---by S.A. Barton
I have moved my primary blogging efforts to sabarton.com.
I won’t say I’ll never update here again… never say never. But I’m spending most of my time over there now. Come take a look, and adjust your bookmarks.
—S. A. Barton
Maybe you’ve heard of politics explained in terms of two cows?
I thought I’d take a moment to add my thoughts on the Tea Party, explained in terms of cow ownership:
You own 2 cows. You give one to a rancher who owns almost all of the cows to help him stop the election of people who want to keep one rancher from owning all the cows. You blame immigrants for the fact that you own only one cow.
The man had a good run. As a boy, he wanted to fly airplanes. He grew up to be a pilot. Then he became an astronaut and walked on the moon. He went on to live a full life the way he wanted, privately and without fanfare, in the arms of his family. He was 82 when he died.
A good run, yes.
He was always best known for being the first human to set foot on the moon– no surprise there. Generations have grown up, especially in the USA but worldwide, seeing his footprint, hearing of his unique place in history and taking it as inspiration. In the years leading up to the moon shot, and for years afterward, science fiction writers wrote of space stations and lunar colonies in the future of the 1970s. Then the 1980s. Perhaps the 1990s. Surely by the year 2000.
All those times have come and gone. We’ve put innumerable satellites in orbit, sent probe after probe to this planet and that. But, shortly after Neil broke trail, we stopped sending people.
It was too expensive, too distracting. There were hungry people– or, more often, hungry corporations and wars to feed here at home. Maybe there’s nothing out there, and even if there is, we can find it right here on Earth faster, easier, and cheaper.
We’ve always said such things to explorers. Ultimately, we’ve always been wrong, we homebodies. We always call the adventurous fools in the beginning, and with good reason. A lot of them die. At least, a higher percentage die young than do those who stay at home. A lot of them fail. Well, so do a lot of people who try new things. Who venture into the uncertain. Some of them turn out to be just plain nuts, chasing hallucinations. Those are the ones we point at when we call the rest of them fools.
The thing is, we’d never have gotten anywhere, we overgrown primates, without our risk-taking crazy explorers of outer and inner space. Our first distant ancestors who ventured out of the primeval forests in Africa, the ones who braved the strange terrain and powerful oceans to reach Europe, Asia, Australia, the Americas, and the later ones, the ones we know of by name. Some heroes, some villains; most of them a mix of the two, or as I like to call them, imperfect humans. The Marco Polos, the Buddhas, the Gandhis, the Columbuses (oh, brave and visionary scoundrel and villain!). The MLKs, the Malcom Xes, the… maybe you get my drift. The people who stuck their necks out, for good and ill.
Mr. Armstrong was one of them. Like all of them, he may have gotten the spotlight, but he’d never have gotten anywhere without a lot of others helping in one way or another: breaking trail with wild ideas before the world was ready, being part of the team, following after and capitalizing on what was discovered or inspired.
In the case of Mr. Armstrong and all the others who went to the moon, we’ve fallen down on the job of following up. When he walked on the moon, he was under 40. When he died, he was over 80. We treated him to more than 40 years of watching the world fumble around lukewarmly, hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be a good idea to poke our beaks a little farther out of the eggshell we’d just cracked.
It seems, for the time being, that we’d rather just sit around in the shell where it’s safe and familiar.
That’s not the way it should be. It’s not the way individual humans progress and it’s not the way the human race improves itself.
Take it from someone who has stuck his neck out once or twice and profited.
It’s a disaster.
We hear this all the time. In politics, in the news, in television and movies. We hear people say it. It’s a disaster, it’s all screwed up, it’s all going straight to hell in a handbasket.
It might be. But it’s probably not as bad as you think.
Look, I’m a ‘disaster is looming’ sort of guy… or at least part of me has pretty much always been*. This has meant a life of anxiety and worry and screwing a lot of things up. It turns out when you spend a lot of time and energy and thought on imagining what might go wrong and being either worried or pissed off about it or both, that’s a lot of time you could have spent on something else.
Somebody wise once said that time is all we have… or so I vaguely recollect. Well, that man or woman or figment of my imagination was absolutely right.
Having a desire to make my own life better and a resolve to take action to do those things that I can figure out has been helpful in reducing that anxiety, worry, and so on. But it can only go so far. Worry, aside from distracting you and leading you to waste your time, also functions as a big pair of blinders. We human beings are already pretty lousy at seeing our own faults. This is both folk wisdom and confirmed by various psychological and sociological studies. Worry makes things worse.
I’m not trying to say ‘don’t care’. This is a big one people go for when they hear advice to drop the worry. ‘What, I’m not supposed to care about anything? That sucks.’ Yeah, that would suck.
Leaving worry behind and not being blind–or, to be honest, to be less blind than you were in the past–takes work. It’s not something you do with a slogan. Life is not a crappy shoe ad.
It takes paying attention. It takes not feeling lousy when you notice you haven’t been paying attention after all, but telling yourself ‘whoops, I’m not doing what I planned to do, time to start doing it again’. It takes asking yourself why you are doing the things you do, and asking yourself why you are not doing the things you feel like you should be doing. It takes looking for a way to accomplish your goals and not holding on to those goals so hard you can’t change course and shoot for a new one when life throws you a curve ball– and it will.
It takes pushing the reset button, doing something that gets your mind off of things and lets you see them from a fresh perspective. Getting enough sleep is a start, your mind needs some down time and a lot of us push the envelope on sleep deprivation, trying to force enough hours into the day to go to work, take care of the laundry, water the lawn, and watch all that TV we were planning to watch.
A little basic meditation is better**. You don’t have to go full orange-robe-monk or anything. You’re probably not a monk, you don’t need to be one to have a happier life. But you can probably make about fifteen minutes a day to sit quietly, breathe, and attempt to let your thoughts flow naturally rather than guide your internal dialogue. To stop worrying, to stop making up scenarios about how your life is going to go next hour, next day, next week, next year.
What the blinders cause us to miss is that it’s always a disaster, because we are taught to think of change as a disaster. Death is the worst thing that can happen to anyone, dropping your ice cream cone on the sidewalk is a reason to cry and wish that you had your ice cream back, you need to have a bachelor party because you’re ‘losing your freedom’, a storm is coming, someone will get pregnant, someone will not get pregnant, and so on, and so on, and so on.
Take a little time, and tell your internal dialogue: shut up for a bit. It’s not a disaster, it’s just change, the only constant thing in the world.
*Shameless plug: you can see it in some of my writing. Try ‘Dark’ (free) or ‘Labor of Love’ (not free) for examples.
**This mentions mantras. If you like mantras, go wild. I’m not a fan of them myself. When I catch myself directing my own thoughts, doing the internal chattering of ‘oh, and then I have to do this, and I need to pick up something for dinner tomorrow, and I wonder how much gas is in the car’, I think or say, “thinking”. I treat it like a reset button. OK, mind, you’ve had your fun, back to meditating. Mantras also tend to tie into the whole metaphysical-magical forces-and-spirits-and-deities mindset, and that’s not my bag either. Personally, I find that flowers are flowers, rivers are rivers, ridiculously large SUVs are ridiculously large SUVs, and the interconnectedness of all things is the interconnectedness of all things. No magic, just the world as big and beautiful as it always was.
When it comes to yourself, knowing causes can be a good thing. It can be vital, really. And it is easy to get lost in the investigation, as well. Like so many good ideas, this sword has the proverbial double edge.
As an alcoholic, I looked for causes of my state for a long time, often while drinking, occasionally while sober (or at least not drinking). At one time or another I identified various experiences and people in my past upon whom I could hang… if not blame, then causation. Oh, my problems came from this person and that event.
Well, some of my thinking had some merit. My abusive relationship with an intoxicant did, in a way, spring out of some negative experiences and how I related to them. That last part is the key. How I related to them. The actions were mine, and the actions it took to recover, in the end, had to be mine. I needed help, guidance, and support from others with experience in recovery and from others who loved me or at least cared about me.
But for a long, ugly, drunken time, that ‘how I related to them’ part was something I glossed over, something I willfully ignored. I focused on the events and the people, and on my emotional responses to them. I looked over my past with all of the obsession that I had for drink, parsing and analyzing the events, reliving them, warping the negatives there into gigantic, funhouse mirror images of themselves, and losing all of the good, positive people and events.
That’s what I mean by being lost in knowing. I took knowing to be an end in itself, and it turned into an endless labyrinth through which I flailed ever more desperately, looking for a way out of my alcoholic life.
Once I accepted that my knowledge was a means rather than an end, that acceptance could guide me to release the obsession with the knowledge itself, to the actions that have given me more than four years of sober, productive life… and perhaps many more, so long as I do not lose myself in knowing again.