As moderns we have contrived to surround ourselves with conveniences, shelters, technology…
All of which act to keep the storms of natural life at bay. Once upon a time, this had to do with literal physical storms (survival); in a later time, the threats came from diseases and other material hazards (security). More recently, our vulnerability seems to be on a different level: psychological, emotional, social and spiritual ‘storms’.
Our coverings and shelters (including the more sophisticated ones involving technology) have also led us to believe that we are comprehensively and lastingly safeguarded and secure.
We have convinced ourselves that death, disease and disruption can be so managed and restricted that we can live long (eternal?), healthy, damage-proof lives, guaranteed by science, technology and law.
But periodically, the ‘storms’ of life crash in over our protective walls
A death in the family, an unwelcome diagnosis, relational collapse, depressive or anxiety attacks, sudden unemployment, rejection by our children. All these threaten our carefully controlled personal environments. They are not physical threats – we pay our taxes to ensure that those are maintained! They are emotional, psychological, and spiritual. They are real-life, unmediated events that collide with our pleasure-orientated lifestyles. And we are ill prepared to deal with them.
Part of the problem is that we live increasingly disconnected from ‘real’ life
we lack direct engagement with life in the raw. Rather, we live mediated, indirect, constructed, urban, commuting, virtual, technicalised lives. We can even create virtual avatar lives in a world that doesn’t actually exist! This creates the illusion that the virtual is the real world, and the real world is not very important. The unpleasant parts at least can be airbrushed out of existence, like imperfections in a cosmetics advert.
We are characterised by denial
We seek to stave off unpleasant realities by means of the material. This is the pursuit of pleasure, and it occupies a large percentage of our waking lives. We want to, need to be in control. We fear any loss of control. We follow the motto, “the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain”. It’s a very old approach, going back over 2000 years to the Greek Epicureans. It’s very much alive today.
But there is a cost to all this
It’s a kind of numbness, a disconnection with raw living, a lack of engagement with real life. It leaves us with a gnawing sense that all is not right, despite all the material wellbeing. This is the ‘anomie’ that sociologists talk about – a loss of meaning in life.
But it goes further than the general and existential
It has very real everyday consequences. We are numbed to crucial life experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. The pleasant become trivialised and sometimes addicted. The unpleasant are still there, but are masked, hidden, denied. But they break in at times when we least want and expect them. We want control, and can’t function well without it.
But there are some things, some very important things, that we cannot control
Just think of the storms and floods that batter Britain’s shores and levels.
We can control some things in life, but we will never control the big and unavoidable matters and events that limit and control us! Here are some: longing, the transcendent, the world, evil, pain, fear, guilt and shame, death, the future.
We have to deal with, live in, the world as it really is
Not simply as we want to define it.
We need to engage with the real world, not just our constructed one: the world of limitation, disease, disability, loss, grief, death. We will all face these anyway, and no amount of escape and denial will prevent that.
We need something more meaningful than mere material wealth and growth
That will always be a part, but only a part, not the heart of what it means to be healthy and whole. Such an entity must encompass both the good parts and the bad in life.
It must involve psychological, emotional and spiritual dimensions
It must engage not just the individual and his inner circle. It has to be overarching, comprehensive, involving quality and not just quantity. Where do we find such a vision, portal, road? We surely have to look beyond our own contrivances, constructions and controls…