I have had a realization recently. Perhaps not so groundbreaking to the general public, but somewhat earth-shattering to the child version of me that is sitting somewhere deep inside and viewing the world with hopeful eyes.
The realization is this: I am not remarkable. I am not even, in fact, particularly special. I am not brilliant, specifically talented or a genius. Whilst there are an array of things that I am somewhat deft at applying myself to, none of these things are really outstanding in any objective way that ought to be celebrated or preserved by civilization in order to progress humanity.
This may seem like a strange admission. But I make this admission for one very particular reason. That is, that this realization has lead me to confront another realization, which is: I am not going to change the world.
To be honest it is this second, related realization which really hits home. Whilst my grandiose imaginings of people doting on images or words of my artistic creations are blatant delusions that many of my generation have to live with, this idea that I am not only unlikely to but most probably unable to change the world is the thought that I’m going to need some time, and maybe some therapy, to deal with.
So there it is. I am not remarkable and I cannot change the world. Let me try that again:
I am not remarkable and I cannot change the world.
I can hear it now: oh but you are special in your own way! Every person can change the world! Like ripples on a lake blah blah blah.
Yes it’s true that I, like every other human on the world, have an impact on my surroundings and those that I encounter and that these interactions are likely to produce some type of physical or energetic imprint on the nature of the people and the world around me. But let’s take a look at this from a different angle for a moment, shall we?
The world is, perceivably, fucked. The combination of capitalism, neoliberal economics, political extremism, neo-colonialism, rampant environmental degradation, climate change, an ever-expanding war-mongering military complex, media manipulation, resources monopolies, blatant social conditioning and increasingly divided and marginalized societies has been heading for sometime into a dark downward spiral that we have all had to helplessly witness. Particularly for those in my generation Y, we have been born plugged into a drip-feed of manipulative social conditioning (Facebook, advertising, processed food, consumerist behaviour, political propaganda etc) that has more or less left our cognitive and behavioural tendencies biased towards self-empowerment at all costs. Whilst we obsessively idolise the free-love movement of our ‘70s predecessors, we are too economically and materially reliant on capitalist and consumerist structures to ever live up to our ideals, and therefore live our lives morally conflicted and financially bound.
Argue with me if you must, but as far as I can see these are facts, and I am tired of covering them over with the feel good hippy-dippy happy-clappy fight-for-the-revolution click-bait. I’ve worked in finance, politics, NGOs and sustainable investment. I’ve been to UN meetings in Paris and native title conferences in Darwin. And my experiences, whilst nothing to boast about amidst the ridiculous achievements of my peers, have provided me with enough of a well-rounded insight into the world to understand that our generation needs to wisen up if we are going to A) survive what is coming, emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually and B) find common ground so we can actually work together effectively to progress our species.
So, with all that said, I return to my first point: I am unremarkable and I cannot change the world. And guess what, given all of the above, chances are that you too my friend (despite your awesome achievements that I no doubt am in admiration of) are probably also unremarkable and cannot change the world.
Why am I telling you this? Is it because I’m a bitch? Not entirely.
A few weeks ago at a party I was in a conversation with a man of 49 about all these said fucked things in the world. Without my realizing it my voice had reached fever pitch, my breath shortened, my double-jointed wrists flailing about my head. As I teetered off on my vaguely sensical rant about neoliberal economics and the programming of the Facebook generation, I saw a small smile appear below his furrowed brow. I stopped speaking somewhat bemused by his expression. He said to me something along the lines of the following: “You are so young and you are worrying about these huge things that you have no control over. When you get to my age, and you’ve faced the ugliness of the world, the death of people you love, the unexplained tragedies that occur in life, and witnessed the awful things that happen in the world, you realize that this is all that’s important. These conversations right here. You’re right, the world is fucked. But you and me, we are holding each other up right now. And that is what matters” He then went on to discuss those virtues we have all heard of so often, kindness, compassion, showing gratitude and love to all those you encounter everyday.
Ok, so I can hear the collective groan somewhere out there in this fictional readership. I realize that what he is saying appears to be ‘do nothing’. But bear with me and try and read it from a different perspective.
Surely we can all see, with the benefit of our education and the privilege of our upbringing, that the state of the world is dire. The more I research, whether George Monbiot, John Pilger, Vinay Gupta or the IMF itself, there is a sub-text of doom that is coming through the airways. Images and videos of war-torn countries, rising refugee crises, xenophobia and hateful rhetoric in mainstream politics. As I said earlier, let’s not kid ourselves.
Given this is our reality, I wonder if there isn’t a resilience that we should be working towards, rather than simply outrage and dissonance regarding the state of the world. What I’m saying is, that the more I read the more I think it makes sense to not only accept but prepare ourselves for a baptism into the great ugliness of the world, rather than to lament that this is the state of the world and wonder what to do to change it.
The fact is that no one person is likely going to be able to put a stop to the war in Syria or the spread of ISIS. While we can all be part of initiatives and movements to help remedy the circumstances of those less fortunate, the elite and all-powerful forces at play mean that we as individuals, as fractured civil societies, have very little control over how these situations play out. Rather, the greatest hurdles we seem to face is how we keep ourselves and our societies together in the face of the ghastly horrors that humanity is capable of.
I guess what I am saying is, whilst a significant amount of our time and energy goes towards fighting the seemingly inevitable destruction of the planet, perhaps some amount of time also needs to go towards accepting that we are – as approximately the top 1% of the global population most likely to survive devastating crises – likely to one day be a significant proportion of our species. As such, it is the actions and behaviours we adopt that set the tone for, dare I say it, the future of humanity. To me this is not a grandiose prediction, but a simple mathematical process of probability and deduction.
Furthermore, recent readings and podcasts I have devoured from exemplary minds of our time have all espoused this notion; that the privileged few have a great responsibility in the process of global recovery we will all need to undertake at some point during or very close to our lifetimes. And this responsibility regards our interactions not only with politics and economics, but also to a large and persistent degree, our self-conduct and commitment to personal evolution which, ultimately, feeds into the evolution of our species.
So the question for me becomes: what am I doing in my life that contributes to evolution?
To this end, the list below list, while in no way finished or even necessarily correct, is what i have come up with:
- ‘Sit the fuck down quietly’, or, meditate.
Ok, so it sounds like I’m biting into my own hippy-dippy sandwich here, but hear me out for a moment.
On a local level, something that I have become acutely aware of is the way Australian society is being divided along the lines of Left and Right, Racist and Let-them-in. Not to mention the rise in call-out culture, which seems to be hurtful and ineffectual in creating change much of the time. We seem to have lost the reasonable Centre. According to thinkers like George Monbiot and Naomi Klein (alongside a bucket-load of others), these types of segmentations and divisions in society are part and parcel of the neoliberal agenda to divide and conquer the population. Or rather, to have it beat itself to death.
Chief amidst the tools that are being used in this exercise of self-flagellation is fear. Fear for our livelihoods, jobs, identity, mortality. Fear from the media that something bad is coming and you should panic and potentially point the finger and protect yourself at all costs.
At a psychological level, fear is often the result of the triggering of deep traumas. When a trauma is triggered, defensive, aggressive or destructive tendencies emerge in people. During my time in board rooms and in meetings with corporate big-wigs, I recall witnessing a lot of volatile emotional and egotistical behaviour, defensive, aggressive and sometimes childishly insecure. Much research has hinted at sociopathic tendencies in world leaders (I was going to make a list but I’m not sure I really need to) and more so it seems that we are, everyday, creating more sociopaths. Mental illness is on the increase and we don’t seem to be doing anything about it at a causational level. The most important decisions in the world keep coming down to the whim of those who are fundamentally emotionally unstable and poorly adjusted. But what happens when these people come to the end of their tenure? Are we the sociopaths of the future?
A lot of the time when we react emotionally to something it is because it is related to another unresolved emotion hiding somewhere in our psyche. These reactions can be slight anxieties and neurosis, all the way through to full blown addiction, aggression and delusion. And we are ALL suffering from it in some way as a product of us having to grow up and develop our cognitive behaviours in this mad world.
When we are so regularly emotionally confronted with the things we see in the media, or even the actions of those we encounter in life, and have an emotionally adverse reaction of anger, sadness, depression, anxiety etc, we tend to carry those reactions and traumas with us to the next encounter we have rather than digesting or releasing it. Our upset about our job impacts the way we connect with our friends, our connection with our friends or lack thereof impacts our aptitude for self-care, it all leads into itself, one after another. Which means that an unresolved emotion, whether about something that happened to you personally or a traumatic video you saw of the treatment of Aboriginal children, can lead to your own internal demise or contribute to the volatility of your social environment. In this way, emotional disequilibrium within ourselves causes a ripple effect (cue the lake analogy) outwards and makes us vulnerable to causing or suffering manipulation. At it’s worst, we now see entire industries (Military industrial complex anyone? Media and entertainment?) founded on the back bone of cultivating and exploiting trauma; entire political movements based around fear.
Anyone who has ever tried to sit down and meditate has probably noticed that there is a lot of noise in our heads. And it seems to me that as long as we don’t sift through that noise it distorts everything that we hear, everything that we say, even the things that we see. In short, our reality is augmented by our unresolved shit (and everyone else’s).
Meditation, or sitting down quietly for 10 minutes and allowing your body to feel its feelings without fighting them or distracting yourself, is one proven way that people have rehabilitated their mental states, emotional balance, immunity, clarity etc. Science has proven again and again not only its benefits for this kind of recovery but also that meditation improves functioning at a cellular level and leads to the creation of new synapses and biochemical changes through neuroplasticity. Hello!? Evolution!
But there is this frustrating sense out there that meditation is about sitting and being still and if you can’t do it that meditation is not for you. I can’t tell you how many times that people have said that meditation is ‘not their thing’ and when I ask them why they tell me it’s because they can’t be silent or still their mind. Well, that’s exactly the point.
For most people the idea of being alone with your thoughts is terrifying. The endless chatter of to-do lists and what-ifs and imagined anxieties and real anxieties and lah-lah daydream what about that tv show yadda yadda. Of course it’s not easy. But what does it say that you can’t be alone with your thoughts? If you can’t see through them, how is anyone else supposed to interact with the real version of you? How are you and I supposed to see and be with each other genuinely?
Let’s be clear. Meditation is a practice of trial and error that can take a long time to feel comfortable with. I’ve meditated on and off for several years and now that I am trying to start again after not having done it for over a year I find it fucking hard. And yet it feels like cleaning out a drain in my head and heart that is clogged full of muck, slowly and persistently. Our minds are monkeys, throwing up all sorts of random shit that gets stuck on the edges of our fears and anxieties and then governs our behaviour in a million small ways.
You don’t have to be a friggin’ yogi or go to some 10 day no-speaking meditation retreat, but hello! we are the plugged in generation – get on youtube, filter through some guided meditations and just start playing with them. A basic way I sometimes meditate is as follows:
- Find a quiet place to sit comfortably and focus on your breath.
- Whatever thoughts etc come through, accept them without judging them and gently keep bringing your awareness back to breathing.
- If you feel up to it, scan through your body and sit with the feelings you are having without judging them. Feel your feelings.
- After 10 or 20 minutes, go have a glass of water. (This is not critical, but hydration is a good thing.)
In other words, sit down quietly for a little while.
That doesn’t sound so hard to start recovering your brain does it? Go on. Give it a try.
Meditation isn’t about spirituality. It is about making yourself a more resilient human that can more wholly and honestly be in the world.
- What are you eating?
This is an interesting one. And don’t worry this isn’t where I tell you that sugar is the devil or that veganism is going to save the world (although either of those things could be true). No no, you are safe in my opinion to continue eating as you please. All I ask you to consider is how the food you are eating might be affecting your gut functioning and emotional health.
I’ve had trouble with my stomach for several years and it again amazes me how many people I meet that have IBS or celiac or something or other by the time they are in their late 20s. For most people, understanding of their gut functioning is just a question mark.
In traditional Chinese medicine and other non-Western therapies, the gut is considered the second brain. One of the explanations for this is a nerve called the vagus nerve which connects the digestive tract to the brain (and other things along the way). Scientists have found that our ‘gut instincts’ and ‘gut feelings’ are related to this nerve and furthermore that this nerve is linked to different responses to fear.
Without getting technical beyond my knowledge, the basic premise is that what we eat affects our mood and our mood affects what we eat. Add in the dopamine hit delivered to us with feel good foods like sweets and baked treats and processed foods and we are left self-medicating our highs and lows with chocolate and pizza. Foods which, unfortunately, usually deliver a huge crash after the initial spike of feel goodness.
I still haven’t figured out my gut health, but I have slowed on the caffeine and sugars for a while because I find they contribute to anxiety. Worse yet, because I associate them with mmm-mmm feel good yum, when I do include a lot of sugar or caffeine regularly in my diet I eat it addictively and then convince myself that the slightly manic state of functioning is normal and ‘productive’ and the huge crash (often existential) is just a natural part of working hard. Worryingly, when I worked full time corporate this type of manic functioning was the norm. Third coffees were worn like badges of honour at all the hard work someone was doing. Sound familiar?
What I am saying is that those unresolved emotions I mentioned earlier in the first point are just as likely to creep onto our plates and keep us in a perpetual loop of catering to volatile emotions, whilst altering our gut health so that we can’t function at our optimal level causing long-term physical or mental illness. It’s a vicious (sometimes delicious) cycle and it pays to be aware of it.
- Mind your media
Social media is an interesting beast and one we don’t completely understand yet. As such, it is paramount that we monitor how we interact with it, mostly for our own self-awareness. I’m sure there are heaps of studies and research reports about this, but for the purposes of my rant I am just going to draw on my own experience.
It feels to me that things like Facebook give you proxy-experiences and therefore proxy-feelings. We feel part of things that we never have to physically interact with, we have a sense of suspended connection with people that we might never be able to be around socially. We are able to sign petitions and like videos (or feel sad about them as a friend recently pointed out) and then carry on with our lives with some smug sense of satisfaction that we ‘did our bit’. Don’t get me wrong, I think online movements are fantastic and we should keep experimenting with them. But we should do so consciously, with an understanding that the fact that we participate or don’t participate in digital movements does not delineate us as morally upright or superior citizens. It means, rather, that we had time to write our name or click a button, well intentioned as it might be.
As we increasingly interact with a manicured version of the world by which we are reflexively going to compare ourselves and others with, and exhibit ourselves to, I worry that we develop an intolerance and ignorance about all the things that are not like us. Social media seems an extension of civil society where the same ugliness of civil conflict is able to manifest in vitriolic or self-righteous dialogue against or towards individuals. It has also given space for videos and movements to ‘go viral’, and portray simple discourses of right and wrong that treat complex global issues with simplistic emotional polarities, engendering vague, impractical and sometimes extremist social movements towards I’m not even sure what.
On the other hand, there has been a notable rise in access to independent news, research and art. Our opportunities and networks have expanded exponentially. And although we know that 70% of Australian mainstream media is owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same level of awareness is forgotten about the the privately-owned Facebook. Though social media offers more outlets for information, the increase does not necessarily represent a diversity of views, and the opacity of the internet means we don’t know what opinions we are being fed by extension of our demographic and what agenda belies those opinions. It is, after all, a glorified marketing tool.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel anxious and nauseous when I’m on Facebook. I feel overloaded with information, negative or positive. Sometimes I feel like there is an outpouring of outrage and everyone is getting onto the digital lynch-mob. I get manic and upset when someone misunderstands a comment I’ve made, and yet, scarily, I find my fingers auto-type the Facebook URL into a computer before I’ve even made a conscious decision to log on. Often after I get off Facebook I find myself questioning my life choices thinking, ‘should I be doing X’, questioning whether I am good enough or worse yet, judging or rolling my eyes at something I’ve read by someone else. Unsurprisingly, my friends and I are often pulling each other out of Facebook holes where something we’ve seen or read has sent us on an irreversible thought/obsession loop. These are behaviours I really dislike in myself and hence often go on long Facebook bans so I can recentre and become myself again.
I guess what I’m saying is that the risks posed by poorly filtered media choices can buy right into our emotional wounds (again, see 1) and have us pursuing external satisfaction for our perceived internal deficiencies. I don’t think these risks outweigh the benefits necessarily, but it is worth considering, before you post, share, like, comment etc – Why am I doing this? Is it because I want to appear a certain way or because everyone else is doing it? Do I understand what I am buying into? What is the feeling that is being satiated when I press this button or get a like?
- Practice what you preach
This point can basically apply to all the previous things I have listed. If I am going to bother ranting about these in my self-confessional, un-cited blog post, I have a responsibility to do each of these things. Granted. But since my cohort seems to be of the ethically and peacefully minded, slightly leftist, socially aware sort, let’s talk about our consumer lifestyles for a moment.
It is impossible for all of us to buy ethical and sustainable products and frankly, too expensive. But at the same time, I find that myself, and others, are guilty of not actually doing all that we can. I mean, we all buy cheap goods at times, but this does not mean that we cannot engage more meaningfully with our lifestyles and what it is that we can do in small ways to start changing our patterns of behaviour and the beliefs that underlie them. Too often we resort to apathy and ‘it’s too hard’ and ‘what are we supposed to do’ rather than looking at what we can do. I mean, it is difficult considering most of the products available to us are made under questionable circumstances and sold at prices too low to offer a good minimum wage. But once we accept that that is true, we are tasked with the challenge of making other small adjustments in our lifestyle that might alter the impacts of business-as-usual.
For years I have lamented that I live in a city and it’s impossible to grow vegetables or not use electricity blah blah. But actually, I am probably always going to live in or near a city (aside from my dream cottage in the south of Italy), and perhaps we as a population need to engage further with how we conduct ourselves every day. For example, I use excessive appliances in winter, drive myself everywhere even five minutes away when I have access to a car and it’s cold, and only separate waste and recycling (as opposed to composting because worms kind of freak me out). I also often take long hot showers (because boo sad me had a long hard day) and don’t know how to ride a bicycle (even though I support having car-free bicycle cities!).
I am not saying we are all to become frugal sustainable saints. I still guiltily use my cheap labour Zara coat and it’s going to take me at least a few months to learn to cycle. But what I am saying is again it is about self awareness. Are we complaining about inefficient systems and continuing to use them inefficiently or are we genuinely looking at how we interact with our systems and making an effort to change? For my part, I am going to go investigate the compost bin downstairs and Youtube teach myself to use an old sewing machine I was given. It’s a small step, but it’s a start.
Rather than make some great environmental or humanitarian saving in the present, or chastising those who use ‘evil’ Chinese-made products, this is about a process of trial and error, a modification of convention, so that we know what is the most efficient way we can live in an inefficient system and actually adapt our behaviours this way.
- Connect & accept
So, if there was a peace du de la resistance of this rant, it would be evenly matched between my first point and this one.
Amidst all this chaos that appears to be increasingly rampaging on the world around us, the lasting act of courage and survival we have is to stay connected to each other. In a real and tangible sense, not just through digital spaces and ideological slogans. This connection necessarily means to actively break down the barriers that keep us separated. This includes facing those barriers in our minds and hearts carried like emotional scar tissue, which manifest in myriad forms through our behaviours. We must face that it is this handicap in ourselves and others that is used for all the manipulation and bigotry you see, some of it intentionally and other by unintended consequence. Our species is about to go through the dark night of the soul, if it hasn’t already entered it, and this will test our resolve for sanity and humanity in ways that we cannot imagine.
We can prepare, not maniacally or ideologically or obsessively, but calmly with attention and love to yourself and those around you, so that when unthinkable things occur we can lift ourselves and each other up to keep going, rather than to sink into the black hole of pain and suffering that we are empathetically and collectively connected to. We carry this trauma in our DNA, but we also have the ability to repair and evolve our physical, mental and emotional bodies.
On a practical level, it pays to stay up-to-date with what is going on in the world and your locality. Do you know how to respond in a crisis situation? Are your personal affairs up-to-date? Do you have an emergency stash of resources? I say this not to cause panic or be conspiratorial, but because stranger things have happened in cities more stable than ours.
For too long notions of spirituality and God have kept us separated from what I see as an innate humanness that we all equally cannot comprehend as we do intuitively understand. What I hope to say here in this very long and heartfelt piece is that perhaps the time is coming for us to begin to accept the state of the world and our species, and to gently and wisely understand that our course is charted and our power comes not from fighting against that course but from affecting its long-term consequences.
We are living in a system that is dying and it’s pillars are crumbling from the inside and out. Much of the chaos, violence and suffering in the world can be attributed to it and will likely worsen during our time as the powers that be incessantly and absurdly hold onto control at the cost of human life. This includes recession, war, famine, domestic conflict and ideological divisions. We will inevitably be faced with fear and trauma as this occurs, physically, emotionally and energetically. But I think that our preparation here, in these non-physical spaces of connection with each other, is to ensure that during those times of trauma we can respond in a way that defines what is built from the ruins; in a way that does not perpetuate the status quo with our own fear and vulnerability to manipulation. It seems to me that it is our responsibility to return to that ground zero, within and without, and persistently and courageously face the carnage of our own foundations. To dare to rebuild who we are.
It also seems to me that we are, remarkably, world-changingly, destined to bring about an evolution.