Life life

Stacking Potential

Following up a bit on the last post about potential, let’s go big-picture for a bit.

  • The Universe is really big, with lots of stuff in it. Some of it is really big rocks.
  • These rocks are tiny, as compared to the universe, but they’re traveling really fast, and there are a lot of them.
  • Because the Earth rotates within a fixed orbit around the sun, it makes for an easy target.
  • In fact, the rocks have hit and left giant craters at least 100 times, sometimes even hitting people.
  • Because I live on this planet, there is the potential that I could be hit by one, or be around when it happens again.

Now, does this mean I’m going to dig a bunker and blog from there for the rest of my life? Probably not. Then again, an in-ground Tiny House is kind of tempting…no, the point I’m trying to make is that there is the potential for this kind of catastrophe inherent in my environment – in my life. By being alive, there is the potential for things to happen that I have no control over whatsoever.

However, what about the things I can control? How can I increase the potential for things that I do want?

Potential & Kinetic

largePhysics has a bunch of laws and stuff that cover potential versus kinetic energy, and as a review there’s a nice picture.

In terms of that “potential” that we talked about on Monday, the idea is less about physics and more about life in general. Namely, when we are at rest – when there aren’t a lot of things happening – that’s when we’re storing up potential. That’s what people see in kids when they say that awful thing: “you have a lot of potential“. That is because they are looking (whether accurately or inaccurately) at the qualities of you in relation to your environment. Much like astronomers talking about space, they are making educated guesses based on probabilities and experience.

But if you are the person? Well, if you’re the ball in the diagram, you can’t necessarily step outside of yourself and see the “potential” there – especially if this is your first hill. Instead, you just know where you are (a flat place where you don’t move) and then some drop ahead of you.

Ah, but then something happens – you’re “acted upon by an outside force” to put it in Newtonian terms – and you start to move. Things start to happen, and you’re in the middle of it all, and Whee!

I’m tempted to call this “frenetic energy”, best typified by Kermit flailing his arms around, but that just makes the metaphor complicated. When we’re in motion – when stuff is happening – the kinetic energy could be positive (OMG OMG THIS IS AWESOME!) and it could be terrified (OMG OMG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!) and it might even be both (OMG OMG THIS IS AWESOME AND WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!).

It’s also worth noting that at any point on the way down the hill you have both potential and kinetic energyThat’s something that can be hard to realize on the way down, but it makes sense. If we stopped ourselves partway down the hill, we would still have all the potential that was left. We would, however, be out of the frenetic “OMG” zone, and that can give the opportunity to stretch the metaphor: build wings. Create a safety net. Change the path of the ball, or join up with another ball and work together to join potentials.

Or even put yourself on another hill. See, that’s the thing: some things, like being on an insignificant rock rotating a minor star on a nondescript spiral arm of a galaxy whirling at incomprehensible speed towards the inevitable heat death of the universe, you can’t change. There are potentials you can’t stack.

But there are some you can. You can increase the potential for a good night’s sleep by decreasing screen time in the evenings. You can increase the potential for intimacy by being honest and vulnerable with your partner. You can increase the potential of being a published author by writing each day. You can increase the potential of writing each day by setting aside time to do so. You can increase the potential of that time being used for writing by having someone hold you accountable to it. And so on.

It’s not about just doing one thing and it’s all done – it’s about stacking up the things in your life so that you create the hill that lets you turn that potential a frenetic “Wheeeeee!!”

Now, for those of you who may feel that you are the ball at the bottom of the hill – the one with neither kinetic nor potential energy – I guarantee you aren’t. Even if it feels like the it, you are absolutely not at the bottom. I know that because it is true: WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE! And that is when we actually stop having potential (or, at least, stop being aware of it, depending on your belief).

But if you ain’t dead, then you, my friend, still have potential. I know, that can really suck to hear – but the question is, what kind of hill are you gonna build?

Gray Miller •

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