Monday, January 21, 2013

Choosing the better part

I have been thinking a lot about the meaning of life. I recently had a conversation with a friend who is going through something of a midlife crisis. He was dissatisfied with his expat job so he quit and moved to an expensive city with a renowned singles scene. He had saved up a ton of money over the years of working long hours and thought that the key to his life's happiness was now to focus on his personal life. Old habits die hard, though, and once he got to the city, he quickly became lonely and depressed. He was even less happy than he was at his old job. Why?

It's an interesting sort of puzzle and I found myself being drawn in to try to figure it out myself. My first thought was that his old job gave him a sense of purpose. The more I talked to him, though, the more I thought it must be that his old job gave him a sense of status and superiority -- he complains about not flying first class anymore, not having preferred "status" with his airline and bank, and he talks all of the time about his degrees from very fancy schools, as if that should be all that is expected of him in life.

The other day he announced to me that he had solved the riddle of his unhappiness with the help of his therapist -- he "needs" to make a lot of money. Not to spend the money, he assured me (he lives a Spartan existence), but for the security. He assured me that his need wasn't any different than these people who feel like they need to spend a lot of money (why the need to legitimize?) and all he wanted was to have enough money so that he could pay people for life's necessities rather than relying on informal social contracts.

"Do you think there's also a sense of validation that you are worth a large sum of money?" I asked. "Or do you think there is some value in social contracts apart from the services or gifts you might receive? Do you think it might be better to just believe that people can be lovely and so it is no great shame that you are just the same as everyone else?"

He's a smart guy and a sceptic (not at all spiritual) so I focused on studies that have shown that one of the factors most correlated with life satisfaction are the number and quality of interpersonal relationships. He replied he is not most people, though, arguing that he is an introvert and that it is "really hard" for him to interact with people and consequently he doesn't like to. Then we talked for a bit about the difference between being true to the person he is day to day versus where he wants to end up in 20 years. Specifically, if he does become rich enough to replace social contracts with monetary ones, there will be less of an incentive to make or maintain relationships. Gradually that will become more and more true until he will (all the while acting completely rationally regarding his day to day preferences) end up 20 years from now with few connections to the human race. And is that where he wants to be?

I was reminded of a scripture that I never understood until recently. Jesus comes over to Martha's house for a meal. Mary, her sister, sits at his feet and is instructed by him until Martha complains, asking him to admonish Mary to help her with the preparations. Jesus rebukes her and says "one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." The implication is that Mary's focus is properly on the eternities while Martha is focused on preparing a meal that will soon be forgotten.

I used to not be able to think of my future except in terms of probabilities. I think this is true of a lot of teenagers, but it took me a long time to outgrow it -- not really until my 30s. Studying music helped -- having to plan ahead and invest in myself for a long term payout. I learned a lot more when I picked up gardening during an extended period of unemployment and self-introspection (basically when I started the blog). I learned that success (at least in my garden) was the product of dozens of small things that I did daily and even if did those things, catastrophe might still strike in the form of a frost or animal interference. Gardening was good for me to internalize both a sense of long term cause and effect and the knowledge that just because I put in the work didn't mean everything would necessarily turn out fine. If things worked out, I was happy. But I also learned to be happy that I had taken the chance, even when I didn't get the results I had hoped for.

I love beets, but I loved that garden more for what it taught me about myself and the world -- that I am like a garden, in a very Candide "we must cultivate our gardens" sort of way. And that I may be tempted to indulge in hundreds of impulses a day, but that I too can choose the better part that will lead to a more lasting life satisfaction. (And still have the immediate satisfaction of feeling like I'm choosing better than most.)

49 comments:

  1. I want ME's self-control so bad... 2 years ago i acquired an insatiable thirst for taunting humans and am just getting over it after a terrible bender of social capital.. Maybe gardening is the ticket.

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    1. Theme for Rich in "Fake Medusa"

      Themes is eagerly awaiting the next episode of "Fake Medusa", along with the other SW Regulars

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    2. Dream a little dream Themes. I do love Mama Cass. Thank you <3

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  3. Guys like the one in the post are not the ones who can get a girl with their lack of love, charisma and personality. So they decide it has to be money and justify that all women are attracted to money anyways. After that it is a vicious circle, the kinds of women they attract keep proving them right. SInce they will detest these women soon after the relationship starts they will keep testing them and going hot and cold in terms of showering and starving these women financially while making sure they don't get attached to women like these on one side and being unable to let go of any slut on the other till she finds a more lucrative aspd.

    The question is are we supposed to feel sorry for these guys? My empath feels sorry immediately but if I think long enough about how he would treat even the women who really cared for him I decide that he is the loser jerk bringing all this upon himself and ignorem if not let him have it bluntly and see that hearing it does not make a little change in his attitude or behavior. Bottomline: it is what it is.

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    1. But Sceli, you cannot predict, just from ME's description, what this man is capable of in relationships. Just because he loves money and the comforts it gives him more than social connection doesnt make him a total loser.

      Maybe he'll meet a woman who makes more than he and they will both be like pigs in shit with their millions. And they'll BOTH be shallow together and roll around in cash in a heart shaped bed all day. You have no idea whether this guy is cruel.

      I dont feel sorry for the guy. I dont feel sorry for anyone, especially one who can articulate their problem.

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    2. Very interesting take on the subject, Sceli.

      When you think about what you posted it actually makes perfect sense......

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  4. what a very lovely post, ME.
    Thank you.

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  5. the guy lives a life of a spartan. so do most of these mid life crisis men. they are either workaholics or total losers. either way they live a life looking back on that they are not satisfied with; one filled with regret at the things they never did. that's why they nose dive into impulsive behviour where they buy a sports car and pick up young bimbos. they are hoping to salvage their bland ordinary life with a explosion of adventure.

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    1. "nose dive into impulsive behviour where they buy a sports car and pick up young bimbos. they are hoping to salvage their bland ordinary life with a explosion of adventure."

      These types lose their wives. It is practically predictable in my circle. THey buy a yacht, want to sail the world with a young lady who will then get bored with them. THen they want their wife back.

      I still do'nt think this guy ME describes is definitely like this, though.

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    2. ME's guy can't handle risk and change.. as per my poorly placed post below.

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  6. "Weeds generally share similar adaptations that give them advantages and allow them to proliferate in disturbed environments whose soil or natural vegetative cover has been damaged."

    "Weeds may be unwanted for a number of reasons; competing with the desired plants for the resources that a plant typically needs, namely, direct sunlight, soil nutrients, water, and (to a lesser extent) space for growth. Providing hosts and vectors for plant pathogens, giving them greater opportunity to infect and degrade the quality of the desired plants"

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  7. money is safe. safety is paramount.

    everything else, people, things and even oneself only disappoint. they will leave you, or fall apart, and at the end of the day can't be relied on.

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  8. You ride it like a horse.It cantors. Bump. You raise your hips. It wants you to gallop. It wants you to let it take the reins. You resist and keep up the cantor.

    It is so dark, the fog. It is like a fog where you can, barely, see 12 inches, in front of you. Cars pile up on the road. It is a marshmallow fog. Marshmallows are good when they melt on s'mores, but marshmallow fogs are terrible. They tell you that you do not belong ANYWHERE. The chocolate and marshmallows melt, such that they cover your mouth. You can't scream because they will choke you with their goodness. You thought they were good. Didn't someone tell you that? You can't recall because it is all a miasma on your face and you are smothering ..

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    1. The horse, the fog, the marshmallows, somehow I feel like I understand exactly what you're talking about...

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    2. I am so glad, dear Anon. It was over me so badly, today.

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    3. I must say, I've started to quite enjoy Sofa's writings recently, I enjoy the symbolism, it's more descriptive, it requires to put a bit of thought into it.

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    4. It gets better, Sofa. Try to keep calm and carry on.

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    5. marshmallow fogs are cozy when you're safe inside. but so nice to lose your way in them where with all the fear is a delicious freedom.

      hey i could use a cup of cocoa and marshmallows. or maybe coffee and marshmallows? is that gross? does anyone do that? :-)

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    6. sofa, you only have to become your best friend.

      the fog is you, feelings enveloping reason. thoughts go galloping for escape, blinded, tearing through it. but you are more powerful as the fog. it's everywhere at once. reason gets you places one thought at a time. fog is already there.

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    7. i think i'll buy some mini marshmallows tomorrow and try them with my coffee.

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    8. Very, very frozen vanilla ice cream in strong black coffee.

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    9. the fog is you, feelings enveloping reason. thoughts go galloping for escape, blinded, tearing through it. but you are more powerful as the fog. it's everywhere at once. reason gets you places one thought at a time. fog is already there.




      Please, explain, Zoe.

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    10. sure tomorrow or thursday ok?

      for now.. everyone talks about suppressing feelings but how would that work? so many feelings, so many scenarios. i think what happens is we suppress the present and that effectively keeps the feelings at bay. with the fog there is nothing to look toward and nothing to see behind you. pure present. that's what i like about it, that feeling of being lost in it. but more like the world is lost and all you have is yourself and the present moment. but if you normally suppress the present and everything you have is concepts engaged in reflection of the past and anticipation of the future, it must feel like a sudden dying.

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    11. and i don't think it's always about suppressing the moment. society is narcissistic in general, some families are more than others, so we may learn to deny the present. as kids we actively learn as much from parents bad qualities as their good ones. i mean why would we differentiate or judge at a young age? by the time we judge, we've also assimilated a lot of our parents values, in spite of ourselves.

      so why are we numb? if in fact we are. maybe the question what keeps us focused always on the past or on the future? i don't think you can answer that by understanding what drives others, whether parents or ex's, but by what drives you. by knowing yourself first. then maybe you can also begin to know others?

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    12. knowing yourself means facing yourself, seeing the patterns of thought, patterns of behaviour. but to do that you have to be aware of yourself existing outside of thought, to some degree. thoughts are like vehicles that get you places, so it's realizing you're the driver not the car. but more than that. it's experiencing yourself as the driver. as the driver, you can observe.

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    13. i think the fog is all that you call numb. and i think i'm getting what you mean by numb. but will have to write about it later. it's just a thought blob in my head that needs forming, much like the numb is a feeling blob.

      the fog is you, because what else could it be?

      anyway, that's my thought blob of the day.. that i wasn't planning on writing but just happened! i'll reread later to see if it can be cleaned up. :-)

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    14. @A. Mazing

      oh my god :)))))

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    15. ooh one more point. you are more powerful as the fog.. the present is the only thing that is real. it's where we're real. everything else is concepts.

      without the present you're rearranging old stuff and calling it new. it's like reorganizing your clothes closet to make it look like there are new clothes in there. but they're the same old clothes just in different order. no new clothes there!

      you are more powerful as the fog because without the thoughts driving you can stop and choose. thoughts are driven by the past toward the future. the fog is everywhere and going nowhere. do you think you are numb? if you're thinking it, that's not feeling it and numb can only be felt.

      or are you feeling numb? but how can you be feeling if you're numb? maybe the numb is just one giant emotion blob demanding to be felt that overwhelms?

      next glass of wine now for zoe who is getting foggy. :-)

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    16. or are you feeling numb? but how can you be feeling if you're numb? maybe the numb is just one giant emotion blob demanding to be felt that overwhelms?

      Brilliant!!! This is an amazing insight. Where should I send the bill :D

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    17. insight shminsight ego boost. :-P

      i was having a nice alcohol buzzy ramble.

      monica if something in you connects with the words go with the feeling, go where it takes you and learn from it. if not, go with the fog and the numb. don't analyze it, or at least don't analyze all the time.

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    18. or my impression only. maybe you don't analyze all the time? if not, ignore the above..

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  9. Reminds me of that one story about the guy who spent most of his life gathering himself riches and fortune.

    On that one fateful evening that he decides that he's finally amassed himself enough treasure to enjoy a life of leisure, God says to him; 'Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.'

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    1. 'For God giveth to a man that is good in his sight wisdom, and knowledge, and joy: but to the sinner he giveth travail, to gather and to heap up, that he may give to him that is good before God. This also is vanity and vexation of spirit.'

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  10. These are the kind of people that grow up believing life has some kind of purpose and then learn the hard way that it doesn't. Life is what you make of it.

    Don't underestimate the power of security though. I don't mean this in an arrogant way, but I'm incredibly good at quite a lot of things. I could have chosen a more personally fulfilling career path, but it would have been much riskier. I chose something I'm quite good at, but is less personally satisfying... because that choice was more likely to provide personal security and stability. Which is something I recognize I need more than other things.

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  11. I am losing my mind. I want to start screaming and never stop. I want to smash things and people until they're covered with blood and vomit.

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  12. Living like a spartan and having your money all saved up for rainy days so you don't have to depend on anyone is not a bad idea!! I have done this all my life and I am a woman with a lot of freedom!

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  13. The old you is going down the drain like a lady's jet black hair dye. The hair dye is the last hill in the battle. When it goes down the drain, in it's sinuous run, she will be as naked as a baby's bottom, in a fetid kind of glory. There is beauty in ugliness, which can never be found in the most pristine among us, manicured just so.It is underneath the layers, like a child's snowsuit, bundled up to keep out the cold. He can barely walk, such that he falls over, in a roly poly ball. When you touch true beauty, you know it. It is rare, so you remember.

    ReplyDelete

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