How about help? You can only help yourself if you admit that you need help. And we all need help in an roundabout way, because we need people. Even shut-ins like myself (especially shut-ins like myself). But what is it about the idea of self-help that is so elusive, so prickly, while the idea of doing better, feeling better, looking better is considered an ideal. I think a lot of the disparaging looks given towards self-help come from the quiet confidence of having simple answers. I completely get it. The real truth about being a human person in this beautiful chaotic world, is that we quite simply don't know what's going on. Every day we learn more and more about the science, the mathematics, even the social tendencies of our great smashed up globe and the fuzzy little people on it. And every day we learn how much we cannot know. And yet the upturned noses towards self-help heroes are particularly problematic when we look at the open-armed embrace of the newest, bestest diet that stigmatizes food, offers work out short cuts and promises to save you time and money. ITS SO EASY. These are two sides of the same coin it must seem. But I must beg to disagree.
Provided the self-help writer is not delving into your financial life (if so, sneak quietly away!), there is one very distinct difference between a diet/ fitness expert and a self helper. One professes to know everything you need to know to live your life, while the other states that there is no need to know. The questions themselves are only a repetitive ritual keeping you from being comfortable with yourself. Of course fitness is ideal. Of course we could all eat better. But pretending that science can "cure" or hack your health into overdrive is ignoring the dialogue with the body, by telling it what it is (wrong, out of "shape").
The body is merely a vessel for your being. It is dramatically complex and presciently frail. It's health is dependent on the clear and open fields of the mind as much as it is on burpees and broccoli. For me, the demonizing of food, the godlike status of SoulCycle instructors and the invention of the horrendous Soylent, all stem from the same problem. The addiction to easy.
After World War II, the food technology invented to feed the troops (that brilliant science that brought us canned ham, produce that does not conceivably expire, preservatives, nutrient enriched foods, powdered milk, and on and on) was then pushed on the public. Powerful business do not just step out of the ring gracefully when there is money to be made, and to be fair there is no proof that these companies had any idea what this type of food was doing to people's bodies at the time. These modern foods really caught on when they offered to free the housewife from the kitchen. Though many women reported immense pleasure in the act of cooking at the time (who can blame them?) some did not, and certainly no woman could deny the pleasure of the freedom from expectation that not having to be in the kitchen for 1-2 hours a day brings.
This modern technology very easily aligned itself with the progressive notion that women could have leisure time too. When women went into the workforce in greater numbers in the 60's and 70's fast food was the greatest ally to equality. Corporations were happy to cook for the modern family, and they were getting better and better and doing it with greater returns and higher profits every day. And it is this addiction both to the fat/sugar/sodium that creates a drug-like high in the brain and to the idea that cooking is hard, messy, smelly work that is at fault. That everything is considered work, and people are working more than ever and so after the office and the commute, there are precious moments in the day to do nothing. AND THEY MUST BE SEIZED. But it is the way in which we do nothing that has caused us so much grief.
Television and take out. Are these hours really so different from the ones spent at a desk in an office. There is almost never a full kitchen in an office. There is almost always a microwave and a refrigerator. You sit in an office all day. You sit (or lets be real, lay) on a couch all night (or sit in a bar stool or restaurant seat). And while you sit, you let the tide of your unconscious thoughts beat away at the bedrock of your shores. And you think I should, I should, I should and you feel the pleasant spray of just thinking of change. Thinking of a potential new story. Or you feel shame from your past, you feel the never healed wounds of what you think you did wrong. And when there is nothing to do with you hands, you let this tide wash away the foundations of who you are, and create a new story of you, based solely on your emotions in dialogue with the thoughts that pour from an unconscious ocean.
Self help is not for everyone. But self-discovery is. I'll prove it anecdotally. Do you think a person's job tells you a lot about who they are? Their finances? How about their personality? Do you think it is important to know who you are? I may not know how you feel about all of these, but I'd bet money on the fact that to the last one, you said yes. But what if I told you I'm not so sure? Eckhart Tolle does not believe that knowing who you are is important or even possible. In, fact, he feels that admitting that you don't know who you are is a great step towards embracing the fullness of this current moment, and thus a key part of awakening presence in yourself. Does that sound like someone who has all the answers? Maybe, but let me delve just a little deeper.
His answer to so many things is, that you do not need to know. His and Pema Chodron, and Tara Brach and on and on. He also believes something I feel very deeply, that you do not need to have an opinion about everything. Does that not sound like a freedom from the weight of our times? That you can merely say, "is that so?" Over and over and you can watch the world like you would a TV show, only it's plaing out in four dimensions. You can touch the characters, and interact with them and ask them questions. You cannot resist the is-ness of your life. You cannot resist cooking because it is a villain. And you can always make time for the things that are truly important to you, but you can never make more time just to have it. It goes by like the numbers in a bank account, faster and faster the more you coddle it.
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