Great movie. What’s important? What’s not? These are the questions we sit in day-in and day-out as a result of the current climate. The new Jason Reitman film has George Clooney (self-confirmed bachelor in real life as well as in the film) flying around the country as the pageboy messenger who delivers the bad news to employees. In the 60’s, everyone knew someone who had been killed in Vietnam. Similarly, we watch casualties all around us as people over the last year or two have been fired, laid off, losing their pensions, 401k’s, struggling to make ends meet and forced to reassess. Reassess: to estimate or judge the value of something, a second time or once again. A reassessment of the damages and benefits has been something many of us have been forced to do. Although everyone may have initially looked around in panic and fear as they felt the sky falling, losing their homes, or what they thought was their purpose in life (save, slave, and retire on your own terms), it’s this reassessing that may prove to be the iconic yellow brick road leading us to greater happiness and peace.
If art imitates life then this movie did a great job of taking a thermometer of the time in which we are currently living and the lessons we are learning – no, make that earning. The human beings who have lived on the earth for the last 100 years have not been the first nor the last to discover that our time here is finite and often feels painfully too short. This is nothing new. It just seems that legions of us have forgotten how short it is; it is only when we are reminded how short that everything we do suddenly has extra weight and meaning. We hear that clock ticking loudly. The more we are aware of the clock, the greater realization that what we are doing during this time should mean something.
When there is an illness in any kind of system, be it a group of cells, or something in the ecological environment, or a criminal in society, the system works together intelligently to correct the aberration. On a spiritual level, I believe that an ill system is correcting itself. In fact, there is much more than meets the eye as many might perceive the challenges to be simply an economic crisis. Somewhere along the line, with our race to be the biggest and brightest and our race to out-car each other’s garages, we became completly consumed, distracted and excessively focused on getting things or getting ahead. It doesn’t matter what the price was: loss of health, loss of spouse, loss of sanity, loss of time – we would give any of these up to keep chasing after what we thought we wanted. Just as illnesses often take a long time to appear and gather and manifest, societal illnesses (in this case, society’s warping of life-affirming priorities) happen very gradually as well.
I recall a story that my father often tells about my parents’ very short engagement. While my parents dated, my father made it known to my mother that he wasn’t interested in having children. I believe his exact phrasing was, “I want to be a DINK. Double Income No Kids.” My mother thought he was joking, so she went ahead with the marriage. Imagine her surprise when the ink was dry and he re-iterated his childless intentions. I’m pretty sure that he’s happy with the way things ended up turning out, but he wasn’t alone in that sentiment. The chronology of those priorities started percolating long before the economic and spiritual crisis we face today. What seemed at first like an innocent desire for human progress and individual achievement, quickly morphed into compulsion and obsession. Soon families started falling apart. In an effort to collect more toys, people started spending more time at work than at home with their loved ones. Is it any surprise that intimacies and bonds at home started dying and the bonds at the office grew? This is after all, where we were spending more and more time. Getting toys started mattering more, work that took us away from home and from our families became more important and what seemed to us the obvious choice if faced with an either/or decision. After all, we were doing it for them….weren’t we?
Since we are not the first humans on the historical timeline to be cognizant of the fact that life is short, why are we getting knocked upside the head with this new paradigm that seems to be forced upon us? There must be a reason. There must be a correction that needed to take place on some level. Perhaps our priorities became so extremely warped as we repeatedly put monetary accumulation before family and our own happiness, that the collective unconscious just threw up. Perhaps we needed a shake-awake as we put the ideal of spending at least 40-80 hours per week slaving away doing something that we could tolerate, above the ideal of doing what gave us joy and spending more time with the people we love. We bought into a misguided illusion of what someone sold us on what would bring us happiness. Because we didn’t seem to be acknowledging through our actions how tenuous and precious our lives were, because we were in so many ways blindly disrespecting ourselves and others, we were shaken awake to pay closer attention.
Wait a minute, what if this rat-race is all one big lie? We have now been forced to consider what will matter to us the most at the end of the day. Will it have been conquering the corner office real estate but under constant stress and duress? Will it have been those special memories we have spending time with our children or spouses? Will it have been not finding a spouse at all because we were too busy working long hours and not wanting to subject another human being to our continual absences?
This is not a call to give away all money and live the life of a pauper. There is nothing evil about money. Money is only energy. It is a tool to use in this game, hopefully for the greatest good. Had the game in place not have been taken away from us, would thousands of people have ever made the decision to revisit their heart’s whisper and heed the call rather than run from it? I doubt it. Life is short and the cancer in our system has been putting money and things over people on our totem pole of values. Our humanity won’t allow us to sit in that illusion for too long, so the collective unconscious will correct the living organism or system in whatever way it needs to. Although this means pain and fear for many, ultimately it is ushering in a new dawn.
Imagine surviving with less and holding those we love closer. Imagine spending your time in things that bring you joy, rather than things that dampen your spirit. Imagine giving yourself permission to seek out what those things are. For anyone who flounders about wondering what their purpose in life is – a question that every man has asked since the beginning of time – the answer is quite simple. Our purpose is twofold: 1) To find and live in joy and 2) To bring joy to others. The only business leftover is to listen and honor with greater integrity those things that we know call us, that we are good at and that make us happy. Most of us know what those things are, the only veil separating us from them is fear.
The perfect beauty of what has happened throughout the globe is that we are involuntarily being forced to stare that fear straight in the face. Many of us have had options taken away from us and what a blessing that we have. In the same way that 9/11 forced New Yorkers to wake up and point them towards the real goal of the finish line – to love and help each other – this crisis has softened our hearts with those around us, as we see people scared and disappointed, worried with fear of the unknown. The survivors will take a cue from this evolution we are a part of and drop the money and soul-sucking work environments we have been a part of to much lower at the bottom of our list. Life goes by in a blink of an eye. I am sure if someone announced we only had a week to live, our priorities would shift dramatically.
Ask anyone at the end of the road if their life felt like a week or 85 years. The time is no less precious, whatever the answer. To take this crisis as the blessing that it is and run with it, we would be wise to ask ourselves more critically thse questions: Who are we? What are the gifts we bring by virtue of winning the intergalactic lottery and showing up on this planet? How can we best earn our keep during our time here by bringing as much joy as possible to others and ourselves? What matters the most? Giving and receiving love and following our passions. Sum calculated. We were forced to stop killing ourselves as walking zombies and then had no choice but to ask ourselves for whom we were sacrificing our time or gifts. Whose approval did we need that we thought we didn’t have? Who told us our family or neighbours would only love us if we had this or that? Did we regret not taking that extra vacation we dreamed about taking with our children or parents because we convinced ourselves we couldn’t afford the time away?
Society’s approval may not matter so much anymore, because the boat is sinking for all of us – hopefully the illusion is going down with it. What is left in the middle of this human drama is a sea of life rafts which we can choose to use to great benefit. May we toss them to other people and form a net of support and love. May we use them also to save ourselves and give our souls the chance to play and shine as we were meant to.