Black holes and revelations

26Sep08

I was reading Someday Syndrome this morning, and read the Madonna article over there. I was thinking about the apparent hypocrisy of Madonna’s stage tour vs her eco-message,

I don’t necessarily condemn her actions as hypocrisy, partly because I don’t like to judge people, but mostly because I am aware how easy it is to drop into black holes, or blind spots, if you like, when you do things without thinking, out of habit, because you’ve always done them that way and haven’t paused to think if there’s a different/better way, because so-and-so is your friend and you don’t want to hurt their feelings by changing, for a thousand different reasons which all boil down to a lack of mindfulness. For example, the people who complain about the wastefulness of energy & resource consumption implicit in the production of the tour & associated merchandise – but still went, contributing to the demand for that product, and increasing (presumably) energy use by travelling to and from it.

This is an example of a black hole. It’s when our actions are triggered by our feelings, without first passing them by our rational, thinking, mindful self. Corporate advertising is very skilled at doing this, at pushing illusions of better, more perfect lives if we have product x y z. It’s insidious, pervasive and so subtle we don’t really notice it unless we’re really paying attention. I’ve become more aware of it since I stopped watching television, but I still get knocked sideways by it from time to time.

Yesterday I bought 4 pairs of shoes. I did need new shoes – my everyday slopping-about ones and my boots are literally coming apart at the seams, and we have an ‘event’ coming up that requires smart shoes. But these are excuses and justifications as I try to wriggle out of it.

I saw, I wanted, I bought.

Did I ask where they had come from? No. Did I ask if the leather in the uppers came from nicely-treated cows? No. Did I ask if the wood in the heels came from sustainable forests? No. Were the dyes toxic? I don’t know. Did I ask if the person in the factory (wherever in the world it may have been) received a decent living wage and enjoyed union rights? No. Does the company from which I bought the shoes have an ethical policy, any sort of green credentials? I don’t know, I didn’t look.

So, for all my eco-tastic other things – the recycling, the local shopping, the avoidance of waste, supermarkets and excessive energy use, and my absolute commitment to pursuing a greener way of life, more mindful, more in touch with the earth and the systems that support us, more careful about what we use and how it can be disposed of and reused – I still fell into the old consumerist trap, seduced by the pretty sparkly things, and fell crashing off the wagon.

I guess a part of this comes of being a child of the seventies/eighties, one of Thatcher’s breed, with an innate belief that I am entitled to anything I want, and greed is good, and worth is measured not by what you are, but by how much you have. I find this an unpleasant outlook on life, and I am trying to escape it, but I think my generation are a tainted generation, the generation that was force-fed the idea that the self-interested pursuit of gain is some sort of basic right. It’s a big hole to climb out of . . . but I feel like I can see the light outside and I’m heading for it, and trying not to give myself a hard time for slipping from time to time, but letting myself learn from it. The lesson today is that old habits are hard to kick – it’s like being in recovery – and that next time I go into town (I can’t avoid it altogether – their big PO is only place to get IRCs!) I need to be more aware of the seductions and temptations and the effect they have on me.  It’s a buzz, sure, but it’s expensive, and it doesn’t really do me much good in the longer term.

These thoughts really chimed in with a discussion on Radio 4 about the state of the economy and the banks and the credit crunch, and the one thing that really struck me was that not one of the experts stood up and said that living on personal debt was wrong, and that we need to address/reduce that. All of them appeared to be stuck in the mindset that debt for cars, houses, college, possessions was OK, and normal, and needed to be maintained, and that actually what the world needed was to find a way to make sure everyone could get that debt as easily as before but without as much risk. It’s insane. The amount of money they were talking about – hundreds of trillions of dollars (total debt, not just the bad stuff) – is all theoretical. It’s not real, it’s an illusion. It’s debt, money people owe to other people. Trouble is, there’s not enough money in the world to pay it all back, ever, so there must be more debt and more debt and more debt just to stop the whole thing collapsing in on itself. Surely, it has got to stop? But there are no real solutions. I heard Bush called a ‘socialist’ today (eh?). The politicians play at problem solving, but they’re just as guilty. Last I heard, the election campaign had a combined cost of some $94 million. And it’s not even really got started yet. That’s obscene. Just think of how much good that money could do. Where’s it going? TV advertising? Where’s it coming from?  Heh. The bank never loses. The rich men who got us into this aren’t suffering, and no matter who wins the election, they won’t be affected.

As the immortal New Model Army lyric would have it (Ballad, 1986) “We’re the ones who knew everything, still we did nothing, harvested everything, planted nothing . . . floating in comfort on the waves of our apathy . . . until we mortgage the future, bury our children . . . but still we can’t feed this strange hunger inside greedy, restless, unsatisfied”.

I don’t understand why more people are not standing up saying that actually, living in constant debt is lunacy. We must, as a society, CONSUME LESS. Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful (William Morris). And debt is for dummies – that’s a lesson I can’t let go of, and other than a mortgage I live debt free. Opt out.

Simple, and our grandparents had it right: if you can’t afford it, don’t have it. You don’t need loads of clothes/shoes/books/cds/THINGS to make you a valid person, to make you happy, to make you content. These things come from within and you either have it or you don’t.  (Emerson: nothing can bring you peace but yourself). I guess: consume less, live more – be mindful of what you do and what you need – people make people happy, not things.

I was talking to Rumpus on the way home from school today. Tomorrow is the weekend. He was happy.

“That’s good,” he said. “Me and Honey don’t have to go to school. Daddy doesn’t have to go to work. We can all stay at home with you and Minni Babaloo.”

“What about me? Do I get a day off?” I asked.

“You have a day off every day, mummy,” he replied.

And you know what? He’s right. I’d never framed it like that before – seeing the sometimes relentless routine as work work work. But actually, it’s not. I do what I want all day long, I get to stay at home and be there for the kids, and I get to do the things that are important to me, without having to worry about where the next meal will come from, and without having to do a crap job that just brings me stress. I AM INCREDIBLY LUCKY.

It was a moment of glorious revelation, and I’ve been high on happiness ever since. Just seeing the situation from a different angle, a new perspective, seeing it as a strength not a weakness, an opportunity, not a threat or a problem. I think it’s a valuable lesson I can apply everywhere in my life. Strangely, it also links in with a part of my How To Think Sideways course. Suddenly, an awful lot of things in my life are starting to link up together and make sense – my writing, my art, my lifestyle – all a part of a coherent whole. Actions and words are coming together, finally, into an integrated whole.

I know I still have a long way to go, but I am certain of my values and principles, and I want to keep my integrity intact. And I want to live in the moment – loving it – not hung up on the past or stressed by the future. So I’m going to, because today is my day off and I’m going to please myself and do what I want to do and what I think is right. I feel a hell of a lot closer this evening than I did yesterday. But it took the wise words of a small boy to complete the train of thoughts started this morning.

It’s all so simple – I don’t need to complicate it, I don’t need to question it.

It just is.

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One Response to “Black holes and revelations”

  1. Great post! I totally am with you on where you’re coming from. Really makes you think.


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