recognizing that all situations are unique, and therefore complex, and therefore need their own precise solutions — most definitely not someone else’s hand me down solutions. And “less” because basically, life is somewhat of a battlefield and the more complex moving pieces involved, the more opportunities for things to fall apart.

If you are, literally, employed as a house maker, by all means, spray your bed sheets with lavender infused vodka while ironing them, fold them crisply, and store them in cotton muslin bags in your neat and organized and lint free linen cabinets. That reeks of Best, and to some small part of me, sounds incredibly satisfying. In real life, just getting my sheets washed and dried in an approximation of a hygienic amount of time is trouble enough. I don’t have servants – the cook, the gardener, the housekeeper, the butler, the maid. Nope. Just me.

So how do we chose essential? By what makes us most happy? I shy away – this reeks of hedonism. Also, it’s very complicated. What makes me happy today may cause my tomorrow to be miserable. Do what you want to do really offers no guidance. I say this because it can be hard separate it out in the mind from the following suggestion: listening to what tugs at you inside.

That sounds like “happy” but it’s not “happy.” It’s recognizing that our aesthetics flow, in truth, from our values, and our values from our morals, and our morals from our understanding of God and the universe. Somebody else’s happy is not my happy, because it didn’t flow from my aesthetics –> values –> morals –> faith. Faith, as any carrier of it will tell you, does not mean being spared from suffering, because if you weren’t suffering, you wouldn’t need faith.

To attempt to illustrate: I feel immediate relief to be out in nature, and worn down the longer I am away from it. I value the natural world, I believe the less refined things are better than the human-processed artifacts, and at the base of it all, I believe in the God who created the world and find every houseplant I have a testimony to the Maker, it’s own act of worship. Lots of people like plants, and the natural world, but tracing out the whole path will give you a much better picture of how someone will interact with, display, or prioritize such things.

If you believe hospitality to be a priority, it will change the way you structure your house, your life and your days. If you believe your house to be your refuge and castle and domain, it will change the way you structure your house, your life and your days. One who believes the former and lives in the latter will be constantly uneasy, and vice versa.

None of us, I think, is so neat and clean as to have a tidy tree diagram of how our faith flows into our morals, into our values, into our aesthetics. More often or not, I think we are on a bit of a hide-and-seek: when we see something that seems right, we don’t really know why, we just find it Right. So the paying attention part of paying attention to what tugs at you is to better understand what the essential part of that is — the part that really matters. “That appeals to me,” is a feeling; “That appeals to me, because—” is an understanding.

“The Best,” unfortunately, does not ring of understanding. It is itself more of an emotion. “Less, but better,” the phrase I am currently finding a bit of an anchor in the storm while I scramble for my bearings, demands that I understand. What, precisely, am I attempting to achieve? Not generically; not hopefully; not vaguely; not eventually.

think I want to sew all of my own clothes out of linen, preferably dyed myself with dye stuff I’ve gathered personally. But, upon assembling my spec list, I find this:

  • Comfortable
  • least amount of time possible spent on laundry
  • durable so I am not constantly shopping
  • professional-ish, or I can’t wear them to work and that defeats the purpose
  • Able to accommodate the fact that my weight is not currently stable
  • Accommodate my body shape
  • Colors that I find pleasing
  • Preferably natural fibers, but willing to compromise on this if I can get items #1 and #2 met

Basically, that does sum up my specs needed, and in rough order of my current urgency. That spec list in no way lines up at all with what I thought I could define as “Best” – an idyllic sense of what I want the world to be like, not an honest assessment of what life is currently looking like or how to get where I want to be. The argument to move toward what I want my idea of clothes to be like is oblivious to the fact that I can’t have it all. If right now I want to have time to sing, garden, visit, sleep, paint, and be alive — and I can do some of those things if I don’t have a time intensive laundry routine or spend it shopping, again, then the value of idealized clothing plummets. The actual need is something that I can not think at all about, not a thing that requires intensive investment from me to accomplish. What I need is a basic work uniform that requires as little thought, time investment or discomfort as possible. Also, next, get rid of all other work clothes that do not meet that requirement, or at the very least, set them very deeply aside for such a time as the requirement changes. And do you know what a relief that would be? If there were only a week’s worth of clothes hanging in the closest?

Less, but better, means stop trying to be an all encompassing best. Don’t tell me what The Best breakfast is: write me up a spec list of what breakfast needs to be right now, and then we trouble-shoot to figure out how to come up with solutions for that. And then cut out all the other extraneous stuff that you are throwing energy away trying to do.

The shift from one to the other is more troubling and taxing on my subconscious than I would have thought, so while my conscious mind is ready to move forward, I suppose my subconscious needs this meandering path to pick apart and talk myself into it. Logic is by far not all that the world runs on.

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