|It’s hard to cope with the insanity of living at the start of the 21st century, perhaps civilization’s last century, knowing what lies ahead. Like everyone but fools and fanatics, I worry a lot about the future: The coming Great Depression, and what will happen when our savings are wiped out and our pension plans go bankrupt; The End of Oil and Water, and what it means for those whose substantial incomes are yet barely enough to make ends meet now, and for those already struggling to eke out a living on desolated soil, or in the vast and fragile economic pyramid that ultimately depends, precariously, on that soil; Global Warming, and the misery and suffering it will inevitably inflict especially on those least resilient; and Pandemic Disease (to us or our foods), the fourth horseman, the one we are least prepared for, and which threatens to hollow out our civilization and bring out the very worst in our brave, fierce and terribly intelligent species.
I worry too about the other dominoes — species extinction, deforestation, poisoned food, air, soil and water, nuclear war, chemical sabotage and bioterrorism, that the above crises could so easily precipitate and cascade, and the bankrupted and corrupted political and economic systems that will be at best useless in the face of these long emergencies, and at worst exacerbating forces.
Most of all I worry about the fate of my granddaughters, now age 6 and 16, who will inherit the dreadful legacy we are recklessly and thoughtlessly leaving for them, and who will I fear face the full brunt of these cascading miseries as the second half of this century unfolds with an exhausted groan.
The more I learn, the more I worry and the more pessimistic I become. But learning brings its own solace — somehow it is still better to know, I think, even if one cannot hope to begin to prepare before it is time to belatedly react. At least we will know what to expect. I’m now reading Pierre Berton’s epic The Great Depression, so I’ll know even more. Knowledge may not be power, after all, but it has its value in providing perspective, and as therapy.
What other therapies are there? I described one yesterday — spending time out of time in nature with creatures too wise to worry about what they cannot control (though I know they sense it, the way you can smell trouble brewing, read it in the lines on people’s faces), creatures showing us how to live in the moment, the eternal Now, effectively, lightly, fearlessly, without waste or harm to others. Such creatures include, to some extent, human children.
One of my ways of disarming stress, dread and anger is to itemize its sources — write down all the things you think you have to do, and then decide not to do, ever, the ones that are not important, but only urgent (when you let others dictate your life’s agenda and play on your learned helplessness). And then, write down all the things that are causing you distress, from the global stresses like the ones in the first paragraphs of this essay to the local, temporary annoyances like the irresponsible behaviour of a bad neighbour, the dirty tricks of a schadenfreude-afflicted co-worker, the customer, recruiter or partner who doesn’t return your urgent call, and the belittling spitefulness of that relative, in-law or friend-of-friend — and one by one, let go of them. Will these things really matter ten years from now in hindsight? And even if they will, is there something you can do to resolve them now? If not, then these things don’t matter now — let them go, clear your mind of them, move beyond their stranglehold.
And another therapy — doing something useful or helpful for others, or for the Earth, every day, making the world a tiny bit better, no matter how small that something is, is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
Learning, spending time in nature, ‘calling out’ and letting go of unimportant things beyond your immediate control, and being of use to others — I know it is presumptuous of me to suggest these things as salves for personal anguish, especially since half the time I can’t even bring myself to do these things. I think ‘self-help’ books and programs are mostly useless, especially when they are devised by someone else, but I do believe the first step to coping, to being happy and effective as a human being, is helping yourself, or perhaps more accurately knowing yourself well enough to be able to ‘see’ what to do, and be at peace with that.
Articles like this, one-sided conversations, are the writer’s way of saying:
When I listen, every night these days, to the chorus of thumbnail-sized spring peeper frogs on our pond, I think they too are saying this, at the top of their tiny lungs, to anyone who will listen. We’re not so different, after all.
May 12, 2006
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