Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The 'What' and the 'Why'

Abba Anthony the Great said this, 'If he is able to, a monk ought to tell his elders confidently how many steps he takes and how many drops of water he drinks in his cell, in case he is in error about it.'

from 'The Sayings of the Desert Fathers' ~ Benedicta Ward, SLG

I mentioned in a previous post that I was working my way through this book, and when I read it this morning the above quote stuck with me.

I don't think Abba Anthony is suggesting that true monks should all go out and purchase Pedometers or keep careful records of their consumption of Dihydromonoxide (after all, how big is a 'drop'?). What I heard in this was an increased level of Awareness. I know their have been times when I've sat down to read a book with a packet of cookies and 20 minutes later I suddenly notice that all the cookies have gone and I have no recollection of consuming them.

The act of being aware changes our behavior. I did an experiment today and I decided to write down everything I ate. Suddenly I was conscious of walking past the goodies at the Receptionist's Desk at work, I noticed how many refills I wanted at Boudreaux's at lunchtime. I ate and drank less today for the sole reason that I was writing it down and was therefore aware of it.

Socrates said 'The Unexamined Life is not worth living' - I'm not sure if I'd go quite that far, as their have definitely been moments in my life where I would have much rather have been numb and clueless to what was going on inside. But Socrates and Abba Anthony are just saying what so many other writers have said, we need to be 'Aware'.

I try to avoid a lot of political debate, but when I do get into discussion, I try to be more interested in the 'Why' rather than the 'What'. People are often very good at articulating what they believe, but not so much the why. 'Why' asks us to take a look inside, to examine ourselves, the good and the bad.

If I start counting the steps I take and the water I drink I might become aware that I am walking in the wrong direction or consuming the wrong things. The 'What' leads to the 'Why'. Suddenly I notice my internal drives and compulsions, and in doing so I am awakened.

So, how many steps did you take today? How much water did you drink?



Network Geek said...

You know, when I read this, I was nodding my head a lot in agreement, but the one thing that really stuck out for me was the Socratic reference. There's a fine line between a life unexamined and a life over examined. My particular pendulum can swing both ways on that kind of introspection. Neither extreme is healthy for me.

Pete the Brit said...

Socrates said 'The Unexamined Life is not worth living', I think the collorary is also true 'The Unlived life, is not worth examining'.

kathy kelley said...

Yes but when I count my steps, I tend to watch my feet, and suddenly when I look up I discover my feet have taken me where they have always gone...home. But it is my home no longer, though 97% of my belongings are there, they to are no longer mine I am told. Why do my feet, my truck, my mind keep going where I am not welcome?. When I awAken from counting, I know I don't beloxng there...but where is God taking me. I do not know, awake or asleep, examined or unexamined. I cannot see.