It is a thematic question frequently asked in literature and movies: “what would you do for one more day?” What would you do for one more day with a dead lover or dead child? It is evocative of our deepest attachments to impermanent things. And yet, it is entirely predicated on myth.
As creatures of consumption, we are transfixed by the myth of more. More money, more sex, more sun-shiny days. No matter what our condition, most of us spend a great deal of time sitting in contemplation of more with little awareness of enough. It is part of our programming as natural accumulators.
Consider the experience eating your favorite dessert. With the first taste, do you feel a profound satisfaction or is your first thought “ohhhh, yeah” quickly followed by “gotta have more” before your mouth is even empty? Consider that while you sit with a mouthful of the thing that you hold most delicious, while it is igniting effervescent sparks of flavor and joyous associations of thought, this experience will be displaced in just a few seconds by craving. In the moment of what should be the experience of satisfaction, we are undone by this ravenous thought of more.
More does not exist. Like death, It is a concept that can never be experienced. As soon as you take a second bite of your favorite dessert, you not experiencing more; you are experiencing some. And yet, the myth of more will have you chasing mouthful after mouthful until the taste is no longer joyous. Sometimes our cravings get the best of us and we over-consume to the point that we experience the opposite of pleasure.
We can only truly experience one thing at time. We can see the banquet and drool, but we can only eat bite by bite. We can only know the moment we are in. We can dream or speculate of a future, maybe only minutes away, but there is no experience to be had in that or than the experience of a flash of concept.
This is the fundamental dynamic of unhappiness. Every moment has the potential to bring joy to a luminous mind that engages experience whole heartedly. Rain, snow, sleet or hail does not truly define or negate a happy moment. Our relationship to our surroundings is always defined by the interpretive context that we chose to apply to our experience. To an urban traveller driving by a farm, the small of cow manure is disgusting. To a soldier returning to her family farm after years of struggle and hardship, it is the smell of home. Even the smell cow shit can, to a mind primed for joy, can be glorious.
I remember taking my children to a large retail store and standing with them just inside the door. “Take a good a look at all of this stuff,” I said. “There are acres of it. Look at all the pretty things on these shelves and hanging from the racks. Within five years, every bit of this will be rotting in a landfill. This is future garbage. We might as well just back the truck up and haul it to the dump right now.”
I am embarrassed by how many cellphones I have owed. I am sucker for newer, better, faster stuff. I have never worn out a cellphone. This is the apex of my hypocrisy. I slip into a trance around newer, better faster and then manage my life to get as few calls as I can. My addiction to technology practically defines insanity.
The myth of more is a product of anxiety and mental attachment. It literally draws its power from fear. There are three states of mind that ultimately create great mischief for us. Fear, craving and ignorance are the three mind killers the keep us in a world of suffering even if that suffering is a bellyache from eating too much chocolate cake. These the demons often travel in pairs or visit our thinking as the full trio.
When we taste our favorite dessert, especially if we have not had it in a while, we immediately cling to the pleasure of the experience. We do not cling to the taste of the dessert, or any part of the actual eating experience, but rather we cling to the emotion that the dessert causes us to feel. A martini can have the same effect. It is not the taste of the liquor that entices us nearly as much as the feeling of relaxation and ease that know we will feel afterward. It is basically the root of emotional dependency.
Once we are attached, we become afraid that the sensation will leave us and, worse, that we will return to our non-euphoric state of mind. This quite literally causes us to experience fear. We gorge because we do not want the thrill to end. But it does end even if we keep eating and eating. We are mostly blind to this very simple process of craving, fear and ignorance. We arrange our whole lives around procuring objects of pleasure and comfort. In modern times, we have become oversaturated to the point where most people of any financial means at all suffer from a bad case of affluenza.
There is no way to be truly satisfied in by this way of living. We move from craving to fear all the while oblivious to the process of true joy. The bombardment of media messages trying to manipulate our cravings and fear are everywhere and only fan the fire. There is a reason why there are so many fast-food commercials on in the late evening. They waited for you to digest your supper.
It gets worse than that. Our media does not make money on good news because good news does not impress us much. We are not program our minds to be ever watchful for random acts of kindness or spontaneous happiness. The vigilance of our paranoid minds is listening for threat because the core question ever on our minds is “am I okay?” Seek and you shall find.
We are obsessed with comfort because we are worn out by the barrage of a million tiny threats that have sparked a million tiny anxieties, most which are completely disassociated from our actual experience. In fact, this steady diet of bad news blinds us to the crispness and sweet taste of the apple we brought to work for lunch. In the realm of hungry ghosts everything seems to be dull and unsatisfying because we are simply too distracted to experience the miracle in front of us.
About seven years ago, I stopped training in the martial arts and over following three years put on a considerable amount of wait. To look at me now you would never know that I was at one time an athlete of any caliber. I crop my gray hair short because I have no use for it and, besides, it shortens my morning routine by several minutes. When I look in the mirror to shave I am always surprised to see the old fat guy looking back at me though I have no particular feeling about him one way or the other. He is a figment of my imagination anyway and I look at him because it is my job to shave his face.
My life occurs outside of me. How I look has nothing to do with it. I don’t spend a lot of time in contemplation of who I am. In fact, I spend way more time thinking about the identities of my fictional characters than I do myself. I know that if you cut me open you will not find a gland that secretes sacred “me juice”. I made myself up and have spent years training myself to get out of the way so that I can experience the world as it is.
I love the taste of water except that processed tap water crap that soda-pop companies sell. That tastes like snake oil to me. I love riding my motorcycle because you can take in the smell-scape a you ride that adds immeasurable dimension to the visual and audible experience. Autumn has had a long run this year in St. Louis and there is no palette of color that can surpass the beauty of the reds and golds of the leaves on my front lawn. It wouldn’t matter if they were the color of pea soup. They would still be beautiful simply because they are what is there.
My wife and kids get on me about losing weight and getting some exercise. I pop Lisinopril out of PEZ dispenser. I cannot bring myself to do anything to extend my own life. This moment, right now, is the only moment I can really know and it is enough.
This, of course, is self-indulgent. The best reason to take care of myself is to make sure that I don’t have a stroke and become a burden to my family. Or I can keep eating cheese and French fries and set myself for a Widow Maker. Either way, I am a dead man sooner or later. Pass the ketchup please. There is no more to life.
I recall seeing a woman of my own middle age shopping for clothing in the juniors department of a store. I thought she was looking for something for her children, but it turns out that she was shopping for herself. She was trim and lovely, many would say beyond well-preserved. She wore a sequined sweat suit that bore the word “Juicy” across her backside. At the time, being the dull Midwesterner that I still am, I had never heard of Juicy Couture. Frankly, I cannot find any “couture” in fashion that marks women like pieces of meat. It is utterly demeaning.
And yet there this woman was, having won, for the time being, her struggle to compete with her teenage daughter for diva status in her household. A woman wrapped in fashion formaldehyde. A woman who had become so attached to being an object of lust in her youth that she never bothered to seek out a deeper meaning or a more dignified bearing. Her apparel spoke volumes of what she wanted to be in the eyes of others. I wonder if she ever came to realize how desperate she occurred, at least to me.
I am sure there will be some blow-back for having made this criticism. “People can wear whatever they want” they will say. Yes, they can. You can walk around with a feather duster in the crack of your bum and call yourself a chicken, if you want. It is mostly a free country. The cougar life-style is an option at the buffet of free choice. But just because you can does not mean you should. In this every-kid-gets-a-trophy culture, not all fashion statements are created equal nor should the dialogue that they initiate be dumbed-down so that we can gloss over our mental afflictions. To do so thwarts the meaning that we can derive from a conversation on ethics that can promote human evolution. This is not a puritanical rant to do away with thongs or sexually suggestive attire at all. I like Victoria Secret, it is probably not suitable as business casual outerwear, but I am not dead. There is a place even in my world, and in my imagination, if I were to tell the whole truth, for such things. But it is the public communication of clothing that concerns me here and what it says about the state of awareness in our society.
My mother does not dye her hair. She says that she has earned each of the grey ones. It is more than fair exchange to swap beauty for maturity because maturity is a beauty all its own unseen and unknown by those who attached to baser appeal. In the beginning we need strong bodies and beauty precisely because we a morons. It is nature’s way of tying a pork chop around our necks to make sure that at least the dog will play with us. In the days before we despised old people, when we treasured things other than firm breasts on middle age women, an elder-woman could be seen on the streets as a vision of wisdom and the accumulation of compassion well noted by the wrinkles in her skin.
Mortality was supposed to be the natural force that urged us to grow up and become wise. In our society, as in many societies that have come before ours, the temptation to cling to youth, wealth or power causes us to live in denial of old age and death. Since old age and death will find us anyway, Juicy Couture or not, we are setting ourselves up to be unprepared any moment let alone the final pages of time and the end of our days. To me this seems to be supreme foolishness, to walk forward without looking forward because we think we can hold onto a comfort that was. We as a society really need to grow up.
As for me, I am ready for this moment and will be ready for the next. And when there are no more, I won’t even notice having been fully engaged with my last.