Vow Day

At CML’s Monastic Academy, we’ve been experimenting with “vow days” lately. As we talk about it, your vow is your deepest commitment to service to the world. It’s what you’re doing that you hope will save everybody. Maybe it’s just showing up and being you; maybe it’s leading a social movement a la Martin Luther King Jr.; maybe it’s advocating for everyone to discover and live their vow. Most likely it’s not something you can put into words in a simple way—it certainly isn’t for me.

So but vow day is a sort of monastic 20% time. We have one work period a week (work periods are 3–4 hours) that we can use for something that we think will advance our vow, that doesn’t have to be related to anything else we’re doing at CML.

Of course, your vow isn’t something that you do for just a few hours a week, when you’re not doing something else. You should be living your vow in every moment, with every action, every word, every thought. But in doing that, it can be helpful to have some time set aside as an empty container, without anything else in it that you were planning or expected to do.

(As an aside, I advocate for making room for a container like this in your own life, if you can. Just note that in order to open up room for a container, you have to make something else in your life take up less room. Don’t just add “have a container for exploring my vow” to the long list of things you berate yourself about not doing—you’re better off just forgetting about it and moving on with your life, and I mean that sincerely and with love. But if you find that there’s something you can set aside, or something that you can do in less time than you’ve been doing it in, then I strongly encourage you to make that trade, even just for a little while.)

Lately I’ve been using vow days to explore the relationship between the two paths that I find most important in my life: monastic-level mindfulness practice, and the art of rationality.

Lots of people I talk to think of these as incompatible in some way. Maybe they’re fans of the art of rationality, and see monasticism as full of fluffy religious nonsense. Or maybe they’re dedicated to the path of monasticism, and see rationality as a hopelessly doomed attempt to language something that will never be contained in words. But in pursuing both of these paths, I’ve found an astonishing amount of overlap in content and in their impact on my life.

For mindfulness, I advocate for finding the path wherever you are. And in particular, Soryu Forall said this at some point:

I teach that a complete mindfulness practice contains two aspects:

  1. Awakening, which is nothing at all:
    • it is Wisdom, the ability to lose one’s assumptions and preferences.
  2. Responsibility, which is two things:
    • Love, the appreciation of living things and the desire to act in ways that benefit them.
    • Power, the ability to compel people to do what you want them to do.

For rationality, I’ll point you to the excellent Rationality: From AI to Zombies. In particular, from “What Do We Mean By ‘Rationality?’”:

We mean:

  1. Epistemic rationality: believing, and updating on evidence, so as to systematically improve the correspondence between your map and the territory.  The art of obtaining beliefs that correspond to reality as closely as possible.  This correspondence is commonly termed “truth” or “accuracy”, and we’re happy to call it that.
  2. Instrumental rationality: achieving your values.  Not necessarily “your values” in the sense of being selfish values or unshared values: “your values” means anything you care about.  The art of choosing actions that steer the future toward outcomes ranked higher in your preferences.  On LW we sometimes refer to this as “winning”.

Just considering those two quotes, maybe you’re starting to get a sense for where I’m coming from.

Talk about it: forums, chat.