a little something extra

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sabbath 19

Muller titles this chapter "Selling Unhappiness," and uses it to point out how the contemporary Western market economy is predicated on the implication that the potential buyer is unhappy, but will become happy if he or she buys this product.

If the potential buyer is already happy, the would-be seller is outta luck. This ties back to Muller's point that working harder to have more money to buy more stuff will not make us happier. It will just make us more tired.

He takes the point one step further with this paragraph:

"It is imperative that we recognize that our particular model of civilization is actually designed to produce suffering. If we simply work harder and longer and more efficiently to make it work better -- without stopping to see what we have built -- we will simply produce suffering more efficiently." [emphasis is Muller's]

Well, whoa. I don't want to produce suffering more efficiently. Do you?

Muller goes on to point out how many people in marketing venues (catalogues, advertisements, etc.) are portrayed in postures of leisure that reflect what Muller's vision of Sabbath contains. So in Muller's opinion, the answer is not to buy. The answer is to stop and rest, content with what you've got.

The practice Muller recommends at the end of this chapter was given the charming name "slotha yoga" by a friend of Muller's. It is the simple but luxurious act of not hopping out of bed when one wakes up. Stay in bed a while, enjoying whatever's going through your mind, or whatever may be going on in your outside world.

I certainly believe in "slotha yoga," but I don't practice it very often. During the week, my alarm goes off at 6:00 and I must be up and moving if I'm going to get to the gym before work. On the weekends, it's actually easier on me to keep the alarm set at 6:00, rather than constantly requiring my unwilling body to readjust to the 6:00 wake-up on Monday. On the days when I'm not gym-bound, I enjoy not having to rush to get out of my apartment on time; perhaps that's a modified version of slotha.

I confess, though, it tickles me that Muller advocates for staying in bed on the Sabbath. How many people do you think he's making late for the religious services of their choice, which tend to be scheduled in the morning on the Sabbath?

Cristopher's post; Tripp's post

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

nephew to the rescue!

Recognizing that his Auntie Megan was feeling gloomy, Connor decided to cheer her up by doing THIS...

It worked!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

hamster on the wheel

These past few weeks I have been running as fast as my little feet will carry me. I had two plays in rehearsal at the same time, a challenge I will not relish seeing again any time in the near future. I had houseguests, dear friends whom I was truly glad to share quarters with while they were in town working on a project. I had various levels of minor illness, culminating with the present unpleasantness of having a little cut in my gum from an errant popcorn kernel, big inflammation, hurts to eat or talk, hoping it will take care of itself and not require a visit to the dentist in the next couple of days. I have generally been Overworked and Overstimulated with a capital O-O.

So where am I writing this from? Work. Of course.

Tonight and tomorrow night I'm facilitating post-show discussions with the audience for the first of the two plays that is now up in its run.

The actors are lovely. I predict that the audience will also be lovely. I'm good at these discussions, can do them in my sleep.

But I would rather be actually sleeping, thank you!

Sabbath 18

Cristopher's post on this chapter gives a good summary, so I find I don't have to. Tripp's post shows a deeper, if more romanticized, message from the chapter than anything you'll read here today.

Much of "The Gospel of Consumption" is redundant information for me. But given:
a. my choice of career and its somewhat limited earning potential (a situation I believe my co-Sabbath-readers mostly share),
b. my location, where all living expenses are through the roof,
c. my single status, meaning that what I earn is what I got, no exceptions,
and finally
d. the financial challenges I've faced trying to keep the house I bought in Georgia while living in California,
... any tendencies towards gratuitous consumption would have been beaten out of me during the past year and a half.

As it is, my mother calls my decorating style "minimalistic," and I don't shop for fun, so I am not a particularly good match for Muller's description of the driven consumer who can never be satisfied.

However, the desire to consume and the ability to consume are two different problems. So even if I'm living in a way that prevents most unnecessary consumption, I can use this chapter to look at my desires and see where they may be holding me back from the happiness Muller posits as the goal he'd like to share with his readers.

For this purpose, I think the shop-but-don't-buy exercise would serve pretty well.

The practicalities of the exercise are aimed towards bricks and mortar, and for that reason at first I thought I might not do it. I truly hate to shop in clothing stores, bookstores, etc. I get "merchandise overwhelm" very quickly and wind up not buying anything and having a terrible time. I do most of my shopping online for gifts, clothing when I buy it, and so on. I use the library for books, reserving for later the decision to buy a copy of a book I really enjoyed or found useful when I read the library's copy. I use Netflix for DVDs because I don't want to own DVDs.

But then I thought, "Aha! I could do the exercise in the drugstore." Every month I make a trip to the drugstore, and picking up small odds and ends I find it easy to drop $40-50 even using coupons and special prices. So perhaps this month I'll try Muller's exercise and see how it goes. Or perhaps I'll try an online version, using one of the sites where I could easily spend hundreds of dollars if I had them and chose to use them that way.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Sabbath 17, or, why I would make a very bad Buddhist

This chapter marks the beginning of a new section of the book. The section is titled "Happiness," and the chapter title is "The Pursuit of Happiness."

In this chapter, Muller takes aim at desire as the anti-rest, anti-Sabbath force. He draws on examples from the Buddhist traditions to bolster his argument, which is essentially that craving results in constant striving and action, which countermands rest but gives birth to more craving. The cycle continues with the human being never finding satisfaction, always wanting more.

Towards the end of the chapter, Muller turns his attention towards gratitude. If one is busy giving thanks for what one has, one cannot simultaneously crave more. Returning to craving can closely follow the act of gratitude, but it can't actually be simultaneous with it. So, the more time we spend being grateful for what we have, the more we break the hold of craving on our psyches.

The major flaw I find in this chapter is Muller's disregard for any happiness that one might find in one's work. From what I know of him, he likely gains some happiness from his own work, so I decided to chalk this oversight up to authorial strategy. I think at this moment in the book, if not throughout the volume, Muller is staking out one pole, a rather extreme position, in the hope that his readers will leave the opposite pole and land somewhere in the middle.

Because my work makes me happy, I'm kind of a bad target audience for this chapter. Other things make me happy too -- this is what makes one attempt to create the fabled Work-Life Balance.

But I'm also aware that my core beliefs are pretty far from Buddhist tenets. Where Buddhists preach DEtachment, I embrace passionate ATtachment to the people, ideas and pursuits I love. I know I'm buying a certain amount of pain guaranteed to come with love -- which leads to the second way I'd be a bad Buddhist. Buddhism attempts to end suffering, or avoid it. I believe that suffering is currency. If I want love, I have to buy it with willingness to endure pain when that love is not returned, or when the person I love leaves. I'd rather do that than never love. I'm willing to suffer.

This chapter's exercise is so general as to approach being difficult to identify. In short, Muller says, "Be consciously grateful for the good things you have." Well, right on. And I'll begin by being grateful for however many chapters may limp by before Muller uses the phrase "bread from the oven" again. I'm about ready to pop him in the nose for gratuitous repetition.

Tripp's post on this chapter is here; here is Cristopher's.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

but reck'ning by my natal day...

Okay I am not "a little boy of five," no matter how one reck'ns.

But since Cristopher posted a lovely birthday greeting to me over on his blog, I wanted to share the link here.

Happy birthday to me!!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sabbath 16

Cristopher has summarized this chapter, the final one in the "Rhythm" section. It consists mainly of examples of putting into action the principle Muller has explored in the section: to value that which only grows in time, as much as or more than one values that which only grows with money. Tripp's post on the chapter appears here.

Between my first reading of the chapter and my second a couple of days later, I thought a bit about changing my own life vs. changing society. For most of the book, I've been considering its principles and recommendations just in the context of my own private life. This chapter suggested the extension of "Sabbath values" into our interconnected, societal lives.

As you saw in Cristopher's post, if you followed the link above, the idea of stewardship for one another's well-being permeates this chapter. Not that we should impose Sabbath on one another, but that creation of the elements of Sabbath -- rest, ease, companionship, abundance -- can and perhaps should happen outside our own four walls, as well as inside.

I had never thought of myself as a politically or societally powerless person (Bush "elections" notwithstanding), so it was interesting to me that during some of my consideration of this chapter I kept hearing in my head the refrain "I can't change society... I can't change society... I can't change society..." But the work of Bread for the Journey, and especially the example of the now-Nobel-winning work of establishing the world's first microcredit bank, shows how much good can be done with resources that are not enormous. Time to get rid of that mental refrain.

The exercise this week is challenging. There's never been a group I couldn't feel outside of. But, lame though that is, I do have some minimal experience establishing conscious community. For example, when I lived in Minneapolis, I had a mutual airport transportation pact with another single friend who lived alone -- any time I needed a ride to or from the airport I could ask him and he'd say "Yes" if he was free, and vice versa. This small, articulated contract relieved us both of a lot of stress, since we knew we would not be bugging the other person and potentially endangering our friendship by asking too often.

Living so far away from all the people who are most important to me, it is that much more incumbent upon me to keep up my end of all of those long-distance relationships. It may be more work than usual, not just to do the calling/emailing/etc., but to remember to do it, and not to let anybody go too long without contact. But that's just what Muller is talking about in this chapter -- our relationships only really grow with the application of time and attention. There is no substitute for that.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Principle: Love One Another

Love one another.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the best organizing principle for a life that I have ever heard, read or found.

It is also the sum total of the Christian doctrine that I truly believe. This will explain why my appointment in Tripp's virtual university is to a chair in heresy, among other things...

Was Jesus divine or human? Dunno. Not particularly worried about it.

Did Jesus exist, historically speaking? Dunno. Probably, given his literary longevity and the way that the writings about him sprang into being.

Does God exist? Dunno. I know I won't find out for sure until I die, if even then. And that's why the first part of the Great Commandment doesn't appear here.

But even if the answer to all of the above questions is a resounding, final NO...

Love One Another is still the best organizing principle for a life, that I have ever heard, read or found. I'm sticking with it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Principles: on speech

It's a three-for-one today, folks. I was musing on what principle to post, and I bet there is actually a uniting principle somewhere underpinning the three of these. But I couldn't winkle it out, so I'll put up the three. Maybe one of you will be able to identify the unifying principle!

1. Those who choose not to participate in the making, don't get to bitch about the outcome. A.K.A. the Election Principle, for example: if I don't vote, I forfeit my right to complain about the measures or people who are elected. But the same is true for any decisionmaking process, large or small. Important caveat, though: this principle addresses choosing not to participate. Those who are excluded from making or decisionmaking (I'm looking at you, RCC) have every right to bitch about the outcome.

2. Those who got it, don't talk about it, and those who talk about it, probably don't got it. (grammar deliberate. yes.) A.K.A. the ESP Principle, for example: those who claim to be "good readers" of other people's thoughts and feelings, usually aren't. But in my life, it extends to discussion of talent and other such personal attributes. This principle's important caveat involves avoiding false modesty. In my world, you don't bring up the fact that (for example) you sing well. But if somebody else brings it up and compliments you, you don't deny it -- that's false modesty. You thank them and move the conversation on.

3. Say exactly what you mean. A.K.A. the Responsibility Principle, which is to say, I am responsible for everything I say and everything I do. Being drunk isn't an excuse -- I'm still responsible for anything I say or anything I do when I'm drunk. Being angry isn't an excuse -- I'm still responsible for anything I say or anything I do when I'm angry. Etc. etc. and so forth.