I Took a Walk Today.

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Took this picture on a walk.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a walk. I mean, since I don’t mostly drive during the week I do a bit of walking here and there just getting around to work and school. But it’s been a long time since I went and took a walk simply for the purpose of walking.

I am very, very out of shape.

I used to walk all the time. It was an essential part of my day; it was wrapped in to physical and emotional and mental well being. It was a part of me spiritually. The rhythm of footfalls, the pounding of drums, the beat of one’s own heart; these things are so indelibly human that to deny them is tantamount to denying one’s own humanity.

I stopped walking as much during a rash of street harassment I experienced  prior to my trip to Bhutan, and then pretty much entirely after I returned from Bhutan. I was so sick and in so much pain after the trip, and then, well… my previous walking experiences had been so unpleasant, both having to deal with being yelled at by men in a pickup truck on multiple days, and having to complete the emergency hike in Bhutan while I had pneumonia, that the thought of walking filled me with dread. And when a thing fills you with dread it’s so easy to come up with ways to avoid it, especially when you’re busy.

And I have been kinda busy.

But last weekend I was a part of a parade. It was a short route, like a mile or less, not more, and all flat, urban walking, and by the time we were done and had walked back for lunch, I was feeling energized. I wanted to walk more. I was in a good mood, and my brain was clicking over at a good clip.

So today, when I finished writing up the notes for the latest episode of the podcast, I went on a walk. It was around seven in the evening when I left, and the sun was setting. It was the same route I used to walk in the evenings after work, a good and hilly two miles round trip, that can be extended to three by adding another hill. I stuck with two. And as I walked it, I just had all these memories, kind of barely formed, of times when I’d walked that route before; times that I’d seen deer, or times when particular slopes had been icy. I remember having watched the seasons change along that route.

And I’m not going to lie, after a particularly steep slope I was a little out of breath. The muscles in my hips feel tired from the slopes, both the inclines and the declines, and will probably be a little sore tomorrow. And you know what? That’s okay. That out-of-breathness, that soreness, that’s not a failure. It’s just another starting point, one of many I’ve had throughout my life and one of many that I will have throughout the years to come.

Starting points are fun. They’re the easy part, where everything is new and exciting.

I do desperately want to start walking again, but I won’t be able to do it every day with my class schedule unless I work it into my commute, and that’s only about a mile and a half. Maybe a little less. But maybe I can do it on some of the days. Maybe I can get a walk in on most of the days. And maybe until my schedule loosens up enough, maybe that’s okay.

 

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Skeptical About Mindfulness.

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Okay, so that title is likely a little misleading. I find mindfulness to be an interesting practice; potentially very useful in the world that we currently live in. Sources of stimulation and distraction are so common, and so often engineered to reward your brain for engaging with them, that it’s often impossible to resist the temptation to distract oneself with these things.

But as I’ve followed some of the trends in modern american mindfulness practice, things have started to look a little grim.

Mindfulness is a meditative practice intended to improve mental control; over time, the practice is said to allow one to become more resistant to distractions, and to maintain an awareness of one’s place in the universe. It is said to make people happier, healthier, and less vulnerable to stress, anxiety, and their attendant illnesses.

There is value here; in a world that is so full of distractions, in which we see so many people falling victim to compulsive thought patterns, there’s a great deal to say about being able to acknowledge thoughts without judgement and then calmly redirect one’s focus. I practice a limited amount of mindfulness meditation, and have found that it helps me a great deal.

But then corporate america got a hold of it and suddenly it became a productivity hack; a way that employers could get more work out of their employees while paying them less money.

It also fell into the hands of the Cult of Positive Thinking (more about the Cult of Positive Thinking in a later post), and became the answer to unlocking happiness.

The thought behind each of these uses is that misery and stress and unhappiness comes from within, and that if you are mindful, you can shake off these shackles.

The implication, of course, being that you are the one responsible for your own misery and not outside influences. If you are unhappy, it is your own fault.

There are several problems with this. First, mindfulness meditation is not and never has been a panacea. Second, much like attempts to breed the stress gene out of pigs for commercial meat production, it relies on changing the behavior of the victim rather than improving conditions that cause the victim’s misery in the first place.

I’m here to tell you that misery has a place in the modern world; that your work stress has a rhyme and a reason, and that all of us would be better off improving working conditions (here in the US, but also all over the world) and living conditions than we would be simply focusing on our breathing a few minutes a day. The stress we experience reading the news provides impetus to change the world in real, positive ways.

If your job is so difficult and so stressful that you cry at your desk, that’s not your fault. It is the fault of your employer demanding ever climbing levels of productivity for the same or dwindling pay. Studies show you can inure yourself to the emotional impact of these demands using mindfulness to some extent, but in the end you’re still getting paid less for more. Nothing has changed, other than the fact that you’ve become more pliant, more passive, and more productive.

If you breed the stress genes out of pigs, the conditions they endure in confinement meat operations are still deplorable. Nothing has changed, and what’s being done to them is still wrong. Pork producers are simply better able to do it without ruining the meat. The bottom line increases, and everyone involved wins but the pigs.

The revelation that happier workers are more productive workers should lead to an improvement in working conditions. It should lead to increasing pay. It should not lead to a corporate mindfulness mandate.

And that leads me to my second point: mindfulness meditation is not a happiness pill.

It has never been a happiness pill and was never intended to be one. This is a simplification of the practice to make it fit into the good/evil, black/white duality of a society based on judeo/christian tradition (more about the damage this duality does in a separate post, sometime in the future). It’s dedicated to awareness, and is not concerned with your happiness. And awareness has a dark side.

I mean, every aspect of human existence has a dark side, and ignoring that doesn’t eliminate it.

A friend shared this article with me regarding negative impacts of mindfulness meditation from The Guardian, and I found it really fascinating and utterly unsurprising. The word “mindfulness” is translated from a sanskrit word meaning memory. It is about awareness, and as a result some of the things that you will become aware of aren’t terribly pleasant.

This is a risk that comes with self-knowledge.

And this is what the resilience (resilience, not happiness) that mindfulness is said to bring is supposed to help with. Mindfulness is to help you be better at being human. It’s not supposed to make you happy, or productive, and it must not be used as a replacement for human decency or for global justice.

For further reading on corporate mindfulness, I found this article from Salon.com really informative.

 

I Finally Got a Kindle.

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I know, it seems crazy, right? That a person who writes in part for e-readers would not own one.

I have tried to take part in the ebook revolution, really I have, but without a dedicated reader I have found it nearly impossible. Reading on a cramped phone screen was almost painful, and much too distracting to do for any length of time. Reading at home on my laptop suffered the same distraction problem, except more so, as the laptop is where I do my work, my writing, and my schoolwork.

A few days ago, I finally broke down and ordered a Kindle Paperwhite. I wanted something that wouldn’t be constantly connected and offering the siren’s song of social media and the internet constantly. A kind of walled garden for reading. And, I thought, at $139.99, it would pay for itself in savings on books in no time!

I am delighted by it. It is just small enough that I can (barely) cradle it in one hand, yet large enough that it’s comfortable for someone raised on mass market paperbacks to read; the user interface is so easy to learn that you almost don’t even need the tutorial that appears on startup. The display, with its adjustable backlight, is suitable for any light level and doesn’t cause the kind of eyestrain that a computer screen or a phone can.

In short, I love it.

I can read in bed now, without needing to have a light on. I can read while cooking or eating without having to weigh a book open or (gasp!) break its spine to get it to lay flat.  I can read in the bathtub (the touch screen functions through a ziploc bag even, so I don’t have to worry about ruining it), and perhaps most importantly I can read on the bus to and from classes.

This is the real game-changer for me. As I’ve gotten busier I’ve noticed my recreational reading time dropping off precipitously, and as a writer, continuing to read is vital. You learn craft from reading books; sometimes you learn what to do, sometimes you learn what not to do, but it’s all learning, and it’s all necessary. So turning the thirty to forty minutes that I spend on the bus every weekday into productive time is the perfect way to get my reading back.

I can carry dozens of books with me wherever I go on this one slim little device. It fits in my purse, and it fits in my jacket pocket. I will be able to take it traveling with me, and when camping I will no longer need to waste headlamp batteries on reading before bed. Wouldn’t want those batteries to run out on a trip to the latrine, after all.

And speaking of batteries, the battery on this thing lasts literally for days. I don’t even have to think about charging it, which is a revelation for someone who frets constantly about her phone battery.

I started out my Kindle adventure by re-reading Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, and if the reading suffered at all for having been on a screen, I didn’t notice. I chewed through the novel in chunks of thirty or forty minutes at a time over the course of a few days; slow for me, but much more than I’d been reading pre-Kindle.

I still prefer paper books, don’t get me wrong. The feel of them, and the beauty of them (the flexibility demanded by the ebook format reduces your opportunities to create beautiful books) still charm me in a way that ebooks just can’t yet. But this experience has mostly cemented my vision of the reading future as one that includes both e-reading and paper books… but now, I can leave my paper books at home, and still read to my little heart’s content no matter where I am. The sheer convenience offered by ebooks isn’t something that paper books can match, and isn’t going to just go away.

I have always been astounded by claims that ebooks are declining (they aren’t) in popularity; owning a Kindle only makes such claims more obviously ridiculous than they seemed in the past.

And if you haven’t yet, my friends, join the ebook revolution. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

In Beta.

There’s a point that you reach in the process of writing a piece of fiction where you don’t know what to do anymore.  You don’t know what to add or to take away, or even if what you’re looking at specifically makes sense in the broader context of the piece.  It’s not a lack of ability or a lack of knowledge or understanding… it’s that you’ve spent months elbow deep in the thing, and all you can see is the gore, and you’ve lost the sense and structure of the thing.  I reached that point tonight.

It’s not that we don’t understand story structure, or can’t see instances of passive voice… it’s just that it is utterly impossible to read a piece as a reader would when you’ve just written it.  It just can’t be done.

It’s at that point, when you’ve become lost in that peculiar writer’s myopia, that you need to put the work away.  For a week or two.  Or a month.  Of course, this resting time could be considered idle time, and that’s not necessarily bad… when one is engaging in creative activity, even idle time contributes to the whole.  But why wouldn’t you use that week or two or four to have it read over by people who don’t suffer from that myopia?

Tonight, I handed my novel to a handful of intrepid readers who have agreed to read the damn thing for me.  The feeling of shuffling an almost-novel from my desktop to my pre-readers is not a feeling of happiness or even of satisfaction.  It is a feeling of deflation and relief.  This is the first time that I’ve given something to readers that I intended to publish at some point, and while it’s a relief to get the thing out of my hands for the time being, it’s also nerve-wracking.

These people, these kind volunteers, have the responsibility of telling me, honestly and truthfully, whether or not this thing has good bones, whether or not it’s worth pursuing.  I can’t tell… I read through it a couple of days ago and thought it might actually be good… and that was a moment that brought trumpeters down from heaven.  But I read it one and a half times today, and I’m suddenly feeling like it’s probably not so good.  Which feeling is right?  I can’t tell… can you?

In addition, they’re also responsible for telling me which of the curves need refining and which of the points need sharpening, a thing I might be capable of in the future, but which I’m not capable of right now, and I have to decide whether to take or leave each piece of feedback, without involving my pride. Do you see how complicated this gets?

But that feedback doesn’t even come right away!  It can take weeks for someone to make a reasonably attentive pass over a novel-length piece of writing, and I get to spend all of that time with this story and all of this anxiety peppering me in the back of the brain, like background radiation, even when I sleep.

And that’s not even getting to the worries of publishing, which I will need to do eventually if it turns out that the bones are good.  Publishing is still a subject that mystifies and terrifies me, but it’s one of those things that I’ll have to learn by doing.

It’s pretty amazing to think about how many people it really takes to write a book.  I guess that’s what dedications are for… because they can only fit one name on the cover.

In the meantime, now that I’m free of the damn thing for a while, it’s time to try to get caught up on my housework, and get my ducks in a row for Bhutan… which I can’t believe is happening in just six short weeks.

And you know, maybe write a short story.

If I find the time.

The Profound in the Profane.

In advance of my trip to Bhutan, I have finished reading The Divine Madman: The Sublime Life and Songs of Drupka Kunley.  It’s always wise to know at least a little bit about the culture of a country that you’re going to visit, I think, and it’s safe to say that Drupka Kunley has had his impact on Bhutanese culture.

In fact, in the Paro valley it is not uncommon to see phallus motifs painted on the whitewashed houses.  Wooden penises are erected in crop fields as scarecrows, and carved wooden penises are hung in new homes as a part of a housewarming ceremony.  And all of this ritualized significance of the penis in Bhutan can be traced back to Drukpa Kunley.

Kunley was a Buddhist saint from Tibet who traveled extensively in Bhutan.  He is called the Divine Madman, and the Saint of 5000 Women.  He traveled as a beggar, he consumed large quantities of alcohol wherever he went, and is said to have deflowered Bhutan’s virgins.  He is perhaps the greatest instance of the trickster archetype that I’ve encountered in Buddhism, though I really wish we had a different word to describe this role; I find that in modern western culture, the trickster has been whitened and sanitized into a sort of a jolly figure… the harmless prankster. Coyote with his flute and whatnot.  Drukpa Kunley was indeed jolly at times, but the trickster is also a dark figure in religion, literature, and even film, and I think that the whitewashing does the role a tremendous disservice.  The trickster’s darkness, its anger and hate and sin, all serve a purpose, and to eliminate those qualities robs the archetype of all of its meaning and humanity.  Sadly, this is a thing that happens all too often in modern western culture; the sanitation of humanity.

I have to say, I loved this book.  And when I say that I loved this book, I don’t mean that I thought this book was pretty cool, I mean that it provided an anchor to a part of me that has been lost in doubt and sadness and fear for a period of a couple of months and brought it back to the surface.  It was a part of me that makes me very happy, and I hadn’t even noticed how far away from it I had strayed until I felt things coming back into focus.  Not because I’m religious, or because this was a religious text, but because the book speaks of a man who sees things just similarly enough to how I do to remind me of what’s important in life.

Kunley was often drunk, lustful, and angry… not traits one might expect to be cherished in a Buddhist saint.  But the Madman used these things to reveal the greedy and prideful nature of the townsfolk and especially of the primary structure of power; Buddhism itself.

In Lhasa, he sought to test the local lama, and went to the temple. Once there, he found the local monks engaged in metaphysical discussion, and presented them with his own flatulence, asking “what came first, the air or the smell?”  The monks became furious.  This was Kunley’s lesson in humility; the idea that their lofty discussion has as much validity as his own farts.

He asked to gain an audience with the lama and was told that he would need to provide an offering in order to do so.  In response, Kunley said, “If it’s absolutely necessary, I have this fine pair of testicles given to me by my parents, will they do?”

The use of humor in teaching these lessons is essential; through humor, one can transgress against accepted societal norms, but the status of Kunley as a beggar and a stranger made that transgression non-threatening to the social order, as it came from a man with no standing or social power, so that it could be laughed at.  Laughter triggers a release of dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter strongly associated with the reward system in the brain.  This system has developed over time to encourage behaviors that make survival more likely; laughter itself is theorized to be a reaction to a relief from fear; a bush rattles, and one discovers that it was the wind rather than a predator.  The tension is broken, one feels relief, and the laughter signals that it is safe.  This is true through all stages of life.  In infancy, a child laughs at a game of peek-a-boo, because they have not fully developed a sense of object permanence and when the parent or playmate disappears, there is a moment of fear and discomfort.  When the playmate reappears, there is relief, and then laughter.  This reward system, which is the same system that drives us to eat and to have sex, is one of the most powerful behavioral motivators that we have, sometimes culminating in addiction.

Kunley was a womanizer, said to have five thousand consorts.  Kunley’s ready engagement with lust despite being a Bhuddist saint is a thing that he claims as his own due to his own attainment of Buddhahood.  On his way from Tibet to Bhutan, he seduced a man’s wife with this song:

“It would seem by the size of your buttocks

That your nature is exceedingly lustful

It would seem from your thin, pert mouth

That your muscle is tight and strong

It would seem from your legs and muscular thighs

That your pelvic thrust is particularly efficient

Let’s see how you perform!”

In these acts, we see an acceptance of carnality as a facet of humanity, as well as the breaking down of societal norms.  The goal of Buddhist practice is a kind of transcendence beyond earthly wants and pleasures, beyond emotions such as pain, anger and sadness.  I don’t see these as worthwhile goals for humanity; they are unattainable, and the establishment of unattainable goals by people in power is a means of control.  During even this period in history, the lama/peasant relationship and Tibetan Buddhism itself were just such establishments.

Though the book contains a great deal of misogynist overtones, one must accept in the reading that Kunley was a product of a time in which women were essentially property, to be taken at will by whoever had the right to them at the time.  I think that it’s important to not throw out the baby with the bathwater; I think that these stories are applicable to the modern day.  With their refusal to accept the corrupt nature of established authority, their determination to see the world as it is and not as we wish it to be, and their acceptance of human nature in its entirety, including it’s gross, carnal, and sinful aspects, I see friends whose genius and insight I envy.  I see a divinity accessible to all, and not just to those willing to engage in denial of self and of the world.  I see a world of beauty, brilliance, and determined compassion.

I see a world as viewed through my own eyes, and it feels like homecoming.

 

 

Failing Up.

I’m going to let you in on one of the things I really love about writing.

It’s almost impossible to fail at it.

When you write, especially with modern tools, you’re just a backspace press (of varying lengths, of course) from being back on the right track.  It can hurt sometimes to set yourself back like that, but everything can be fixed.  It’s very very rare that something that I’ve started has gotten to the point at which it just had to be scrapped entirely, and in those cases, the failure happened very early in the process, during conception.

Not all activities are like this.  Drawing and painting aren’t like this… once you lay down the wrong line in ink, it’s there for good.  Oh, sure… they sell correcting fluids and opaque white inks, and there are methods by which you can simply cut out the offending piece of paper and replace it.  These techniques only minimize the original mistake… the opaque ink isn’t entirely opaque, or you can see the cut lines in the paper, or the correction fluid is a very slightly different shade of white than the paper you’re using.  In painting, some media are more forgiving than others… watercolor scares the hell out of me.  Once that pigment is dry, you cannot pick it up, and attempts to cover it will always show a shadow of the original stroke.  With acrylic, you can generally paint over any mistakes pretty quickly, but if you’re a textural painter, the original brush strokes will never go away unless you sand them down.

Painting over a mistake is less practical with oil paints, since they can take months to dry fully, but that intractable wetness allows you the opportunity to simply scrape your mistake up with a palette knife, or to just repaint it.  Some of these mistakes, resolved through simply lightening or darkening the offending paint, or adding a different pigment, have given me some of the richest colors I’ve ever seen… paints featuring one pigment provide a bright but shallow color… a kind of monochromatic look that you don’t see in nature.  Color in nature, as with sounds and smells, is a thing of incredible variation, depending on the intensity and directionality of the light and in fact the composition of the surface itself, the roughness or smoothness of the surface, and depending on the sensitivity of the viewer’s eye.  This is why I love painting with oil paints… sometimes you just don’t know if a color is right until its on the canvas, and it may need to be adjusted.  Oil paints are so forgiving of this, and it lets you get the color, the shadow, and even the shape (yes, I have scraped entire lines and edges off of canvases) just right.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that oil painting thrives in the presence of human error.  Not error… let’s call it “human variability.”

We live in a world that demands compliance and consistency and homogeneity.  We perform jobs that expect the same performance again and again and again, regardless of whether you’re performing surgery or stuffing envelopes.  The unfortunate thing about this is that human beings are intensely variable little creatures.  It takes a lot of effort enforcing structure on us to get us to operate in this way, and that enforcement of structure, that training, starts in school.  This is why I tell my friends’ children that if they learn nothing else from finishing school, they’ll learn to work.

The effort that goes into writing, like oil painting, is much more forgiving of that human variability… in fact, as a writer, it pays to avoid doing your work the exact same way every time.  Our work benefits from innovation in ways that most work really doesn’t.  And thus, error in writing, even if it is deleted in the end (and believe me, a whole lot of it is) contributes to the finished product in ways that are incalculable.  In fact in most cases, the author probably doesn’t know what changes or decisions might be related in some way to a mistake made earlier in that piece, or even in a prior piece.  And I’m not just talking about learning from one’s mistakes, although that’s part of it, but a word that you consistently misspelled previously may influence word choice later on, or a word mistyped might alter the structure of an entire sentence.

This kind of variability, this brand of failure, can be practiced in everyday life, but it either has to be done on the back end, or has to be a part of a process that precipitates a policy change.  This is what makes working life so strange… employers will say that they value creativity, but they don’t… they want the benefit of creative employees, but reject the increase in variability that comes from divergent thinking.  Creativity inherently involves risk.  There is no way to get around that risk.  The ability to take risks and roll with the punches when the results come in is the very heart and soul of creative work.

And when you take a risk and fail in a creative setting, you have to start again from where the mistake was made.

This is costly for large companies or even government offices.  The efficiency that they treasure is a big part of meeting revenue goals.  If one person is less efficient, that’s not a huge effect, but if fifty thousand people are less efficient, that ends up being a much bigger deal.  So in our work, as people, we are not encouraged to engage in divergent thinking.

But when you’re writing, I would encourage everyone to embrace your mistakes and your failures.  They are going to make you a better writer.  It’s not a big deal to take a little longer than expected to pick up a new skill… in fact, I think that it may allow someone to gain a more complete understanding of the process.  In most cases, the risks are going to be low… nobody’s going to die, you’re not going to destabilize eastern europe, and you’re not going to cause a global recession.

In most cases, the cost is going to be just a little more time spent on whatever you’re working on, and your own pride.  This process is definitely worth the time, and we could all do with a little less pride.

And I think this carries over to other aspects of our lives as well.

We Are, In Fact, Our Egos.

Last summer, I think it was, a bunch of paper fliers showed up around town.  They were on white letter-size printer paper, and they had a message hand-written on them in what appeared to be highlighter:

“You Are Not Your Ego.”

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This is a regrettably common sentiment among the creative types; the idea that the Id is somehow the true self and that the Ego is harmful or not a real part of you because it restrains the Id out of a sense of fear.

Okay, before I go on, I want everyone to know that I have no background in psychology, and in fact am a community college drop out.  It’s important to understand that I do not at all know what I’m talking about here.

Got it?

Okay, so I think that people who dispense this claptrap do it with the best of intentions, I really do.  But I feel like either a) the people who do so don’t understand Freud’s Structural Model and are using the words incorrectly; b) that it’s a side effect of an aspirational approach toward human thought and behavior that is not just wrong, but also damaging; or c) both of the above.

So let’s talk terms.

The Id, as Freud described it, is a mass of instinctual desires.  It is the only part of the structural model that we are born with.  It drives libido, aggression, hunger, all of those things that are more or less common to all animals.  It will not tolerate delayed gratification, it wants what it wants immediately and there is no reasoning with it.  Infants have no moderating influence; they are just Id… so if they are hungry and are not fed, they cry.  They cannot tolerate the conflict between the desire and the availability of the object of that desire.  I’m sure that you can see, particularly in adults, how the Id can be capable of a lot of darkness and danger.  This is why it terrifies me when people assert that the Id is the true self.

The Ego moderates the desires of the Id with reality, and seeks to satisfy those desires in the least harmful way possible. For instance, the Ego is responsible for enabling us to not just take what we want, but to purchase it instead.  The Ego restrains the Id, and as it does so, it fulfills basic and genuine needs.  Functions such as cognition, judgement, intellect and memory reside in the Ego.  The Ego is the root of conscious awareness, and of a sense of self.

For the sake of completion, the Super Ego is the portion of the psyche that internalizes societal rules and expectations. It is where morality and feelings of guilt come from.  It restrains the Id, galvanizing the psyche toward morally and socially appropriate actions.  The Ego mediates between the Id and the Super Ego.

It’s worth noting at this point that as I understand it, Freud’s structural model is no longer in use in practical psychology, or if it is, it’s generally not used in the way that it was originally conceived.  Freud had some odd ideas about human psychology that are too firmly based in gender and sexuality to be of much use in modern psychology.  Still, if you’re going to use words, you should probably know what they mean.

The fact of the matter is, we are very much our Ego.  As seen from my brief and inexpert description above, the Ego acts in a conciliatory and defensive way, and some of the strategies that it employs may be deceptive in nature, but that doesn’t mean that the Ego somehow doesn’t exist, or can be excised from the psyche.  The strategies that it employs are employed in the pursuit of fulfilling very real and valid psychological needs.  Moreover, the ego is what makes us people, rather than a collection of desires and social directives.

This idea that we are not our ego is well-intentioned, but incorrect and in the end probably damaging.  It’s a sort of a hippy-dippy notion that says that you can have whatever you want and can be whatever you want to be if you live without fear.  This on the surface is a benign statement that some may find inspirational, but it’s yet another aspect of the sort of aspirational thinking that seems to come in cycles in western culture.

The most extreme example of this that I’ve encountered is The Secret: a book and a film that propose that one can have whatever one wants through the miracle of positive thinking.  This of course leaves people dying of cancer bearing up under the burden of not having thought positively enough to cure their cancer, or the homeless person not having thought positively enough to bring himself a modicum of prosperity.

I feel like I’ve been writing about this a lot lately.  What I’m saying is this: while it might seem harmless to espouse this living without fear as an ideal, the reality is that these fears, these dangers, and these risks all exist, and are valid.  To insist that the ideal way to be is to exist outside of them is to insist that the ideal existence is outside of humanity, and this sort of thinking is why I left religion.  This view of life as a struggle toward unattainable goals sets all of us up for failure.

The doctrine of the positive thinking movement does not set us up with the tools that we need to deal with the darkness and the horror that exist in the world… instead, it seeks to distract us with work that will never be finished, like Sisyphus and his stone, and we never give ourselves the opportunity to feel and work through those feelings, and this activity, this experience and internalization and rationalization of horror is a big part of what being a person is.

People are not perfect; they were never intended to be and not one of us every will be. We are all just people; and we are all a little monstrous.  We are all terribly terribly flawed, and we are just thrashing in the mud and struggling to find or make a place in the world for ourselves.   And to expect ourselves or anyone else to be anything more than that is not just wrong… it’s cruel.

We are all our egos.