The horrific angels of our nature
The "truth" is beautiful, but also terrible.
Happy Saturday morning,
Strangely, I wrote two threads on angels (Biblically accurate ones, and then Lucifer) that together attracted over a million impressions.
I don’t know what to make of something like that.
As this all unfolded, I spoke to a friend about how comedians get their material. They go all over the country, trying jokes, keeping and expanding on the ones that make people laugh. You can’t fake laughter. A joke is either funny, or it’s not.
Thus, the comedian not only has jokes, but his jokes also have him.
Twitter is an interesting place — similar to a comedy club — because you can’t fake engagement. People are either engaged, or they’re not.
So, I’m rolling with it. This essay is my thoughts about what these angels represent in our imagination. Like the comedian, I’m following the crowd's spirit.
It’s not like that’s ever led anyone astray…
There is nowhere to rest in this world.
Even this moment is being violently ripped away from you by time, never to be seen again. At the same time, new moments are born to you in a relentless torrent of blooming glory. To be fully “alive” sometimes feels like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.
It’s a little much.
But it’s there. Boiling away in the background. Only truly known to the insane, children, and possibly the enlightened (although I am suspicious). Is there no hope for the rest of us? What meager portion of truth can we hope to gain access to?
The first time I realized this “floorlessness” of reality, as I named it in my confusion, it became clear to me that there was really nowhere to stand. No true firm ground to rest on.
If you can sense that right now, it might cause you a little anxiety. It does for me.
But don’t worry; there’s an answer.
Basically, flow is the optimal state of being alive. Rest is a false promise of permanence and stability.
Less rest, more flow.
But I’ll save that for the end.
You’re born in flow
Writing in my regular coffee shop the other day, one of my friends — an employee — brought his daughter to work. She must have been around 4.
He let her wash the dishes. She was delighted. Fourteen customers and I watched her fumble with a sponge as if watching a fireworks display.
What is it about children that capture our attention so profoundly?
As we transition out of childhood and into adulthood, we stop seeing everything as “new.” Most of what we see is not reality but our memories; predictions and assumptions.
Seeing kids is like a slap in the face from a friend. “Oh yeah,” our brain says, “Things used to be interesting.”
We remember that there is a sense of aliveness and discovery in everything — even in something “mundane” as soapy water and coffee mugs.
By categorizing things, we stop “seeing” them. It’s a powerful function of our brain because it frees up real estate to pay attention to the more “important” things. Or, it gets so good at categorizing it puts everything in the category of “known” so that our minds can finally “rest.”
Of course, this desire for rest is a fool’s errand. There is just too much to know, and you are too little.
This drive is the fundamental power and flaw of the human mind.
Let me try to show you using an old story.
You can’t handle the truth
Angels are typically thought of as beautiful winged people, but this is a Biblically accurate description:
Why would messengers from God be horrific eye monsters?
It has to do with the problem illustrated in the opening. Angles, symbolically, are a glimpse of reality. They are the truth. Often, for us adults, the naked truth is unbearable. It tears apart all the “lies” that you have slowly grown around you to survive in the world. “I am a good person,” becomes, “Look how often you judge others…” and “I understand myself,” becomes, “Then why aren’t you the person you say you want to be…” These twists we put in our own perception, while not “true” in the most real sense, have kept us alive and sane. Angels are the horrors that tear them away.
That’s why angels say, “Be not afraid.” Yeah, no kidding.
Incidentally, this might also speak to our intuition that kids are more readily able to “see” angels. Who knows what that means, man.
Point is, angels are a symbolic “revelation.” They show you the truth, and the truth to a chronic fibber is a terrible thing.
Let’s look at the reason we lie by using the mythological King of Lies… Lucifer himself.
The greatest liar
Lucifer, famously, was the highest and most beautiful angel. He falls and becomes Satan. What’s his deal?
In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Lucifer is a sort of left-brain very rational figure. He is beautiful because of his intellectual abilities. In Greek, he’s called “Morning Star” or “Light Bringer.”
That’s very interesting. Our rational ability is likely our highest quality. It brings us airplanes and cures for childhood cancer. It is the flaming sword that carves order out of chaos, which renders us safe and fed.
But it has this other quality, too. The one we talked about in the beginning.
He wants to take what he knows, put a box around that, and then claim, “this is all there is!” This is, at its core, the human desire for power. Power to stop death, control others, and rest. It is the fundamental misconception that there “should” be a place to rest in the world. Certainty.
Think about it: despite all the insistence that science is NOT an answer, but a process – people still want to “believe” in science. That’s a contradiction in terms.
You do this all the time in little ways: Anytime someone threatens what you know, you usually either attack them or get defensive. It’s easier for you to protect your assumptions than go through the pain of opening up your perceptions again (didn’t we already fix that?) and re-learning something fundamental.
We’re always trying to resolve life, instead of live it.
That’s no good. Life is a never-ending series of re-learning something fundamental. That’s the whole point – and the reason it’s interesting.
We all forget this. But, it’s good to notice that is literally the spirit of Lucifer.
What’s the solution to that?
Flow is the anti-Lucifer
Flow is when what you know is optimally in balance with what you don’t know. Put another way, your skill versus the challenge. Check out the chart:
When you’re in flow, the old you is dying a little bit at a time, while the new you is being born at an exciting rate. Experiencing flow is something like a mystical state. Time seems to vanish. You forget your vulnerabilities. You flow.
We all want flow. We only step out because we want to control risk. We only fear getting back in once we've stepped out.
That’s the reason angels look terrifying. They aren’t boring. They are challenging. They invite you to step into the adventure of being, rather than run away into the certainty of what you already know. In other words, they invite you to open your eyes!
To be fully alive is to be in the flow at all times. That means realizing that there is no resting stop. There is no getting off the ride.
This life will take everything from you, so you might as well be all in.
You’re either oriented toward adventure, or you’re already dead.
So that’s the answer. If you were hoping I’d say, “You can rest here,” I’m sorry.
But it’s time to wake up and get moving.
Thanks for reading,
What’s moving me:
“There was nothing. And then there was something. But don’t get used to it.” —Nomad King
“To be fully “alive” sometimes feels like trying to drink from a fire hydrant.” Another amazing essay, Taylor
So much inspiration here Taylor. I've spent a long time coaching and motivating others in the realms of professional development and personal growth and it's notable to me how often people deny the truth of their beauty, strength, talents and basic goodness, just as much (or maybe even more) than they do their flaws, weaknesses or failings. We're born in flow because we don't deny that goodness, in fact as you illustrate, kids seem to be One with it. I observe for myself and for others that re-engaging the flow state remains difficult often because the activities that would produce the flow are right next to our strengths, talents and purpose, which is a very vulnerable place to stand and to be seen. In any case, I really love your writing. Glad to have your voice in my inbox.