tribal life

Christmas 101...

<My first impulse was to call this post ‘Uh-oh. Christmas: here we go again!’>

It’s a couple of weeks before Christmas as I write this. Oh, Christmas – season of emotional confusion & messiness, & (in some cases very likely) emotional blackmail, even. (What fun! Not…)

Season of all our wanting & neediness to reach preposterous levels – & our dissatisfactions & pain, also.

The emotional complexity of this time of year boggles my mind! Stirs up my own emotions & emotional neediness like some great big bubbling, messy stew. And has, now, for more years than I care to think about.

I can’t help but wonder: do Jews & Muslims experience this season (or any season) in this same way?? Is this great big annual mixed-up, emotion-laden season the sole province of “Christian” people? (quotation marks because I & so many of us are, of course, merely “cultural Christians.”)

Christmas has always been a bit loaded for me (&, I think, for many). It seems to be all tied up with nostalgia – nostalgia for those “perfect” Christmases we had as children. (Ha! Since so many of us come from dysfunctional families, I think many readers will “get” that little ironic chuckle of mine there.)

A long-time un-fan of waste (of any & all kinds), & of this culture’s excessive consumerism, Christmas has long been an ambivalent time for me.

I want it to be about family, & love, & togetherness, & laughter, & preferably some snowy activity such as skating or tobogganing, with a little (or even a lot) of chocolate thrown in – & truthfully, I’m grateful to be able to say, I do spend some very enjoyable Christmas days – but the weeks of agonizing over who is going to be where (divorce, eh? That gift that keeps right on giving…) & what to get for everyone & … the angst, the angst! Sheesh!!

This year is proving no exception. We families of divorce have our awkwardnesses to navigate, year after year after year. It’s a real bummer. This year’s crop of personal angst (details not important) is helping me “get” a few things, I think, about the “human condition.”

First off, & apologies in advance for the offence this will very likely cause to some, but I do not believe for a moment that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

Christmas celebrations are really about the big blow-out human beings have been having to celebrate the end of that painful trajectory of growing darkness – those days that grow shorter & shorter until December 21st. Our species has apparently been hosting big bashes at the time of the winter solstice for … a whole heckuva lot of years!! (Do look this up, if you like. That’s what Google is for!!)

So, wanting to “party” at this time is practically primal. It’s virtually wired into us.

All the gift-giving … baloney… All the hoopla & the excessive consumerism – that’s just modern-day nonsense.(1)

I have my own theory about Christmas – first floated in 2006 in one of the “Letters to My Daughters” collection I was then working on. I keep fine-tuning this little theory, & recent/current events are adding more ingredients to the mix.

I think what really comes out in (many of) us at Christmas is the pain of our abandonment. I believe we all have feelings of pain & abandonment; every last one of us, one way & another. It’s a matter of degree.

Long story short?

We human beings evolved to be tribal creatures. We need more than these ever-so-aptly-named “nuclear” families. On the big picture, geological time scale, we only walked out of those caves yesterday afternoon. You get what I’m saying?

Not only do we each have our very own personal experiences of abandonment, we feel abandonment/alienation as a species.

We feel lonely, alone, adrift, isolated, alienated. Why? 10,000 years(2) of living in opposition to our very nature as tribal (communal, if you prefer) creatures have left us feeling this way.

Don’t buy this? Well, you don’t really have to.

Bring it back down to the level of the personal. To Christmas, & our nostalgia & our neuroses & our angst – every year, like clockwork, at this season.

As I alluded to, some recent/current “stuff” in my own life is helping me rassle with this. On the personal level – on the very down-to-earth, Janet McNeill level, I am rassling with it all, trust me!

& I am “getting”:

  1. I have emotional pain that rears its head for me most particularly at Thanksgiving & Christmas.
  2. Divorce is a very generous contributor, in my case, to this annual angst. There is simply no getting around that. No point pretending it isn’t so.
  3. In my pain, it is very tempting to lash out. To want to “punish” someone else for the pain I am feeling inside me.
  4. This emotion of wanting to spread the pain around (“Misery loves company,” hmm?) is very…real. (Can you say “war,” anyone?? Can you say “So-&-so just did such-&-such; let’s whack her/him/them with a 2 x 4, or a rocket launcher, or a missile, or a nuclear bomb,” or…you’re getting my drift, hmmm?)
  5. I can’t just “talk myself out of” the pain that comes up sometimes over some of this ancient or more recent or current personal slights & slings & arrows. It does seem to help an awful lot, though, to be fully honest with myself about what I am feeling – & sometimes even to articulate it out loud.
  6. And then do my best to take that understanding of my own self, my own situation – my own emotional conflictedness…to understand better what other people are feeling – without making them wrong for their feelings.(3)
  7. Because being petty & mean-spirited in my own “personal life,” & acting as though making other people miserable (punishing them, in essence) will make me feel better is only so much futile nonsense. It doesn’t work... That way does not lie happiness.
  8. So. I know I have some more figuring out to do. The nuts & bolts of this year’s Christmas remain to be fine-tuned. I’m hoping that some of my understanding of the “big picture” (millennia of celebrations at the time of the winter solstice; universal feelings among human beings of loss & abandonment; the state of life here on Planet Earth at this so-very-sobering time in human history) will help me out on the personal level. I need to be sensitive to – mindful of – my own emotional … stews; to know with certainty that making others miserable will not make me feel good; and to figure out how to balance simple honesty about the challenges that rise up at this time every year with sensitivity to everyone else’s personal share of emotional ambivalence & pain…

& try to have some fun!! I do believe the blow-outs we human beings have been having at this time of year – for millennia now – are really all about what some brilliant thinkers(4) say the whole point of human life on Planet Earth actually is:

Celebration!!

Janet

p.s. Over the years, I’ve written environment columns for several small town newspapers. The most recent one was the North Renfrew Times, during the Deep River phase of my life. A few of these columns can be found under the NRT Columns tab. The one that springs to mind right now is ‘Transforming Christmas.’

p.p.s. I just came across a scrap of paper that reminded me of Sister Joan Chittister’s phrase that describes our current way of living. “Pathological individualism.” Bang on, I'd say!

p.p.p.s. I came up very recently with a thought that maybe I should share here. It was this: The human tendency toward pettiness should never be underestimated. You can quote me on that! It came up while I was out on one of my daily walks. I had an episode of personal pettiness come over me, & up sprang those words…We can all, of course, resort at times to pettiness & mean-spiritedness. But it never really makes us feel good, does it?? I think we tend to feel much better when we strive to be big…not when we get all caught up in unpleasant “little me” stuff.


(1) & btw, if you have not already watched the brilliant little animated show “The Story of Stuff, get thee to it & watch!! It’s funny & very smart & packs one heck of a punch into a few short minutes’ viewing. Highly recommended!!

(2) Other posts have dealt with this 10,000 year idea:

(3) The way we so often make other people wrong is a key concept I took away from my Landmark Forum (LMF) experience. The blog posting ‘Landmark Experience is relevant here, but I think in that post I may have failed to mention this insight about how we make other people wrong, & how this really doesn’t help any of us a whole heck of a lot…

(4) I think both Matthew Fox & Thomas Berry have written about this. & they are (were, in Berry’s case) big, BIG thinkers…

Card Therapy (or Families: It’s All Relative!)

<March 24/10>

 

I just went shopping for a birthday card (yes, some environmental activists would no doubt frown on my “card habit.” It’s a fairly innocuous little addiction, seems to me, compared to some others I can think of).

 

I get a big kick out of looking at cards because I love laughing – & I came up with the phrase “card therapy” when I discovered some years ago now that I can cheer myself up lickety-split (& have a grand old time to boot) just spending 10 minutes looking at cards. My laughter generally even gets the store staff laughing too. (I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again – I’m a pretty cheap date!)

 

So, I found a card that made me laugh out loud, & then think some about families. Well. They sure do come in all shapes, sizes & kinds, don’t they?? Every one of them unique, every one of them almost certainly not at all what they appear to be from the outside, looking in.

 

My own “birth family” was a wee bit on the dysfunctional side. Of course they all are, as we understand now – but when I grew up in the 50’s & 60’s I laboured under the grand illusion that everyone else had it all together. I always felt like an outsider &, I suppose, an imposter – walking around acting as though everything was A-OK, meanwhile holding down the lid on the … confusion … that was my family’s life.

 

(I was fortunate enough to marry into a family that seemed to me like the very Waltons incarnate – really a very darn fine crowd of people! – & that was very nice & kind of a privilege for me for quite a few years there. Divorce took care of that, in time, although I can say with gratitude that I am still close to a number of very lovely individuals in that family.)

 

As a result of all this family-related…how shall we say, experience, all my adult life I’ve been a keen observer of this strange human animal called the “nuclear” family. Love & divorce & new relationships & friends’ families: one is endlessly being offered glimpses of the infinite variety of family configurations, our love (& hate) of them, their closeness (or lack thereof), their internal power dynamics… & the degree to which we can each probably be understood by others just by reciting a 5-minute snapshot or history of our childhood/family life.

 

My own birth family (which has always seemed to me to be pretty markedly dysfunctional, but which according to my sister was not a big deal at all. ?????) could be compared to some & seen as almost Waltonesque. (There are some pretty…hmmm….shall we say, off-the-charts families out there!) Compared to others, we look(ed) like full-on disaster. That of course is why I jokingly say it’s all relative. Pun intended…

 

I guess all this is what has made me crave all my life to be part of a (yes, fictional) “normal” family – one in which everyone gets together semi-frequently for birthdays & Mothers’ Days & Fathers’ Days & Thanksgivings & Christmases & Easters – & don’t all hate one another and, by golly, even mostly like (even love!!) one another.

 

I haven’t entirely lucked out in that department. Negotiating families of divorce can be quite challenging. Slight understatement here, hmmm? I’ve had more related experience in this regard than a person might strictly care to have had, but…perhaps the less said, the better.

 

Well.

 

The birthday card I came across that made me laugh right out loud said, “I was thinking about getting the whole family together to celebrate your birthday” – with a picture of a motley collection of people on the front of the card. You open it up & it says “But then I thought you might want to do something fun.”

 

It sure tickled my funny bone!!

 

Clearly, I am not the only person on the planet who doesn’t belong to that mythical “perfect” family, hmmm?

 

Well. I guess we all “wrestle” all our lives with the peculiarities & particular wounds of our own childhood & family, hmm? I know I continue to do so. I keep getting insights about myself – about my particular neuroses & idiosyncrasies – still! – & every time I get knocked on my butt by a new relationship drama, I learn yet a little more. (It seems a bit like an archaeological dig; one keeps on excavating unexpected things…)

 

One great lesson I’ve picked up along the way is that, while we don’t get to choose our family (on a conscious level, at least), we can find, & choose, a community – a tribe.

 

The big thinkers say alienation is the central bedeviling problem of the human race. The only way to beat that is to find a sense of belonging. Our families cannot guarantee us that, unfortunately. Once upon a time, each of us was born into a tribe. Belonging was our birthright in those days, I’m pretty sure.

 

While finding my own tribe was definitely something I did not set out to do by becoming involved in environmental work 20 years ago, that’s pretty much exactly what happened.

 

And as I write down that thought, it comes to me that I didn’t just sort of miraculously find the buried treasure under the spot marked X, I’ve been helping build the tribe to which I now so joyfully, gratefully & proudly belong.

 

I read in the Utne Reader some years ago this statement attributed to Kalle Lasn & Bruce Grierson:

“Two centuries of philosophers stand in opposition to the modern American recipe for happiness and fulfillment. You can’t buy your way in. You can’t amuse yourself in. You can’t even expect falling in love to deliver you. The most promising way to happiness is, perhaps, through creativity, through literally creating a fulfilling life for yourself by identifying some unique talent or passion and devoting a good part of your energy to it, forever.”

 

Helen Keller said, “Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.”

 

For me, for sure, “following my bliss” has really paid off!! The road has been full of potholes & detours & has even led me off a cliff or two…but hey!

 

Here I am, now, leading (& loving) this unexpected life – a full, never-dull life adventure for which I am wildly, wildly grateful.

 

I didn’t (& couldn’t, & can’t) re-create the Humpty Dumpty life I once had (that perfect family, perfect marriage I’d wanted so badly to last forever). Instead, I’ve become a member of a wonderful, wonderful ever-expanding tribe (with members, btw, who are often just as kooky & “dysfunctional” as everything & everyone else on the planet, myself included).

 

“Perfection” is just an illusion, hmmm?

 

I know what Kurt Vonnegut would say about it all: “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”

 

Janet

 

‘Quote of the day’ with this post: “The return from your work must be the satisfaction that work brings you and the world’s need of that work. With this, life is heaven, or as near heaven as you can get.” – W.E.B. DuBois

I’m not Okay – YOU’RE Okay

<April 1/10>

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?

  1. 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!)
  2. 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!!

Janet

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.

Why We Are Control Freaks (I think…)

<July 18/09>

Now, I’m not a psychological expert of any kind. I did get a B.A. in Psychology back in pre-history (1974), when, frankly, very little was acttually yet understood about the human brain.

There’s plenty I don’t know about human psychology – don’t really understand – but I am a keen & constant observer of human nature – & I read a lot, think a lot & have the occasional “Aha!” moment.

I believe there are two levels to our control freak-ism – the very, very personal & the more, shall we say, global.

I’m pretty convinced that the genesis of our tendency toward control freak-ism goes back to the time in human history, widely said by scholars to be about 10,000 years ago, when we chose to abandon the tribal lifestyle – the life of gatherers & hunters – & began to practice settled agriculture. Several books introduced this idea to me: In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations (Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, 1992); Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit (Daniel Quinn, Bantam/Turner, 1992) & My Name is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization (Chellis Glendinning, Shambhala, 1994). (I highly recommend all 3,btw.)

In doing so, we detoured away from millennia of placing our faith in the Earth/Universe to provide for us (which the Earth/Universe was so generously doing), & decided to “take control” of things. In retrospect, it now seems to a lot of us, I think, that this was a very, very problematic choice.

Abandoning the tribal lifestyle has had many unfortunate & no doubt unintended consequences (I love that phrase: unintended consequences; life is just plain full of them, hmm?), to put it rather mildly. Separating ourselves from Nature – & from each other & our tribal ways – has been nothing short of disastrous.

That’s the global piece.

So now we all have 10,000 years of a control mindset wired into us – into our brains & our genes & our culture & our guts.

Bringing it down to the more personal level, many of us on the planet grew up in families in which dysfunctionality was rampant; is it not so?

There are/were alcoholic parents, parents who abandon/ed us in one form or another, mistreat/ed us, sexually abuse/d us, visit/ed violence upon us, berate/d us constantly – & we wind up/wound up very damaged in a startling variety of ways. If our childhood was very chaotic, unpredictable & out-of-control, as adults we tend to have an intense need to control our circumstances – our emotions, our surroundings, the people around us & so on. (Even the appearance of our lawns! To the point of being willing to use poisons on them to “subdue” weeds. Sheesh!)

It’s not so surprising, is it? We want to somehow right the wrongs that were done to us, & so we become control freaks – to a greater or lesser degree. We want things to be predictable. No more out of control stuff, please, we are saying, hmm?

It’s a coping strategy, pure & simple. It doesn’t tend to work terribly well, of course, given that the very nature of life is to not be controlled or controllable. So it becomes a vicious cycle. The more we try to control everything around us, the more out-of-control things seem to become. And on & on we go, around & around, making ourselves (& the people around us) miserable, sick & maybe even crazy.

Control freak-ism is kind of a losing strategy, you might say, hmm?

It often seems to take a personal disaster of some sort to make us see that our excessive need for control is causing us more problems than it solves. (Been there!)

When life throws an unexpected curve ball our way – especially one of rather large proportions (& Life seems to positively delight in doing so!) – & life as we’ve known it is shattered, often light begins to dawn. We see the illusory nature of the control freak-ism that has so limited us, & we begin to see that a generous Earth/Universe is there to support us, quite without our having to always be the Great Big Sheriff of this, that & the other thing. We let go and, as it were, the Earth rises up to greet us.

It’s all quite magical, really.

I find all of it very, very poignant. Tragic, but so poignant. So much of human endeavour & our human frailties (& worse) can drive us right around the bend, almost – but when we come to see that underneath all the nonsense we are really quite innocent creatures – innocent, but very, very damaged & hurt; well, it helps, somehow, doesn’t it? It certainly helps bring up compassion, if nothing else.

I’ve heard that some of the major writers (being terrible with details, I can’t remember who) have pinpointed alienation as the key human problem or issue. I think they’re right. A word I would twin with it is abandonment. So many of us feel we were abandoned in one or many ways by our parents (& we were, we were) and/or by spouses/partners along the way (we were, we were) – & this comes down through the generations, & Heaven help us all, we then pass it on down to our own children, one way & another; tragically, tragically, this is so.

We’ve all felt abandoned/alienated for 10,000 years, so how could things be otherwise??

We human beings evolved to be loved & looked after & cared for by a whole tribe of people, whom we in return love, look after & care for.

How then could we feel anything other than abandoned & alienated in a world that tells us to get by on our own, more or less – or in the care of a very small number of people, some of them too damaged themselves to do anything but pass along their hurts & pain & neuroses & damage?(1)

It’s all very sad – nay, tragic – & so poignant to realize that we are all in the same darn boat. We’re all damaged – to greater & lesser degrees – & we live in a world – an industrial economy that, as Wendell Berry has said, “thrives by damage.”

Healing is always possible, however. It is human nature to change / grow / evolve. It may very well be that we have let the sickness go on too long, & our condition (as a species) is terminal – but at least as individuals, we can turn ourselves around (only if we truly want to, of course. That is a choice we make, & choice is key, key, key in human endeavour).

Now. All of this is just my opinion. None of it is scientific fact, & you can’t put any of it under a microscope or conduct a scientific experiment to prove (or disprove) it.

As Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.”

It seems to me like truth. Make of it what you will, hmmmm?

Janet

p.s. The essays ‘Control Freaks Anonymous’ & ‘Ditching the 2 x 4’s’ are also about the perennially important subject of control – which I see as the central issue/dilemma of human endeavour, pretty much…

p.p.s. a LOT of years later: I don’t think I even referenced patriarchy in this essay, & I think the many thousands of years of males “lording” it over females has resulted in many-many-many “unintended consequences” (to put it very mildly indeed). Then too, there are other things in life that can incline us toward control freak-ism. Sigh .. eh??

(1) Richard Rohr said, “All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us.” This statement certainly resonates for me…

Why Am I an Activist? (part II)

Isn’t it neat the way we keep learning more & more about ourselves as we get older? I’m 56 & still getting to know myself – having insights about myself all the time. I guess it’s a life-long deal, hmm??

I sort of put something together for myself the other day (I ought to add too that this was twigged as the result of something someone had said to me; in other words, as a result of conversation – that great unpredictable, uncontrollable but magical phenomenon that ties us all together & makes us all ever so so much smarter than we are all on our own…).

Now, the “reasons” for my becoming an environmental activist are numerous, & there are some “smoking guns” or rather obvious things (e.g., the way the lake I lived on & swam in as a small child became “polluted” & un-swimmable by the time I was 6).

There may even be things in my genetic make-up that added to the inevitability of my becoming an activist.

But I think what happened to me as a child (in addition to what’s already been mentioned) is that I always felt kind of like an alien – an outsider. My family was a tad…dysfunctional, shall we just politely say – & I of course assumed (as we children of the 50’s & 60’s did) that all the other families had it all together. We were the only oddballs – imposters, essentially – & between that & the other things (genetic endowment, my father’s composting & abhorrence of waste, plus a pivotal experience I had as a 14-year old in Barbados) – what grew up in me was a very potent “save the world” complex.

In the first part of my life, this took the form of wanting to do social work – social service-type work. Once I’d had my children (with whom I stayed home as a full-time wife/homemaker in the early 1980’s) & spent several years focused on motherhood & locally-focused community (volunteer) work, I seemed to hear a “call” to environmental work.

What came to me the other day was simply that my “save the world” complex was nothing more than some sort of powerful pull out of myself – my own puny little life – into work that was/is a whole lot bigger than myself.

In other words, years & years before I read & then really understood that human beings spent most of our history living in small groups(1), highly tied to our fellow tribe members, I discovered in a not-really-conscious way that I needed to be part of something “bigger than myself.”

For whatever reason, I never wanted to have a job or career just for the sake of making money. I wanted to help – to be immersed in work/a career that “mattered.”

And of course, you see, I’ve had such utterly fantastic experiences all the way along! I always-always-always get far more out of my volunteer (& paid work) endeavours than I put in, or than I anticipate at the start. So the energy to keep on with them just keeps recycling itself, over & over & over…

It also simultaneously brings new friends, experiences & a sense of community – & so, while the path of my life has detoured way off any “plans” I had made for it, it’s all been quite surprisingly grand & wondrous!

I guess I just want to share with readers the insight that it may often be the lives lived outside the “lines” – or out at the borders – or off the 9-5 treadmill – that may provide the biggest rewards & satisfactions.

Feeling part of something vastly bigger than ourselves is what we all crave, if I’m not very much mistaken…

Janet

p.s. Why Am I an Activist, Part I was posted on March 29/09.

p.p.s. I've been saying for years now that activism is its own reward. Because it is!

p.p.p.s. Nietzsche said, “Sin is that which separates,” & I think that’s an assertion worth pondering on….

(1) which I learned by reading In the Absence of the Sacred – The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations, Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, 1992 & Ishmael – An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit, Daniel Quinn, Bantam/Turner, 1992; 2 books I highly recommend to any & everyone!! The book People of the Lake – Mankind & Its Beginnings, by Richard E. Leakey & Roger Lewin (Avon, 1978) was also useful to me in understanding why early human beings lived in social groups.