Its been an adventurous few weeks. So much to do, so much work. I’m uncomfortable with it, although I’m doing what I intended to do. I suppose most folks would laugh, given the state the economy is in.
The longer this goes on, the more I think I should be a monk. Not that I want to hide from the world, but the more I put myself in it, the less happy I am, regardless of how successful I may be.
I’ve been down this road before, so many times.
The days are rocketing past while I take care of things. I’ve made a lot of money, and a lot more is on the horizon. I enjoy a lot of what I’m doing, but it’s banal, so empty. It’s making money to survive. Living to perpetuate life (or more accurately, a lifestyle), which is so far below that of which human beings are capable.
The price is time, which is life itself.
There’s a hackneyed saying among new – age folks: before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. The problem is that this was written in the Tao thousands of years ago, when survival was uncertain and life really was about just carrying on despite whatever wisdom or enlightenment you manage to develop in a life of struggle.
Now we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and As I’ve said before, we have an obligation to do more with our human potential than just surviving.
Those who don’t have our privilege must think we are nuts. Given half our chance I think most would put down the axe and bucket, and see what life really can bring them.
I’ve lived with lack and I’ve lived with material abundance, and it really doesn’t make much difference. Tracy picked me up a silver and gold bracelet for my 50th and it was too small, so I told her why don’t you keep it? She likes stuff like that, so it made sense to me. But no, she was adamant that she wanted to get me something nice for my birthday. I tried to dissuade her (it really was a lovely object and I didn’t see any reason for her not to take it), but she was on the verge of being hurt, so I let her take me back to the place and we exchanged it for another one, much larger and absolutely stunning, carved by an Aboriginal artist in Alert Bay.
So I now have this beautiful bracelet, but the fact is, it doesn’t really matter to me. In the end, it was about what Tracy wanted. She gives to me all the time and I know her love, so this object wasn’t important. It still isn’t.
I’ve found several ways to make money, but in the meantime, I’ve lost touch with so much that is important to me, like quiet time, like my art. Last year I did a lot of home reno work, but because it supported my lifestyle and future goals, I didn’t mind it so much. But now? The only reason to do it is for the money. Not to buy new sails so I can sail away, not so I can afford to sail around the Island. I don’t know why I’m doing it because I don’t know where I’m going in my life, and so I can’t feel like it’s a valid sacrifice.
Legitimate labour is labour you would do whether you got paid for it or not. Labour that defines who you are as a person. So far, all I can say that fits that bill is sailing and writing, with the occasional dabbling in vehicles when my head gets too spongy from too much thinking. That and living aboard and helping people and spending time with family and friends and I’m happy as a clam.
So why am I doing it? Good question. I suppose because I don’t know what’s coming up, and maybe it’ll come in handy. Because it’s so usual in our culture as to almost be instinctive. Because it keeps me busy. Because it makes Tracy happy.
I had a disturbing insight in my Buddhist class the other night. The core of Buddhist thought is the notion that desire and aversion is the source of all human suffering. We define ourselves by what we like and what we avoid, and so to avoid these things is to avoid that which strengthens our sense of self. The self is an illusion we actually create by our instinctive impulse to move towards or away from things. Diminishing self is key to diminishing suffering.
What is fascinating is that we knew this two thousand years ago, and yet it’s only recently become part of our paradigm of personality development. We theorise that this is the same process of personality development we see in children: desire and aversion in our relationships with others is how we create ourselves. In loving relationships we move towards, and in negative relationships we move away. And if no one is there to move to, we adopt negative behaviours because we have to have one or the other to develop the self.
We see in situations where children receive neither positive or negative attention, they literally wither away. No ego develops, which is our key energy source for survival. No ego, the body gives up and the child dies. This is empirical fact.
The problem for me, is that due to the lack of desire attention I received growing up, I resorted to aversion attention. I was in trouble all the time. I grew up learning to push against things in order to define myself. It started in early childhood and became how I defined my relationship to the world.
I had many personal successes, but few in my relationship to systems, organisations and structures, because I didn’t know how to embrace, only to push away. Over and again I would use my skills and knowledge to locate myself in a situation I thought I wanted, only to immediately begin pushing against it.
Lack of trust, lack of faith in others, a need to be unencumbered, to be “free”, meant that I’ve spent most of my life as an archetypal lone wolf. The consequence of this has been enormous, because the individual can do very little completely on their own, in isolation. I’ve reached a fraction of my potential because humans do far better being part of something larger than themselves, than going it alone.
But this is who I am, who I was inadvertently made to be. Even now, I’ve written 4 novels and had not one published because writing is a solo effort, but publishing requires engagement and working with the publishing community. Far easier to say “fuck them” and keep on writing
More recently, this has emerged with my relationship with the church I belong to. I recently asked to be maintenance person; no one has really taken on the responsibility over the years – no one with my skills at least – and so perceiving the need I offered myself to the board. I asked a reasonable hourly rate, because I knew that this was going to be a lot of work, and volunteer efforts only go so far.
My offer was accepted and I flung myself into the responsibility with a passion. I soon found major problems that needed to be dealt with immediately, and began working on them.
That’s when it turned ugly. I suppose there was an element of “shoot the messenger”, because people were appalled and distressed by the sheer scope of the problems I found, although I felt vindicated that someone needed to be responsible for building maintenance. Years of neglect had really left things in a bad way.
And not only vindicated, but I felt a real pleasure in belonging, being needed, and having an important role to play in the community. I was using my skills for the greater good. I researched, offered knowledgeable opinions and solutions. Although I charged for some of my time, I saved the institution thousands of dollars.
I’ve spent so many years flying solo, it was an absolute thrill to find this place for myself.
But after a short while, I began to get pushed out. I went away for a weekend and when I returned discovered that a lot of work had been done in my absence, including on some of my own work, without anyone consulting me. I sent a strong letter to the board asking what was going on, and received an equivocal response. Meanwhile, further repairs have been done, including hiring other people, without a real explanation.
The work I had done was thorough and professional, and I see no reason for any complaints, and yet found myself shouldered out, by a group that I thought were my friends.
It’s an old story, and I’m sure we all have similar experiences. It hurts because I thought – yet again – I had found a place, but it wasn’t to be. I suspect I had unknowingly intruded on other’s turf, other’s who had been there much longer than I and who did their best to keep things going without benefit of my skills or knowledge, and who were threatened by my presumption. It’s far more than a simple oversight.
Over and again, I’ve run into that dynamic, and one of the reasons why I have chosen a fairly solitary path. When I was a child and youth worker, I offered to do individual counselling with the kids in our program, without change in my status or pay – simply to do more for these wounded, vulnerable kids. I was underemployed, as I had a graduate diploma in art therapy and wanted to use all of my skills. None of the other staff had my qualifications.
But the team turned it down. Lots of excuses were made, but the unspoken reality was that the fear of my colleagues and my presumption to reach beyond them that was too threatening. Essentially free therapy for wounded kids, but they wouldn’t have it. It would make them feel second class.
And it feels like the same dynamic is happening now. The problem is very clear, and the solutions immediate and apparent. But equivocation seems to be happening and I am pushed aside – not even consulted after I have already done an enormous amount of work on the project. It makes no rational sense, and since it does the church no good, someone somewhere must be getting a need met.
I quit working as a child and youth worker soon after my experience there, and I’ve thrown in the towel with the church as well. Perhaps I should learn how to press back against these kind of forces, but it seems such a waste of my energy. Over and again I’ve found myself limited by other’s choices, and so I decided to pull on my own. I’m not perfect and by God I make mistakes, but at least my limitations are my own and not someone else’s. It’s a much lonelier path, and scarier, because there is no committee to dilute the responsibility or fault. When I fuck up, it’s really mine.
A final note to whoever contacted our boat broker hoping to get a “good deal”, as they have read on this blog that Tracy would like to move ashore, fugget about it. This is no divorce sale, and if we don’t get what we want, we will simply keep the boat. Of course it’s only natural to try and take advantage of the situation, but there is no “situation” here. Good luck on the next boat.