I can no longer live by thinking…
24/03/2011 § 2 Comments
I am aware of an increasing sense of unreality. I am finding it harder and harder to make sense of this world. Thinking no longer provides satisfactory answers.
We are heading into a time of great uncertainty. Everywhere we look there are looming energy crises: an environmental crisis, an energy crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis and a spiritual crisis. Maybe there are others too. There’s plenty of evidence for all this. Yet as a society we seem to be focused on pretending none of this is really happening. We are fiddling while Rome is burning.
Psychology helps us explain this illogical behaviour. It seems we take guidance for our behaviour from those around us. In a recent research project, a man was put in a room to do some work, then smoke was blown into the room. A natural reaction would be to get up and investigate, or to leave the room. But the man saw that others in the room were unperturbed (they were actors, although he didn’t know this) and so he carried on working. So in essence we are all quietly re-assuring ourselves that everything is fine, whilst meanwhile the planet is burning.
My question is, if I can see all this happening, how do I respond?
I have thought about this a lot, and it has been quite a journey. Like many others, I started by spelling out to others what I saw as the truth. “We need to reduce our CO2 emissions.” I would cry. “Stop driving SUVs”. “Stop flying”. “STOP”
More often than not, I found the response was a blank look. People would edge away from me, looking for someone else to talk to. My family found I had become very boring. Somehow the message wasn’t getting through.
This was a lesson in humility. It dawned on me that there are great dangers when talking about what you see as the truth. The truth is not simply an accumulation of facts, pointing to some conclusion. Someone likened it to a young deer in the forest – it has to be approached quietly, with stealth, otherwise it may bolt. Life is mysterious and we really don’t know what is going to happen to any of us. We just know the future will be different from the present, and we know we’ll die sooner or later, all of us. We have to make our own choices about how to live in the present, what to do with our “one wild and precious life”.
I started to preach less and aimed instead to model the behaviour I wanted to see. Reducing my carbon emissions, eating fair trade and organic food, getting involved in the local community, working for a small company building an eco-car. And still it wasn’t enough. I was still a bit earnest, a bit boring, even to me!
This year for some reason I began to reflect on joy, to really appreciate the value of a life filled with joy. As I see it, joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is an emotion, a temporary feeling. You have a good day and are happy, a bad day and are sad. Yet you can always be joyful. It is a choice you make, and it arises from connection, connection with nature, with another human being, with the universe. Could is be that my most valuable contribution to a troubled planet is to focus on being joyful?
As I see it, there’s not much downside to such a strategy. I will certainly be more fun to be around, and be more in tune with life. The fact that it seems so illogical is part of its appeal – I can’t really think about it too much. I just have to be it.
And using joy as the litmus test to apply to anything I think or do gives me something to hold onto when I am struggling to make sense of life. The times when I hear politicians obsess about growth while for me growth is not a solution to anything but rather part of the problem to be solved, The times when a friend buys a new Land Rover, just because he fancies it, even though he has plenty of cars already. The times when I struggle to find regular income from doing work I believe in. When Dasha asks a perfectly sensible question like “Why don’t you just go and get a job?” and I can’t give an articulate response.
Put very simply, when I choose joy it is a sign that I trust in the universe. That, like Orlando in “As you like it” by William Shakespeare who I quoted in the heading, I have reached the limits of where thinking can take me. From now on I am letting life lead me where it will.
Like this blog. I am not sure whether I am guiding it or it is guiding me. Who knows where it will go next?