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shawnacy I don't think it is necessary to intend to help the world at large as the first level of action. The first level should be doing what is most authentic for YOU, whether that is as a writer, an engineer, a rabble-rouser, a mom, a courtesan, a soldier, or a hobo. Or a Richard Dawson. The reason is that sociopaths are sociopaths--they are not going to contribute in a positive way to the greater good, no matter what line of work they pursue. But the non-sociopaths who do contribute in a meaningful way are doing work that is authentic for them, and is in fact a great deal of the reason they're successful at making a difference.
Even if an individual is not that magic sum of genetics, time, and environment which creates a Darwin or an Orwell, the individual doing his/her intended work is not only contributing to the larger world in a positive way, but is less likely to become disfunctional and sociopathic.
(The quote from Shaw works in the context of your comment, but the guy was a pompous misogynist and I always look askance at his clever lines.)
1 year, 3 months ago on Toward a philosophy of redemptive labor
Mark_Robertson Oh, gawd, Branson is definitely in need of several million slaps upside the head, and it never occurred to me to consider him a valid lifestyle designer. I hate that term, anyway. I was thinking more along the lines of people like Josh and Ryan, like myself, like Adam Baker, Joshua Becker, Tammy Strobel, etc., and dozens of others who have taken a step back from the status quo and are living quite modestly and mindfully, "engaged and living correctly in a chaotic world." At least IMO.
One thing's for sure: whatever path you take, it's a sure bet it'll be a mindful one :)
Interesting post, Mark. I'd like to address the concepts of work that are in play here (so to speak): there's work as calling, work as wage enslavement, work as identity, work as redemption, work as social collaboration, work as survival, and work as devotions. The common element, other than work itself, is a choice in perspective. As you imply, why should an American consider him/herself to be above the sweatshop workers in the rest of the world? And in turn, you suggest there is something immoral about a lifestyle design that looks down on manual labor or any work that requires 9-5 accountability. This in turn suggests that Work is Noble and does not necessarily restrict inner personal freedom or grace. Thus, you are attempting a pre-emptive attitude adjustment in the likelihood that you'll be forced to take a job in a factory or as a janitor/poop scooper upon your return to your native soil.
If I have read you correctly, then I have to say, as kindly as I can, that it's romantic bullshit.
As Weil herself unintentionally demonstrated, it's pretty hard to keep one's spirit and nobility when the work and/or working conditions have destroyed your health. It's not about considering yourself to be above manual laborers, it's just the nature of the capitalist beast: Da Man is gonna squeeze out of you every last erg you possess, and more so when jobs are scarce. And this applies to many white-collar jobs, as well: there are a zillion stories of 80+ hour workweeks for lawyers, brokers, etc., because that's the nature of the game. Inhumane conditions are inhumane conditions, whether it's in a sweatshop in Southeast Asia or a 1 Per Center's office in the bowels of Wall Street. The compensation may be different, but inhumane working conditions suck the life and soul out of nearly everyone.
American culture promotes the myth of working hard to get ahead in life. You hear it trumpeted in political speeches when the pols mention their "hard-working" parents or constituents, and in pickup truck commercials, as if there's nothing nobler than the guy or gal who puts in time and sweat. I've lived that way. I grew up on a farm and I put in sweat equity in my homes and businesses to the point that I wrecked my health. And it still wasn't enough to ensure a roof over my head, food in my fridge, or coverage for the doctor visit, as millions of other 99%-ers have also discovered.
Lifestyle designers vary in intent. Some seem impossibly hip and smug, and you just wanna slap 'em upside their heads. Others, though, faced the truth of their burnout, of the way they were living and working, and knew that if they didn't change things now, they might as well be dead. They stepped back from the work/spend paradigm and reconsidered their lives, deciding what their real priorities were and making decisions that would promote those priorities. Not all of them are self-employed, either. But all have made changes that enable them to make the most of what they earn, and in so doing they actually add value to their working efforts, the dignity and nobility that had previously been missing. The changes are in doing work that they love and in not squandering what they do earn on meaningless crap. Da Man doesn't own them, either at work or at the mall.
They have almost literally turned their plowshares into (s)words, because they're showing others how it can be done, that they don't have to be trapped by 19th Century worker paradigms, or 20th Century consumer ones, either.
That being said, there is still the issue of being able to suspend one's soul above the stresses of manual labor. Slaves in the cotton fields would sing--and it wasn't necessarily to express their dignity or connection to God, it was to set up a working rhythm and to "call" information to one another. Their swords were words; knowledge.
You, as thinker, teacher, writer, disseminator of ideas and information, are already in possession of a mighty sword. Why sheath it?
I know the dark night of the soul all too well, have known it in one variation or another since I was five years old, sitting off by myself on the porch while dozens of family and friends were gathered for a big picnic and games in honor of my mother's birthday. I'd been deaf for about six months at that point, and realized, somehow, that I was no longer "me." And I didn't know what death was at that time--I only knew that I didn't want to "be" anymore: not understanding enough to follow what was going on, and too weak from a year of severe illness to run and play with my cousins. It was a dark night in the bright sunshine of an Indiana August afternoon, and would grow against my will in depth and scope as I grew up--until I finally, in middle age, embraced it, surrendered, and let it take me where it would. It was only after that would my "tongue be loosen'd" and a world actually built upon that drifting firmament. Now I can identify with the world instead of with the fight against it, and there is great peace and validation there.
1 year, 5 months ago on The mythic power of depression
Mark_Robertsonshawnacyme Sorry not to get back sooner, got swamped by work and family problems--neither are far away enough :}
Messages from far away is how it seems to me when I am channeling what I know intuitively into what I am conscious of, and the communication of that is, through me, in the form of art (painting, writing, etc.) There's such a galactic divide between the two states of knowing. The nature of what it is I know intuitively often cannot be expressed in temporal terms; something does, indeed, get lost in translation. But I think we're driven by the need to express it, anyway, a conversation of sorts between one genius loci and another.
1 year, 5 months ago on Bibles and beer in tidal time
The saudade is constant, and I think that's what a lot of people hope to forget when they are so immersed in holiday busyness. But those who are strangers in a strange land will always feel it, save for the few who truly "go native." This leads me to think that saudade is actually a higher state of being, an awareness that there are other valid planes of existence, whether corporeal or divine: cultural, experiential, spiritual. Not everyone has the nerve to make Saudade their home, but all artists must; our works are the messages from travelers far away.
"merci beaucoup d’etat"--I love that! This is a masterpiece, blending thought and language on a poetic level, the words making perfect sense in the usual way and simultaneously layering meaning with the other words and ideas--making the whole even better than the sum of its excellent parts. Submit it to HuffPo?
1 year, 6 months ago on The quality of mercy is not strained
Mark_Robertson Mark, the lessons in seeing first came via zazen, but I think there are parallels in Castaneda. I cannot direct you to relevant reading right off the top of my head, but I do know it shows up frequently in speculative fiction, so it is something a lot of authors have tapped into. I think the artist Paul Klee had it going on, too (see Fish Magic, which always struck me not so much a dream, or a waking dream, but as symbolism of an authentic truth). One of the beauties of studying texts when young, is that if you read the good stuff and really absorb it (and not necessarily really understand it, just absorb it on its own terms), you spend the rest of your life either consciously or subconsciously taking it further, exploring it. More reading actually gets in the way, unless of course you want to be a teacher or researcher, but I only want to be an artist, a generator, a path-taker. Thus, I may be describing something that comes with age, much as it did with Don Juan ;D Yet I cannot presume to know the potential of others in their youth, hmm?
The example you provided in your Tweet yesterday is beautiful, but isn't quite what I mean. Gratitude and the wordless recognition of truth are not the same thing. In fact, wordless recognition of authentic moments in your actual life, your personal experience, can be pretty painful. But it is useful. And when problems need to be solved and complexities in the real world with real people need to be worked out and understood, being able to recognize what is your essential truth, even if it is something small from early childhood, will often point you toward right action. It is a kind of remembering via feeling rather than images, memory, words, although images, memory, words will pour in once you've tapped into a truth. For instance, if the truth is a painful one, keeping out the words and other blather surrounding it gets one past the bullshit, and the human tendency to make the bullshit part of our narrative, which limits growth, which in turn keeps us off our true path.
Perhaps the best analogy is a GPS system?
I have a feeling this is SO not what you're expecting, hahaha!
1 year, 7 months ago on I knew too much
Intriguing take on a familiar conundrum. It is situations like this that I find it most useful to simply "see." This kind of seeing is not visualizing, it's not imagining. It is non-verbal, which is good because us word people are prone to rationalization, digging ourselves into some attractive but deep holes. No, "seeing" is sitting very quietly, staring into the distance, and going back and back into your personal timeline (but by feeling, not visualization) until you connect with an authentic moment that resonates with the current problem. The solution, or more likely the truth, will be somewhere in that moment. It is similar to getting inspired while taking a shower or a long walk or a long drive. I've discovered some uncannily good truths and solutions from authentic moments in early childhood; I guess it takes going back that far in feelings in order to get at unadulterated truths. But being able to trust in the seeing process makes the inside of my head a much friendlier place to be than if it was always stewing over this that and the other thing.
I'm obsessed with the genius loci and its relationship to death and the choices we make in our lives, an obsession I explore in my fiction. I haven't read many poets in the past twenty years, to be honest, but Eliot, Auden, Wallace Stevens, and James Merrill are probably part of my cellular structure, mutated by a wide range of theological historians, incl. Mircea Eliade. Please feel free to point me to more current reading; one mustn't go stale!
1 year, 8 months ago on September is the cruelest month
And in so doing, you pick up where Matthew leaves off, knowing that rain falls on both the righteous and the unrighteous, thus experiencing a sort of existential agape. It takes time to know the genius loci well, to understand its heart and its god-likeness. The poets tend to remember this more often than the clergy.