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Waking From The Trance

June 22, 2010

Since my last post I’ve been receiving responses ranging from, “Are you ok?” to “You call this ‘The Joy Project’? It’s too depressing!”

But this joy journey is…a journey, and I can only hope you’ll be patient with me. This week I’ve been bumping into ideas that are turning me on, and I’ve also been taking my own advice and slowing down a bit.

Last Saturday I went to the park (a small community park here in Brooklyn, where people just chill and aren’t trying so hard to look good), and lay down on the grass. The humidity was low and the summer air was sweet and clean. My head cleared almost instantly, and I almost wept. How long have I been gone?  It was like I was emerging from under water. You know what I found? I’d been lost in Trance-sylvania, where the vampires of fret and fear lurk.

I also I reached out to my friends this week. One of them, conveniently enough, is my wife.

“You’ve been all focused on what can go wrong. Look at what you have!” She said, adding, “You worry, but all those things that might be…might not be.”

Somehow that helped bring me to.

Another friend suggested I simply stop watching cable news and go on a media diet. I thought about it; I think he’s right, and I want to talk about it. The 24/7 news cycle has got us all hot-wired to fraying nerves. They sell us constant fright that has a way of sticking to the brain. It’s part of the hyped up trance-dance we’re all being trained to boogie to these days: The Jitter Bug. It’s a form of hypnosis. They sell fear and distraction and we buy it. 

This is Obama’s problem and it’s mine and he and I aren’t the only ones. The whole nation is in a depressive/reactive rut. He because he’s stuck in the Washington Beltway loop; we because we’re stuck in the media loop. Where’s the vision and the optimism that got him elected? Where’s the inspiration we need to create the future we must?

It’s like that thing I once saw a workshop leader do on a blackboard: Where he placed the “c” changed the word “reactive” to “creative”. Obama and the rest of us have just been reacting to bad news and threats of worse news. This national epidemic of myopia is bad for our vision. 

Where there is no vision, the people perish.” – Proverbs 29:18

Oliver Sachs tells the story of a guy in a hospital with no memory. He’s completely lost. For the past umpteen years he’s believed he’s like 20 years old. One time, Sachs was there when the man caught a glimpse of his 45-year-old face in the mirror, and freaked out. Sachs then distracted him with something else and the man soon forgot what he was freaked about. This is a useful metaphor for our collective brain.  Like Sach’s patient, we forget how unsustainable our way of life is. Then suddenly we catch a rude glimpse of reality –- like an exploded oil pipe that punctures our trance — and we freak…until the next news story distracts us.

So yes – we need to unplug from the trance-box and start imagining the world we want to create, because both optimism and pessimism tend to be self-fulfilling. This will help us keep our perspective as the winds of change blow all around us. This will help us keep our eyes on the prize even in the midst of catastrophe, should it occur. This will give us the strength to laugh in the face of fear.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Laurie permalink
    June 22, 2010 12:47 pm

    I appreciate the sharing about the obstacles to joy, Charley – we’re looking for joy that is real, aren’t we? the natural caffeine in the latte, not the foam. Childhood joy is a true lack of awareness of life’s harsh realities – seeking that joy through denial is, I suspect, the essence of self-medication in all its self-destructive guises – the distracting addictions that temporarily relieve the pain but inevitably lead to greater harm. The good things in mature conscious life do all seem to require effort – being physically fit, having satisfying relationships, doing well vocationally….makes sense to add having a positive attitude to the list. It is the stuff of therapy, is it not? Cutting through the defense mechanisms to identify the roots of the issues, acknowledging them rather than burying them, and then navigating the management of them so that they no longer rule your mood, your daily interactions, your relationship with yourself.

    Behavioral psychology views all behavior as serving a function – interventions are based on identifying the function being served and replace the maladaptive behavior with one that is more acceptable – if someone throws themselves on the floor and starts banging their head to get attention, you try and teach the person how to ask for attention with a request that is viable in their communication repertoire. Worry, fear, guilt – all serve to help us identify real threats – vision, as I believe you correctly identify as the antidote – helps to generate constructive action to address these threats. Complex issues do not tend to generate linear paths to resolution – perhaps this is why we are equipped with such amazing brains. Perhaps this is our most important creative work. And surely, the creative process is one of joyous discovery.

  2. roy alexander permalink
    June 22, 2010 6:01 pm

    Charley, I read your “Joy Project” all the time. Keep it coming and you just keep on coming. What a clever and insightful writer you are. Roy

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