Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Just Do It

I’ve been writing computer code recently.  It’s been a lesson in patience, endurance and being uncomfortable.  I can’t say that I love it, but I’m learning to understand why other people love it.  It makes sense.  You write commands; the computer follows the commands.  But I’m also learning something about human nature.  You see, all these years that Marco, my husband, has been writing code, I had this idea that there was one way to do it.  In order to get a desired result, you have to write a specific set of words and symbols, and voila, results.  And that is the truth.  However, it takes trial and error to arrive at the correct sequence to achieve the results you want.  And there are long ways and short ways, disorganized ways and clean ways, systematic or disjointed ways of writing code and getting the results you want.  But the proof is in the results, in the actions that the code produces from the computer.  The true test if you’ve got the code right is if the program produces the results you wanted.  

To me, this is similar to human nature.  We know that children learn from modeling.  They watch our behavior and learn how to be human.  Sure, we teach information, but we model behavior.  Our actions write the code.  The models we had wrote our code.  And we continue to effect our own code with our ongoing behavior.  Each action re-encodes that into our system, ensuring similar results the next time.

I’ve had this idea that I could think my way into change.  I can read books, listen to lectures, write my way into understanding,  literally rewrite my code.  But the truth is, if I truly want to rewrite my code, I have to ACT differently.

Karen Armstrong, an authority on comparative religion has said, “I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.”  (TED)

The problem is, we’re all so hung up on orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy.  But you can think anything you want, it’s what you do that tells the world who you are.  Your actions reveal your source.

I think this must be what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” in his second letter to the Philippians.  Jesus was quoted by John, saying, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love.”  In fact, he starts that passage by saying, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

Our actions both encode and decode.  The way we behave is constantly building those pathways in our brain, teaching ourselves to behave that way again and again.  If you bear fruit, you’ll bear more fruit.  The point is, we have to DO something.

When you begin to look at the root of many, many sacred texts, they echo the same call for action:

  • Do not to your neighbour what you would take ill from him. (Pittacus, 650 BCE)
  • Do not unto another that you would not have him do unto you. Thou needest this law alone. It is the foundation of all the rest.  (Confucius, 500 BCE)
  • Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. (Thales, 464 BCE)
  • What you wish your neighbors to be to you, such be also to them.  (Sextus the Pythagorean, 406 BCE)
  • We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us.  (Aristotle, 384 BCE)
  • Cherish reciprocal benevolence, which will make you as anxious for another’s welfare as your own. (Aristippus of Cyrene, 365 BCE)
  • Act toward others as you desire them to act toward you. (Isocrates, 338 BCE)
  • This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. (From theMahabharata (5:1517), 300 BCE)
  • What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. (Rabbi Hillel 50 BCE)
  • Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (From the Bible,  Leviticus 19:18 1440 BCE)
  • Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. (Jesus of Nazareth, circa 30 CE)

Compassion is a verb.  It involves action.  You are to either do unto others or do not unto others.  Doing is involved.

We’re all interconnected.  We’re all computers, jammed full of code, connected together by our actions in an interweb, a series of tubes, a cloud.  My every action has an impact.  Even when I’m alone, I’m impacting my own future behavior.  What I do matters, and not because of some future reward or result.  The action matters as the action happens.  The gift is in the doing not in the having done.

Hugh Prather says in Notes to Myself, “My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them.”  And too, Thich Naht Hanh says, “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”

When I was about ten years old, my brother and I were fighting, so my parents sent us to our rooms to read I John, which is all about loving one another.  I read verse eight in chapter four, “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love,” and I suddenly understood. God IS love. The action of loving someone, when we treat someone with compassion and kindness, generosity and patience, we are actually “godding” them.  I had this vision, in my little room, of God literally moving from me to my brother as I treated him with love.  It was the first time I had a true spiritual awakening, and it’s still the most important lesson I have ever learned.

My soul has been aching over the last couple months as I’ve been contemplating this.  I’m constantly aware of how my actions reveal my selfish, judgmental code, my ego source.  I see how I make all these little decisions that I don’t think matter, but they do.  I’m writing the code for my future behavior.  And I’m impacting the world.  Selfish action begets selfish action.  

I don’t know the answers to the big questions.  I don’t know if there is a god or no god.  I don’t know if there is a single equation that summarizes all physical laws.  I don’t know why we’re here or where we go when we die.  I most likely never will.  But, no matter what you believe, no matter the theory behind your coding, the goal is the same for all of us:  Compassion.

Just do it.  It’s as simple as that.  All the rest is merely commentary.

1 comment:

Uppside said...

I've missed your written voice! You always make me think - thank you for writing and wrestling the big things. I've been thinking about compassion lately too - the irony that we feel like it is sacrifice, but really compassion (those windows of opportunity) are where we truly begin to live. The blessing is ours.

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