Matt Slaybaugh recently sent me these familiar words, from the commencement address to the graduates of Kenyon College in 2005. I've taken several minutes to digest them anew. I'd read them years ago, back when the speech first hit the Web. I've always loved this speech. It's one of the best ever. It includes "This is water?" (Here's the entire speech:

From David Foster Wallace, of blessed memory:

…This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship—be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles—is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.

Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. 

David Foster Wallace, 1962-2008

Of course, I love these words. I love these words because I think they are true. I think they are true for me, particularly. And for you, surely, too.

But the question is: what do I worship when I'm conscious? What do I choose to worship when I exercise the freedom to choose what to worship.

In the history of humanity, no one has had more freedom than I to choose what to worship.

So, let's call the question.

What Do I Worship?
This has changed over time.

I have surely worshipped, in chronological order (of first appearance in my life), if memory serves:

  • air
  • milk
  • sleep
  • affection
  • companionship
  • community
  • laughter
  • self-medication
  • pizza
  • honesty
  • recognition
  • applause
  • chocolate
  • education
  • sex
  • ethics
  • opportunity
  • money
  • comfort
  • prestige
  • security
  • self-knowledge
  • love
  • collaboration
  • this moment
  • quiet

That's about it. Surely, I'm missing something. But, those have been the central idols in the temple of my life.

These days, I worship the last five on the list these days — self-knowledge, love, collaboration, this moment, and quiet — along with education, a focuse of my worship since my teenage years.

But what do I worship unintentionally?
DFW continues to warn us that, when we are unconscious, our default settings take over. And so, we must work to make our default settings worthy.  

When I am at my least conscious — when I am exhausted, fed-up, numb — what do I worship?

In The Unintentional Void, I crave comfort. And I've already written about that here – — and here –

And distraction. 
In The Unintentional Void, I crave distraction. And, Net Cotton Content readers know I've written against distractions: television, multi-tasking, and more. 

It's time for a new false god.
So, here's a new one. It's a form of the old ones. Comfort and distraction both live in this box.

The box?

In The Unintentional Void, I crave habits. Habits are close and mundane: I chew my fingers. They are larger and agenda-setting: I accept the easiest invitations.

What habit does: it comforts me from the pain of work mode.

What is Work Mode?
Wilfred Ruprecht Bion (1897-1979), an early explorer in the topic of group dynamics, teaches that groups veer between Work Mode and Non-Work Mode:

  • Work Mode is when groups directly address the most pressing challenge or opportunity facing them. It's intense and uncomfortable. Failure lurks. Conflict arises.
  • Non-Work Mode is when the group changes its focus to relieving itself of the pain of Work Mode. Humor punctures emotion. Pairs of teammates turn upon others in the group.

I've never thought this before now, but I think this works in the Group Of One, when I am alone:

  • Work Mode is when I am addressing the most pressing challenge or opportunity facing me. My creativity is taxed. My ability to stay focused is tested.
  • Non-Work Mode is when I change my focus to relieve myself of the pain of Work Mode. Comfort. Distraction. My fingers. The easiest invitations.

What can I do to stay in Work Mode? Not with every breath, perhaps, because rest is required. But I could surely spend 10% more of my waking days in Work Mode. 

That's going to require worship. I need a Worship Practice. The Worship of Work Mode, as a daily practice.

My Worship Practice
Worship is more than the thing worshipped.

My worship practice today includes meditation, a pause before putting anything in (or issuing anything from) my mouth, a minimum standard for any conversation or correspondence, and Jewish tradition and practice.

Mainly, my worship practice — to keep me focused on my worship — is to compare anything to quiet. And, when I prefer the quiet, I choose quiet.

Quiet stills the noise of habit.

In Praise Of Quiet
I have learned to love quiet. Rarely do I prefer the song in my ear to the one in my heart.

I don't like to shut out the world. But when the world is not an irresistible offer, I prefer silence.

In The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, the theatre manager "foreseeing a thinning house, gave them a free admission. The boys did not like what they found there. Even speech was for them a debased form of silence; how much more futile is poetry which is a debased form of speech…."

What do you worship?
It's easy enough to see me stumble around for an answer. Here's the hard part:

What do you worship?

If you are wondering what you worship, may I recommend silence and quiet? On that altar, you can rebuild your focus for worship.

What do you worship?