Lenten Practices: Putting off the "elsewhere self"
"Recent socioeconomic trends have yielded a whole 'new breed of person' and a 'new texture of everyday life' (17-8)--a phenomenon he hopes to capture by employing 'elsewhere' as an adjective. The 'elsewhere' society is comprised of only the most 'fleeting and one-dimensional' social interactions, and the 'elsewhere' individual is in perpetual state of inner conflict, plagued by the uneasy feeling that no matter where one is, one is potentially missing out on something more important.
This new person is not so much an individual as an 'intravidual', someone with 'multiple selves competing for attention within his/her own mind, just as, externally, she or he is bombarded by multiple stimuli simultaneously' (7). Gone is the stable self with an 'authentic inner core'--as in the phrase 'finding oneself'. Instead of being guided by the imperatives of self-development in the old-fashioned sense, 'intravidualism is an ethic of managing the myriad data streams, impulses, desires, and even consciousness that we experience in our heads as we navigate multiple words' (7).
Like a fan at the sports game who, realizing she or he is on camera, cannot decide whether to enjoy the moment by looking at the screen or to perfect his or her image by looking at the camera, the 'intravidual' is uncertain and anxious, forever plagued by the road not taken. Caught up in the winds of multitasking, other fans cannot resist text messaging or talking on their cell phones, even though they have paid an exorbitant price for their seats."
After reading this passage I put the journal down, because I needed to process her words. I felt an intense dissatisfaction with tendencies that I have observed in myself and both Conley and Lasch-Quinn had a name for it: the "elsewhere self."
I have too much going on in my life. I have too many channels of data trying to squeeze themselves into my head. In consequence I feel that I'm losing two things: my moral ability to process the data wisely and a quiet, internal space in my soul. What I need is a re-calibration of internal appetites. I need to constrict the flow of external data so that there can be, as it were, an expansion of simplicity on the inside.
I don't sleep well. I struggle to keep in my memory things that I am studying. I feel increasingly distractible. And with a baby on the way, I sense a need to do things that will strengthen my emotional capacity to be present to Phaedra and the baby rather than, well, be elsewhere.
All I have to say, in that light, is thank God for Lent. Lent is a beautiful season that not only reinforces bonds of kinship with Christians, it also offers us an excuse to reorganize the "spiritual life."
Here, then, are the practices that by God's grace and the ever-present aid of the Spirit, in cooperation with fellow believers, will begin in me a necessary process of mental declutter.
1. Be off the internet by 7 pm. I miss my evenings. The fact is, surfing the internet always provides the easiest, most brainless, most passive way to distract myself. If I want to recover a measure of quiet in my life--that would make going to sleep a gentler matter--then I need to put up a boundary with my internet use. I want to read novels. I want to listen to music. I want to hang out leisurely with Phaedra. I want to have an evening proper, one that isn't chewed away by the internet, and that means raising a fence against the temptation to do what is merely easy.
2. Be off of Facebook. I like FB. I enjoy rummaging around and seeing what folks are up to. But I also have acquired a mental tick. Every time I post something, my mind fidgets with curiosity, wondering if people have written comments. I want a break from that mental tick and so I'm setting aside the use of FB. I'll post on Sundays only. If you send me a message via FB, I'll try to respond as readily as possible.
3. Before I read the morning's news and email correspondence on my computer, I want to practice my morning devotions first. It's a little pathetic how easy it is to crawl out of bed, wash my face, brush my teeth, grab a glass of water and then shuffle over to the computer to see what exciting things have happened while I was asleep. I don't like this habit, to be honest.
Spending 30 minutes to an hour on the computer not only makes it difficult to recover a quiet space to read Scripture, pray and prepare my heart for the day. Sometimes it makes it impossible to want to embrace my morning devotions. So I'm putting up another boundary. I'm forbidding myself from opening the computer until I have engage a proper spiritual exercise and allowed my soul to receive from God his grace for the day.
I'm not going to try and tackle a big food discipline this year. The media disciplines will demand plenty of energy. So this year I'm simply cutting sweets out of my week. It'll be simple, sure, but I'm sure my body will thank me for the break.
ONE ACT OF ENGAGEMENT
I want to memorize one Scripture or prayer a week. I've been working through the Collects in the BCP. I'd like to try to memorize all of them. I want things inside my soul that I can carry around with me wherever I go. I've not been good at memorizing Scripture for some time, and I'd like to recover that practice too. If I only manage to memorize one verse, I'll be happy. At least I'll be doing something.
Lastly, it's nice to know that I'm not entering into these Lenten practices alone. Phaedra will join me in some of these exercises, while also practicing a few of her own. And then there is our community at All Saints Anglican and our friends scattered abroad.
May our Triune God grant us grace to keep a good Lent this year. May he encourage you in whatever you take on in your journey with Christ and his people through this season. And may we encounter a "new creation" on the other end. Amen.