Mindfulness and Manners

Mr. Jenkins One looked at his watch.

Madeleine l’Engle, A Wind in the Door

  1. Consider screen time, and multitasking, to be a drain on the mindfulness we are seeking from the East because we have rejected it in the West.

55 New Maxims for the Cyber-Quarantine

Declaring war on the pencil

I haven’t been able to trace my sources at all, but I vaguely remember a book like Good to Great talking about a company like Intuit making a decision for a product like Quicken, a decision, not just to have a collection of really nice tools, but to declare war on the pencil.

The core insight behind ?Intuit? declaring war on the pencil when it made ?Quicken? was that accounting and finance types using accounting software would also use pencil and paper, and possibly a calculator. The company’s decision was to do user research, find out when and why finance users resorted to using pencil and paper, and then implement improvements to eliminate the need to resort to pencil and paper.

(?Intuit? has also been credited with a similar feat in making a lighter and cheaper version that was not just a more feature-limited version of mainstream accounting software, but would make sense to non-accountants who did not know all the technical terms as one would expect of finance and accounting professionals using the version of ?Quicken? made for accounting and finance professionals. Hence the change in terms to a dirt-simple “money in” and “money out.” This is an additional feat of user research and knowing your audience.)

I am interested in what might be called a “neo-old-fashioned mindfulness,” and an older part of this project relates to looking at your watch more than is necessary, an ancestor to “phubbing,” or snubbing someone socially by looking at your phone. I do not seek a new project, but articulate how we can continue an age-old Western pursuit of mindfulness with a few nuances updated to be mindful when using technologies not around when this aspect of manners came to be.

In a martial arts class, the teacher commented, “Set your foot down because you want to, not because you need to.” This was in reference to a swinging kick that started with picking up your leg from behind you and ended with setting it down in front. And in fact there is a difference between moving so that you have to set your foot down or else lose your balance, and moving so that you set your foot down because you choose to do so.

The difference is illuminating.

Face-threatening behavior and basically rude behavior

When I was taking Wheaton College’s “linguistics and anthropology boot camp for missionaries,” one theme that was underlined was the concept of “face-threatening behavior.” The core concept in face-threatening behavior is behavior that could cause the other party to lose face, and it is normally polite to try to soften or remove the danger of causing the other party to lose face. The next time the lecturer was asked a question by someone in the audience, he pointed out the asker’s politeness behavior: before asking the question directly, he offered some kind words to the person he was addressing. The social subtext? “I am asking you a question, but not because you’re a bad lecturer, and I don’t want to make you lose face.” In other words, politeness leads people to usually try and avoid getting egg on someone else’s face.

I remember visiting with a friend of about my age, some years back, where my friend had asked me to look at a printer. I looked at it briefly, but didn’t immediately see how to fix it. I then apologetically asked if I could call my brother, who worked at a well-treated internal help desk. The social message? “I’m doing something that is basically rude, but I don’t want to be rude to you.” And this was when I was acting entirely out of concern for my friend. I had made a first approach to a difficulty he asked me to look at, and when that didn’t resolve the issue, I made a sensible second approach. However, my behavior was an example of how to maintain politeness while doing something that is basically rude: calling and talking with someone else on my phone when I was visiting him.

On another level, I remember a post-graduation visit to a well-liked professor who, as we were talking, glanced at his clock and then apologized, saying that he looked at the clock because he was surprised it was dark so soon. This was a graceful recovery from a minor social blunder: needlessly looking at his clock, which is an example of basically rude behavior. When Madeleine l’Engle briefly states that Mr. Jenkins One “looked at his watch,” this is a social shorthand to say that Mr. Jenkins One was tired with the present social situation, was wishing it would be over and he could be doing something else, perhaps anything else, and that he wondered how long it would continue to drag on and on. And the professor I was visiting, who has a profound ability to enjoy and be present to practically anyone, made a social recovery after a behavior that carries a message of “I wish this conversation were over.”

Mindfulness and manners

Mindfulness as we use the term today derives from Buddhism, where Right Mindfulness is part of what in Buddhism is called “the Eightfold Noble Path,” and what in classic Western philosophy would be called cardinal or hinge virtues. (A “cardinal” or “hinge” virtue is not just a virtue, but a virtue that others hinge on, cardinal being Latin for “hinge,” with a cardinal virtue being a sort of gateway drug to further virtue. The “four-horsed chariot” of the cardinal virtues of classical antiquity lists courage, classically called “fortitude” or today “grit,” justice, wisdom, and moderation, to which Christian Tradition has added faith, hope, and love, and perhaps implicitly, humility.) Now Buddhism’s Eightfold Noble Path may be a different list of cardinal virtues than those in Western philosophy, and the two may or may not be two equivalent ways of cutting up the same pie. This question need not concern us here.

Different traditions have different lists of virtues, and it does not take any particularly great stretch of the imagination for a Westerner interested in virtue to recognize, for instance, India’s ahimsa, or not causing at least needless harm, as a virtue, and perhaps recognize it as a profound virtue and a cardinal virtue. It has also in my experience not been particularly difficult to get Western Christians to see mindfulness as a virtue, at least in some other tradition’s way of cutting up the pie.

However, this is not because they do not see mindfulness as an obligation. It is because they see the obligation as falling under the heading of manners rather than moral virtue.

A friend I mentioned earlier talked about how decades back, when Walkmans were eating tapes, about how his mother or grandmother had commented that people running with Walkmans on were not paying due attention to their surroundings. I’m not entirely clear how much our society’s concept of manners extends beyond treatment of other people (perhaps manners covers being gentle with your friend’s pets, or at very least leaving them alone if they’re not bothering you), but there is some sense in her remark that you owe attentiveness to your surroundings whether or not there are other people in the picture, and perhaps even that “being off in your own little world” is another name for Hell.

I am not specifically interested in establishing that mindfulness should be thought of as a department of manners, nor am I interested in establishing that mindfulness is a department of virtue. In the interest of not holding my cards too close to my vest, I think it is mostly in an area where the heart of manners meets virtue, and I am inclined to regard it, as I am interested in virtues, as a virtue. However, this is not a point I am interested in establishing. It could be argued that if you owe attentiveness, meaning mindfulness, to nearby rocks and trees as well as other people, it is a virtue rather than just manners as conventionally understood, but possibly some reader will find in this article itself solid reasons to believe mindfulness is manners first and foremost and should not in the first instance be lumped in with virtues. I am genuinely not interested in the question.

However, I will remark, as curiously interesting, that while I’ve seen attention to mindfulness blanketing the air and I have been invited to share in mindfulness exercises, not one of the mindfulness practices I have seen talks about old-fashioned manners to pay attention to others and the situation. Mindfulness is discussed as a Far Eastern virtue or discipline. I have never heard it connected to old-fashioned Western manners.

Fr. Tom Hopko’s famous (to Orthodox) 55 Maxims include:

  1. Be always with Christ.
  2. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.
  3. Be polite with everyone.
  4. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.
  5. Do your work, then forget it.
  6. Be awake and be attentive.

These at least overlap with mindfulness; when I spoke to one martial artist heavily influenced by Buddhism and quoted, “Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings,” he said, “That’s mindfulness!

Fr. Tom never uses the word “mindfulness,” but he calls for politeness to “everyone” and to be attentive, and it would at least be consistent with his call for unqualified politeness to say “When you are exercising, be attentive to your surroundings rather than using the time to be off in your own little world.” And I believe there are several maxims of his that a mindfulness practitioner would rightly interpret as being mindfulness or overlapping with mindfulness. And, while Fr. Tom is Eastern Orthodox and perhaps praying for all of us from Heaven, his 55 maxims are written almost entirely on terms the West should be able to make sense of, and the incredible number of search results for “fr tom hopko 55 maxims” attest that he has written something simple that people can connect to.

Manners are much more important, and much more than arcana about which is the salad fork. “The fork goes to the left, and the knife guards the spoon,” is a particular alphabet and language in which manners are translated. It is at the exterior of manners that, under some circumstances, you could be given a bowl of water to rinse your fingers in before eating. A much deeper glimpse into manners is afforded in that a distinguished visitor to a Queen picked up his finger bowl and then drunk it, then Her Majesty picked up her finger bowl and then drunk it, and then every person seated around the table picked up their finger bowls and drunk them.

Manners, at least according to older generations and according to our conversations about manners with prior generations, has a great deal to do with paying attention to other people. It was both manners and mindfulness if Boomers and Gen X’s teachers told us not to pass notes and throw paper airplanes in class, perhaps with exceptions for e.g. the last day of school, but the fact that this may have made life easier for the teacher is incidental to teachers using humble gradeschool arithmetic classes to teach a major life lesson, and a major life lesson that is not only for dealing with authorities. I remember talking to one friend with a spine of steel about children who do not respect adults, and the biggest takeaway I took from the conversation is not that children who do not respect adults grind down adult patience. It was that children who do not respect adults can hardly benefit from adult help, and it is far easier to do something that will benefit a child who respects adults than one who is hostile and disrespectful.

In Madeleine l’Engle’s day, needless attention to a watch or clock was the go-to device to avoid practicing mindfulness for a time. It changed and told you where you are. This pint of beer that Boomers tried not to drink too many of has been replaced by a pint of rum in the smartphone, and a pint of weed in the smartwatch and its successors. Mr. Jenkins One looked at his plain old pre-digital watch, probably one without a second hand, while kids now enjoy (or are bored with) a virtual acid trip quickly surfing from one smartphone app to another.

If we care about mindfulness, an excellent starting point is to drink deeply of what we can learn about manners especially from Boomers while we still can.

My own rather counter-cultural technology choices

Some people seek great merit in being counter-culture. I do not think counter-culture is too great an index of merit, and not just because I believe some countercultures, such as the Klu Klux Klan, are evil incarnate. I have sought, even if I have so far not achieved my goal, to reach life on Orthodox turf where I will not be working out a private heresy in counterculture. None the less, I believe that many of my most helpful technology choices amount to counterculture, whether or not I have the faintest desire to be counter-cultural.

I’ve tried to share some of my fruits in 55 New Maxims for the Cyber-Quarantine; here I would like to zoom in on watches.

When I was in high school, and for far longer, I made it a matter of pride not to wear a watch. It helped me evade, for a certain age, the tyranny of the clock. Since then I have worked professionally where late is unacceptable, and I’ve been bitten by the personal information management and logistics bug; I have my own system for keeping track of calendar appointment, tasks, etc., so at a glance I can see a month or more of scheduled events and when they are scheduled for. And now I own an Apple Watch.

Any freedom I have from compulsively checking phone, email, or watch is a freedom on the other side of needing to deal with logistics.

But a funny thing happened along the way.

I’ve almost exclusively used the solar watch face because, while it may be beautiful, it is less distracting than the face of my industrial strength Pathfinder watch, which changes every second and shows patterns in the numbers (to a mathematician, 11:23:58 looks familiar). I have it set to a smaller analog clock face display within the solar face because from childhood I’ve found analog clocks harder to read than digital. (If analog clocks were easier for me, I would have the digital display, and if I had the option to turn off the inset clock besides the outer solar display, I would turn it off.)

Taking a cue from Humane Tech, I have dug around in “Accessibility” settings and set the watch face to grayscale. It’s beautiful, and the analog clock face’s second hand, brown on blue when seen in color, blends in remarkably well. I have to strain to see it the one time I genuinely want to watch a second hand’s sweep. I also found, under “Display and Brightness,” how to turn off one of the key reasons I purchased an Apple Watch 5: its “Always on” display. It now takes just a little more work to check my watch, supplemented by wearing an oversized fleece whose sleeves tend to cover my watch face.

I’ve also turned on the hourly chime, also an accessibility feature. This reminds me to check the clock once an hour, and relieves me of having to constantly check. If I need to check email once an hour (my preference is to check it once a day), I don’t need to check either my watch or my email compulsively; my watch will remind me on the hour.

Furthermore, I set alarms for when I need to do something. Besides appointments and things like taking medication, I have followed a practice recommended by sleep advocates and set an alarm for when I should go to bed and not when I should get up.

I would briefly pause and acknowledge one objection to the technique above, which is that doing things according to a preset timer and quite possibly stopping when you have momentum going is not as good as working on tasks for as long as they naturally take. For those no ancient or modern watch is needed. However, while I believe working on something for however long it takes to unfold naturally is often better than working for a fixed length of time set without knowledge of how things will unfold, I believe that use of intelligently set alarms is better than clock-watching. (One further aspect of intelligent use of alarms is to have two alarms for something: one five or ten minutes before, meaning when you look at your watch because of the “early warning” alarm, it’s time to start wrapping up; and one at the exact time, meaning it’s time to stop.)

I have almost completely unplugged logistic need to check my watch unprovoked, and I may have the most unobtrusive, if still most expensive, watch I’ve owned. Every non-Apple watch I’ve owned had a digital display, and most recent ones have been gadgety (I have owned three Pathfinders). However, the gadgetry is almost always there if I summon it, and I can take shortcuts by twiddling with complications.

The Apple Watch is designed and marketed as the next level of integrating digital and everyday life, and in my opinion that is not a wise thing to be wishing for at all.

However, it is also powerful enough that judicious choices mean it can be tamed into unobtrusiveness further than any previous watch I’ve owned.

I’m glad for my Apple Watch. For as long as I’ve owned a timepiece, my Apple Watch is the biggest friend of mindfulness to grace my wrist yet.

A few closing words

I would recall a few words from Seeing Through Native Eyes. The main speaker recounted a visit to Kalihari bushmen, who retain hunter-gatherer life unhindered today, and an elder asked him in reference to a device, “Is that a timepiece?”

He said, “Yes.”

The elder said, “Then I don’t like it.”

He said, “Why not?”

The elder said, “Every time you look at it, the next thing you do is rude.”

If you want mindfulness, cultivate an inexhaustible interest in manners.

Orthodox at Fordham

I’m a bit unsure of how to introduce this, but I had a rough time at a university. (An appeal document was sent as follows, after I had raised questions about some things being sexually inappropriate.) One friend said a few things, including that she got a sense from what she was reading that these were “not very moral people” I was dealing with.

The specific university was one that has been treated as alarming by Orthodox. This offers perhaps a slightly fuller picture of what being Orthodox at Fordham is like and a life lesson learned in the process. If you are Orthodox and considering attending Fordham, please review this before you make any final decisions.

For what it’s worth…

1. First experience of Fordham’s care

My first experience at Fordham was arriving late at night at the address I had been given as Fordham graduate student housing, and finding a high-rise apartment building with no obvious affiliation to Fordham, with a security guard who did not expect me and did not know of a connection to Fordham, and a room number that was in a notation that the security guard did not recognize as referring to Keith Plaza. I was allowed in, and began exploring, laden with two suitcases and a laptop. I eventually found the RA’s apartment door, but no one answered my knock. The reason? After I had confirmed I was coming, she sent another e-mail asking for another confirmation shortly before I left, and because I didn’t provide a second, additional confirmation that I was still coming, she had gone to Brooklyn. It was approximately three hours before I connected with Residential Life staff; the delay included an hour’s wait after I told Residential Life that I was outside my RA’s apartment and specifically asked if I should go to outside my apartment, but was told to stay where I was. Then Residential Life went to my apartment instead of my RA’s apartment, where I told them I was, and gave up on looking for me. My phone almost ran out of power with the number of calls I made before the Residential Life staff found me and took me to a place on campus so I could get some sleep before GSA orientation. (They took me to campus as they did not have any access to my room keys: the RA in Brooklyn was the only person who could let me in.)

I believe it fortunate that I did not fall victim to crime under these conditions. Someone who was alone, white, with heavy luggage, and in general not fitting in may be very unsafe in the Bronx, and I could have taken a false step, or had my phone run out of battery power before the repeated calls I needed to get the help I needed from Residential Life.

This occurred late summer, 2005.

2. A cold room

When there was a fire in my floor in Keith Plaza, in the summer after a heat wave, I was not able to access my room. Fordham did provide me a room, but and the thermostat was set to below forty degrees; the room felt like a refrigerator, and even when I turned the air conditioning off and found that the heat was not available, Fordham gave me a light blanket not meant to provide warmth and could not find a warmer blanket. The staff knew that my room was cold, and I asked, but they provided me with nothing much better. I spent a very cold night, when my body was used to heat, and in my best judgment after training as an EMT, I was in real danger of hypothermia: being lightly clad, with no more clothing available, under a light blanket, with no heavier blanket available, in a room initially below forty degrees, can be dangerous.

This occurred summer, 2006.

3. Professor A_____.

I found the response when I tried to befriend A____ quite traumatic.

During our interactions, it seemed to me that from the first piece of work I showed him, my Cambridge master’s thesis, he dismissed my work without any recognition of merit. As a gesture of friendship, I e-mailed him asking for his comments on a draft of a homily I was preparing. The homily drew on his teaching (3/14/06).

His 3/16/06 reply, after what seemed a nicer beginning, ended: “…If you send emails like this to other teachers or other figures, they probably find it rather rude.”

During the semester, I e-mailed him requesting accommodation for a disability (4/26/06).

After that point, he pulled me aside after class, and did not give me an answer to that question. He did, however, require me to change topic drastically enough that I had to start over on my paper. This was 4/27/06, one week from the paper due date, and my entire class grade was based on that paper.

After I had completed all the classes and turned in my paper, I thought that the class was over. However, a Sunday soon after (5/14/06), A____ approached me after church, and began to question me about every single other grade I had received and how I was doing in every class for which I had not yet received a grade.

This was before he turned in my grade for his class, and he assigned about as low a grade, I believe, as would not look conspicuous on my transcript.

I e-mailed B_____ after this and asked to have A____ leave me alone (which he has almost done). Before A_____, I had never asked an administrator to help me with any difficulties with a teacher.

This occurred during Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.

3.1. No redress with acting chair B____.

I sent multiple e-mails to acting chair B____, including my full logs. So far as I could tell, no redress was given, and the later surprises from A____ occurred after I had been telling B____ of difficulties.

This occurred during and after Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.

3.2. No redress with Dean C____.

After my communication with B____ failed to resolve things, I tried to inform C____ that there was a real problem.

The one response I received was a note from her secretary telling me to go to my department chair.

This occurred during and after Incarnation to 451, Spring 06.

4. Professor D____

There were several kinds of difficulties I had with D____.

4.1. Finding reason to criticize

During the course of feminist theology, she assigned primary sources. Of these primary sources, many made claims about how history should be approached; none of them drew on or footnoted postmodern philosophy of history so far as I know, and she did not discuss postmodern philosophy of history in the course of the class. However, after the fact, she sharply criticized my final paper for making its claims about how history should be approached without engaging the current scholarly discussion of philosophy of history, in the evaluation given with my grade on the paper. I find this sort of surprise characteristic of an ongoing stream of surprises I had in dealing with her, and that made it difficult for me to identify a way to work that she would honor with a high grade.

This occurred during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, although the trend of surprises I had difficulty reasoning with occurred during Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

4.2. Possible constraints to academic freedom.

She emphasized that I needed to have “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” and I expended a great deal of effort later on trying to give a polite reading that focused on common ground no matter how hostile the source she assigned was to my religious persuasion.

At first, I set out to debunk sources I didn’t like; later on, I was trying not only to respond politely but to focus on the areas of the sources she assigned that I could best appreciate. However, only once during the entire second course did she credit me with “a sympathetic reading of primary sources;” otherwise, I was penalized, even though for almost all of the later assignments where I seemed to be penalized for not having “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” I was trying to find what common ground I could, and be as positive as I could. Her parameters for “a sympathetic reading of primary sources,” more specifically sources which diverged from my religious beliefs at a very deep level, left me with no way that I could identify to be faithful to my religious tradition and at the same time give the kind of agreement with much of a source’s substance, that she seemed to mean by “a sympathetic reading of primary sources.”

In discussion of preparation for comprehensive exams, she gave directive instruction for the “method question.” For this question, a student is to be graded not on the content of the position taken in response to the question, but on the quality of reflection on theological method in analysis of how that answer was reached. She specifically directed me to be getting my bearings for thinking about this position from the set texts I was to be able to use in my answer, which seemed to have little in common with my tradition. (This was in response to a draft reflection I had sent her that drew on resources within my religions tradition).

I am not sure how thoroughly my academic freedom was respected. There were definitely points where her clarifications of “a sympathetic reading of primary sources” called for me to incorporate contrary ideas in a way that I do not know how to reconcile with my religious tradition.

This occurred to some degree during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, but mainly Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

4.3. Improving work and getting lower grades.

D____ consistently made criticisms that required more fundamental changes, and more work to meet, than any other professor I had at Fordham. However, while I could improve my work in the area criticized to the point that a criticism was not repeated, what I could not do was improve my work in that area and get a higher grade. My work had improved by the second class I took with her so that many criticisms were not repeated, but my grades for the later, improved pieces were consistently lower than the grade based on my work before the improvements were made.

This occurred both during Feminist Theology, Spring 06, and Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

4.4. Saying “vagina.”

D____ said “vagina” quite a lot. Her use of the word was both more frequent and more forceful than I have heard in other classes (health class and biology included), and from time to time she gave a slow and emphatic list of genitalia. (It was one of her more common ways of answering my suggestion that masculinity and femininity may be seen as spiritual qualities.)

This occurred primarily during Feminist Theology, Spring 06.

4.5. Assigned texts and sexual boundaries.

D____ periodically assigned texts which did not seem to be written with consideration for some male readers’ sexual boundaries: Luce Irigaray, for instance, or Tracy Pinchman asking the reader to be sympathetic to adults playing with children’s genitals.

This occurred during both Feminist Theology, Spring 06, and Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

4.6. Treatment of profound giftedness.

When I was doing a paper on profound giftedness, I was attempting in part to document that the profoundly gifted can have a rough life, and that there are some difficult things people don’t realize about the experience. She told me at first that it was an inappropriate topic, because “giftedness is privilege” (she heavily emphasized, in the reading, groups of people that have difficult lives, and seemed offended by the suggestion that a particular degree of giftedness could have difficulties appropriate for discussion—N.B. some of them were like the difficulties I attempt to document here). She was not open to me saying certain things even if I could document them very well; much of my revision was not to improve the paper in the usual sense but to kowtow in areas where she did not approve of the substance of what I was saying, told me it was inappropriate, etc.

This occurred during Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

5. Grade appeal of Theological Anthropology.

After my second class with D____, I asked her for a review of her grade. She refused. I contacted department chair E____, making an appeal based on my turning in improved work from my previous semester with her on the weekly assignments but receiving lower grades.

This occurred after Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

5.1. Not addressing the concern of improved work receiving lower grades.

E____’s response said that the weekly paper seemed to correlate with the grades. His response in no sense addressed my claim that I had improved my work and gotten lower grades for the improved work.

This occurred after Theological Anthropology, Fall 06.

5.2. A characteristic pattern.

This interaction seemed to be characteristic of a pattern: I have not yet been able to obtain redress for any grievance with any professor within the university. The university has been able to provide assistance when I have had difficulties for which no university faculty member was at fault, but not when I am having difficulties with someone within the university.

6. Referral to counselor F____.

When I visited Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services, I was told I needed counseling, and referred to the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, who assigned me to “one of our best therapists,” F____.

This occurred during Spring 06 and lasted into the summer.

6.1. Treatment of religious attitudes and practices.

F____ initially seemed to be hard to try to understand my religious beliefs, but after a certain point she told me that a religious belief was “centuries behind the times” (I had made it clear that this belief was at the heart of a well-received homily I preached, and considered normal in my community), and seemed to be trying hard to argue me out of religious attitudes, beliefs and practices, which she seemed to be holding to be guilty until proven innocent of being psychiatric symptoms (a concern she raised in so many words).

The longer therapy went on, the more of my religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices seemed to be under attack in her telling me I needed to adopt her vision of “progress.”

This occurred during Spring 06 and lasted into the summer.

6.2. Unwanted, unwelcome, and unsolicited sexual directive guidance.

As part of what seemed to be a major effort to argue me out of various psychopathologies, F____ told me that I should “use pornography and masturbate,” and in the last sessions, made me particularly uncomfortable by saying over and over again at every session after she began, “You need to be naughty.”

This occurred during the summer of 06.

6.3. Pricing.

Fordham had been told, and the Fordham counselor told me, that ICP would go as low as $18 for Fordham students. They in fact charged me $55 for each weekly visit, and when I asked for a fee reductions or other ways of reducing a financial burden that was difficult for me, no reduction of fees or frequency of visit was given.

This occurred during the Spring and summer of 06.

7. Referral to psychiatrist G____.

ICP referred me to G____. During the second semester in particular, I was concerned with my low energy levels and getting more energy so my work would not be hindered.

Because my then current medications were known to cause fatigue, I asked if there were alternatives that would cause less fatigue, but I tried to be very, very clear that I was concerned about side effects. I explained my concern and explicitly asked what side effects were anticipated, and when he said a rash was possible, I asked what percent of the patients experienced it.

He had what he thought might be a gentler alternative to two medications that were probably fatiguing me, and he said he wanted to try switching to one and then the other. But then without explaining why, he switched one medication and simply took me off another medication that I need: he told me I didn’t need it.

I went from where I was, to feeling a lot of stress, to experiencing stress to the point of unrelenting nausea and repeated diarrhea, whether or not I was dealing with external stressors worth mentioning. At the end, I was trying to find some food that I could get down, and was barely eating—a couple of hundred calories a day because I couldn’t really eat—and barely sleeping.

When I suspected that the medication change could be having adverse effects, I switched back to the prior medication regimen, and noticed a marked decrease of stress within days, and was able to eat and sleep at more usual levels.

The period over which this happened was the late part of my second semester at Fordham and the beginning of the summer. I was trying hard to get off academic probation, but I completed all three of my papers under stress to the point of nausea. One professor, unaware of my medical issue, gave feedback on my final paper and said that one part, treating Cyril Lucaris (he picked out the part written before the medication change) was “full and coherent,” while the treatment of other figures (dealt with in the part of my paper written under stress to the point of nausea) struck him “as impressionistic and poorly organized.” I received independent feedback from another person, before I switched back my medication, confirming that I “indeed seemed less coherent lately in your e-mails.”

This occurred during the Spring and summer of 06.

8. Professor H____.

H____, my professor for one class, mentioned that Wittgenstein put an ‘M’ in his journal every day he masturbated. I’ve lost count of how many times he mentioned this, as it became a running gag. He also used the word “tit,” always with verbal force; he introduced another philosopher as owing a considerable debt to Martin Heidegger by saying the new figure “sucked at Heidegger’s tits,” and references to an infant’s life included asking us to imagine an infant having an inner dialogue of “This must be… a tit! and this must be… Mom!” He also talked about a couple that “liked to lick each other;” lewd references to licking became another running gag, and late in the course he said that he was attracted to all kinds of people, but not to children and not to animals, although, he said, there was one dog that “liked to lick me.”

One specific running gag particularly bothered me. Fr. Klein complemented one of the male students in the class on his shirt, then a few minutes later quizzically said, “I’m sorry; I’m not supposed to do that. It’s considered sexual harassment,” before saying that he had a priest’s habit of absentmindedly complimenting women on their glasses. He never complimented a female on her clothing that I remember, but he delivered compliments to men on their shirts like the other running gags, and I got more compliments on my clothing than others, as well as the most involved such compliment: “I like the green in your ring; it really color-coordinates with your shirt.”

I say, with reservations, that the class was an introduction to queer culture. The other LBGTQ people I know have sometimes asked me to understand them but have never made me uncomfortable; he seemed willing to repeatedly introduce queer concerns in a way that could make some uncomfortable; hence a story of an old Cardinal talking about the adoration of Christ in the Eucharist, and rhetorically asking what Christ is saying in the Eucharist, and answering that Christ was saying (here Fr. Klein’s voice slowed and became even raspier, sounding almost like a gasp), “Eaaaat mmeeee!” For those who missed the painfully obvious point of the raspy “Eat me,” he drove home that in gay culture, “Eat me!” is an extremely erotic thing to say.

The readings included a discussion of how close to erotic, or perhaps erotically tinged, St. Anselm of Canterbury’s friendship was with his monk friends, and an essay mentioning “the solar anus” and criticizing other scholarship for treating the erotic but still not being sexy enough.

As with feminist theology, I believe my grade might have been higher if I were not sexually uncomfortable.

This occurred during Philosophy and Contemporary Theology, Spring 07.

9. Disability concerns.

I have more than one disability which affects my energy level and the number of waking hours I have available for work. This made things particularly difficult for the first semester, when my doctor needed to make sure I could tolerate a lower dose of my medication before going to a therapeutic dose.

9.1. No disability referral from B____.

After my first semester, I told B____ that I had several significant difficulties: when I wrote her and said there was “a monkey on my back,” she said, “You had a tiger on your back!”

She tried to support me, but she never did one thing a department chair might have done, refer me the Office of Disability Services when I asked her about talking with my professors about my difficulties. She also said she would speak with my professors second semester and ask for an extension, but when I later asked her, she could not recall if she had asked more than one professor to give me an extension.

This occurred during and after Spring 06.

9.2. A blunt refusal of accommodation.

Second semester of my first year, I told all three of my professors that I was dealing with difficulties, and did not immediately make any requests for accommodation.

At the end of the semester, I asked for extensions, and was surprised at how bluntly one of the professors declined to provide any accommodation.

This occurred during Spring 06.

9.3. No adjustment to major portion of workload.

The Office of Disability Services, when I registered, offered limited accommodations: I could turn in semester assignments late, but they found no appropriate adjustment for weekly assignments, and when they asked for me about a reduced courseload, Associate Dean I____ said that was not possible.

I was left, given a disability combination that has me needing to sleep around 40 more hours per week and therefore having one workweek less time per week to do my work, with no accommodation to the brunt of a full load of weekly assignments.

This occurred Fall 06.

10. Medical expenses.

My conditions make for ongoing medical expenses, and with Fordham’s graduate student plan, Administrative Concepts Incorporated, I’ve had more trouble getting payment than any other plan in my life. Before Fordham, I had never maxed out prescription drug benefits on any plan; at Fordham, I maxed out those benefits in months. I did what I could to take care of expenses, but the medical expenses kept me strapped enough for cash that I had to choose between paying for medical needs and buying books.

This was an issue for the entirety of my time at Fordham.

11. Fatigue after a dubiously treated ear infection.

I came into the health center shortly after Martin Luther King day during my last semester, having what I suspected was an ear infection. The nurse said she would treat it with both oral and topical antibiotics, but ended up only giving me an oral antibiotic.

That ear infection became a major problem: it lasted for over a month, and took four visits to a specialist otolaryngolist and something like three or four courses of antibiotics to treat; the otolaryngolist used topical antibiotics as being “6000 times stronger” than oral antibiotics like I had been given.

That infection had me more fatigued than I had been in a long time, and I still have doubts about how well I had recovered by my end of semester duties after spending much of the remaining semester trying to catch up.

12. My experience.

I entered Fordham as a survivor of religious harassment, sexual harassment from men, and sexual abuse from a woman that caused pain I don’t know how to put into words. This has not been at all easy for me to write.

My experience has been traumatic. It has been traumatic in more ways than one. The long times I tried to reach out to A____—I wanted so much to befriend him—and the retaliation I met for my gestures of friendship, were infuriating. So were several other things where I felt like I was getting pushed down again and again. I’m really not sure how to describe how traumatized I was, or either the fears or the continued frustrations. I can certainly say that if I had the choice of repeating my experiences at Fordham over the past two years and repeating my chemotherapy and radiotherapy when I had cancer, I would repeat my cancer treatment, hands down.

13. Notes.

I have been under duress every semester I’ve been at Fordham. Despite several things which I believe have impaired my study, I’ve still managed a rising cumulative GPA, reaching 3.4 by last semester, and with my last semester non-cumulative GPA reaching 3.5.

Two distractions

I am profoundly gifted. To those not familiar with the psychology, it means, for instance, that I ranked 7th nationally in a math contest, or that I’ve read the Bible in a total of seven ancient / medieval / modern languages, or that I am deeper an author than C.S. Lewis, or, as one psychologist debriefed me, “The average Harvard PhD has never met someone as talented as you,” or that I am “smarter than most geniuses” or whatever. There are people who would give me heavy odds of being the most talented student in school history for Fordham, kind of like The Immortal Bard. That I was allowed to wash out, even after appeal, is simply ridiculous.

Furthermore, Fordham appears to me to be morally challenged. Fordham claims, prominently, to be a Jesuit institution that exercises cura personalis, a Latin term meaning a broadly pastoral care for the whole person, and claims to exercise cura personalis are plastered all over Fordham’s website. I’ve never seen another institution exercise less care, not more, and I attended Avery Coonley School, the University of Chicago, the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, College of DuPage, Wheaton College, Calvin University, the Sorbonne, Cambridge, and presently the Pastoral School of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Mid-America. (The University of Chicago was a whiz kids math class just before high school.) I can remember one hour of care for my person at Fordham, and not more. Furthermore, there are other cases where I believe I was dealt cards off the side of the deck, including Cambridge. None of them reminds me of the extent of Fordham’s badness that in my opinion exceeds mediocrity to become something (anti-)heroic.

However, I only mention this in passing, because I want to get on to something more important.

What is truly sad

I would ask you to stop and “listen” very, very closely to this point:

As far as I am concerned, there is one, and only one, thing that is sad about this story.

I insist that in my side of the story there is one, and only one, thing that is sad.

It’s not that I am not normally called “Dr. Hayward.” I’m called “Christos,” eh? That’s kind of bigger, even if it is only a name.

It is not either, more seriously, that in my opinion Fordham’s negligence could have killed me. Possibly I am right, but I survived. And if Fordham really had killed me, God would have had every ability to allow me to pass away, in C.S. Lewis’s phrase, “between Aslan’s paws.” As it is, I have been given something Orthodox positively crave: more time to repent.

If it is not a matter of my life, neither is it my career. While technically one can teach on an advanced degree, including a master’s, I’ve never succeeded landing such a job, and informally speaking a PhD is a “union card” and American universities as a whole expect a PhD. I’ve been told that if I want to teach at an Orthodox seminary, a good step is to get a degree from an Orthodox seminary, and I am studying at my Archdiocese’s pastoral school, where the faculty love the students tremendously and I have the upsides of academic study without the downsides. It might have been God protecting me from a career fighting academic bullies just a wee bit intimidated at my intelligence. (Did I mention that the seminary leadership has extended a lot of grace to me, including full tuition?)

Meanwhile, whether I have appreciated it or not, God has been moving forward with me. I am an author, and while Amazon is paying me less than 10% of what they used to, the single most lasting work I have hoped to leave behind is a collection of edifying books, and my expenses are met for now (I’m retired on disability). As far as writing goes, I have had a whole lot of being in the right place at the right time, and built a website to showcase and share my works that started before I ever heard of Netscape. I also have a bookshelf on Amazon, and I don’t believe Amazon is being cheaper with me than with anyone else. I also have (mostly) what I have called “fame lite.” I Am Spock talks about the real and profound cost of playing a celebrity character on TV. I’ve had a hieromonk tell me that other people have told him he should read me. So my writing enjoys some success, and I’ve invented things by computer: Grandfather Clock with Westminster Chime and a Soothing Tick-Tock—Steampunk Style which will sound like a grandfather clock if you keep it open in a browser window on a laptop or desktop.

Then what do I consider sad for me in all this: only one thing. I attended Fordham through spring 2007. It took me through Wednesday, November 24 2020 for me to forgive.

I have written earlier, decades earlier, about an idea for a film. It would start in standard action-adventure movie format, have the hero try to sneak in quietly and rescue a good guy, Plan A fails and all Hell breaks loose, and one of the villain’s henchmen comes out after the good guys get into a helicopter, and the hero makes one parting shot into the villain’s knee with a hollow-nosed .45.

Then the pace shifts to that of a European art film and follows the henchman for the remaining forty years of his life, as he remains crippled, and far worse than this, is crippled by a grudge that never lets go of desiring vengeance.

I wrote it, but I never imagined I would be writing of myself.

Nothing can injure the man who does not harm himself.

As far as what is really my due in a career as a scholar, I would like to pat myself on the back in quoting Stranger in a Strange Land:

“Ben does not speak for me. I am not interested in this lad’s so-called rights. His claim to Mars is lawyer’s hogwash: as a lawyer myself I need not respect it. As for the wealth that is supposed to be his, the situation results from other people’s passions and our odd tribal customs; he has earned none of it. He would be lucky if they bilked him out of it—but I would not scan a newspaper to find out. If Ben expected me to fight for Smith’s ‘rights’ you have come to the wrong house.”

And indeed, a judge might offer me a tissue but would unlikely conclude that Fordham has done me legal wrong. Which it hasn’t. My present regret is not that I am not long a professor; it is that I am not long a monk, or perhaps my own impatient chafing of the proto-monastic obedience of “Stay at home for a while.”

Why am I telling all this if I have forgiven?

Fordham has made a big deal about its embrace to Orthodox. It’s not as big a deal as it makes about its cura personalis that cares for every aspect of the person, but it’s still a big deal, and Fordham seems to find it natural to expect that Orthodox will agree with “The Church must breathe with both lungs” along the same lines as Roman ecumenism. I do not remember ever meeting acknowledgment that some Orthodox consider ecumenism the ecclesiological heresy of our day, or wrong on a lesser scale. At Fordham, ecumenism reigns.

Also, at Fordham, the gender rainbow (or whatever it is called this month) reigns, and a Fordham that sees Orthodox as simply being Catholics (and on a liberal understanding o “Catholic”), is not in particular a Fordham well-poised to understand why it is problematic to Orthodoxy to strongarm an Orthodox seminary into accepting a hieromonk who married another man. (It’s perhaps more important that the seminary in question needs to stop sucking Fordham’s dick, but that is another conversation.) It is true that the “Orthodox” Students Studies Center received something like a million dollar grant to study Orthodoxy and “sexuality,” but Fordham does not grasp or does not accept some very basic rules about what is allowed to Orthodox.

I write to offer a third, if perhaps lesser, piece of the puzzle. Fordham makes no end of a big deal about its cura personalis. They also try, in their best Roman ecumenism, to roll out the red carpet to Orthodox whose schismatic status is gently overlooked. And, in my opinion, Fordham has a heart of ice. I do not say that my experience will be every Orthodox student’s experience, but I do say, “Know what you’re getting into” at least, and possibly “Get your bishop’s blessing.”

C.J.S. Hayward, perhaps more honored by a Fordham washout than a Fordham PhD


Epilogue on Roman Ecumenism

Rome continues to make a big deal out of restoring full communion with the Orthodox Church.

It took me longer to forgive the many Roman authorities I wrote who did not even respond to my cry for help, with the exception of one priest and journalist who said it is futile for an outsider to interfere, and whose journal has not yet reviewed any of the books I submitted.

All Orthodox Theology Is Positive Theology

To my parents John and Linda—
I owe you more than words can say.

The state of psychology

Martin Seligman, a giant in the psychological community, kicked off a major TED talk by talking about how a TV station wanted a sound bite from him, and it should be one word. He said, “Good.” Then they decided that as the president of the American Psychological Association he was a figure of such stature that they would let him have two words, and he said, “Not good.” Finally, they decided he was of such stature that he would be allowed three words, and his three words were, “Not good enough.

What he was getting at was essentially as follows: clinical psychology had a goal which was remarkably well accomplished: the complete classification of behavioral health conditions, along with effective psychiatric treatment and psychotherapy. He didn’t really underscore the magnitude and implications of this goal; apart from the fact that public figures know they at least need to act humble publicly, sometimes greatness brings real humility and he was trying to lead people to see there was more to ask for than just getting someone to feel OK, and he did not suggest that clinical psychology is the kind of tool that lets people of all kinds to thrive in every way. He called for a positive psychology to help people thrive, have fulfilling and delightful living, and enable high talent not to go to waste. And the point that I know him for is his calling for positive psychology.

What is systematic theology? What is mystical theology? What is positive theology?

One distinction between Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome is that in Rome, all theology is systematic theology, and in Orthodoxy, all theology is mystical theology. This much is true to point out, however it invites confusion.

Thomas Aquinas, were he alive today, couldn’t cut it for “publish or perish” academia. He is revered as one of the greatest giants in history, but he would not obviously be welcome as an academic today. While there are many ideas in his Summa Theologiae, few or any have the faintest claim to originality. Some people, including me, don’t think that a single original idea is to be found. Others think that there are a few, very few: I have not read anyone attribute even a dozen original ideas in his quite enormous work. But what he did provide was a system: an organized set of cubbyholes with a place for everything and everything in its place. And the claim that all Roman theology is systematic theology means that everything fits somewhere in the system, whether Thomas Aquinas’s or something else.

The claim that all theology in Orthodoxy is mystical theology is a different sort of claim. It says that all true theology meets a particular criterion, like saying that all true fire brings heat. It is not a claim that everything fits under some kind of classification scheme. Systematic theology as such is not allowed, and trying to endow the Orthodox Church with its first systematic theology is a way to ask the Church heirarchy for a heresy trial. “Mystical” in mystical theology means theology that is practiced, experienced, and lived. The claim to “study” a martial art can involve reading, especially at the higher levels, but if you are going to study karate, you go to a dojo and start engaging in its practices. In that sense, while books may have some place in martial arts mastery, but “studying” ninjutsu is not something you do by burying your nose in books. It is a live practice.

All theology is positive theology, and my assertion is like saying that all theology is mystical theology, and not that all theology is part of systematic theology.

As to the relationship between positive psychology and positive theology, I honestly hope for an interesting conversation with some of the positive psychology community. I do not assert that positive theology contains positive psychology as we know it, or that positive psychology contains positive theology. I do, however, wish to suggest that something interesting and real is reflected in the claim that all theology is positive theology.

A wonderful old world

I wish to make one point of departure clear in the interest of framing what I am attempting.

There is a certain sense that this work could be seen as novel; for all I know it may be the first work discussing all Orthodox theology as being positive theology, but I follow Chesterton’s footsteps here (or rather fall short of them). I am not seeking to invent a positive theology. I am in fact attempting no novelty of any sort other than a new articulation of timeless truths that are relevant to the conversation. And I am seeking to offer something better than something wonderful I invented. I want to talk about wondrous things that I believe God invented, as old as the hills.

A deliberately jarring example

What is positive in the psychology of the Orthodox Church? To get off to a good start, I would like to say “repentance from sins.” And one of my articles unfolds in Repentance, Heaven’s Best-Kept Secret.

The Philokalia says that men hold on to sin because they think it adorns them. Repentance is terrifying. It is an unconditional surrender. But once you have made that surrender, you receive a reward. You realize that you needed that sin like you need a hole in the head—and you are free of a trap. It is something like a spiritual chiropractic massage, that you walk away from in joy with a straighter spine. And in my own experience, I’m not sure I am ever as joyful as when I am repenting. And the effect is cumulative; repentance represents a rising spiritual standard of living. Repentance is like obediently showing up for your funeral, and then you get there and you have shown up for your resurrection.

Monasticism, which I discuss in A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop, represents a position of supreme privilege within the Orthodox Church. Now I love my Archbishop dearly and wouldn’t want to take him down one whit, but part of the point of the piece is that if you are given a choice between being the greatest bishop in the world and being an ordinary monk, “ordinary monk” is hands down the better choice to choose. The overriding concern in that environment is the spiritual, human profit of its members. Poverty, obedience, and chastity are all conditions to one of two routes to salvation, and however wonderful marriage may be, monasticism is even better. And as well as other terms, monasticism is spoken of as “repentance.” To live in a monastery is to work at a place that is minting spiritual money and giving all members as copious pay as possible.

The Utopia that is nowhere absent

Robert Goudzward, in Aid for the Overdeveloped West, talked about Old Testament law as representing a paradise, and part of the picture is that it represented a paradise in which it was hard to get rich. A sage in the Bible asks, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” and there is a sense that having more and more money is not good for us as humans.

This world was created to be a paradise. The Old Covenant represented a paradise. The New Covenant represents a paradise. Marriage represents a paradise. Monasticism represents a paradise.

We were made for human flourishing, and part of what the Church attempts is to provide for each person to flourish as that person should flourish. Abbots (and everyone else) are not to colonize and clone; the authority is profound, but it is a profound authority in restoring a damaged icon—and helping the icon look like itself, not like something it isn’t. If you read the saints’ lives over time, all the saints represent Christ, but there is incredible diversity among how the saints represent Christ.

What does God ask from us?

If we look at the question of what God commands and what he requests, there is fundamental confusion in thinking God is asking us to fill his needs. God in Heaven is perfect, and has no conceivable needs except in the person of our neighbor. God makes demands of us, not to fill his needs like an incompetent therapist, but to give us what is best. St. Maximus the Confessor divides three classes of obedience: slaves, who obey out of fear, mercenaries, who obey to obtain benefits, and sons, who obey out of love. Now all obedience is in at least some sense obedience and sometimes obedience out of fear is just what the doctor ordered, but if you obey as a slave you can be saved, if you obey as a mercenary you do better, and if you obey as a son even better than that. However, none of this is a setup to fill God’s needs. The point is not that it is best for God if we obey out of love; the point is that it is best for us if we obey out of love.

A better kind of affirmation

This may come across very strangely to a psychologist who endorses affirmations, but the two main affirmations in Orthodoxy are “Christ died to save sinners, of whom I am first,” and “All the world will be saved, and I will be damned.”

Part of this stems from beliefs that I will explain but I do not ask you to subscribe to. Religion has enough of a reputation for focusing on the afterlife that it is provocative for a social gospel poster to say, “We believe in life before death.” This life is of cardinal and incomparable significance; it is a life in which inch by inch we decide whether we will embrace Heaven or Hell when our live ends and no further repentance is available. But it has also been said that birth and death are an inch apart whilst the ticker tape goes on forever, and reform is only possible before we die. What the “affirmations” (of a sort) that I have mentioned do is prepare people like plaintiffs to press forth for maximum awards in their favor. The statements are for our good, and they help before death. Furthermore, it is believed that God doesn’t do everything in our good works for us, but he allows a genuine cooperation of combined powers where we do part of it. We are told, though, that we are not to take credit for one single achievement in our life, but give all the merit to God… but come Judgment Day, all good deeds we have done our part to are reckoned as if we did them entirely ourselves and without any help from God. I do not ask you to believe this or think it makes sense, but I suggests it is a part of a picture where an overriding concern is God blessing us as much as we will accept.

Dr. Seligman’s lecture linked at the beginning of this article talked about how French vanilla ice cream tastes exquisite for the first bite, but by the time you get to the fifth or sixth bite, the flavor is gone. In the first candidate for the good life, people habituate quickly.

I have slightly opposite news about Orthodox affirmations: when you make them central to your life, the sting crumbles. Furthermore, if you see yourself as the worst sinner in a parish, or a monastery, or all prehistory and prehistory, that’s the time that real growth and even real joy appear. Orthodoxy’s affirmations unlock the door to repentance, and there is no end of treasure to be mined from that vein.

Stoicism and virtue

I’ve seen TED talks about how stoicism is being taken as some sort of ultimate power tool, and secret weapon, within the professional NFL community.

Part of my thought was, “Duh!” and with it a thought that it is a mischaracterization of philosophy to assume it’s just something for odd and eccentric people, including yours truly, who have their noses in books. Stoicism is legitimately a power tool, but it is one of many power tools that have garnished quite a following and have been as powerful to their practitioners might have been.

I have said elsewhere, “Orthodoxy is pagan. Neo-paganism isn’t,” and The Philokalia preserves the very best of pagan philosophy with its profound endowment of virtues. N.B. the same word in Greek means “virtue” and “excellence,” and if you want to help people thrive and develop giftedness, the four-horsed chariot of courage, justice, wisdom, and moderation has really quite a lot to go for it, and all the more if these are perfected by the virtues of faith, hope, and love. All of these are called “cardinal” or “hinge” virtues, meaning that not only are they good, but they are positive “gateway drugs” to other and perhaps even greater virtue.

And I would like to say one thing that the authors of The Philokalia simply can’t much of ever stop talking about. This does not seem an view of yourself that you would want to have, but I’ve had some pretty arrogant and abrasive people try pretty hard to teach me about humility. But I will say this: humility is the Philosopher’s Stone and maybe the Elixir of Life. It opens your eyes to beauty pride may not see, and I need humility in my daily living more than I need air. I’m not going to try to further argue for an unattractive virtue, but I will say that it looks tiny and constricted from the outside, and vast and spacious from the inside. And for another Chesterton name drop: “It takes humility to enjoy anything—even pride.”

If we are going to look at world traditions, the Greek term for virtue, arete also meant excellence, and arete (I both mean ‘virtue’ and ‘excellence’) represents a tradition well worth heeding. Bits and pieces have been picked up on TED talks; Stoicism is a power tool among the professional American football community, and another TED talk talks about how “grit” (also known as fortitude or courage) makes a big difference in success. But the tradition of virtue itself, and virtue philosophy, is worth attention.

Value-free spirituality?

I haven’t read the title, but I have read Fr. Richard John Neuhaus talk about his title The Naked Public Square, in which he argues essentially that a religiously neutral public square is an impossibility, and the attempt to produce a naked public square will, perhaps, result in a statist religion.

If serious inner work without the resources of religious tradition is a possibility, I haven’t seen it. Present psychotherapy has changed much faster than core humans have changed, and uses yoga practices from Hinduism, mindfulness of a sort (whether a traditional Buddhist would recognize Western exhiliration at mindfulness as Right Mindfulness I do not know), and a couple of other usual suspects like guided imagery (alleged to be known from Graeco-Roman times and known to some traditional medicines, although the pedigree seems to be copied and pasted across websites).

In my Asian philosophy class, I was able to sympathize with some element of almost everything that was presented. In terms of Hindu claims that inside each of us is a drop of God, I could sympathize, believing we are made in the image of God. But the one point I recoiled from is Buddhism’s anatta, or an-atman: the claim that we, and everything that “exists”, are an empty illusion. Or as Chesterton put it: “Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt.”

Right Mindfulness, in its context in the Buddhist Eightfold Noble Path, is a cardinal virtue, and I count that as a positive. However, I do not see the need for the West to turn to India as a maternal breast. It is a microaggression that treats Orthodox Christianity as bankrupt of resources. I also don’t like being advised to practice yoga. I am already participating in a yoga, or a spiritual path: that of Orthodox Christianity, and it is a complete tradition.

My point, however, is not to attack the medicinal use of Indian tradition (whether or not Indians would recognize their land’s spiritualities), but to say that value-free counseling is something I have never seen, and while it may be politically correct to foist Indian spirituality but not Orthodox Christian, I wish to offer a word on my drawing on my religious tradition. Whether you accept it is not up to me, but Orthodoxy is a therapeutic tradition. And the claim has been explicitly made, in a book called Orthodox Psychotherapy, that if Orthodox spiritual direction were to appear new on the scene today, it might well not be classified as “religion,” but as “therapeutic science.”

I have not been directly involved with that therapeutic science. I’ve tried to reach monasticism, and am still trying, and therapeutic science is included in monasticism. So I cannot directly speak from experience about its fruit. But other things—virtue, repentance from sin and the like, I can directly attest to as positive theology.

A few more words about humility

Humility seems at the start something you’d rather have other people have than have it yourself. It looks small on the outside, but inside it is vaster than the Heavens, and it is one of two virtues that the virtue-sensitized Fathers of the Philokalia simply cannot ever stop talking about.

Perhaps what I can say is this. I don’t know positive psychology well, but one of the first lessons, and one of the biggest, is to learn and express gratitude. And what I would say as someone who believes in gratitude is this: what gratitude is to positive health, humility is more.

Let me ask a question: which would you rather spend time with: someone horrible and despicable, or someone wonderful and great? The latter, of course. How it relates to humility is this: if you are in pride, you see and experience others as horrible and despicable, while if you are in humility, you see others as wonderful and great. Church Fathers talk about seeing other men as “God after God.” That is a recipe for a life of delight.

Eyes to see

There is more to be said; I am quite fond of St. John Chrysostom’s A Treatise to Prove that Nothing Can Injure the Man Who Does Not Injure Himself. In connection with this, there are constant liturgical references to “the feeble audacity of the demons.” The devils are real, but they are on a leash, and we are called to trample them. It has been said that everything which happens has been allowed either as a blessing from God, or as a temptation. (In Orthodoxy, “temptation” means both a provocation enticing to sin, and a situation that is a trial). As has been said, the faithful cannot be saved without temptations, and the temptations that pass are provided by God so we can earn a crown and trampling them. St. John here frames things in a very helpful way.

Here I am starting to blend into something other than positive theology, and making assertions about positive theology and how they have similar effects to positive psychology. But really, all is ordained for us by a good God, a point for which I would refer you to God the Spiritual Father. There is profound providence, and profound possibility for profit, if only we have eyes to see it and be grateful for a God who has ordained Heaven and Earth for the maximum possible benefit for each of us. Does this strain credibility? Yes, but I believe it, and I believe it makes a world of difference.

Thomas Dixon on secularism and psychology

The article form of my advisor’s thesis offered a case study for an understanding of se cularity, and his case study was in psychology. He talked about how an older religious concept of passions was replaced by what was at first a paper-thin concept of emotions which you were just something you felt at the moment, then how the concept of emotions filled out and became emotions that could be about something, and then they filled out further and you could have an emotional dimension to a habit. The secular concept remains alienated from its religious roots, but the common Alcoholics Anonymous concept of being an alcoholic has almost completely filled out what was in the older concept of a passion.

I’m not completely sure secularism is possible; it returns to Hinduism, at least for yoga, and Buddhism, at least for Right Mindfulness, as maternal breasts, and Hinduisim has something there as Buddhism does not. Chesterton comes again to mind: “The problem with someone who doesn’t believe in God is not that he believes nothing; it’s that he believes anything!” I believe the Orthodox Church’s bosom offers a deeper nourishment. I’m not sure I have much to back this claim other than by the extent by which this article does (or does not) make sense, or whether it is more desirable to pursue one virtue (giving that virtues are stinkin’ awesome things to have), or pursue a panoply of virtues. But I would hope that the reader would by now be able to make sense of my assertion that all Orthodox theology is positive psychology, even if the claim is more superficial than the assertion that all Orthodox theology is mystical theology.

For further reading without a moment’s thought to positive psychology as such, see The Consolation of Theology, a work of Orthodox theology, and one steeped in virtue philosophy.

Read more of The Best of Jonathan’s Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Mystical Theology on Amazon!

A Heart to Heart About Technology, COVID, and Big Brother

Let there be light!

I think I would like to depart from an initial discussion of lighting, on which point I would quote Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary:

Environmentalist, n. One devoted to a particular political agenda, regardless of its impact on the environment.

A recent project at Argonne National Laboratory was working on a new generation of nuclear reactor which would be in many ways a dream come true. Its design would be such that meltdown would be physically impossible. It could run on nuclear waste from other plants, not only generating power but reducing them to material which would become harmless in a matter of roughly a century, rather than millions of years. It could run on nuclear warheads, thus not only providing a safe and permanent manner to dispose of some of the most appalling and destructive devices ever created, but so doing in a manner which would provide useful energy to hospitals and families; a beautiful picture of what it means to beat swords into ploughshares.

However, it is still nuclear, and, in the eyes of environmentalism, all nuclear power is evil and must be stopped at any cost. This project was, most definitely, stopped at any cost. It was terminated at great monetary cost; it was nearing completion, and, now that it was ready to be tested on different materials, those materials must be disposed of, at a cost of ninety-four million dollars more than it would have cost to complete. It was terminated at great environmental cost; those materials are dangerous nuclear wastes, and, though they were going to be made harmless, they must now be disposed of in established manners; that is to say, function as the nuclear waste that environmentalists so adamantly oppose. However, they stopped something bearing the dirty ‘n’ word, so environmentalists are now happy.

It is at least fortunate that environmentalists do not yet have the means to extinguish the sun.

Historically, there have been many transitions of technology. Before he came along, people were happy with the solutions they had for indoor lighting, and those solutions exist: when I grew up we had an oil lantern and various candles, which were trotted out for power outages and candlelight dinners, and I use candles in my prayers today. However, you could brightly illuminate indoor spaces with Edison’s light bulbs, and precious few people reach for candles and lanterns when they want illumination. The Amish might, for all I know, because of carefully thought out convictions. However, when the question of illuminating a building or a room comes up, people naturally reach for electric lighting, just like horses exist (and I would love to have a horse), but when the question comes of getting from one point to another, they reach for an automobile of some description, whether gas, hybrid, or electric. I’d personally love to have both a horse and a recumbent trike, and there are bicycle-friendly cities where people have made another carefully-thought-out decision, but for practical purposes I may have a say in which type of car I drive; I don’t have a say in which of these are live options for my living situation. The invisible hand of the free market has removed candles oil-burning lighting and horse riding from mainstream use.

Having Big Brother legislate a technology transition from incandescent bulbs to good LED lighting would have been bizarre enough, but the move that was actually made, at first, was at any cost to the health of the environment. I have gently twisted a CFL to unscrew it and broken it; my understanding is that there are techhical implications which make it not a live option to make a durable plastic shell for the mercury payload, but people can and do mass produce thin tempered glass sheets that will substantially protect cell phones from some pretty impressive blows. Making CFL’s that require more than being treated as if they are made of glass (something adults have learned in dealing with incandescent bulbs) is asking for environmental degradation that dwarfs the higher power consumption of an incandescent heat bulb.

Now the first white LED’s I know of were what is called “lunar white”, which looked white but (speaking as someone who used a lunar white LED flashlight to pick out clothes from a close closet) everything was a shade of grey and it was a wild guess whether a shirt and a pair of pants had matching color. Something of this has been explicitly acknowledged in LED lighting advertising that they show colors truly, and the problem has been overcome. And it is part of the normal flow for people to note that good LED bulbs don’t need to be treated like they are made of glass (or at least I have never broken one), cost pennies on the dollar for your electric bill, apparently last for ages (or at least I’ve never replaced an LED that died), don’t make a well-lit summer room even hotter, can be truthfully advertised as much more attractive for environmental concerns, and so on and so forth, and the forces of the free market would make incandescent heat bulbs go the way of the oil lantern and the horse without the faintest government intervention.

But what is odd, and really historically out of place, was that Big Brother decided he needed to power the change. It would have been a strange thing for the dead hand of government intervention to specify a move from incandescent bulbs to mature LED technology, but the exact inept move enforced was from incandescent bulbs, which contain no toxins to speak of, to a mercury delivery system that seems not to be intended for members of the general public to be able to handle without breakage. And again, I’ve broken a CFL by a gentle if firm twist that would have been entirely appropriate for a made-of-glass incandescent bulb.

What’s true for the goose is true for the gander

We have not directly have laws in force that require us to use any technology, and people off the grid are welcome to stay off the grid. However, the quarantine has created social conditions so that now some technologies are socially mandated. No one is holding a gun to our heads and demanding we use Zoom—but the government is holding a gun to our heads and forbidding us most normal social interactions.

What can we do?

There are several things to do, and I would point out the top 10:

  1. Read The Luddite’s Guide to Technology and apply it liberally.

    Please note that I am not jockeying for book sales, and if you don’t want to buy a copy on Amazon, email me and I will send you a free copy. Most of it was worked out before the present cyberquarantine, but the issues have long roots, and a book on how to be responsible with beer and wine has everything to do if water and juice are restricted but 151 proof rum is now placed before us and available for free.

  2. Watch Depression is a Disease of Civilization, and implement what you can.

    There are different helpful material; the full bang for your buck as far as diet is concerned is available if you change your diet to Paleo. If like me you live somewhere winter days are short, compensate for the lack of sun. I use one of many entry level sun lamps during the day (I can see it but not visualize it.)

  3. Do what you can within the rules to live as human.

    It has been said in reference to fair trade that international laws are not biased against poor countries, but for the rich. Fair trade serves as a witness that it is possible to support dignified and human life if a conscious effort to that is done.

    The rules are not specifically prohibitions on all human contact; they just load the dice so a Toastmasters Zoom meeting is much more in reach than a face-to-face meeting, and it must be admitted that doing some things virtually has its convenience. However, it is still possible to have human meetings. It is still possible, if socially awkward, to have a conversation with a friend across six feet’s distance. It is possible to eat at picnic tables six feet apart. Things like this are not impossible; they just take an extra bit of reaching when virtual interaction is in much easier reach.

  4. Limit your use of counterfeit social interactions, or at least try to consume them in balance.

    I have written in The Luddite’s Guide to Technology about the goal of a tofu virtual chicken in every pot. I mentioned research that cultures that have absorbed tofu use and are not harmed by it consume only fermented soy, in limited quantities, and never as a substitute for meat.

    Social media (meaning anti-social media) are fake tofu. FecesBook keeps you plugged in and glued on, but it causes depression. The people who enjoy it most dip in and out quickly; prolonged use is asking for real depression.

    If you are feeling lonely, seek out a face-to-face conversation with a friend. Maybe a conversation at six feet distance while wearing a mask, but don’t just reach for FecesBook when you feel lonely and want to feel better.

  5. Make counter-cultural technology decisions.

  6. I agreed with Jean-Claude Larchet’s The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul before I read it, but reading Larchet raised the bar higher. I didn’t watch TV or movies if there was a polite way to avoid it, and I still don’t. What’s different is that instead of checking my email every hour (and watching my clock), I now check my email once in the morning and other times as needed on a case-by-case basis. I also don’t compulsively check my phone. My life is only the richer for this, and I have unplugged a drain on the human soul.

  7. If you can get away with it, wear a gaiter mask.

    I put on a gaiter mask just around my neck in the morning, pull it up to cover my mouth and nose when a mask is called for, and can breathe without feeling hot. It’s a bit of a mask lite, but all the orthochristian.com articles about COVID being a big deal were by older men. I entertain some skepticism for a situation where e.g. a motorcycle fatality is classified as a COVID death because doctors know what side their bread is buttered on.

    A gaiter mask removes a strong disincentive to social interactions of the normal face-to-face type.

  8. Consider getting a pet.

    Some people are not animal people, and I am not personally in a position to responsibly own a pet. However, a friendly, good-natured cat or dog makes wonderful companionship without a quarantine, and possibly makes essential companionship with a quarantine. And if you like animals but can’t own one now, do spend some time with the pets of any friend you visit.

  9. Vote your conscience—and your fears

    A First Things feature sometime back said:

    We vote our fears. And a very good thing that we do, according to the formidable Dennis Prager. In his newsletter, he lists the major interest groups of the two major parties and then suggests that we ask ourselves: “If all the listed Republican groups had their way, what would happen to America? If all the listed Democratic groups had their way, what would happen to America?” Mr. Prager asked himself and concluded that, while he supports almost none of the organizations on the Republican list, he fears them less than the groups on the Democratic list, and so he “nearly always” votes Republican. Here are his lists. Republican: National Rifle Association, Christian Coalition and Religious Right, Big Business, Black Conservatives (e.g., Clarence Thomas), Pro-Life Organizations, Conservative Justices, Tobacco Companies. Democrats: American Civil Liberties Union, Hollywood, Teachers’ Unions, Black Leaders (e.g., Jesse Jackson), Feminist Organizations, Liberal Justices, Trial Lawyers, Alcohol Companies.

    The comment is dated by more than twenty years; the lack of mention of the gender rainbow alone says that the ink is far from being wet. But I would mention something to those who do vote your fears:

    The quarantine will be bad under Trump and worse under Biden. That it will go badly under Trump hardly needs saying, but under Biden we are talking drones to enforce the wearing of masks, and who knows what else after federal drones have their “killer app” role of enforcing mask use. Please, have the courage to vote your fears.

  10. Live The Sermon on teh Mount and Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims.

    In Robert Heinlein’s sex-crazed, anti-Christian Stranger in a Strange Land, the grandfather-figure asks the heroine if she knows the Bible, and when she says “not much,” he says, “It merits study, it provides helpful advice for most emergencies.” And really, it does. “Do not worry about tomorrow; each day has enough trouble of its own” is very, very practical advice. If you haven’t availed yourself of this kind of resource, visit an Orthodox Church that is open (some are). If you have, dig deeper.

    And in any case, give thanks in any and every circumstance, and be mindful of what you have to be grateful for.

  11. Share this with others!

    I think this post is worth sharing. If you like it, please share it with others!

  12. And that’s all.

    All the Best,
    C.J.S. Hayward

The Protestant Phenotype

I’ve realized one thing about my Protestant roots that I had not recognized before.

I grew up a Protestant, and there are many good things to be said for Protestant Christianity and about Evangelicalism. Among these are a belief that faith should be strong, and an emphasis on reading the Bible.

Since my reception into Orthodoxy, there have been something like seven major battles of will I have fought to establish a simple boundary. (I do not mean “boundary” in some technical sense in formal Orthodox theology; I mean “boundary” in the everyday sense that a counselor would mean.) Every one of those, and priests included, has been with a former Evangelical. No Orthodox Christian who grew up Orthodox, and for that matter no Catholic received into the Orthodox Church, has decided to persistently overrule one of my boundaries. I am intentionally refraining from providing details that would be way too much information, but we are talking CEASE AND DESIST letters as sometimes the only way to stop a power struggle with someone pursuing overbearing attempts at “help.”

I’ve looked mostly at genotypes, of Protestants (who, Catholics allege us to believe, do not have valid orders or valid sacraments, or an Orthodox doctrinal basis for intercommunion), Catholics (who, Catholics allege us to believe, have valid orders and sacraments, but contrary to their opinion do not have the doctrinal basis for intercommunion, and whose ecumenism is annoying to Orthodox: some Orthodox believe ecumenism is the ecclesiastical heresy of our day), and Orthodox. And I certainly wouldn’t disavow that now; I’ve written some pretty harsh things. However, including in convert parishes, there is a certain class of conflicts I’ve never had from someone born in the Orthodox Church, or received into Orthodoxy from Catholicism. When I was at UIUC, Newman’s priests showed patience with me being an idiot and a jerk, but neither devout Roman clergy nor laity assumed command and tried to straighten me out. However, here I am interested in phenotypes now. Not so much “What are the internals?” but “What is the external manifesting behavior?

There is (I believe) a profound clue into the heart of Protestantism in that former Protestants in Orthodoxy have tried to overrule my boundaries, and only former Protestants in well over a decade of contact with Orthodox of numerous different backgrounds (my godfather, who was rightly respected, was a former atheist).

I am intentionally refraining from analysis, however, I believe that this is of interest in situating an understanding of Protestantism, particularly as conservative Protestants make a major practical emphasis on morals.

(Perhaps I should found an organization called “Ex-Protestants for Christianity?”)

Ask for the Ancient Ways

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

Readers familiar with my site might have read Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a Passion, which complains about attempts to resurrect the glory of ages past (and willing, to do so, break from a nearer past), such as the Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, Vatican II’s ressourcement and aggiornamiento, and perhaps I should have included neo-Paganism, on the assertion that they bring a decisive break with the recent past and ultimately from the older past they seek to resurrect as well. So what is my point about asking for the ancient ways now?

Simply this: the cyber-quarantine for Coronavirus has brought us to a newer and virtual way of doing things, and however much we may long for the real thing in the moment, they are in some cases convenient, above and beyond a field training exercise for the next level of virtual living.

When we can, we would do well to resume what we were doing, in for instance meeting with people face-to-face and perhaps driving to do so. I applaud Civil War re-enacting, not specifically as a means of resurrecting something long past, but because it is a kind of face-to-face meeting (and community!) that has been part of our present and that we would do well to resume. And participate in church life as you are able, and the door remains open. I am not at all impressed that my own governor has decided to keep churches closed, but in Orthodoxy there is a very simple rule: in matters pertaining to the Church, obey your bishop first and Caesar second. That is all. (I do not know other bishops’ positions to comment on them, nor perhaps should I comment on them). My own archbishop has said to obey the law and work within the quarantine, which has now included having online services and allow one person at a time to enter the cathedral building to receive communion. It is a hardship, perhaps, but the Orthodox position is very simple.

There is something ancient and beautiful in a real (not virtual) hug, a picnic on the lawn, seeing your co-workers face-to-face (some places are discovering remote work now, which gives people a private office such as has been banished from mainstream businesses, first for cubicles and then for open plan offices, and discovering that employees work remarkably better when they can hear themselves think, but this is a separate issue). In the “Old Technologies” section of The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, I wrote:

There is a Foxtrot cartoon where the mother is standing outside with Jason and saying something like, “This is how you throw a frisbee.”—”This is how you play catch.”—”This is how you play tennis.” And Jason answers, “Enough with the historical re-enactments. I want to play some games!” (And there is another time when he and Marcus had been thrown out of the house and were looking at a frisbee and saying, “This is a scratch on the Linux RAID drive.”)

I remember one time when I was visiting a friend, and his son and two best friends were holding close to each other and each playing a video game on a portable device. I’m not going to endorse video games, but I will comment that three little boys were having fun together face-to-face, and if they were all playing video games, they were still playing them face-to-face, friends like in time immemorial.

So some of the things we can do when the quarantine is relaxed (or lifted) include ordering a paper book from Amazon, reading it outside and putting it on a bookshelf and taking care of it so it is available afterwards, or driving to a new restaurant via GPS to have a meal together, or just go to church, or spending some days in the office face-to-face to maintain social connection with your co-workers. Note that I am commenting less on using or not using new technologies (but really it is also possible to do purely older things like take a stack of blank sheets of paper and hold a physical brainstorm about how to make paper airplanes, or origami—which I mention not because it is of Asian origins but because it is a recognized thing in my time and place). Or build something with Legos, old or new (I might comment that the decidedly new-school Lego Mindstorms robots offer a whole new dimension for creativity). What all of these share is that they are sharing something classic and organic, regardless of how much (or little) they use technology. Churches may have signs saying, “Cellphones that go off in the service will be dunked in holy water,” but while some avoid or minimize digital technology usage while fasting for the Eucharist, there is presently little policing of cellphone usage in getting to the church.

We have one more doors open, doors to something unclean. Perhaps now there is not legitimate choice, and if our bishops say “Obey the quarantine” we should obey the law. Those inclined to increasingly virtual life have had a good practice at handling things virtually, and so have those not so inclined. And there is something practically good, if not always in trying to recover long-lost glory, at very least at continuing in living traditions we know how to do, and to be able to get up from the new normal, get off our back ends, and reclaim ancient and still living glory that remains open to all of us, even if it turns out to be surprisingly more convenient not to drive (another technology) and meet people face-to-face.

For what it’s worth…

Coronavirus and COVID-19: The Best Pandemic Yet?

Cover for How to Survive Hard Times

A friend of mine quoted words written by C.S. Lewis 72 years ago. I follow his suggestion to replace “atomic bomb” with “corona virus:”

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the coronavirus. “How are we to live in an age of the coronavirus?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of AIDS, an age of terrorism, an age of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the coronavirus was anywhere near our radar: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have acknowledged one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by the coronavirus, let that virus when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—there are really a lot of things we can do from our own homes even if we do not wander around outside our homes—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about the coronavirus. They may break our bodies (a mishap with modern inconveniences can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

— “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948 and updated 2020 by C.S. Hayward) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays

Taking appropriate measures

We have several strokes of good fortune compared to every other pandemic in history. We have Amazon and Facebook, and opportunities to live for more than ourselves. But coping strategies extend beyond merely preventing transmission of the virus, and I would like to comment on standard guidelines. From sampling the CDC:

Clean your hands often

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

  • If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.

Avoid close contact

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick

  • Put distance between yourself and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.

The first impression that this makes is that it is based on a superstitious and neanderthal concept of immunology, though I would here state that desperate times call for desperate measures and I don’t see why my immune system should stand up particularly well to something as nasty as COVID-19. People are working on not touching, and normally loving touch stimulates the immune system. Social isolation itself is an excellent way to depress the person and the immune system at one stroke. Furthermore, the prolonged effect of obsessive-compulsive cleanliness is to weaken the immune system. However, again, this is probably a case of desperate times that call for desperate measures.

I would pause briefly to comment that it is possible, albeit not obvious, to embrace without touching. Treasure tells how I supported a crying little girl without touching above a handshake that ended the interaction. When I went to give a present to my young nephews, I did not touch them, but was vigorous about making a nice big waving motion with my arm. If it is appropriate, these circumstances make it all the more helpful to be able to give an embrace without touching.

The second thing I would say is that this advice is like whiffle balls: it doesn’t go very far. It touches a point of need, but there is much more to coping.

For that reason, I offer another shopping list to try to get what you can:

“Really coping” shopping list

Past Experience

Dorothy Sayers wrote in “The Other Six Deadly Sins,” “I am reminded of a young man who once said to me with perfect simplicity: ‘I did not know there were seven deadly sins: please tell me the names of the other six.'” Writing in World War II in England about gluttony broadly construed, Sayers wrote,

You will notice that, under a war economy, the contrast [between consumption by rich and poor] is being flattened out; we are being forced to reduce and regulate our personal consumption of commodities, and to revise our whole notion of what constitutes good citizenship in the financial sense. This is the judgment of this world: when we will not amend ourselves by Grace, we are compelled under the yoke of Law. You will notice also that we are learning certain things. There seems, for example, to be no noticeable diminution in our health and spirits due to the fact that we have only the choice of, say, half a dozen dishes in a restaurant instead of forty. In the matter of clothing, we are beginning to regain our respect for stuffs that will wear well; we can no longer be led away by the specious argument that it is smarter and more hygienic to wear underlinen and stockings once and then throw them away than to buy things that will serve us for years. We are having to learn, painfully, to save food and material and to salvage waste products; and in learning to do these things we have found a curious and stimulating sense of adventure.

And I believe that this coronavirus might not just be a restriction on civil liberties, or practical restrictions when others are being meticulous. The coronavirus and COVID-19 has declared war on humanity; we have declared war on it. By reining ourselves in we can and will reduce human casualties. And in this warfare we may touch something almost transcendent. We may, through difficult measures, save many, many, many human lives.

Digging deeper

There is something I wish to say, and I wish it so much that it is hard to think of how to say it. I wrote in God the Spiritual Father that we do not live in the best of all possible worlds, but we live in a world governed by the best of all possible Gods, and that makes all the difference.

Life is here and now, under the circumstances, and life is not about waiting for the rain to stop so you can dance, but dancing in the rain.

One koan has a cook monk, a position of high status, toiling over vegetables in the midday sun. A less mature monk asked him, “Why are you doing that work on the vegetables now?” The cook countered with a question: “When else can I do it?”

Zen and koans have a reputation for being enigmatic, but the point is sometimes a clue-by-four to help someone see the painfully obvious. The only time we can live is now, in the here and now that God has given us. Perhaps some of us are not Zen rigorists and are willing to schedule like the less mature monk expected. None the less, Orthodox hold to salvation being in the here and now, and recognizing that the here and now is under the guiding hand of Providence. It is fruitful for us to pray, with St. Philaret of Moscow,

My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.
Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.
Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.
O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.
For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
I dare only to stand in Thy presence.
My heart is open to Thee.
Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.
Behold and lift me up!
In Thy presence I stand,
awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments,
into which my mind cannot penetrate.
To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.
No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.
Teach me how to pray.
Do Thyself pray within me.
Amen.

And the Father may gently answer, in a poem of unknown attribution,

“Life’s Tapestry”

Behind those golden clouds up there
the Great One sews a priceless embroidery
and since down below we walk
we see, my child, the reverse view.
And consequently it is natural for the mind to see mistakes
there where one must give thanks and glorify.

Wait as a Christian for that day to come
where your soul a-wing will rip through the air
and you shall see the embroidery of God
from the good side
and then… everything will seem to you to be a system and order.

And with it, the prayer for acceptance of God’s will from St. Philaret of Moscow:
We are in God’s workshop, and God is working with us, if we will work with him, to create an eternal glory. The circumstances of our lives may be messy; God’s Providence is perfect in order, and it beckons to us.

Please experience present circumstances as a joy!
Want a good dose of clear thinking about the spiritual side of surviving in a world with coronavirus and COVID-19? Read more of How to Survive Hard Times!

The Emperor’s New Fantasy

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A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine l’Engle. Swirls of kything, Charles Wallace, and Blajeny. The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. Swirls of Narnia and visits to that land. Arthurian legends. Swirls of knighthood, Merlin, and the Holy Grail. Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. Swirls of grokking, Michael Valentine Smith, and Martian wisdom.

These are some of the “realer world” things I have found captivating over the years, and all of them, in different forms, offer a glimpse of transcendence—and heartache.

There is a scene, central to the plot, in The Silver Chair where a Witch has been weaving an enchantment to seduce the Narnian Marsh-Wiggle Puddleglum and the earthborn children into believing that there is no world outside the underground caverns, no sun, no Aslan and so on and so forth, and when the Witch has practically won, Puddleglum mostly stamps out the spice-laden, narcotic fire with his bare feet, and greatly weakens the enchantment, and tells the Witch,

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one more thing to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is this, that in that case the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

This heroic stance is, in a word, the marketing proposition offered by fantasy.

(Particularly if it is taken out of its context of defending the book’s real world, Narnia.)

People who find the world dismal can seek salvation in escape, where there is no true salvation to be found. But there is another option.

Realize that the greater world is not by escape, but by recognizing that the real world is not the dreary, mundane cave that it looks like when you are making Puddleglum’s stance.

The Orthodox Church is very much embracing the here and now, and insists that no, there is no other place than the here and now God has given us that we can be saved. Or that we can be happy. But something funny happens along the way.

If we give up Grail questing whether in Arthurian form or its pukeworthy successors, the world seems hollow when recognizing that we cannot ever find or reach the Holy Grail. But when we repent and turn our backs on escape, we discover that repentance is not something to fear but Heaven’s best-kept secret, and God the Spiritual Father has placed us in Paradise.

We may discover that after we have given up the hope of any illusion of the Holy Grail that the only game in town is to become the Holy Grail, to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Mysteries ourselves, as the Blessed Augustine said, “Behold what you believe! Become what you behold!” and the purpose of being human is to become by grace what Christ is by nature.

If we give up reading fantasy and hoping we could live in that realer world, we may read the Saints’ lives, different each day, and find God the Spiritual Father call you to the true realer world.

There are lessons along the way. One is that happiness is not for sometime down the road when we get some new possession, but for here now. Possessions, no matter how badly we want them, do not mediate our really living human life. Another lesson is that the greatest treasures, all of them, we are invited to pursue. The God Who Transcends His Own Transcendence bids us grow in humility, love, and divinity. These eclipse Nobel Prizes, royal honors, and indeed all the honor in the world.

And really, it is an adventure, but it all hinges on repentance and virtue.

Read more of The Best of Jonathan’s Corner: An Anthology of Orthodox Christian Mystical Theology on Amazon!

How can I take my life back from my phone?

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

Is there someplace in the world that does not have Internet?
-A prolific poster on Twitter

The ??????? Rule

In The ??????? Rule, I suggested that a good rule of thumb is to ask, “What do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?” And Steve Jobs, for instance, did not have a nerd’s paradise for his kids. He had walls with big bookshelves and animated discussions. They hadn’t seen an iPad when it first entered the limelight. And employees of technology company chose what might seem some remarkably strict rules, because they didn’t buy into the mystique of hot gadgets. They knew better.

In Bridge to Terebithia, the author introduces Leslie as privileged with a capital P. The biggest cue is quite possibly not that money is not the issue, but that her family does not own a television. Today that character might also be introduced as not having a smartphone, for several reasons.

People know on several levels that Facebook and smartphones suck the life out of their users. That’s old news. This page is about an alternative.

How I tamed my iPhone

I have what might be called a Holy Grail of iPhone usage. I carry my iPhone but I rule it and it does not rule me. It is often at hand, but I have domineered it well enough that I don’t compulsively check it. I get almost all of the practical benefits with none of the hidden price tags.

How?

Prequel: How I tamed television

Before I became a strict iPhone user, I was a slightly relaxed television non-user. I grew up with limited television, one hour per day during the schoolyear and two hours during summer vacation, and I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in an Age of Show Business and the more book-like Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, and also books like Stephen Covey’s First Things First. And I slowly checked out the rest of the way from television. And as an older child and later a young man, I had the vibrancy one associates with an unhindered imagination: the days before television, or something that as might as well be the days before television:

In the days before television

The irony of the Far Side cartoon is that time before television sucked the life out of everything was much more vibrant, not a family huddled around a vacant spot by a wall.

Prequel: Weston A. Price diet

I’m not specifically interested in converting people to Western A. Price or Paleo diets beyond saying that it is my opinion that your body’s engine merits pure premium fuel, but I wanted to comment on something very specific about Nourishing Traditions. As one friend pointed out, some of the ways food is produced are really gross; most vegetable oils besides olive, avocado, and coconut oils have to be extracted under conditions that goes rancid immediately, like popped popcorn, and are then made yellow and clear and not smelling bad by chemical wizardry, or the artificial phenomenon of getting four gallons of milk from a cow per day and then manipulations to make 2% milk (“No significant difference has been shown between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST-treated cows except for the additional ingredients of blood and pus.“). It overall builds a sense of “This is really gross and unfit for human consumption,” and that’s good.

It is worth your while to read books about how, for instance, standard smartphone use is reprogramming our brains to be bowls of tapioca. I gave, and meant, five stars to Jean-Claude Larchet’s The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul. My own title in the same vein is The Luddite’s Guide to Technology.

Now on to my iPhone

I check my iPhone at intervals: once per hour, or perhaps once per day. That breaks the spine of constant checking, at least eventually. My phone has three games, all of them for my little nephews, and I’ve come to dodge showing them games on my smartphone, because when I show them a real, physical toy, they can wait turns and share, while smartphone games are addictive enough that when I take out my phone and let them play with it, squabbles consistently follow. In good spirit, when they wanted to play pinball games on my phone, I deleted the pinball game and then made a crude pinball machine out of some leftover wood, nails, rubber bands, large ball bearings, and a plastic pipe. They were initially disappointed, but when they had some time to play with it, they began to be imaginative in a way I have never seen with a smartphone video game.

Returning to my smartphone, I use it for utilitarian purposes, including making bottom-liner use of Facebook and Twitter. Bottom-liner use of Facebook can be constructed, but having it fill the hours is depressing to anyone.

Specific suggestions for iPhone and Android smartphones

On this point I would say that there are few things you must do, but many things you might do. Probably the single best advice I know is to work with an Orthodox priest who is comfortable freeing you from your chains to technology. Good advice is to make a small change to start, and then slowly but steadily build up until what you have in place is working for you.

I would also underscore that these are suggestions, that some people have found helpful. I do not use all the rules others have found helpful, and I’ve found benefit in getting stricter with myself as time has passed. However, you don’t owe a duty to make all of these your own.

  1. Learn from Humane Tech. Humane Tech is a movement to mitigate some of turning people’s brains to tapioca, and it is well worth attending. I don’t believe they go far enough; I believe that Orthodox ascesis and fasting provide a good backbone, but knowing which apps make you happy and which apps make you sad is at very least a good start. Three Humane Tech pages you should know about include the following:

    • The homepage, for general orientation.

    • Take control. This gives many concrete suggestions. I’ve thought about all of them and implemented some of them.

    • Familiarize yourself with app ratings. All apps are not created equal in terms of their effect on how you feel. If you want to get your head out of your apps, this is another page I would at least recommend familiarizing yourself with.

  2. Make a conscious adult decision about what you carry. I would recommend choosing between three primary options:

    • Keep a smartphone, but be sure that you are the one in charge. This is the option I go with, but only after not carrying a cell phone when they were becoming common, and have less plugged in days of only checking email once per day. I do more frequent usage, and think that checking it once per hour is also a good baseline, but I only check things more frequently when I have a specific logistical reason. The strongest reason for this may be less the inner logic of dominating your technology, than smartphones being socially mandated.

    • Don’t carry a smartphone. Kings, Emperors, Popes and Patriarchs before the twentieth century lived in great luxury without having any kind of phone access, ever. They weren’t deprived. You most likely don’t need it.

    • Carry alternate gear. What about, instead of carrying a smartphone, you carry a standalone GPS, an old-school handset that only does talk and text with a numeric keypad, a paper planner or a small paper pad for your scheduling, todo, and scratchpad use, and maybe a book or Kindle? That sounds like a lot, but it fits nicely, with room to spare, in my favorite messenger bag. Admittedly these things are not the same convergence device, but it really may be possible to carry everything you want without difficulty. And by the way, their not including social media isn’t a defect; it’s a feature.

  3. Read The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul, and The Luddite’s Guide to Technology. Pay close attention to the rules in The New Media Epidemic as taken from Silicon Valley tech Moms and Dads. Chapter 13 is rich in practical application, mentions a #1 rule of no phones in bedrooms ever, and “Alex Constantinople… said her youngest son, who is 5, is never allowed to use gadgets during the week, and her older children, 10 to 13, are only allowed 30 minutes a day on school nights.” Not an absolutely different rule from what my parents had for me. Other aspects covered include having the network’s router shut off outside of a certain window of time.

  4. Take an attitude of “Everything is permitted… maybe, but not everything is beneficial.” We are tempted to try to get the most use out of our investment, when a better use might be more sparing. As far as TV goes, I have sought out to see one Simpsons episode in the past five or so years. Somewhere along the way, I stopped seeing as much television as I was allowed. Don’t use as much as you will let yourself use, and recognize that the most beneficial uses are sometimes the ones with the lightest touch. A smartphone in “Do Not Disturb” mode is just as much capable of calling 911 in a bad situation as any other cell phone.

  5. Have an attitude of having a life outside of online activity. When I grew up, I was taught to cast a line with a fishing rod. I didn’t end up catching much of anything, but my father taught me the basics, face-to-face, with a genuine fishing rod. Young people today are far more likely to learn to cast a line with the accelerometer on a smartphone, and that was a deprivation. I did my studies through travelling to campuses face-to-face even if I used email as well. This is a human baseline that is a survival from the Middle Ages, for that matter a survival from the animal world where young wolves are not handed tools necessarily but are taught how to interact with their environment to hunt, face-to-face with other wolves. And I would suggest that traveling to a college campus and also using some email is a pretty good baseline for technology use. And in relation to this, we have:

  6. Take up a hobby and give smartphones some competition. It can be hard to just pull back from habitual technology use. It is somewhat easier, even if it is not really easy, to pull back from the draw of technology and engage in something else, such as candle making. Having a constructive hobby can be very helpful as something else to do instead.

  7. Use your phone for a purpose, and never to treat boredom. A practice of reaching for your phone when you need it to do something, and not much else, can be great. Your phone can be genuinely nice when you use it to contact an acquaintance by any means, or to order a pair of shoes. It’s a trap when you use it to just pass time or make boredom easier to deal with. The most miserable use of Facebook, for instance, is when you’re always on.

  8. Use older technologies and fast from technologies. Fasting from technologies is explored in The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, and while it may not be possible, there are times where you can make a phone call instead of sending an email, or drive to see someone face-to-face instead of making a phone call. In general, using older space-conquering technologies instead of newer space-conquering technologies can uncover a forgotten richness. Some have had days of no electricity. A Lead Pencil Society day here and there can produce just a little freedom, or even just write a single hand-written, lead-pencil letter to a loved one, or perhaps buy a single, paper book instead of an ebook.

  9. Treat porn as a real danger, and get help whenever you need it. Porn is the disenchantment of the entire universe; it is our day’s biggest attack on men; it is preparation for committing rape. Take things to a father confessor; use a support group; use xxxchurch.

  10. Don’t look at your phone as a treasure from a magic world. A phone can feel exotic until you’re already hooked, but I think of people in the second world where a smartphone may seem a relic from the wonderland of the first world. In fact the U.S. may have more seeking of escape than Uganda. In fact material treasure may be found much more easily in the U.S.—and with it spiritual poverty. I believe that smartphones have uses, but as an experience they are not really helpful if you’re an American, and not really helpful if you’re a Ugandan friend. There are uses, and you can read ebooks for instance, which is really sweet. However, being sucked into a phone is not really a helpful way of using it. On those grounds I would advise friends both in the U.S. and Uganda to use phones, maybe, but know that God has placed people around you, and a person is infinitely better than a smartphone. Enjoy the real treasures!

All of this may seem like a lot, but it is very simple at heart:

Start walking on the path and put one foot in front of the other.

That is all you need.

Read more of The Luddite’s Guide to Technology on Amazon!

The Silicon Rule

Cover for The Luddite's Guide to Technology

I have stated, in The Luddite’s Guide to Technology, a lot of theory and analysis, and I would like now to give some of what I practice myself.

Taking a second look at asking, “What would Jesus do?”

I looked down on the “What would Jesus do?” fad when it was hot, and I have never had nor wanted a pair of W.W.J.D. Christian socks; for that matter, I have never asked that question. However, now much later, I wish to offer a word in its defense.

The Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is not just a directive from the Bible; most or all world religions at least touch on it. And it is ethically very interesting in that is a simple and short ethical directive that sheds quite a lot of light over a very broad collection of situations. That’s a feat. Furthermore, it is also a feat represented by W.W.J.D. If you read the Bible regularly at all, the question “What would Jesus do?” brings clarity to many situations.

And I would like to provide another rule.

The Silicon Rule

The Silicon Rule, as I propose it, is a rule for guiding technology choices:

What do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?

Now “What would Jesus do?” is only meaningful if you have some picture of what Jesus was like, and “What do Silicon Valley technology executives choose for their children?” may surprise you, although a search for “humane tech” might hit paydirt.

Jean-Claude Larchet, towards the end of his must-read The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul talks about a fashionable private school and quotes glimpses of the private lives offered to children of Silicon Valley technology executives in Steve Bilton’s summary:

The Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in the heart of Silicon Valley, is rare in that it is not connected [to the Internet]. Three quarters of the pupils are children whose parents work in the area, with Google, Apple, Yahoo, or Hewlett-Packard. These people who work to develop the digital economy and propagate it into every level of society are especially glad that in this school, their offspring are completely sheltered from computers, tablets, and smartphones right up till eighth grade.


“So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs […]. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”…

Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium, and his wife, Sara Williams, said that in lieu of iPads, their two young boys have hundreds of books (yes, physical ones) that they can pick up and read any time.

So how do tech moms and dads determine the proper boundary for their children? In general, it is set by age.

Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to 2 hours on iPad and smart-phone use. And 10- to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework.

“We have a strict no screen time during the week rule for our kids,” said Lesley Gold, founder and chief executive of the SutherlandGold Group, a tech media relations and analytics company. “But you have to make allowances as they get older and need a computer for school.”

Some parents also forbid teenagers from using social networks, except for services like Snapchat, which deletes messages after they have been sent. This way they don’t have to worry about saying something online that will haunt them later in life, one executive told me.

Although some non-tech parents I know give smartphones to children as young as 8, many who work in tech wait until their child is 14. While these teenagers can make calls and text, they are not given a data plan until 16. But there is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled.

“This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,” Mr. Anderson said. […]

I never asked Mr. Jobs what his children did instead of using the gadgets he built, so I reached out to Walter Isaacson, the author of “Steve Jobs,” who spent a lot of time at their home.

“Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of these things,” he said. “No one ever seemed to pull out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”

Examples could easily be multiplied, even if one is only quoting Larchet. This is, quite briefly, what Silicon Valley technology executives want for their children.

My own working model

I remember, on environmental issues, someone talking softly about how “subdue the earth” in Genesis 1 originally meant a very gentle mastery. That was everything I wanted to believe, and I’d still like it to be true, but it has been said that the Hebrew has the force of, “trample it under foot!” In the Orthodox Church’s Greek Bible, the word here translated as “subdue,” κατακ&upsilonριω (katakurio) is the same verb that in the New Testament for how Orthodox leaders are not to relate to the rank and file, and can be translated “lord it over.” κυριοσ (kurios) is the basic word for “lord,” and the prefix κατα (kata) in at least some places gives the word significantly more force.

Should we lord it over the earth? That’s one thing I think we have done disproportionately well. However, I bring this up for a reason. I believe we can, should, and perhaps need to lord it over technology, and the basis for our interactions, above the assumed life in the Church and frequent reception of sacraments, is the bedrock to how we should relate to technology. We should reject most use of technology along marketing positions. Possibly I will be under the authority of an abbot and be directed not to engage in electronic communication at all. For now, I have the usual technologies, apart from any working smartwatch.

One way I have tried to explain my basic attitude is as follows. Most of us, most of the time, should not be calling 911. And my understanding is that you can get in trouble with the law without having what the law considers appropriate justification; you don’t call 911 because you’re bored and you want someone to talk to. However, the single most important number you can call is 911; if you are in a medical emergency or some other major problem, being able to call 911 can be a matter of life and death.

My prescription is, in caricature, carry a smartphone but only use it when you need to call 911.

Apart from the smartphone, I try to avoid TV, movies, radio and so on. Michael in Stranger in a Strange Land said that he had questions about what he saw on the “g**d**-noisy-box”, and I really don’t think I’m losing out by not being involved in them. Television has over the years grown a heavy dose of MSG; watching even a clean movie hits me like a stiff drink. Silence is something precious, and it has been called the language of the world to come.

On my smartphone, I’ve watched maybe a couple of dozen movies and have nothing loaded for it as an iPod. I have no games, or at least none for my own use, nor amusement apps. Its use is governed by silence, which means in large measure that it is used for logistic purposes and not used when I do not have a logistical reason to use it. I only really use part or what appears on my home screen: Gmail, Calendar, Camera, Maps, Weather, Notes, App Store, Settings, Termius (software for IT workers), GasBuddy, PNC, Kindle, Flashlight, Pedometer, Libby, Translate, FluentU (for language learning), DuckDuckGo (a privacy-enhanced web browser), Phone, mSecure (a password manager), and Text. And of those, I do not really use Camera, Weather, Notes, or Kindle.

This may sound very ascetic, but it is a spiritual equivalent of good physical health. Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the ELIMINATION of Television looks about artificial unusuality, about how we connect with the kind of stimulation we receive, and how children not stimulated by television can be stimulated by the natural world. My seemingly austere use of my phone gives me luxuries that would have been unimaginable to Emperors and Popes in the ancient and medieval times. Even in the nineteenth century people were pushing the envelope on keeping toilets from smelling nasty.

One area where I am learning now is to avoid making fake or ersatz connections by computer or phone. I use Facebook and Twitter to announce new postings; arguably I shouldn’t do even that. They are an arena for idle talking, and for fake friendship. Larchet’s term for a person hollowed out by technology is Homo connecticus, Man the Connected. There are numerous ways to be connected, all the time, in a way that is simply not helpful, and in fact an intravenous drip of noise. If I do not have an active conversation, I check my email by default about once an hour; though this might not be a good idea, I have turned off all sound notifications for text messages. In previous years, I had gone on “net.vacations” and avoided computers and electronic communication for a few days; more recently I have sometimes kept my phone on a permanent “Do not disturb.” As far as my social life, I meet people (and cats) face-to-face when I can.

I also almost categorically try to avoid exposure to advertising, almost as if it were porn; both are intended to stimulate unhelpful desire. I tend to be a lot less likely to covet something and spend tight money on things I don’t need. And really, if I need something only after an advertiser paints ownership beautifully, chances are some

All of this is how, in the concrete, I have tried to trample technology underfoot, and really trample its marketing proposition. This is something of a countercultural use, but it works remarkably well, and if you can rein in yourself, it won’t suck out so much of your blood.

What is the advantage of having a phone then? Wouldn’t it be simpler to not own one? I personally think there is much to commend about not owning a smartphone, but it is a socially mandated technology. You should be able to get along well enough to have a paper planner and pad and a standalone GPS to navigate by, but this is how to skim the cream off of technology and not hurt yourself with its murkier depths.

All of this may sound excessively ascetic, or a feat that it isn’t. Feel free to chalk it up to eccentricity or introversion. However, I would point out that the conversations in Silicon Valley technology executive’s houses are quiet lively. For example, here are ten things you might do, or start doing.

  1. Read a book by yourself.

  2. Read a book and discuss it together.

  3. Take up a new hobby, like woodworking. You can make a lot of interesting things woodworking.

  4. Go to an Orthodox church. After that, take a breather and go to a museum or a library.

  5. Pick one topic and research it as far as you can in a fixed number of days. Share with others what you learned.

  6. Buy a pair of binoculars and take up bird watching. Please note that local conservation society members, park districts, possibly libraries, and so on may have excellent advice on how to get involved.

  7. Spend an hour in silence and just sit, just unwind.

  8. Use older technologies and practices. Drive to visit someone instead of calling. Call instead of texting. Watch old 1950’s movies that are at an F on special effects but an A on plot and storytelling. Go outside and play catch with a ball or frisbee.

  9. Take a walk or a hike, or fish up a bicycle and take bike rides for fun.

  10. Have a conversation about everything and nothing.

And trample technologies underfoot as much as it takes to have a life.

How to get there

What I have listed above is more a destination than a means how. As far as how goes, the basic method is to start whittling away at your consumption of noise bit by bit. If you watch television, you might decide in advance what you want to watch, and stick to only shows you’ve picked out. After that, vote one show per week off the island (maybe one show per month would stick better), until there is only one show, and then cut into the days you watch it. That is much more effective than through sheer force of will to stop watching together until you binge and decide you can’t live without it. And the same principle applies with other things.

An Orthodox priest can be very good at helping you taper down and stop activities, and another perspective can really help. If you want to stick with a book, Tito Collander’s The Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Tradition of Inner and Spiritual Growth displays the discipline well. However, a real, live encounter with an Orthodox priest gives a valuable second set of eyes, and making the pilgrimage and overcoming a bit of shyness are two good things you should want to have.

One P.S. about motivation

My main motivation in writing this is for you and your spiritual health. Now it might also be good for your body to stop vegetating with your smartphone and start doing things, and it might also be beneficial for the environment in that it encourages a much lighter step in consumption.

Would you take one small step, for yourself?

Read more of The Luddite’s Guide to Technology on Amazon!