I made a mistake recently. I allowed into my home what I thought would be a harmless, albeit silly movie that my son wanted to watch. As opposed to harmless, it was exceedingly crass and inappropriate for a growing teen; glorifying drug use, lewd sexuality and crude objectification of women. My heart breaks thinking about the young man on the brink of deciding the important and lifelong beliefs that he will take into the world; those very same perspectives that will inform him about what to expect and wish for from his life. How does it help him to see women being demeaned and reduced to the worst of the hyper-sexualized, barbie-esque stereotypes? And how does it help him to imagine his life and what makes it worthwhile, when he sees characters in the story getting wasted and holding it up as the epitome of what makes a man free and king of his castle?
The images our children take in shape their minds. They create their beliefs. They pepper their wants, desires and perceived needs. And if for a moment you doubt this, why then would the advertising world spend billions of dollars on things that did not influence them? The images instruct them on how to be a man, or a woman. What to want. What it looks like to be good or bad, successful or desirable.
We have always had storytellers for the young, those charged with the sacred duty of offering them guidance, inspiration and entertainment through carefully crafted stories. Today, we have spellcasters, image-makers motivated not by our children’s betterment, but by their own profit. Rife with the agenda of an ever-increasing bottom line, they care not for how our children are shaped or what kind of men and women they become, as long as they mint lifelong consumers for their products and entertainment outlets.
Couldn’t we do better? Couldn’t we individually and collectively find and offer stories to our young people that guided and instructed them in what it means to be a fully expressed human being living in cooperation with others and the planet? Couldn’t we learn to say no to the images that distort and distract? Couldn’t we learn to be “that parent”, the one who makes the difficult choice even when others around us are saying yes? Couldn’t we?
(For support on this topic, check out The Center for Media and Child Health at http://cmch.tv/)
Joseph Campbell once wrote, “You must have a room or a certain hour or so a day where you don’t know what is in the newspapers that morning…A place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be…At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred space and use it, something eventually will happen.”
We must have regular space where no one knows where we are or what we are doing. A time when we are accountable to no one. A protected place where we do not have to put on any particular face, and where what we do or how we move (or not move), is up to us.
It is in these moments that we catch a glimpse of our authenticity. It is in these places that we come to know ourselves and find our voice. It is in these spaces that we discover our many faces, both hidden and public. And it is in these times that we are made real.
These past weeks have been a blur of frisbee tournaments, music shows, prom, graduation, teenage schedules and emotion. In between have been my attempts to slow down, notice, come back to center. I have been struck by the Herculean effort it has required of me to honor what matters most in the midst of an overwhelming schedule and pace.
This speaks to a common malady of our times; too much going on. Too busy. We rush and we chase. We slide into home just in the nick of time. We overload our schedules with have to’s and couldn’t possibly not do’s. Some of what fills our time we argue is a requirement of living. Maybe. And some of it is driven by the fear of missing out on something and the anxiety of not doing enough. And then of course is the sea we are swimming in, for all around us we are encouraged and often required to be overloaded by our places of work and the institutions we are associated with. We are in a pickle of our own making. And in this marinade we are letting go of what matters most.
In the flurry of these past weeks, I have noticed some things I was “forced” to let go of. I see that when I am already overwhelmed, something as insignificant as ants showing up in my kitchen makes me feel like I am going to have a nervous breakdown at the thought of having one more thing to do. I see that precious food gets lost in my refrigerator, going to waste and putting me in violation of things I hold dear. I see myself shoving and throwing things into the basement, creating a big mess and losing track of resources which means that I wind up buying things I do not need. I see my body holding more tension and sleeping less well. I see myself eating on the go and eating foods that do not nourish me. I see myself buying take-out and convenience foods adding to the destruction of the earth and our good health. I see a pile of creative ideas shoved into a closet along with homemade medicinals; both left untended on a shelf. I see myself less tuned in to the subtleties of my own rhythms and the energies of those around me. And I see how the things that support a good life become dogged have-to’s and inconveniences.
We are moving too fast and doing too much, and every one of our speedy choices sets off a chain reaction of events. A rippling effect that moves out of the center of every choice we make. In our overwhelm, we lose track of what we truly value and what makes for a good life. Do you have any idea whether your stated values are in line with how you are living? Do you have a way of catching up with yourself? Something that helps you to know? Without these practices we are at the mercy and tyranny of a world gone mad with ever increasing speed and never ending lists of things to do.
Last week my dog Grace and I were deep in the woods when she flushed out a coyote. In the early moments of the encounter my first reaction was “Wow, Coyote! I wonder what it means to be seeing a coyote?” What it turned out to mean was that I would be finding a branch in my hand with no knowledge of how it got there. It would mean smashing that same branch over the coyote’s back when it became clear that my dog would be no match for this beast. It would mean being close enough to see its razor sharp teeth. And it would mean finding an even bigger branch along with numerous rocks to throw at it, while I screamed and fended it off for the next mile.
And while you may find it hard to believe, I had no fear. Not a speck. I simply did whatever the next thing it was that I had to do. I was clear, present and powerful. I had no past and I had no future. There were no “what if’s,” not a single one. There was only “what is.” And I was completely on board. No part of me felt the victim. No part of me imagined telling this story to anyone. No part of me wanted it to be any different than it was. And it was deeply empowering! I was an Amazon Queen.
Then. It changed. In the aftermath, my sleep and waking moments were disrupted by anxieties, fears and images. I began to make contingency plans for imagined repeat encounters with the coyote. Should I get mace? A gun? Should I carry a pack on my back and conceal an easily accessed weapon inside? I asked people, who I thought might have knowledge about this, for information I believed would guarantee me protection. I ruminated in bed, in my car, basically wherever I was (Note: And the coyote was not). And I anticipated over and over and over again future encounters and how it would be that I would handle myself.
And in the end, I am left with one terrifying and exhilarating realization: “I am not in control. I do not know how things are going to turn out on any given day.” And while most of us plan and schedule and create our stories to insulate ourselves against the reality of Life, the truth is that for all of our anticipations and planning and attempts at control, things will ultimately go the way things are going to go. And in the process of us trying to guarantee an outcome, we waste our precious life force trying to control the uncontrollable. We think if we worry enough, we will somehow protect ourselves. But I will tell you, I have had many worries in my life and not one of them has included a coyote.