We have a lot to unlearn about the way things work
"If one more millionaire/billionaire modern day philosopher tells me that I can get rich tomorrow if I only clean up my thinking and attend his or her weekend ($5,000) seminar, I am going to burst!"
Everything in the universe is governed by a process. Some of those processes take millions, even billions of years. Yet somehow we live our lives believing that we can have whatever we want whenever we want. As a species we lack patience completely. But this wasn’t always the way it was. For centuries humans had patience and little else. They understood that things took time. And if you wanted to learn something new, it was understood that it would take time to learn it. If you wanted to learn how to paint, you didn’t think you could learn that in a weekend or even in ten weeks. In fact, you knew that it might take you 10 years as an apprentice in order to learn how to paint. So what happened to our patience?
This chronic lack of patience may be the single most important factor contributing to the challenges of the world today. We expect instantaneous results for everything we do and we get angry when we don’t get our way. We conclude that we have failed if we don’t get what we want, when we want it, and exactly the way we want it.
How would the world change if all of a sudden you didn’t need to have exactly what you wanted and have it immediately? What if you knew it might take 10 years to achieve your goals and your dreams? I’ll bet some of you would get very depressed right away!
But think about how freeing that could be, to take the time, to integrate new knowledge, to allow your goals and ideas to evolve, to grow, to change. Imagine taking the time to process new ideas and new perceptions.
Nearly all of education at every level suffers from this chronic lack of reflection and integration time. Students are expected to learn an entire field of study in just a few weeks. This, of course, is impossible, but the student goes away from the experience thinking that they are done with the subject.
This may be the greatest damage being done by the system – turning out people who think that the superficial look at the subject they have had during their brief class makes them proficient.
Since the post World War II push to demonstrate that the United States was the world leader in consumer goods production and the relentless propaganda presented to the American people that their success must be measured by the size of their bank accounts and the number of gadgets in their homes, so many who have been brought up in or embraced Western cultural values have had difficulty in finding their true path. That era resulted in an economic system shackled by the doctrine of supply and demand. An endless supply of widgets must be manufactured, whether or not they add value to our lives, which must be endlessly purchased by the people in order for the nation to survive.
Generations have been indoctrinated since birth to get a good job (meaning one that pays enough to afford all the things you want to buy, not one that fills your soul), become independent as soon as possible and leave your family (certainly no later than 18 years of age), get married (to someone of the opposite sex who has a good job, of course), and buy a house. So many of us have come to believe that these ideas are based on fundamental truths or forces of nature that hold the very fabric of the universe together.
Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Lump into those erroneous assumptions the confused ideas we have about what makes a man a man and what makes a women a women and the result is one mixed up, confused, fearful, unhappy society that seeks fulfillment in shopping malls and drowns their sorrows in alcohol, drugs, or the modern-day legal teen drug of choice, video games.
The drive to make money and collect possessions is so strong that our very sense of self-worth is intimately tied to our salary and our bank account balance. Is it any wonder that our schools turn out single focused, homophobic, money driven people? Is it any wonder that the divorce rate and the college dropout rates are 50 percent and more? We haven’t a clue how to manage our lives, our relationships, or our search for knowledge and meaning. We stumble through one self-help program to the next, searching for the answer from outside instead of looking inside.
It is no surprise that we are desperate to “get rich quick,” to buy book after book, DVD after DVD, and watch endless talk shows with guests that profess of having “the way” to get us rich? Of course, this plays in very nicely with the fundamental tenant of our economic system: goods must be manufactured and bought for the system to continue. We make the modern day prophets rich by buying their books, their inspirational calendars and datebooks, and their audio and video programs, all of which do little more than make us feel like we are losers since we aren’t financially successful after reading the book, watching the program, or attending the lecture.
But they are seductive and addictive and we can’t wait until the next book, paying little attention to the fact that our situation has changed little, except that we now have an extra expense from all those inspirational books and materials.
Do any of us really know what we are searching for? Money, to be sure, tops the list, but how we make that money seems to be a minor consideration. But we do know one thing – and even our modern prophets have this at the top of their lists – we want to be rich. We want the American Dream – houses, cars, entertainment devices, the latest computer, and on and on. Have you ever heard any of the modern prophets tell their audience that you don’t need money to be truly happy? Sadly, too few reveal that basic truth.
It is important to note that what has been described as the classic search for the American Dream is not an evil conspiracy to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. It is simply U.S. Economics 101. For the American economic system to work there has to be endless consuming. A natural consequence of that system is that there will be a small percentage of the population, about 3 percent, who has 80 percent of the wealth, provided to them dutifully by those of us who embrace the wage slavery required to earn just enough money so that we can buy the goods that they manufacture.
Not enough money? No problem. Just borrow what you need and pay it back later, with interest. When President George W. Bush said at the first press conference after the September 11th attacks that the best thing Americans could do for the country was to go shopping, he wasn’t being heartless or evil. He was simply being an advocate for the economic system that is in place in the US and has been since the nation’s beginning. Every U.S. president has that responsibility, no matter how progressive they appear to be during their campaign.
Our first challenge may be figuring out what our true values are, not just accepting the ones that have been handed down to us by well-meaning parents and a mass education system designed to support our nation’s economic values. Identifying the influences that have shaped our lives and deciding which ones to keep and which ones to discard may be an important step towards self discovery.
Malidoma Some, born in West Africa, holds three master's degrees and two doctorates from Sorbonne and Brandeis University. He currently devotes himself to speaking and, with his wife, Sobonfu, conducts intensive workshops throughout the United States. In one of his classic books, “Ritual and Community,” he said,
"Industrial cultures live with the essence of two extremely dangerous phenomena. One is the good side of production; the other is the danger of what happens to the tools for production when they are devoid of any spiritual strength ... "
"... The spirit liberates the person to work with the things of the soul. Because this reaching out to the spiritual is not happening, the Machine has overthrown the spirit and, as it sits in its place, is being worshiped as spiritual. This is simply an error of human judgment. Anyone who worships his own creation, something of his own making, is someone in a state of confusion."
We have to examine what we value and what we have placed value on. We have to decide what is important to us, what we would take a stand about, and what we want to be remembered for a hundred years from now. It’s important.
And it doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process. It takes time.
A process? Taking time? That part of you that has been trained to demand the quick fix, instant gratification, and the idea that you are supposed to feel good all the time or you are just not doing it right will be telling you right now to put down this book and find one that outlines the steps to get rich tomorrow. That’s OK. Feel that feeling. Feel that resistance. Embrace it. And then categorize it as one of those influences and conditioning of your life that may need reassessing.
How different would your life be if you grew up learning of the complex process behind every fact, the troubled times, the hard luck, the beautiful bursts of insight that make up every life today and throughout history? How different would your life be if you never saw a television drama where deeply complex issues were resolved in an hour (actually, about 42 minutes after you take out the commercials)?
How different would your relationships be if you never saw a movie where one minute a couple is arguing and one ends up walking out the door when the scene shifts and they wake up in bed together the next morning? It is the moments in between the start and the end of anything that matter, yet we have few opportunities to learn how to manage those moments in-between.
This book is about those moments in between and how to fully live them, how to embrace the process that is your life, how to be comfortable with uncertainty, with, as Gilda Rader called it, “delicious ambiguity,” and how to appreciate your life as a journey and not just as a series of destinations.
(c) Steve Cooperman