Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Just think

I am going to bet you something. That's right, each and every one of you. No, it's not the kind of bet where one of us has something material to lose or gain, so if that's what you came looking for you little gambler, Vegas is calling you instead. Here it is:

I will bet that you have given very little credence to the kinds of thoughts that roughhouse and carom through your brain in any given day. I mean, sure, a few of them will wipe off the grime of chaos and emerge sweetly into your consciousness, like little children when you bathe off the mud and you'll pick them up and cradle them close and say, "wow, where did YOU come from?" And there will, likewise, be a few that you can't ever wipe the schmutz off of, those ones you kick back under the rock from which they emerged and try to keep at bay. Aside from the few glimmering beautiful thoughts and the darkly negative thoughts that are most likely to get your attention, have you noticed the universe full of other thoughts zinging through? If you have actually spent a lot of time doing this, then bless you, you probably have noticed a lot more than that. But what about the hundreds, possibly thousands of little gray thoughts that sound a bit like an elderly grandparent whining about "the pain, the pain" all the time? What about the chorus of voices that regularly pass through, that the many experiences we have in any given day seem to give birth to? Those thoughts...are you aware of them?

Look, there isn't a right or wrong answer here. I'm not going to one-up you or out-shine you by saying that I am the master of my thoughts and nyah-nyah, you are a lame-o. I actually lied. This isn't a bet at all; this is an invitation to join me in taking notice of your thoughts. You know why I'm bothering with this? It's like my friend Emily and I were discussing in our now-ritual weekly jog/walk trip around the neighborhood. We live in a kind of hypnosis, and by we, I'll reduce it down to those of us in this country, the U.S. And I'll reduce it down further to those of us not in the dire straits of poverty, fatal illness or other intractable situations that make all lofty self-help philosophies seem like a bunch of propaganda.

WE live in a culturally-accepted form of walking hypnosis. I don't know what YOUR activities on a daily or weekly basis consist of. I don't know your hobbies, your passions or your vocation. But I do know that more and more of those that I always thought of as thinking people have shopping and television watching in their top three main forms of entertainment. In other words, where it used to be reading and going to the theater and creating conversation salons to discuss pertinent issues, there's now the outlet malls and Survivor. Oh yes, you can accuse me of cynism, of being jaded or worse of being liberal, but as Em and I continued our stroll we both asked the question with profound curiosity and a hint of frustration: why are more people not trying to shake this off? Why are more people not so bored, so tired, so empty, so disgusted with the hollowness of the status quo here that they are reaching past what the mainstream consumer culture offers to the rich, good depths of meaningful activities?

People scoffed (that is, those who bothered to read it or care) when the NEA issued its reading in decline report. People said, "who cares if we don't read as much." They said, "what, we should get rid of television?" These same people cried when the election didn't turn out in their favor. They said, "what went wrong?" and "are Americans really that stupid?" No. I don't think we're explicitly stupid. We're in a trance that is so much easier to stay in than it is to kick it free and do something different. I think it was Gurdjieff who said that we are in a prison, but we don't even know it. If we knew it, and could feel it, we'd realize that prison is also on fire, and there's going to have to be a deeply creative solution to get through those bars covering the only window. I'm sure he didn't say it just like that. Nonetheless, what shocks me that people don't seem to either realize or care about is that reading and theater going and conversation-salons have a direct impact on thought, and thus reality. On how we think, and what we think and more so, what we do about it. How we think is how we live our lives.

So I often in your day do you tell yourself: "I can't do that. I'll never have that. I couldn't get there?" How many times do you lament the "dream" you wish you had but feel as though you can't reach out and touch it? How many times do you notice how frustrated you are with your: job/spouse/free time/bad parking space/spending habits? Now how much time do you spend thinking about how great it would feel to do the thing you desire most? How much time do you spend being grateful? Joyous? Excited? Motivated?

Look at the equation. Be honest now. Be really honest with yourself. See if the circumstances of your life don't match somehow, someway the amount of attention you give to certain kinds of thoughts. And tell me if you're satisfied. I mean it; I really want to know who among you is satisfied with your life, thoughtless or thoughtful. I'm just taking notes.



At 7:44 AM, Blogger Sharon Hurlbut said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Jordan. And I have to admit, despite that fact that I spent much of my adult life in college getting my PhD (and therefore, one would suppose, doing a certain amount of thinking, at least on specific topics), I too was often in a TV-induced state of mindlessness.

I date the beginning of my waking from this coma to the birth of my first child, when I zealously outlawed all television in her presence. My mental fog began to slowly lift.

When my second child was born 2 1/2 years ago, I began writing and TV went out the window completely. Now I can't stand to sit there and watch the inane drivel that passes for entertainment at all. My life is immeasurably better for it. I'm more attentive, more engaged with the people and community around me, more (as I like to think of it) mindful.

I used to think that national turn off your TV week was some silly hippie movement. Now I know we would all be better off without the boob tube. I've given up trying to convince family and friends to give up theirs, but I'm making certain my children grow up thinking and creating their own worlds instead of staring empty-headed at someone else's.

So to answer your question, yes, I am satisfied with my life. I have, unwittingly, broken out of the burning prison. Boy, is the air ever clearer out here!

At 8:00 AM, Blogger Jordan E. Rosenfeld said...

Oh that's great, Sharon, I'm so impressed. The irony is that I have television, but I'm happy to say I rarely watch it. I rent videos though. It's like a drug; you have to be able to resist it, to strengthen yourself through work so that the drug has no power over you any more and is just the symptom.



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