Wednesday, July 23, 2008

When Bliss Clashes With Harsh Reality

The economy sucks. By now, everyone (except our elected "leaders," of course) has noticed that the dollar just doesn't go as far as it used to. The price of everything is going up, and going up fast.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, partly since I work for myself and need to be extra cautious about saving and spending, but also because I see the evidence when I do go out: Bars and restaurants are much, much less crowded, and the grocery and gas bills just keep growing and eating away at what I am earning.

I'm struggling to maintain faith in the ability of our country to support people's bliss. I'm doing OK so far, but everyone is cutting back, and while prices are increasing, wages are not. How are you all doing?

I wonder if we're at a point of regression, where our standard of living has reached its peak and will begin to decline as overspending and debt and unsustainable promises either bankrupt our country or make it less free. It's something that keeps me up at night, I'll tell you that.

I worry that artists will not be able to pursue their art in this kind of climate, that business owners will struggle, that parents will toil extra hard to keep their family fed. While this has always been true for the working poor, prosperity is becoming a distant dream for more and more hard-working, honest (and here's the new twist) highly educated Americans.

I guess this post is an attempt at figuring out how to keep going and believing that bliss is attainable when the going gets really tough. Joseph Campbell wrote about his experience in the Depression that it was a time of coming together, of people helping each other, and of a kind of peace with what was. He couldn't change it, so he didn't worry about it. Then again, he had no family or obligations to worry about either.

My hope, I guess, rests in our ability as Americans to reach out to each other and begin to re-strengthen our relationships and reliance on others. In one sense, we've had it so good that we have fooled ourselves into the illusion that we are self-sufficient. Neighbors barely know neighbors, friendships fall away too easily, families have scattered.

Humans are not capable of going it alone, so I guess what I am suggesting is that we take this relative calm before the storm and we begin to reach out to each other, mend the social fabric, and work together. Pursue your bliss, but do not pursue it alone. Tell people what you need, let them know how they can help, but also be willing to assist when they need you, be willing to listen when they speak about their dreams.

It's my belief that strong relationships will be the salvation of life's great desires and hopes in this dark time, so if you need to get your relationships in order, I suggest not wasting a moment.

If, for some reason, my pessimism proves to be unwarranted, there is no harm and only benefit that can come from these bonds. If, however, my dismal premonitions come to pass, there is only harm and no benefit in going it all alone.

Thoughts? I'd love to hear how you plan to pursue bliss and joy in your life when the world isn't exactly cooperating...

1 comment:

erzsebet said...

Following my bliss has never brought me a single dollar. It doesn't put food on my table or gas in my car. However, I know from experience that without financial security, I end up funneling my energy towards worry instead of creativity. Since I am not myself when I'm not creating, I'm willing to make a lot of changes to prevent myself from ending up in that 'dead zone.'

Here are some adjustments I've made recently and not so recently that contribute to following my bliss even when reality has been harsh:

1. Stop doing grocery shopping at stores that sell clothing, housewares, and really cool things I didn't know I needed until I saw them. By going to a "simple" grocery store, I buy only the food I need. I'm sure I'm missing out on some cute skirts or pretty candles, but this has helped me to trim my weekly expendature on "necessities."

2. Put a moratorium on buying books (even used ones) until I've read through the stack of unread books I already have on my bookshelf.

3. Have people over to my house. I love going out to a nice dinner as much (more?) than most - and I adore weekend brunches at Kerby Lane. Yet what I really love is the quality of interaction I get with my friends when we're enjoying a leisurely meal. I can get that in my own home, and even if it is not as fancy, it can still be memorable. Then, when we do go out, there is an air of celebration and expectancy that would otherwise be dulled by making the 'special' into the 'daily.'

4. Make use of what I have. Yep, I'd love to take up rock climbing. Do I have the equipment or a mountain or even a gym membership? Nope. What I do have is a good bike and a continent of roads. I enjoy riding, already have the basics, and can do it without any extra monetary input.

5. Put money towards what will give me the most extra time to do the things I love. For instance, I've decided it is worth the money to get a yard service to mow my lawn rather than fight it out myself. By cutting out expenses in areas that didn't really add to my bliss, I've been able to afford this luxury, and spend more time on my creative endeavors.

6. Write letters to distant friends: costs some paper and a stamp, but helps keep the connection tactile & gives everyone something other than a bill to look forward to in the mail!

7. Ask the people I love what they feel passionate about, and really listen to the answers. If someone says they just don't know, try and help them think about what could fit realistically with their abandoned dreams. It isn't an overnight process, but it brings a new level of connection that just can't be bought.

- erzsebet