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in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

Sunday Firesides: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction

Journals in which only the first few pages have been written in. Bibles in which only the first few pages have been creased.

Dumbbells gathering dust. Running shoes that still look new.

Books yet unopened. Texts yet unanswered. Paints yet unused. 

Our lives are littered with the detritus of things once begun (and often begun numerous times), and then abandoned.

And we wonder why we haven’t been transformed. 

If the starting of things (or the buying of things) is all it took to change ourselves, to do great and worthy works, then we’d all be living on a higher plane, embodying our best selves.

But, and this is one of the hardest of life’s irrevocable laws to accept, it is not the commencing of something that has any effect, but the persisting. Not the converting but the enduring. Not the dabbling around but the digging in.

Half-finished projects never have the power to make us whole.

There is an inverse relationship between the number of times one does something, and how inherently exciting and intrinsically rewarding it is to do. But there is a direct relationship between how many times one does something and the power it has to strengthen and shape.

It’s the constant drip, drip, drip of water that smooths a stone. The little strokes that fell great oaks. The daily practice that makes the shallow, deep; the intentional, instinctive; the outward, inward. It’s the repetition that brings refinement. 

The equation for becoming, for creating anything that matters, is submission to a discipline multiplied by time.

As Nietzsche put it, “everything of the nature of freedom, elegance, boldness . . . and masterly certainty”; everything to do with “virtue, art, music, dancing, reason, spirituality”; everything “that is transfiguring,” that makes “life worth living,” is premised on one thing:

A “long obedience in the same direction.”

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