Consume This!

stuffWe live in a messed up world.  No, let me rephrase that, we live in a messed up society.  No, let me be even more specific.  We are messed up because we live in a consumer society which throws the natural balance so out of true that we actually think that this is the way things are supposed to be.

Do you know what a consumer society is?  It is a society that has been designed to (drumroll please) CONSUME.  Everything about the way that society works is tied to the purchasing of more stuff.

That’s right, our entire society is based on the concept of consumption.

Now don’t get me wrong, consumption is a necessary part of life.  I mean, everyone has to eat, so food needs to be grown or purchased.  Everyone needs shelter so houses are built and bought or apartments are rented out.  We have to keep warm.  We have to keep the lights on.  We have to keep the water running.  We have to keep ourselves clothed.  But these are necessities.

What I am talking about when I say a consumer society is a society where the purchase of unnecessary surplus stuff is the end game.  It is why buy a car we can’t afford to drive to a job we hate to be able to afford to buy stuff we don’t need in order to impress people who couldn’t care less about us.

We are bombarded daily with advertisements and marketing ploys that try to coerce us into buying yet more stuff.  We are encouraged to emulate the lifestyles of the rich and famous and are subtly (and not so subtly) exposed to the notion that the latest fashion, the newest upgrade, the coolest gadgets or the largest big screen TV will  somehow, magically, bring us happiness.

Thanks to our continual cultural immersion in the concept of “buying” happiness most people’s first instinct when they are feeling down is to go out and buy something.  For those who find themselves consistently unsatisfied in their work or in their relationships, this can translate into a serious problem with binge shopping taking the place of getting right down to the heart of the underlying issues.

I was once just as hooked into the idea of buying happiness as anyone else.  I was stuck in a loveless marriage and working a dead end job.  Shopping gave me a temporary boost that always drained away as soon as I got home and unpacked my bags.  And then, 18 months ago, I was given a gift; a chance to start over again; a chance to re-create my life from the ground up.

I found myself with a single car load of clothes books and personal items 600 miles from where I had lived for the previous 12 years, signing a lease for a totally unfurnished apartment.  My first night spent on an air mattress and eating standing up at the counter made me feel a bit like a college student in her first apartment.  But as I looked around at the gorgeously bare rooms I knew that, at the age of 46, I was being handed a once in a lifetime opportunity; the opportunity to create for myself exactly the kind of life that I had always wanted.

The first order of business, of course, was to furnish my apartment.  I needed everything, from  furniture and linens to kitchen items, lamps, rugs and everything in between.  And it was then that I made my first rule I wasn’t going to have anything in my apartment that I didn’t absolutely love.  In fact, I was in the middle of making a list of things I needed for my apartment when it dawned on me that I needed to be using this same rule of thumb for everything in my life whether it was things or people.

I began weighing everything – and everyone in my lift by one those two simple guidelines; did I absolutely love them?  And, did they make me smile?

You’d be surprised, or maybe not, to see just what a difference these guidelines made in my life. Instead  of just letting everyone in; instead of spreading myself too thin doing things for people who were only concerned with how much I could do for them, I had surrounded myself with those who truly cared, not just for what I could do for them, but for who I was, as a person.

When it came to things I also found that when you are dealing with things you absolutely love you find that there is a natural limit in the amount of things you can have in your life before you reach your saturation point.  And so, because I didn’t need more than I had, instead of just buying to make myself feel better, I had to find a new way of dealing with unhappiness in my life.  And you know what I found?  I found that experiences trump things every time.

Doing thing with, going on adventures with the people who mattered most made for a far more satisfying life than just accumulating more things because the “getting” of them felt so good.  Taking long walks, having long talks, playing games, making memories, that was what life was all about.

Who knows, maybe in some small way I am, by choosing not to engage in unfettered consumption, contributing to the downfall of our economy, perhaps even our society.  But I’ll take that risk.  The satisfaction I get from accumulating experiences and smiles and laughter and love far outweigh the temporary satisfaction to be had from stuffing myself and my home with non-necessities.

 

Isn’t it Just Ducky

duck“If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

This, my friends, is called “the duck test” and it is one of the biggest pieces of crap advice in existence.

The duck test implies that anyone – you, me, that guy on the bench over there, that any of us can identify a heretofore unknown subject by observing that subject’s habitual characteristics; that by perceiving its form we can make an educated guess as to what it is; what it is for or (and this is the part that really ticks me off) its motives and thought process.

Now mind you, I won’t argue that a quacking, paddling, feather wrapped avian with a bill and webbed feet is probably a member of the Anatidae family, but I have just enough common sense to realize that it might be something else entirely, perhaps a species of bird I have never seen before, or even something totally non-duck, like a decoy, an animatronic creation or even a holographic image.  And I am certainly not going to assume that just because it registers with my brain as a “duck” that I know the first thing about WHY it is doing what it is doing, or what it plans on doing next.

It all comes down to the fact that when it comes to perception and understanding, most of us are lazy.  We would rather glance at the object, register it as a duck, then quickly tuck it into the pigeon hole in our brain labeled “ducks and duck-like behavior” and simply forget about it.  Not important.  We are now free to move along to more important things.  Like what we’re going to have for supper and the most recent celebrity drama.

While the duck test may be useful when it comes to sorting through not so important things, thus freeing up the brain for more important matters, it is far too often used by those of little understanding to explain why it is that an individual has chosen a particular course of action.

Instead of stopping to consider all of the possible reasons and giving the individual the benefit of the doubt, the duck test allows the one sitting in judgement of the person’s actions to make broad, sweeping assumptions based on that person’s past behavior or even assumptions of their past behaviors.  They use these assumptions to give their world definition; to make certain that everything inside of it is neat and tidy and precisely categorized.  The end result being that the person whose actions are being judged gets labeled a duck when really they are a wolf, or a dolphin, or even a lion.

Of course when the individual passing judgement is presented with the truth of the person or thing their preconceived ideas tend to get in the way and prevent them from seeing it (or them) as anything other than what they have convinced themselves it is.

Far far better to take the time initially to see a thing – an idea – a belief or even a person for exactly who and what they really are than to be rudely awakened latter on.  It will of course when you’ve convinced yourself that the lion penned up in your barnyard is really a duck it comes as a great shock when it suddenly shakes out its mane, lets out a roar and eats your ducks for lunch.

 

UPSIDE IN

There are days
And times.
There are words
And signs.
There are tears
And smiles
To make it worth
Your while.

There are hopes
And dreams
And nothing’s as
It seems.
What you lost
Is found
In perfect silence
Sound.

In the darkness
Light
In your blindness
Sight
In your joy
Is pain
In every loss
there’s gain.

In freedom you
Are bound
Subtracting you
Compound
What you don’t release
Won’t stay
And from the night
Comes day

So when you read this
Know
That what you reap
you sow
In chaos is
The plan
And in the child
Man
~ sshenry

The Curse of the Zombies

American-Gothic-zombies[1]Have you seen them?  Have you seen the soulless ones that go about their daily routines with focused footsteps and empty eyes?  For all that they walk and talk and eat and sleep and take their young to little league games, they are, for all intents and purposes, nothing more than functional zombies.  Reverse zombies actually, for instead of feasting on brains they crave the type of activities and entertainment that drain the brain from any sort of normal functionability.

Have you seen their single-minded determination to glorify war and the ease with which they dismiss violence, whether it is the killing people or animals, as just a natural part of life?  They are of course, egged on by the governments that maintain their economies by dreaming up more wars and then sending off young men and women to die in the name of capitalistic patriotism.

Have you listened to the mindless blithering of their news pundits?  Oh they make it sound important; they gloss their words with self-importance and urgency.  But when you sit down and take the time to decipher what it is they’re saying you discover that they really aren’t saying anything at all.

Have you felt the fear that they generate whenever they encounter anything that isn’t part of their normal world view?

Have you felt the anger that radiates off of them whenever someone or something doesn’t act the way that they have been taught that they should?

Now, have you ever wondered how it is that they got this way?

I can tell you what happened.

You see, once upon a time these were normal, everyday, ordinary people who loved and laughed and lived.  But one day they stopped listening to their hearts.  They got so wrapped up in building their villages and towns; in creating their societies where everyone had a place and a purpose, that they forgot what it was to truly be alive.

They got so focused on planning  how to make this world  that they had created run better and more efficiently, that they stopped enjoying the moment they were living in.  They became so obsessed with making sure that everyone and everything followed the regulations that they had enacted that they stopped thinking for themselves, becoming instead a mindless horde of zombies; zombies intent on creating the entire world into their image.

And so it is that the the soulless ones grew in numbers until it was simply an accepted part of life that you lived out your days according to the expectations of those who had raised you and the society in which you lived.  And it didn’t matter if you were dead inside, as long as you learned what you were expected to learn and worked at what you were told.

And every now and again you will find that one of the zombies stops shuffling to and fro as directed.  Instead they stop quite still and look around them with the kind of shock and awe you would expect if you found yourself waking up from a Matrix-like dream.

Of course most of those who find themselves being shocked by the true nature of their lives easily succumb to going back to the way things were.  A little fear; the mention that jobs are about to be cut; it doesn’t take much.  The fear of losing what they have is greater than the desire to break free.

And then there are those who, when the attempt is made to heard them back into the fold; back into compliance, simply throw back their heads and laugh.  They wouldn’t go back for the world.  The curse of the zombies is broken.  They have finally re-discovered their souls, and it is time to truly live free.

HALFWAY TO DEAD

“Most peoveilple die at 25 and aren’t buried until 75.”  -Benjamin Franklin

It was the damndest thing.  I was at the mall, eeling my way through a school of teenagers when I heard a snatch of conversation between two boys that stopped me dead in the water:

“Dude, she’s like 40 years old!  That’s like halfway to dead!”

Mind you, they were talking about a pop singer, but for some reason his words resonated in my brain like John Donne’s proverbial bell.

To be perfectly honest, at first I couldn’t believe what I’d heard and my initial reaction was simply to brush aside the comment.  After all, what did it matter that a fifteen year old punk thought that a singer over forty wasn’t worth listening to because she was “halfway to dead?”

But the more I thought about it, the more I began to realize that this one random piece of overheard conservation is indicative of everything that is wrong with our culture; of the prevailing attitude regarding anyone or anything that doesn’t provide instant satisfaction and gratification; of the tendency to view anyone over the age of forty (or anything that hasn’t been written, produced, published, aired, designed or conceptualized in the last 24 months) to be irrelevant; of the “me first!” mentality that has turned our society into a self-centered, ego-centric parody of itself.

We live in a take-out world of fast food, quick fixes, one minute makeovers; a world where if you either learn to adapt to the rapidly changing social structure or you get left in the dust; a world where old age is seen as a curse, education is seen as a joke and the answer to all of life’s problems lies in drinking from the fountain of youth and being able to fit into our skinny jeans even after we’ve had two children. And it is this youth-obsessed, egocentric culture that has generated the idea of the mid-life crises as joke; as a desperate bid by those past their prime to hold on to the glory of youth and try one last time to make their mark on the world.

Everyone has seen the characterization of the aging middle-aged man combing his hair over his bald spot, buying a sports car, and trading in his wife for a younger, perkier model.  For women this same time frame is portrayed as the 40-something year old woman or “cougar” getting plastic surgery and headed out on the prowl for a younger, virile man, because don’t you know, it’s all about the sex and, in a youth-obsessed culture – it is understandable (if laughable) that older men and women would be so scared of getting old that they would do whatever it takes to make themselves desirable once again.

The Mid-Life Re-Evaluation

You see, what it really comes down to is the mis-use of the term “crisis” for what happens to so many people at the mid-point of their lives is not so much about fearing death – about trying to regain their youth or proving their virility by taking on younger lovers as it is about the realization that they are at the half-point of their lives and have not yet begun to live.

Most people in western society settle down in their mid-twenties.  They acquire a full-time job, a spouse, and, over the years, children, a mortgage, credit card bills, social standing in the community and even positions of responsibility and respect in their churches.  But while for all intents and purposes they appear to have a “good life” too many are just going through the motions.  Far too many people are dying inside.

For their whole lives they have been living for the weekends, for vacations, intent on getting the next promotion, the bigger house, getting the kids out of school and into the right colleges, for retirement, convinced that eventually they will reach a plateau of happiness where they can finally draw a deep breath and where their lives will finally have meaning, where they can finally relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

The only problem is, it never arrives.  There is always another bill, another event, another concern, another upcoming event; a web of responsibilities and obligations that keep them tethered to the soul-less job and the loveless marriage.  And so, many people “break out” of the mold in an act of almost teenage rebellion.  Having been immersed in a consumer society where the acquisition of things is equated with elevated happiness, most of those who hit this crises point do something stereotypical, like quitting their job, taking a younger lover, buying a flashy car thinking that these things will somehow give their lives meaning.

energy2And then there are those who instinctively understand that there is more going on than meets the eye; that this isn’t about things.  This isn’t even about reclaiming their youth.  This is about stripping away all of the layers of veneer and varnish that society insists that they wear in order to be considered acceptable.  This is learning how to reconnect with the authentic self.  This is about moving past what religions and governments and even friends or family expect from them.  This is about remembering who and what they really are while there is still enough time to experience life; while there is still enough time to appreciate the wonder and mystery that surround them.  This is nature’s wake up call.  This isn’t about being “halfway to dead.”  This is a clarion call to those who hear it and who have the wisdom to understand that it is time to stop going through the motions and truly start to live.

Tectonically Divergent

divergentSuddenly thrown together; violently torn apart; slow and steady buildup of grown and strength or a steady movement away from each other; a study of planetary plate tectonics is like viewing the development and decline of personal relationships only on a global scale.

Most people are introduced to the concept of tectonic plates in grade school. I can remember learning about how the plates moved and how two plates meeting head on caused folds in the land that we know as mountain ranges and how the sudden shifting apart of two plates could cause rifts and canyons in the earth’s crust; how two plates moving in opposite directions can cause earthquakes or trigger volcanos.

It was a fascinating subject, and I remember spending hours on my own reading about how the plates interacted with each other; about which continents rode on which plates and in which direction they were (slowly) moving, and about the currents of the magma underneath the plates that is thought to contribute to the continental shifts. Of course I got sidetracked by geysers and earthquakes and volcanoes and Yellowstone National Park basically being one giant Caldara. But it was the discovery that plate motions vary from 10-40 mm per year (or about as fast as fingernails grow) at the Atlantic Ridge to 160 mm per year (about as fast as hair grows) at the Nazca Plate that really got me thinking about the similarities between planetary tectonics and the human subconscious and its influence on the development and decline of personal relationships.

While each human person on this planet belongs to one species (just as the tectonic plates travel over and around the one core of the planet) each individual (plate) stands alone and moves in its own direction, intent on its own growth and development.

But, just like the tectonic plates, individuals come in contact with and interact with each other on a regular basis. Some merely pass by each other smoothly and with absolutely no friction or move together in the same direction, taking comfort from knowing that they are not alone, while others meet each other head on, neither one giving an inch and causing the upheaval of everything and everyone around them. Some people come together and meld in spite of the fact that they are moving in opposite directions, and when they finally move far enough apart everything around them comes tumbling down or an eruption occurs that burns down everything they had worked to build together. And some people – some people travel together for a long time, but unbeknownst to either, they are moving in opposite directions and it isn’t until the rift or ridge between them is too big to be spanned or climbed do they have to acknowledge that their time together is over.

I suppose that I am lucky.   Unlike so many marriages that mimic a Convergent plate boundary (meeting head on and causing huge upheavals) or a Transform plate boundary (the kind that result in frictional shift with resultant earthquakes and destruction of everything the couple has built) my marriage is ending as a Divergent plate boundary – the kind where two plates keep drifting away from each other forming a rift or ridge between them.

After 25 years my husband and I have finally acknowledged that the rift between us is too deep and too wide to be spanned. For years we simply ignored it, felling trees to serve as foot bridges, building rope bridges when the trees were no longer large enough, constructing steel and cable monstrosities when the ropes finally unraveled and at long last sending mule trains across when even the longest bridge could no longer hold up.

Mind you it wasn’t easy for either of us to acknowledge that it was over. There have been lots of tears (on my side) and plenty of defensiveness as both of us try to justify how we got here and who is to blame for the huge canyon between us that we finally had to acknowledge as existing when even the mules bogged down in the mire, dug in their heels, and refused to move another inch.

They say that hindsight is 20/20. And now that we are here; now that it is over; it is clear that had we acknowledged the rift when it first occurred; the first cracks in seemingly stable land, we could have halted the divergence in its tracks, for there is one major difference between plate tectonics and human relationships, and that is choice.

While the plates move together and tear apart in seemingly random dances of creation and destruction, humans can choose to move together; to mend the rifts; to quench the volcanos; to anchor themselves to something far deeper and stronger than themselves; to anchor themselves to their choice to be united and to stand together and to grow and change in tandem; a choice that prevents the random and chaotic upheavals that unanchored relationships encounter.

We did not.

Perhaps we were anchored once. But slowly, day by day, year by year, the resolve to stand together dissolved and we were left to drift apart on separate unseen currents tethered to each other only by our love and concern for our two beautiful daughters and our desire to make sure that they grew up with the love and attention of both parents on a 24/7 basis; a tether that, with our youngest turning 18 and graduating from high school has finally snapped, leaving us each standing on opposite sides of a grand canyon of disbelief and holding the frayed end of what was once a strong and beautiful relationship.

The good thing about a divergent breakup is that there has been only a minimum of drama; no histrionics or flung accusations or eruptions of long vented anger and frustration, only the relatively calm acceptance of where we are now and of what comes next and the mutual agreement that our daughters will continue to be our priority and that even though we will no longer be living together, we agree to be there for them when they need us; putting aside our own differences in order to support them in whatever they decide to do and in any kind of life events that come their way.

So here we are, saying goodbye to a marriage that lasted a quarter of a century but somehow emerging with a level of mutual regard, of shared responsibility and goodwill for each other intact; something that defies the conventional concept of breakups and leaves us staring at each other with a sheepish smile and a half-hearted shrug. It may not be how things usually end, but this is where we are. Each of us staring into the canyon between us, seeing the layers of strata that have been revealed by the pulling apart of these two plates; the shared experiences and colorful memories and moments of a shared life and down; far down at the bottom of the canyon we can just glimpse the river of what once was; a river that continues to flow in spite of the towering canyon walls, and always will.

 

~SSHenry, July 2014

 

How to Heal a Broken Heart

broken heart“When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” ~Alexander Graham Bell

My heart was broken long ago.  The details don’t matter.  What matters is that instead of admitting that my heart was broken; instead of admitting that I was in pain and dealing with the trauma right then and there, I made a series of decisions that threw my world into chaos and that impacted my life for a very long time.

Mind you, the decisions that I made (one in particular) in response to the heartbreak were a way of protecting my heart from further injury; of insulating it against the pain that I had incurred.  But what I didn’t realize is that by denying the pain; by choosing to delude myself into thinking that I was all right, I was ignoring an injury which, when left untreated, never healed.  In fact, it began to fester, poisoning everything else I did.

And so to escape the pain of infection I wrapped myself in layers upon layers of mundane is-ness; sinking into a depression so complete that I was not even aware that I was.  I only knew that there was something wrong; something that continued to eat at me and that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

As crazy as it may seem, six months ago, just as I was ready to give up altogether, it was the very one who inflicted the original injury that pulled me out of my despondency; enabling me to see exactly what I had allowed my life to become due to the choices that I had made and gave me the courage to acknowledge what I had done, accept where I am, and  to face the future without fear of what it might bring.

Knowing what might have been – what I have lost – what I will never have because of the choices that I have made – makes my heart ache as it has never ached before.  It is like peeling off the scab to clean out an infected wound; a throbbing ache that reaches right down to my soul.

Accepting that I will never have what might have been; accepting where I am and who I have become because of the path I chose to follow stings like alcohol poured into a cut; intensifying the pain to the point that it doesn’t feel as if I can take it for even one more second.  But it also kills the bacteria of despair and despondence and is the first step to healing.

Acceptance leads to an understanding of why I made those choices.  And understanding is like a soothing balm; a balm and a soft cotton bandage that covers the cleaned wound, protecting it from further damage.

But knowing and accepting and understanding is not enough.  I must also have wisdom; wisdom and courage to prevent any more trauma to my heart; not by burying it where it cannot be touched, but by leaving it exposed and choosing instead to make those decisions that will strengthen it.

I must have the wisdom to learn from my experiences and the courage to listen to my heart and, from now on, to make each decision based on what feels right to my heart – to my soul –not based on my fears; not as a reaction to pain that threatens to tear me apart, or in response to the pressures and influences of what those around me expect from me.  And once I have made the decision, the courage to move forward without fear, knowing that if I am acting from my heart – and for my heart – that I will be making the decision that is best for me and that will help me to become who and what I was meant to be.

~SSHenry~ March 2, 2014.