In order to live a life of devotion, one must be able to successfully choose a top priority

I have recently become acutely aware of this as I have been reflecting on the prospect of people entering into and exiting from “my life” — I’ve been sort of asking myself: what is my life in the context of such arrivals and departures?

First and foremost, I think, one needs to choose whether life has any meaning, direction or goal whatsoever — and I am actually quite uncertain about that. I think living in the present without thinking about the future or the past (or, for that matter, without thinking about anything, really) can really be a very blissful experience… and there is nothing that leads me to believe that there might be anything “wrong” with it.

Let me turn to devotion. The way I see it, devotion needs an object — it’s not really possible to devote yourself to nothing in particular (that would kind of destroy the meaning of “devote” in a sort of circular manner). In a very traditional “fairy tale” view, two lovers are viewed as devoting themselves to each other. The ending of this story is usually glossed over with “happily ever after”, but my hunch is that in reality what happens is that the one person who gets “left behind” can no longer cope with the world without the other person to devote themselves to, and therefore dies soon thereafter. Those two cases are in some sense the traditionally idealized notion of love, but I do not doubt there are also less devoted cases in which the survivor simply shrugs their shoulders and moves on to something new (maybe sort of “sad but true”, mixed up with a dash of “happy-go-lucky”?). ;)

Yet there are also other kinds of “life of devotion” — I can think of two in particular, which at first glance seemed to be opposites, but under more scrutiny seem to actually be complements (yet again: I’m just guessing and not really sure of anything :P ).

The relatively speaking more obvious case (to me) is that of devotion to a cause, and the other case I would call something like devotion to serving a community.

Let me try explain how I view these by noting that (the way I see it) nature is in constant flux: Everything is constantly changing. Sort of following Piaget, we can see our role in this theater as being either one of accommodation or of assimilation (or sort of a mashup of both). Accommodation is sort of like “adapting to change, but not really being comfortable with it”; Assimilation embraces the change and makes it the “new norm” (until the next change comes along).

In my view, the “devotion to a cause” and “devotion to a service” differ primarily in what part of this natural change should accommodate and/or assimilate to the other. In “devotion to a cause”, the person recognizes something like a natural law and devotes themselves to reaching a better understanding of this law of nature — both for themselves and for others, since all are living their lives within this “law of nature”. In “devotion to a service” the focus is not on the whole of nature, but rather on the special case of a particular species (or similar community) — such that the whole is viewed as needing to adapt (accommodate and assimilate) to the particular part that is the object of the service-oriented devotion. To give a rather simple example: Whereas in devotion to a cause, someone might seek to understand the natural processes that lead to different states (and thereby discover things like viruses, bacteria, etc.), in devotion to a service the focus of attention is on the well-being of a particular species (such as human beings) or more abstract things (such as “the environment”, “fairness”, “justice”, etc.).

All of this lengthy meandering is only a long-winded preamble to the much simpler observation that it is really only possible for us to devote ourselves to something if we make that our top priority above all else.

Do you have a top priority? What is it?

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