I’ve been doing environmental work for 20 years now. (Before that I did all kinds of other community-oriented volunteer work & was also a full-time Mom/homemaker, & before that I had a brief “career” in corrections & a short stint in the psychiatric world, & before that, I got a B.A. in Psychology at a very very lovely vine-covered Canadian university.)
What I actually set out to do, as a teen-ager, was “save the world” (we humans sure like to think big, don’t we?) and, as I like to joke, my career seems to have been a bit of a bust. Heh heh.
For sure my life – all the way along – has been one of privilege, although as a child in an unhappy home, “perks” like a big house & Yacht & Golf & Country Club membership didn’t bring the satisfaction one might have supposed. (As an adult looking back now, I can see that, as a kid, I took such privileges for granted. Privilege & entitlement: an interesting topic to muse upon…)
I assume I developed the “save the world” complex because I didn’t (still don’t) like to see people suffer. Seems as though on this gloriously beautiful & abundant Earth there ought to be enough for everyone. Oh dear – subject for another essay, hmmm? I heard on the radio today of a woman who did not have enough money to bury her stillborn babies. Yesterday I’d heard about Ontario government employees who “earn” (ahem) close to a million dollars a year. Income disparities like that have always made me want to scream. But I digress…
Okay. Mixed-up childhood, “save the world” complex, a pull to environmental activism, a broken marriage. Meanwhile, an obsessive reader, I’ve gobbled more books about the environmental crisis – & self-help books – than would comfortably fit in a canoe. (An old boyfriend used to say he wanted to be able to put everything he owned in a canoe. Resonates for me somewhat. My books won’t make it, though.)
There have been some mighty outstanding books along the way. Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit and In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations and My name is Chellis and I’m in recovery from western civilization(1) convinced me that the problems of the human race date back to our decision 10,000 years ago to abandon the gathering & hunting lifestyle.(2)
When we stopped living in tribes, things gradually changed. From living with the constant support & encouragement of our fellow humans, we moved gradually toward separation from others. (Nietzsche said, “Sin is that which separates” & that also resonates for me.) “Nuclear” families (love that adjective, eh?) cannot give us what a tribe can.
We evolved to be communal creatures. Creatures who need the company & support & collective help & wisdom of others. We simply did not evolve to function in the individualistic fashion we now take so much for granted (that “Everything is all about ME,” heads-up-our-own-arses lifestyle so wonderfully nourished by the world of advertising & consumption, hmm?).
Okay. So. Life in a nuclear family often sucks. Two parents simply cannot do the job properly (especially if, as is likely, they were improperly nourished in their own dysfunctional families with shoot! Maybe war & dislocation & sexual abuse & violence involved in the mix. Geez. No wonder parents screw up, hmmm?).
So, mostly, they don’t do so very very well.
A lot of us grow up feeling pretty mighty darn inadequate. To put it mildly. Without the love & affirmation we need & crave, we come to believe (I suggest) on some unconscious level, that “I am not okay. You are okay.”
We put other people up on pedestals – especially celebrities of any & all kinds. As long as they have lots of money & “look good,” we worship them & want to be like them.
And we amass, if we are able (since it’s a very inequitable world we live in, many or most are not able) lots of things. Houses, cars, cottages, boats. Expensive vacations. Etc. Theoretically at least, these things (& experiences) make us “happy.” Often, of course, they don’t do this at all. (In many cases, they just isolate us even more.)
Why? Because we are hollow inside. All that “stuff” we put in just pretty much falls out the other side.
So. What’s missing?
- Gratitude. Gratitude is – or ought to be – the very basis of our existence. When we are regularly & actively grateful for this very beautiful Earth & the particular blessings of our own life (yes, this may take work & practice; see ‘Gratitude: A How To'), a major shift gradually takes place inside us. We begin to lay aside customary preoccupations such as greed & envy & endless consumption & comparisons that leave us feeling inadequate. We begin to feel…full. Content. (I only suggest a regular gratitude practice to anyone who wants to be happy or help change the world, though; if you like things just the way they are, better not take it up!)
- Community. Tribe. Belonging. When we feel we belong – when we feel supported, appreciated & affirmed – well, there’s really no limit to what we can achieve! We also “get” that the stupid game of “S/he who dies with the most toys wins” is not one we’re even vaguely interested in playing. The neurotic game of always doing our best to “look good” also tones itself down considerably.
There is still our self-loathing to deal with, hmm? I think self-loathing runs all too deep in most of us. Mostly unconsciously, I suspect…
This essay was in fact motivated by an attack of my own. I had sort of a personal little meltdown last night. Folks who know me well may suppose my self-esteem is rock solid – & it is relatively firm. But I have my demons, & my “holes,” & I can go down into a Very Deep Pit(3) just like anyone else.
The world is in quite a state, hmm? I’m not even sure why I keep up all this infernal writing. I should probably be off somewhere constructing an off-grid house, & gardening, & hunkering down to get ready for the apocalypse that seems to be heading fairly rapidly in our direction.
I suppose I hope that, the more I write & the more I help encourage others to pay attention, the bigger the tribe of us actually caring & doing things there will be. And the more of us behaving like the members of a caring & supportive tribe there are, the saner, perhaps, the outcome will be.
And the more like a party! I’m always up for a good party as much as anyone!!
p.s. Since I drafted this essay, I picked up 2 books by Alice Miller: From Rage to Courage – Answers to Readers’ Letters & The Body Never Lies – The Lingering Effects of Hurtful Parenting. Hooey! This is the psychotherapist whose brilliant insight “The way we were treated as small children is the way we treat ourselves the rest of our lives” rocked my own little world when I heard it. You may want to visit her Web site at www.alice-miller.com Ms. Miller doesn’t write about the environmental crisis or the pivotal need for the things I am always emphasizing so much (gratitude & belonging or community), but she sure does help us understand essential lessons about the roots of our individual (& thus societal) neuroses/psychoses.
‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning of life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re really seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” (more JC quotes here)
(1) All of these referenced in the blog posting “Recommended Reading.”
(2) Yes, it used to be referred to as hunting & gathering; now the 2 words have been reversed to indicate that the meat part of our diet was, shall we say, a tad sporadic…
(3) Very Deep Pit is a Winnie-the-Pooh reference. Winnie-the-Pooh stories are high on my list of life’s essential (reading) treasures.