“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.” Joseph Campbell
Wise words, yes? They’re from a man known for his work in mythology. Says George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, “Joseph Campbell peers through the centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves.”
Stories connect and help us make sense of what it means to be human. That’s probably why we feel such a buzz after watching a movie or reading a book that resonates. And while movies and books are part of our culture, what about the rest of it?
In his medium.com article “The American Life is Killing You”, Erik Rittenberry writes, “This is the American Dream and this is the definition of success in our culture – degrees, jobs, families, consumerism, and raging debt.”
He calls it the “American Dream”, but it’s also the “Canadian Dream”. Years ago, I ran on this life treadmill: along with my late husband, Hugh, I oversaw various businesses, three kids, several properties, a few Standardbred horses and lots and lots of vehicles of various sizes, shapes, and purposes. Hugh came to me one day to say that we had inquiries into the purchase of our main business. We looked at each other and said, “Yeah, but then what would we do?”
What would we do? Hmmm. Why do we feel a need to be DOING all the time as opposed to BEING? Ok. I get it. I know you can’t just sit around all day BEING: debtors would come calling, you’d get pretty hungry, and your possessions would fall to rack and ruin. And besides, you’d get bored. But, for most people, there comes a time of reckoning, a time when one questions the wisdom of our capitalistic culture. What am I running for? What am I really after? Why not take a break and go walk in the woods?
Rittenberry puts it this way: “We prize HAVING over BEING, material possessions over experiences. We have contempt for nature these days and are too engrossed in the mechanical ways of living to truly FEEL what it means to be alive on this planet.”
If we spent more time with nature, took the time to “match” our nature with nature, perhaps we’d be more committed to climate change solutions? And be way less stressed?
According to mindyourmind.ca September 19, 2013, “. . . anxiety is the most common mental illness in Canada. More youth (aged 15 to 24) met the criteria for mood disorders and substance use disorders than any other age group.” And in the US? From time.com May 8, 2018: 18% of the US population have an anxiety disorder while almost 40% of Americans are becoming more anxious, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
How did we get so anxious? Rittenberry blames the stress mess we’re in on Edward Bernays, who was influenced by his uncle Sigmund Freud. Working in the post WWI era, as a propagandist – or in “public relations” if you prefer – Bernays employed his uncle’s theories on the human psyche to get people to buy stuff, such as cigarettes, which he promoted to women by labelling them “Torches of Freedom”. Wikipedia says, “he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct – and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways.”
No! We were duped? By clever advertising? Again, from Wiki, “Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages an acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.” Which means? If our goal of life is to buy, buy, buy? We can’t get no satisfaction.
Says Rittenberry, “Instead of living poetic lives close to the earth with little possessions, we barricade ourselves behind drywall and plastic and sit in front of screens, constantly buying things we don’t need to impress assholes who are doing the same thing.”
How do we stop the madness? The trend toward minimalism sure helps. It may not be good for the economy, but it’s good for the environment and gives one a heck of a lot more time to spend in the great outdoors. Which makes one less stressed.
As for the economy, recall climate activist Greta Thunberg’s strong words at the UN Climate Action Summit last September: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
I love that line: “fairytales of eternal economic growth”. High time to change our thinking – and hence, our actions – yes? Are we truly just about money? Power? More stuff? How do we define success? Are we happy?
Writes Rittenberry, “Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly – you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.”
Ah, the “simple joy among the sacred”. And with that in mind, here’s a beautiful – and appropriate – poem I saw in a recent blog, to remind us of our place on the planet:
The Moment by Margaret Atwood
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
Website photo: My daughter, Randelle, hiking trails in BC, discovering her goal of life all around her.