The first time I ever saw the saying on a bumper sticker, I whooped and hollered and otherwise loudly proclaimed my support of it. Very few systems seemed set up to make life anything but hard on me when I was young, and I was kind of mad at the world. Consequently, that phrase really hit home with me at the time. You know the one I’m talking about, still pretty popular among the bumper sticker type…
‘If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!’
One of the best ways to cling to a bad habit is finding some way to justify it. When you make it a requirement of intelligence, anyone who agrees with you is obligated to not change their mind. If they do, it’s easy to accuse them of losing it. Even if it’s your own mind you’re arguing with. So it was with me, and my outrage.
Childhood was a real inconvenience for me. I was keenly aware of all the things I couldn’t do, and all the things that were expected of me. I’m of the opinion that any parents would have had trouble raising a personality like mine, and my folks were no exception to the theory. Many a line was drawn, most were crossed, and I was grounded for something or other as often as I had weekends free.
When I graduated to adulthood, simply because a calendar date passed, I found a whole new batch of reasons to be upset. I could drive, but I wasn’t supposed to drink; I could work, but I didn’t have any skills worth paying real money for. The whole system seemed to be set up to make life hard on me, and I struggled through day after day as my outrage grew.
I turned to philosophy to give me some answers that were better than the ones I had gotten from all those people who didn’t write books. You may not be surprised to find out that thinkers live different lives than most people do, but I was. Suddenly there was a whole new set of rules that I needed to learn, or at least a new way of looking at the world. It was time to consider the possibility that the reason I was so full of outrage was because I had put it there.
The real problem I was facing was that I wanted to be happy. I’d had what all those books I was reading called a ‘mystical experience’, and that sliver of time had given me a taste of a flavor of happiness I had never known. When it faded I was left with the choice of pretending it had never happened or learning the lessons it was there to teach me.
Now I had a new problem. I had practiced outrage so much for so long, it felt like a part of me. Yet in the same mind, in the same moment, I was keenly aware that my happiness or lack of it was completely my responsibility. I had some work to do, and it was the kind of work I had never learned anything about.
Luckily, books had always been a big part of my life. I went from reading fantasy and science fiction to escape my reality to reading new age and philosophy and self-help to learn to reshape my reality. For a while I was the ‘it’s all good’ guy, who liked to tell stories from spiritual disciplines around the world to sum up what was going on in my and others’ lives. A few people thought I was pretty special, but most people probably thought I was a bit of an annoying douchebag.
Well, they were both right.
The problem with a lot of people that are into some kind of belief system is that they let it blind them to some important aspect of reality. So it was with me, then. Now spirituality is like science, to me; if you find something that works, use it. If someone tells you to do something because you’re supposed to, without having any explanation of the benefits you will receive by doing it or the consequences you’ll suffer for not doing it, you might try it for awhile. But if it doesn’t work, it gets discarded. If you find something more effective, it gets replaced.
After all, moving forward means leaving old thinking behind.
There’s always somewhere better to go, and always something better to reach for. So it was with me and that first annoying stage of spirituality. At some point I had to address the fact that I had spent so much time being outraged, and those issues were still affecting lives on a daily basis. Just because my life remained untouched by many of the world’s issues didn’t mean they weren’t real. Once I had reconciled the fact that life is blow-your-mind-awesome with the fact that it is also throw-up-in-your-mouth-horrific, I found that the best thing we can have sometimes is a sense of humor.
Just as it was unhealthy for me to be pissed off all the time, it was unrealistic for me to try to somehow fit every possible occurrence into the ‘it’s all good’ category. It’s fine to accept that nothing and no one in the universe is truly evil; raging against the ways of the world is no way to find peace or happiness, and closer inspection will always reveal what we call evil as either ineptitude or love reaching for itself. Yet spending all our time in this place robs us of the power to make changes in our own lives; if all things are equal in our eyes, there’s no point reaching up to the next level of anything because there is no next level according to that perception. Even our happiness or spirituality doesn’t matter from this point of view; if it does, you’re doing it wrong.
Establishing a point of view is something that must be done carefully and selectively at this point. The seeker has to avoid the trap of falling into old thought patterns on both sides, walking a clear and fine line between childish outrage and oblivious bliss. Each aspect of life must be thought through and tested in both the quiet mind and the noisy field that is life out there before preferences that will serve us can fall into place. We still don’t have to chunk the world up into good and evil; but if we don’t establish our preferences we may find ourselves wherever the wind happens to blow us. In other more familiar words, if you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything.
Feeling at ease with myself was only possible when I was able to strike this balance effectively, neither turning my back on the wonder of life nor abandoning all preference to somehow see everything as okay. Everything is okay, except the things I would like to see get better; but it only makes sense to put my energy into changing the things I have influence over and leave the rest of the world to carry on according to their own preferences.
Now I sound like ‘The Serenity Prayer’. No matter; when you care about making sense of life, you’re bound to cover some territory that others have already been over. Instead of summing up more old sayings in my own way, I’ll wrap this up.
Spending time thinking about things going on in the world is not always a negative thing in and of itself. It can muck things up a bit, though; and I think it’s equally important to think about the wonder and the magic of this thing we call life. Both realities are real, and they must be reconciled even if addressing one means turning our back on the other from time to time.
After that reconciliation, a certain kind of permanent wonder sets in. The world gets clearer, and all kinds of things become that much more possible. And after a bit of that wonder had set in, I saw a bumper sticker I had never seen before.
‘If you’re not in awe, you’re not paying attention!’
I nodded this time, in quiet agreement, and wore a happy little smile the rest of the way home.
So please note that I am not bitter or angry. Well…not to excess, anyway. Some of the things I get to know as being part of this modern society can hurt to think about, that’s all. And I enjoy sharing those thoughts with you. Next week I’ll stop explaining myself and get back to my usual ranting style. We’ll have a little discussion about why on Earth we call the side of the moon we can’t see ‘the dark side of the moon’. It’s not dark, after all; it just faces away from us. That means it gets as much sunlight as the side that faces us, or thereabouts. It hurts my brain a little to think of how many common expressions are just plain wrong, but this one in particular has always bothered me.
We’ll call it…
‘The dark side of the moon isn’t actually dark!’
I might sound a little exasperated, or even angry, when I go off about this next week. I might have sounded that way in the past, as well. That’s why I wanted to write today’s post, and stick it somewhere in the middle of all those past and future installments.
Just know I’m super happy, behind it all.
Thanks for reading!
All the best,