Life's Obsessive Balancing Act
Posted by Frith on 1/18/2009, 12:56 am, in reply to "The Right Life: Basic Lessons"
Want a couple of ideas for New Years Resolutions? How about: I resolve to get a clue!. Or, I resolve to admit that I'm a gluttonous, obsessive pig---and so are you! |
When our economy, almost overnight, went into a tailspin last fall, everyone immediately began pointing fingers at everyone else. It was the fault of the liberals for striving to put a chicken in every pot by stealing from the rich folks' henhouse. It was the fault of the conservatives for trying to stack the deck in favor of fatcats on Wall Street in hopes that a few crumbs might trickle down to the working stiffs on Main Street. It was the fault of the libertarians for not giving a damn.
The real culprit in all of this has thus far gotten a free pass: You!
If you have a patriotic car loan, an All-American mortgage, a red-blooded credit card balance, or a flag-waving student loan, you are doing exactly what the federal government, the states, big business, little business, and all your friends and neighbors are doing---living the American Dream on someone else's tab. It was no less than inevitable that, at some point in time along the way, the waiter would arrive to present someone with the check. Well, that point in time happened last September, and we have been passing it around the table like a hot potato ever since. Where she'll land (and who will actually have to pay actual money), noboby knows.
The smoke and mirrors of borrowing and never paying, however, is only the ugly scum on the surface. The real problem---the underlying reason why our unfettered version of free-market enterprise has run amok---is greedy, obsessive gluttony, not merely on the part of the bigwigs and fatcats, but on the part of you, me and Joe the Plumber. A little gluttony, of course, can buy a little happiness. But obsession without counter-obsession, without balance, spells doom, not just in society, but in our personal lives. Every weight must have a counter-weight. That's not to say that there is not a certain charm in asymmetry. But there is also a fine line between asymmetrical beauty and chaos. And chaos eventually spells unhappiness.
On one level, "obsession" could be defined as "worshipping something". Have you ever thought about who or what you worship? Chances are, whatever it is that you are obsessing over every day is not God. Look at it this way: If an evil tyrant allowed you to keep one or the other, either your faith or your lifestyle, which would you choose? Be honest, now. Most people would choose the latter, rationalizing that "all religions are actually the same" and that "I can adjust to a different religion if I have to", or some such. But heaven forbid they should have to adjust to a more spartan, third-world lifestyle.
It is interesting that, when asked what things they could never do without, nearly everyone under sixty immediately starts with some sort of electronic device, not uncommonly their cellphone. The Internet and one or more of its social, communication and audio-visual progeny is usually next on the list. What makes this so interesting is the fact that so many billions of us got by just fine without any of those things up until the last decade or so. How is it that they are now necessities of life, that we would literally "die" if we didn't have them?
Of course, few of us (teenagers notwithstanding) really and truly believe the dying part. Not quite anyway. When pressed, even the most millennial will generally backpedal and confess that trendy gadgets are not the literal necessities of life; they simply make life more convenient, comfortable and fun. So why are we so obsessed with them? Has life become such a bowl of cherries that we no longer have to worry about the real necessities---food, water, and shelter or, more generally, health and wealth---and are free to spend all of our time obsessing over filling our lives with convenience, comfort, and fun? Maybe so. But what happens if life on easy street should suddenly dry up and blow away, as it very nearly did last Fall? Could we retool and reprioritize, like our grandparents did during their big crash?
Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with convenience, comfort and fun. They have been the prime motivators for as long as there has been the human experience---at least since our forebears first leaped down from the trees in a storm, ran for cover in a cave, lit a fire, and made whoopie. What is inherently troublesome is the obsessing.
An even better way to define obsession would be "imbalance". Systems always work better when one part counter-balances the next. Yin needs it's yang to be happy. We, like our animal kinfolk, get along much better on an even number of legs than we would on, say, one or three. Or with two eyes instead of one. Night needs day. Male needs female. Prologue needs epilogue. One four beat measure begs for another. A round wheel rolls much better than a flat one. Balance is somehow connected to the most basic laws of nature.
Our lives need balance, too. Were we not so clever and innovative, nature would take care of it for us, as she does with ants, elephants and asparagus. But, no, we think too much. We have this uncanny ability to one-up nature, to look for a better way. And that upsets the apple cart, throws things off balance, and leads to...you got it...obsession. Our lives, it seems, are constantly out of round. And, when you combine your lopsided life with mine and a million others, all crammed into the same big lopsided society, it is hardly surprising that all those oblong wheels would make for a bumpy jaunt.
Balance, for us obsessively innovative human types, is possible. The Dalai Lama and a lot of religious groups seem to be able to accomplish balance, and thus beauty and serenity, in their lives. But they obviously have to work very hard at it. But if it works for them, why not for you and I? If we labored at it even a tenth as hard as they do, maybe we could find that same sort of beauty, balance and serenity. Let's consider the strategy.
The first step, it would seem, would be to identify your nasty obsessions. That should be simple enough. The next step in balancing your life would be to get to work proactively to eliminate obsession from it---or, more accurately, to work proactively to seek out and install counter-obsessions that are good for you, for others and for the universe at large.
Begin right now looking for nice, clean, wholesome things to replace the more ugly obsessive things you've been inadvertently worshipping in your life. One by one, work them into your daily or weekly routine. If it occurs to you that you have just spent an hour yelling at someone on the phone, try deliberately stashing it in your glovebox or the dresser drawer for the next hour while you take a silent walk in the park. If you spent yesterday at the beach partying with friends, try deliberately spending today alone in quiet contemplation. When you realize that you have just spent the past week dealing with grumbling customers or difficult clients, vow to deliberately spend the weekend surrounded by the laughing faces of children.
Look for just the right amount of yin to offset your yang, exactly enough light of day to brighten the dark of night. Stop obsessing over the convenient, comfortable, fun life and teach yourself to counter-obsess with a dose of the right life. And then take what you've learned and teach those tricks to others around you.
If you can help make the wheels of their lives as round as you've made yours, think how much better your little chunk of the world will roll along!
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