The Horror of The Same Old Thing

28 Jan

“Work on their horror of the Same Old Thing.  The horror of the Same Old Thing is one of the most valuable passions we have produced in the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship. The humans live in time, and experience reality successively. To experience much of it, therefore, they must experience many different things; in other words, they must experience change. And since they need change, [God] has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating Pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together on the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme.” – The ScrewTape Letters by C.S. Lewis

I’ve rarely read such a truthful paragraph before. As humans, we need the union of change and permanence.

We don’t like the status quo. We don’t want to be viewed as boring. We get depressed at the thought of the daily rat race.  If you don’t believe me, check out a few Facebook statuses.  Or listen to the next phone conversation with an old friend.  After the “How are you?” we typically jump right into the “What’s new and exciting?” phase of the conversation.

And we also like permanence.  We like the guarantee of seasons and holidays marking the passage of time.  Always bringing something new but always bringing a sense of tradition and stability with them.

Seasons.
Holidays.
Baby milestones: rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking.
Age.
Morning, noon, and night.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Weekdays and weekends.
September – the beginning of a school year, May/June – graduation.

Because temporal rhythms are so important to us as humans, and we do not do well without them, we make up markers and then retrain our activities around them if need be.  They may be surrogate markers for real beginnings and middles and ends, but they work just as well as the real thing.

Trimesters in a pregnancy.
Mid-life crisis.
Semesters at college broken up with fall and spring breaks.
Dating, engagement, marriage.
Fiscal years broken into financial quarters.
Workweeks for work and obligations, weekends for errands and relaxation.

While change is good and permanence is good and we need both, sometimes we use our built-in High Beams to look too far ahead.  So instead of enjoying our crisp fall air, we are already gathering and squirreling away to prepare for “the best Christmas ever” only to find ourselves on Christmas Day already planning for something else.  We spend  time asking freshman/sophomore/juniors about their classes (with occasional side discussions on career plans) but we only ask seniors about their job prospects. We plan the next vacation while on vacation.  We spend the weekend preparing to make the next workweek manageable.  All good things but we sometimes miss the relaxation, the fun, the opportunity in The Same Old Thing.

When doing The Same Old Thing makes us lethargic or moody, maybe we need to revamp The Same Old Thing. But when doing The Same Old Thing makes us consider ditching our responsibilities, having an affair, or walking away from a friendship, our attitude is in the wrong.

If you want to grow strong, you have to challenge your muscles.  You stick with a routine for a few weeks or a month until it is no longer challenging. And then you switch it up.  This is called change.  But even though the activities you do and the sets you perform may vary, the muscle groups you are inevitably working remain the same (that is, if you are committed to working them all and gaining overall strength).  This is called permanence.  Change without permanence gives you very little results for your effort.  Permanence without change gives you an imbalance – inconsistent results (maybe you end up leg-strong with a weak core) and eventually a plateau.

The Horror of the Same Old Thing should push us forward, help us embrace the cyclical nature of life and make us stronger. The Horror of the Same Old Thing should never be used an excuse to give up, run from activity to activity without committing to any of them. Delight in change coupled with delight in permanence provides us with a stabilizing and refreshing rhythm that is our gift to enjoy.

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