Do you want better?

Thanks for sticking with the debt thing for the last few weeks. It is worth talking about because it links so closely into our faith that there’s a brighter future around the corner. That faith is insidious and it is only by using specific examples that we can understand how it is woven throughout our lives. Eventually we can identify it turning up and make an informed decision about whether to believe it or not. At least you’d know what flag you’re rallying under. That’s important because your expectations and resiliency come from your sense of your own ability to respond to the world.

Here’s an example. There’s an advertisement that’s come out recently. It is impeccably conceived and beautifully executed. This is how it goes.

“Everybody wants better. Everybody. It’s a given. Bigger. Brighter. Faster. Safer. Smarter. Better in a whole lot of ways.” <credit>

Ah, rousing isn’t it!? The advertising creative types have framed it cleverly. “Everybody wants better.” You can’t really argue with that. That’s why people emigrate to far away ands and learn another language. What reasonable person wouldn’t *want* *better*. Wants are like distractions – endless – and ‘better’ is obviously an improvement on whatever it is you’re currently making-do with.

Sometimes making things better is just darn practical.

A bridge across a river is better than a ferry – but wait – compared to what? If you’re trying to deliver on a deadline, yes it is better, but if you’re an artist wanting a lingering inspirational journey, you’re probably going to want the ferry.

Hand written copy of a document anybody? Wow, it can be beautiful, but gee it takes a long time and at the end you only have the one copy. If you want an artwork it is a great idea but if you want to reach the masses or at least 5 friends, probably a printing press is better.

Offical German postage stamp issued to commemorate Gutenberg press

Most of the decisions we’re making today in our lives are more nuanced than those practical examples. The first world makes so much fast and easy that we have very few practical needs unmet. For the economy to continue to grow, wants must be made stronger and stronger.

‘Better’ is an open word, waiting for you the reader (or listener) to put in the comparison. In an ad it basically can’t fail. ‘Want better’ is a double-subjective that creates a vacuum so powerful it can immediately suck any of your attention and then available disposable income into the vortex of that need that it just created.

Look again at the phrase, it is code too for “What you have is not enough and there’s a lot more that you’re missing out on.” It is kinda wasted on the product that paid for the ad. That agency should have bundled a whole bunch of mid-sized aspirational wanna-be products and sold them shares in this campaign. But I digress.

So yes, everybody does want better, it *is* a given. This is a chance to make a choice about what you’re going to compare things to. Do you want better from our governments for the generations not yet born? Do you want better for the billions of people who live without running water or hope of a secure food supply? For whom do you want better and against that what decision will you make next time you see an ad for a new smartphone?

We move through scenarios all the time and our bias is for optimistic outcomes, but there is not necessarily a brighter future around the corner for all of us. How you make decisions is becoming a lot more important than the decisions you make because the future really is an unknown country.

Image source.

Debt grief

Did you hope we were done with the melancholy subject of debt?
Not yet.
Something came up from the readings that was unexpected and bears airing. People have a lot of hidden grief about their debt. It is out of sight, but not out of mind and weighs heavy on hearts.

All that material abundance has come at a greater price than we were told at the checkout when we punched in our PIN.

Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos, in a 1478 copy of a lost alchemical tract by Synesius. Wikipedia.

There are the obvious initial thoughts when buyer’s remorse kicks in or we get home and find there’s simply no where left to put something new. Deeper than that we think of the days of sunshine lost to our grey cubicles and fluorescent lights. We know that the youth of our hearts and the blushes of love are drained by uniforms and timetables and the indignities and compromises that come with not feeling free to walk away from a job. Perhaps you have figured out how much your modest mortgage will cost over the course of your loan and what each of those dollars will cost you in time in your cubicle or uniform. It is beyond sobering, it is a painful and softly brutalising moment.

There are many articles and blogs addressing how the five stages of grief relate directly to debt and I encourage you to get some support for where you are up to with yours because it is hard to see your way forward while you’re stuck in sorrow.

Ram Dass in his recent post on grief spoke about finding some solace in realising that “we only grieve for what we love” and in that moment there was a terrible clashing noise for me. None of us believes we love money, but in our culture, where we treat wealth in the form of money as the portal to fulfilment, the portal to all the things we do love to indulge in, debt does brings with it a trailing veil of grief. We must feed the screaming baby at the expense of current or future desires. Fear of missing out, yes, and the harsh reality that the money is not coming back, and worse, needs more money yet. We are not done working for someone else. Working to their timetable and to no foreseeable end.

How can we be released from this cycle?

Is it even possible?

Do we have the power to release ourselves?

Yes, we do have that power. As with all swords it comes with two edges so you’ll need to be sure you can handle it if you want to pick it up. Next week we’ll explore those edges.

 

Image source and © information: “Serpiente alquimica” by anonymous ; uploader Carlos adaneroThis work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Financial balance

Two Pentacles copyright Erin Morgenstern Phantomwise Tarot

Maybe you don’t see the debt you have as a problem  that needs fixing. After all, it is pretty normal to have some and probably you’ve reached an agreement with yourself about what’s ok to live with. The suggestion to live within your means is patronising and overly simplistic. I get that. Maybe you really are happy with constantly feeling the compulsion to get new stuff and shoving the old stuff to the back of the closet. Maybe you think that if you need to, you could take a load of barely used clothes and accessories to a store and get some cash back by selling them. Good luck to you.

If you haven’t tried to sell your stuff, especially if you think you could, and have even found yourself referring to it as “a type of asset” then I suggest you try. See what you can get for a hardcover book that you bought new for $45 just a year ago. See what your designer jacket is worth on the second hand clothing market. Take just one of those unused sporting items down to the pawnshop and see what they’ll offer you. I challenge you to swallow your pride and accept whatever you’re offered, if they’ll take it at all. Now ponder how much it cost to fill all those busting cupboards. If you’re using that stuff, fantastic, we’re talking about what is essentially clutter. You don’t use it, maybe you don’t even remember buying it. The point is, you’re still paying for it, and you’re paying to keep it.

You just don’t know what the future is going to bring. I know you’re likely to feel positive about it, to be optimistic that probably whatever’s coming is good news. I hope so. What if it’s not? Sure, most of the time nothing much changes. Every now and then something big happens to one of us personally, or to a friend. When it comes down, everyone involved goes right into reaction mode. When it happens, it all seems to happen fast. The rest of your life gets put on hold and you deal with it. Emotionally it can be hard to keep it together. Financially it can be a tsunami of bills and expenses and you need to be able to move through all of that and keep it together to go to work, or look after someone, or call in the attack lawyers or translate from the medical specialists. Whatever the flavour of the situation what you do not need is to be green with worry about where the money will come from.

That’s an extreme example. Personal catastrophes are not common, but they do happen and a financial cushion of some kind can really help. In our interconnected global economy, there are many ways in which a twitchy butterfly somewhere you’ve never heard of can result a few weeks later in difficulties or hardship for you and the ones you love. If you have debt, you’ll find it harder to respond and recover from anything that blindsides you.

Of course it is hard to jump from debt to not debt. It is very much worth doing, although it is a challenging project in itself because you have to learn to balance two moving targets in an unpredictable environment. Like a dog standing on a ball and balancing another ball on your nose, you are going to need some specialist training and some good motivational treats.

Before you’re ready to perform you might be best placed to face up to the quirks and habits that got you where you are today. For all the rationalising about it, mostly why you’re in debt is likely to be due to some unconscious behaviours (I’m not talking about people looking up and aspiring to the poverty line, or in hardship due to extreme or ongoing, systemic poverty. If this is you, please contact a reputable charity and get some help and support in dealing with your situation. I’m talking to everyone else except probably Lady Gaga, Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch).

You can’t see for yourself the patterns you’re in, or you’d change them. Who knows you well enough to tell you the truth without making a big deal about it (or it just being massively awkward)? Your subconscious is your best friend here. It really knows what’s going on when you don’t remember why you had to buy another pair of shoes almost identical to a pair you’ve never worn, or spend your week’s wage on a night out. I’m not normally someone who promotes a binary world view, but in this instance, it works well for the predicament we’re faced with. Income and expenditure, they need to be balanced in your life.

Think about it. You know about budgets, compound interest, and all those things, but you still do it. You’ve been cranky at yourself and sworn you’ll change, and you haven’t. You need to break the cycle. Imagine you had the information to stop your self-sabotage. You need to clear away some of the shadows you have around money so you can use your energy to gain balance and take control over your situation. Dance in balance with the available resources and your perceived needs

(Woo Woo Warning)

I use a very simple tool to ask my subconscious things that I feel ready to know (and you should really be ready because it never lies. It doesn’t tell even little white lies.) Your subconscious is always delighted to be invited to start a conversation with you, but it is not tame. You may not like what it says and some things it throws at you will be confronting.

There are lots of tools, but I like tarot cards because they represent archetypes I understand. There are 20 major life moments in pictures and 4 lots of simple, everyday experiences grouped by the themes of emotion, willpower, money and thoughts. That is the most simplified and basic description I could come up with in 25 words or less. It leaves a fair bit out as you might expect, but it is enough for what we’re want to achieve at the moment.

Well I’ve made a tarot spread, especially designed for this topic and it is available on my freebies page.
I haven’t had time to do a sample reading to illustrate this layout, so if you don’t have your own cards and you are keen to find out if this is helpful, I have a special offer. Let me know either in the comments or by email that you want a free reading and I will do a one for you (this offer is for the first three people who respond or until Monday 8th September 2014 whichever comes first) on the proviso that if I change any identifying details I may use your reading as an example. I will need you to tell me about your situation in order to do this, so please don’t ask if you’re all like “you’re the psychic, you tell me” because I am not a psychic, that’s not the kind of exercise we’re in here.

So, Income and expenditure. Face into the sun and the shadow falls behind you.

(Image © Erin Morgenstern from the unpublished Phantomwise Tarot)

A sober assessment

One simple rule $Before we move off the topic of debt, there are some positive things to share. I find this subject quite emotional – as I’m sure many people do – so let’s clear the air a little with some practicalities.

One simple rule $ imageIn my past, I’ve been through the experience of some credit card debt going bad (which happened to coincide with some poor decisions about tax also coming home to roost). Out the other side of that experience I’m cautious about spending money I don’t have on hand. ‘Vigilant’ would not be too strong a word. ‘Terrified’ might even be appropriate on some days! I worry about it. I don’t really have much now and yet still I worry about it.

I worry about you having it. I do. It is too much. Debt is hurting us. It is one of the heaviest shackles stopping us from living a life of deliberate liberation, and it is voluntary.

Some people seem to think of credit card debt as a kind of charity to themselves. ‘Thank you credit card for helping out for the cost of a pad thai on Saturday night!’ You might be out of cash and craving those sweet noodles, but actually, unless you’re as scrupulous at paying yourself back in full and as quickly as you’d expect any of your friends to be, in reality you’re in a Ponzi scheme with your bank, and the house never loses.

Let’s talk about getting out of debt. That’s a pretty obvious next step conversationally but let’s not go into paying down or clearing it off, not budgets. Not haggling over interest or swapping balances and accounts. Not how to expand or grow your income or start a business on the side. Those things are all great tactics and they can really help you but I’m not the right person to talk about those. Honestly, there’s just huge amounts of useful information and lots of knowledgeable, well-meaning people to help you with all those things online already. Hit up Doctor Google with a few simple questions and you’ll be inundated with options and links. It is easy to find an approach that works for you. Just be aware of anything that people are asking you to pay for!

What is there left to talk about? There’s a key truth to debt that hardly gets any headlines. You could be forgiven for thinking that it is a secret. It wasn’t bad luck that gave my phone number to a collection agency. It wasn’t not having education or a job or support if I’d asked for it or an understanding of how to do a budget. I was lazy, busy, a bit selfish, maybe arrogant that I could do it differently – you know – normal. Even so, when faced with the bottom line, despite having the kind of habits that meant a lotto win would end up as more debt, I knew this truth and I bet you do too. It is just one simple rule and it works. I warn you now, it’s a tough one. It is not sexy. It is not huge glittering fun.

It is this: live within your means.

I know, right? Bor-ring. I can feel your eyes rolling back in your head. Stay with me on this one. I think it is radical. Daring. In this age of rampant entitlement, what could be more personally and politically powerful than to disengage from the consumer culture except on occasions of deliberate choice? Okay, that might be a bit of a long bow to draw, but think about it. Why do we immediately reject this obvious truth? Because it requires decisions and choices. It implicitly asks us to do without some things. Our fear of missing out (so common now it just goes by ‘FOMO’) immediately gives us an eye-twitch but reality is all about limits. We are finite beings on a finite planet. Our time is finite, our income is very clearly finite. Knowing this, doesn’t it seem almost childish to continue to believe in ‘later there’ll be more’?

That’s not to say that there’s no such thing as hard work that pays off, or ideas that meet a need and create happy customers, or great services and products you can build and grow from your own capacity to learn and create. It is just that winning lotto isn’t a plan. There is no magical unicorn going to come along and poop golden nuggets onto your welcome mat. Once we face our limits we get to make informed decisions about how to spend our time and the resources we already have. It is not just reasonable, in this day and age it is revolutionary.

Next week I’ll share a tool that will give you a glimpse through your blind spot, or a whisper from your fairy godmother about your particular secrets and self-destructive habits with money. You can skip it if you’re scared, or ask someone to hold your hand.
We can get through this together.

Desire’s dark side

Lustful affairs bring consequences. The lovechild of the compulsion to consume is the unwanted bastard offspring Debt.

Oh Debt. We are not shy about conceiving you.

Australians lead the world with an average household debt (which includes mortgages) footprint of 1.8 – this means that people are spending nearly twice what they earn. All of their income and 80% of a whole ‘nother wage. Staggering. (ref ABS Data May 2014 )  No really.

‘Yeah’ you say ‘but that’s including houses and everybody knows that the Australian housing market is overvalued. That’s why I rent!’ Ok fine.
Australians owe billions on credit cards, about $4 400 per person.

Just for fun, this clock (ASIC Moneysmart ) shows how much Australians currently owe on the plastic. Your factoid for today is that 49% of those who carry $5,000 or more in credit card debt have a degree or a diploma. Oh wait, last one! Two in five people have no idea what interest rate they are paying on their card (and that was in March 2013! ).

Charles Dickens quote from David Copperfield

Much as those figures stimulate the curiosity and sound all newsy they actually distract from the human story that sits behind them. It is all too easy to evaluate yourself immediately against those figures so you can dismiss them. Relief – ‘mine’s lower!’ Or to judge – ‘how could they let it get to that?!’ I chose to include them because they’re real. Most Australians of age have one or more credit cards. They owe money on them that potentially they will never ever actually pay out. Or like dieters who know better, they yo-yo in and out of debt on the cards in tides of recrimination and stoic, forced budgets.

None of us is alone with our debt baby. We live in culture where it is normal to carry debt. That’s what we call it, not ‘tortured by’ or ‘enslaved by’ an endless burden. No, we just casually ‘carry’ it. We consider it part of the ‘cost of living’. Everyone does it. Those who do not have a credit card have an uneasy aura of either a do-gooder or a bankrupt (depending a bit on the tone of voice used to convey the information) but are a bit creepy either way. Not someone you’re going to listen to anyway.

Would you listen to yourself though? If your future self could tunnel through the time vortex and whisper in your ear, what would they say to you about how you left them holding the crying, hungry baby? Can the future you remember the emergency purchase or convenience of takeaway dinner or the money you saved by buying on sale with credit? Did you ever fall in love with a book that you simply must have only to get it home and put it on top of the pile of other books you haven’t yet read? I did. Many times.

When ANZ handed my debt over to a hard-nosed collection agency and I had to own up to my past indiscretions there was no way I could remember a single thing that had been so important it had to be bought with that card. My past self had blithely given me a big stinking problem to deal with and I hated her for it. If that’s not a perfect example of provisional living going bad, I don’t know what is. I don’t know that I would have listened to future me though, if I had tried to deny those lustful urges. In the end, it was an affair that took me years to recover from.

Why do we assume that our future selves will somehow have more resources, more ability to deal with the consequences of our actions? Because we’ve inadvertently subscribed to the doctrine of progress. We do it in our personal lives, we do it in our communities when we build houses on every next block of land, leaving no space for anything else. We do it as a nation when we use every bit of energy we can grab because ‘they will figure out a new technology soon and we’ll all have limitless lives and won’t have to work’ or something that sounds like winning the ‘infinite planet lotto’. Not going to happen. Addictive and easy, sure, but not real.

The reality is that it is impossible to be free when we are in the thrall of endless compound interest on debt. In the next quiet moment you have to yourself, ask your future self what it is that you both want most out of life.

It is not going to be more debt.

Kiss your loved ones and plan a different way forward. We’ve got a lot ahead of us.

Consumption compulsion

Muddling forward into our shared future, let’s have a cuppa and talk about the elephant in the room. Lust.

Yes, you’ve felt it. Unbidden, from deep in you rises that heady, powerful urge to purchase. New things. Shiny things. Perfect, desirable, cool, promising things. We have an affair with that orgasmic moment of transaction. The Purchase. *sigh*

This is what gets us into trouble in the first place. It is easy to believe that we’re all immune to the lure of the marketing demons and advertising parasites, yet our houses, garages and storage units are bursting with gadgets and gear that we’ve barely used. We’re cheating on the side with stuff, and it’s an affair we swear off and crawl back to. I’m not pointing any fingers or throwing any stones here, I’m coming clean and asking for help.

It starts off, as every affair does, innocently. You see it in a picture alongside an article, or as a prop in a film or tv series. Maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. Then you spot it in another feed or your favourite blog or pinterest board. Oh, here it comes, the momentum is building and it is already too late. You click through. You note the hashtag. You check the site and are appalled at the price, and then all over again at the shipping. You close the window. Swear off but you know you’ll be back.

Whatever that item is, you DO NOT NEED IT.

You don’t. You just want it.

A friend and I were talking this week about notebooks (We’re mad for stationery. Don’t judge.) and we’ve both been “looking at” (you know what this is code for) a particular name brand ‘notebook’ that is actually just a cover that you buy inserts for. The covers are expensive and hard to get. Perfect. They’re also not all that practical for how I live and work. Even better. Plus, they’re made of leather. Watch two committed vegetarians rationalise how this is ok because at least it will be long wearing. Oh dear.

Why? Why do we sometimes want these name-brand items, no matter what? How does it become, out of nowhere, such an urgent passion? We can drive ourselves almost crazy with the craving, even though we know it can cripple us financially (or send us into a spiral of unmanageable credit card debt).

I wish I knew how this happens, so I could unhook from it. I feel it *all the time* it is like a constant undercurrent in our culture. Watching a lot less TV does help – but now the internet is littered with visually driven content – and these ‘notebooks’ seem to be everywhere that aspirational images are and nowhere in my mundane, suburban reality. They exotically promise creativity, freedom, and a life unfettered by the necessity to carry anything other than this in your tiny, light bag. Probably you’re too cool for a bag because you’re such a free spirit. You travel so light you just live out of a pocket.

Let me tell you why I’m a tiny bit bitter. It is because I’ve been down this road before. Let me introduce you to The Filofax.

My 20 year old Filofax (almost exactly the same size and concept) is still in perfect condition but now just looks daggy and old-school. So 80s! Yet at the time, it was the same, I burned for a Filofax. Burned. Planned it for so long, shopped around (pre-Internet!). The fact that the card slots in it are US size and none of my cards ever, EVER fit was shaming but I pretended that I didn’t care. I still use it at home to keep all my friends’ addresses in (yes, by hand, on paper!) but I would never carry it around (like we all used to) because it is just too heavy and really it is a back-up for my phone (yes, before there were mobiles!). Even carrying my B5 journal feels bulky and I sometimes see people with kindles smirking at me. I have a little pad of A6ish post-its in the back of the journal and that works really well for any notes on the go, so I know I would never really use this notebook and even so, I STILL WANT ONE.

For now, I recognise that my affair with compulsive consumption is destructive. The seductive allure of fresh pages; or the glamour of pristine, unscuffed bags; the excitement and promise of exactly the right shoes is the frisson that hooks me in and keeps me coming back. I’m getting better. I tell myself little white lies (“I can’t afford it”) or keep a 30 day list. But what really keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of that perfect, beautiful almost useless Filofax on my cluttered desk at home.

I’m going to get that Filofax out tonight and give her a glass of wine and gentle rub. Make it up to her. Let her know I still appreciate her patented system and secure papers and useless card slots. Most of all, I’m going to thank her for being a lesson well learned from days long past about how lust fulfilled fades so quickly and leaves a wake of bedraggled leftovers cast aside to make way for tomorrow’s rising favourites.

Let us settle for love and honesty in the face of these incessant temptations. You have enough. We are already enough.

Confessional quirk

Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at themes of provisional living and choice. Like all victors I get to write my own history so they’ve been about fairly positive aspects of that experience. Both focussed around ‘stuff’ as that is an external thing and it can be quantified and measured. So reassuring. Stuff has let me start exploring the topic of freedom, which is what I think we’re edging towards talking about.

Before we get there, it is worthwhile talking about a choice that didn’t go so well and some payoffs from provisional living that haven’t been so easy to give up.

I haven’t given up making voluntary contributions to my superannuation account. Even though I know it is essentially futile. I still want to believe that somewhere in a future I might get to are golden days of leisure where I am ‘retired’ but still physically functional. I *know* right?! That retirement age went up to 70 years of age already. As the Boomers’ demographic bulge really hits the retirement costs wall, that will be bumped up again, we all know it.

I haven’t given up on fantasising about which set of high-end luggage I will buy (I favour Rimowa) when I start travelling the world in this mythical parallel life where I have the same income but somehow no costs of living or debt responsibilities (and I don’t get homesick every 5 days).

I keep promising myself that *next* spring I’ll get the garden going properly and get back into growing at least tomatoes so that I’m not totally dependent on other people and fossil fuels for every single thing I eat. I believe there’s still plenty of time to get that organised and somehow it doesn’t quite make it up my list of priorities, but you can guarantee I’ll rant about toms being $10 a kilo come February.

This little list of hypocrisies is barely indicative of how many deals there are still in place. Maybe you’ve got some deals of your own – where rationally you know one thing, but behaviourally you just keep hooking in to doing the thing you’ve always done. Maybe you’ve ‘made’ a whole bunch of choices without ever really thinking about it. Why aren’t you vegetarian? Why do you have a credit card? Why do you watch tv in the evening? Why do you assume this is the only way it can be?

Last year, as these questions began piling up, I tried to find the unified theory that would answer these conundrums and deliver unto me a blazing, pure path of honesty, integrity and clarity. I hoped that wanting this very very intensely and visualising it as though it had already appeared would help to manifest this life-changing awakening. I knew in my heart that when it came, I would be incandescent in every sense, the wisdom of all the ages would illuminate my problems and my failings with pure love, and they would melt into submission in the face of ultimate reality.

Beautiful no?

Ah, beautiful indeed. While I waited for this magnificence to manifest, I kept working hard and diligently at everything. I felt the pain of my failings and of my compromises. I felt like a fraud at the deals I made to keep going. I pushed through the fatigue of commuting, the hollowness of a meaningless job and the maintained the façade of a good modern cog – I was productive.

Without making a choice, I had chosen denial. I was, with the very best of intentions, breaking myself.

Eventually, I failed at breaking myself. In the aftermath, I realised my golden answer, my unified theory, my ‘access all areas’ lanyard was simply not coming. (Let me be clear, this is (or will be) a Very Good Thing even though at the time it was hard to handle.)

Where I am struggling, is that in-between the pushing to make it so, and the failing to change, I’m in a place of confusion. Some things (stuff!) are under my control and some things (climate change) just kindof aren’t. No matter how much I reduce my carbon footprint and make my boyfriend think twice about his use of the clothes-dryer I can’t stop the polar ice-caps melting. If no one is going to listen to Al Gore without getting snarky about what car he drives, who am I to try to change the world while I own a car at all? Hmmm.

More than confusion. I just gave up. But that’s not living from my values either. The sun keeps coming up each morning and the wheel of this year is turning. I am asking, not for a golden answer now, but for a way to muddle forward. I’m asking for sustainable freedom and my deepest wish is that you and I will find it together.

Last week I shared with you the idea of provisional living and touched a little on the bubble of the myth of constant and inevitable progress. In writing, we’re always making choices. We’re constantly selecting one word or phrase over another, crafting images and stories that will resonate with our chosen audience and choosing when to pause or stop a narrative and leave the rest to our readers.

no answers only choicesAn aphorism that I’ve tried to live by for the past decade or so is “There are no answers, only choices” and I’d like to share that today in the spirit of exploring how to live inside of and create from a position of values in what feels like an aggressive, shallow and purely commercial world. I will disclose at the outset that I have a day job. I pay my way in the world from the position of a cubicle in which I write for my corporate overlords. I chose to get (and keep) this job and bear the consequences of that choice. One of those consequences is that I do not have the bo-ho credibility of ‘living off my art’. I don’t see it that way, but you might. My skills in communicating with people (and translating between people who speak the same language but can’t understand each other) make me useful in a business environment. It is no mean feat to remain useful, relevant and employed these days, but that’s not the most interesting choice to talk about.

Instead, let’s think about giving up the emotional and psychological payoffs that come from the behaviour of provisional living. In place of daydreaming about what life might be like ‘when I win lotto’ there were questions that started with ‘What is wealth?’ and ‘What do I think of as freedom?’ and lead to ‘What if I already have enough?’

Money wasn’t the only topic that came under review. Relationships of all kinds, working, debt, health, writing, travel, relaxation. In some ways nearly everything had become infected with an expectation that it would just get better by itself (thanks Progress!) or that eventually a day would dawn where I would be handed a golden answer. To *everything*.

While I lay on the couch, watching the sun pass across the ceiling and really getting it that the golden answer wouldn’t come, I started to play a game of ‘what if?’ Maybe you’d like to play it too?

What if I already have enough?

What if every life really is sacred?

What if I could help someone every day, just in the course of my normal life?

What if there are no unsacred places?

What if my purpose is simply to love and be loved in return?

What choices would I make if these things were true? What would I chose to live by – if I could chose anything? How would I be in my life if I sought out ways to bring my choices to life? Would I select different experiences, people, priorities?

What would you do if you turned out to be responsible for your life and your choices without recourse to any wish for it to be different than it is right now?

It is what it is. Then what?

One little thing at a time, you make choices.

For stuff, I decided that one thing in meant one thing had to go out. That tiny choice created a cascade of implications and considerations, not least was creating a kind of mindfulness about quality, emotional shopping, waste, recycling and boredom. So many choices we make without thinking. There are no answers about how much stuff is right, or which stuff is better or why stuff is such an obsession. There are no answers about why, or when, or who. I just made that one choice that felt right in my situation, and I committed to living by it and within the consequences it produced.

It took some time, but inside that choice came a new type of freedom.

No brighter future

One of the ways that I’ve been blindsided in the recent past was by the idea of ‘provisional living’. You know when someone you respect tells you something and you have that “uh-oh, I totally do that” moment? yeah, that.  Damn!

It was introduced a while ago on The Archdruid Report (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/)  and this week was very helpfully featured by the site’s author John Michael Greer in a post The Gray Light of Morning (http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2014/07/the-gray-light-of-morning.html) with his trademark practical responses beautifully summarised (just to let you know, JMG’s posts hit the 2500 word mark usually and this one is no exception, so I encourage you to read it, but you’ll be expected to concentrate. Just so you know).

I’ve stolen the title for this blog post from him too – he first introduced the counter-incantation “There is no brighter future” in a post in 2010 Waiting for the Millennium http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2010/06/waiting-for-millennium.html  and it is as challenging in itself as it is effective in response to our culture’s addiction to the PROMISE OF PROGRESS (insert booming music suitable to your tastes for the overblown and flags waving in majestic animation).

The reason I raise these points (and sorry about the dodgy links I will try and fix those later) is not just to point out that the Archdruid’s blog is well worth reading, which it is (as are the comments, and he tends to respond to the first 80 or so) but to talk a little about some difficult things that most individuals in the first world are all either coming to terms with, struggling with or about to be blind-sided by and that is the “where’s my hover board?” question (for ‘Back to the Future’ fans) which starts to pop the bubble built so assiduously by decades of Star Trek and our news services being taken-over by corporate interests.

When trust in that bubble about the bright and shiny future starts to wane, or it pops, we’re left lurching around with our hurty hollowness and a lot of questions that taste bitter. Or at least I did. The last five years that I’ve been reading The Archdruid’s Report I’ve been nodding along, learning and taking notes but rarely feeling surprised. I’ve found a lot of wisdom in his words and they have helped me shine light on the path for others too. None of that prepared me for the day I stumbled over my own addiction to the promise of progress and started to join the dots. I mean really join them, not academically, not theoretically, but in my life for the food and shelter I depend on.

And then everything changed.

That’s a choice, obviously, you don’t get involuntarily infected.
You’re not going to catch radical honesty or anything from reading this stuff. But if you think about it… well you might find yourself trying to argue your way out of it, or around it, or that somehow my case is different.
Good luck with that.
Once you start recognising it, you see it everywhere. Then it is nearly impossible to watch any form of tv, or read the newsfeeds without recoiling from it. You’ll see it in how we deal with the ecological crises (‘when all the scientists agree’ or ‘someone will come up with something’) or the economy or our health or our personal finances (“when I win lotto”). Provisional living and the promise of a bright future go hand in hand. They keep us quiet, compliant, docile.

Without them there is a gap that I scrounged around to fill. In that gap I realised I had stuffed my life full of things and was somewhat self-suffocated. My creativity had been channelled into keeping the bubble intact and into threading together alternate stories of what might be, and how somehow it might all work out. I was never able to convince myself, and I certainly wasn’t able to convince anyone else. and on the other side? Hmmm, I’ll let you know when I have more of a clue.

In the short term, my challenge is to live inside of making choices, not hoping for answers. I must act in a way that lets my values breathe in every day. It isn’t glamorous but it is so practical as to be a real head-slapper. That’s my choice, to engage with the world as it is and find ways inside my life to simplify, to act, to be humane, to love, and to forgive.

There’s no big secret to attracting the life you want. The magic is in the daily choices we make and in the willingness to respect that there are things bigger and more valuable than our childish fantasies of entitlement-fulfilment.

 

Hermit muse

Just a quick note to let you know that I’m over on another blog this week – guest posting on the wonderful Two Sides Tarot about one of those darker cards, The Hermit.

It is in two parts the first is on the card and the reading I designed for it and the second is a sample reading to give a feel for how the positions play off the cards.

Such a pleasure to write something quite different from the usual day-job of translating corporate jargon into plain English. That has some rewarding moments, but it certainly isn’t generally spiritually enriching.

I’m looking forward to sharing a wider range of things with you over the next six months, and this is a good step in expanding my comfort zone and showing more of the range of work that I do. I do hope you enjoy it.