New Age Twaddle and a Swift Kick in the Pants

Coping mechanisms are strange, often costly things.  They serve a good purpose, but at times they can slip out of our control and mutate into things that we think we’re using to better and protect ourselves, when really they’re contributing to the damage.   I know a few people who are hurting, confused, unhappy, feeling entirely lost, and are coping by attempting to find the easy, unlocked door out of pain.  I get it – more than you might think I do. We all want concrete reasons for things.  These people are smart, and important to people, and loved, and supported regardless of any questionable decisions they’ve made.  But they are weak-minded.  Now, being weak-minded is a temporary illness, one which can be cured through an individual’s hard work and acceptance of reality.  And because we care, sometimes for people to regain sight of reality, they require a much-needed swift kick in the pants.

New Age systems and mindsets are a bubbling crock of plasticky nacho cheese dip.  You really think you want cheese dip, and it tastes sort of like cheese dip so you’ll probably keep eating it for a while.  But it will never be real cheese, it’s not good for you, and will never give you the fulfillment you’re looking for.  New Age methods and ideas make up theories about imaginary energy and power, and then convince people that they have control over things they do not.  One of my favorite examples is crystals.  Crystals don’t do shit. It doesn’t matter how much you power them up by the light of the blood moon. They are rocks. They sit there. They do nothing, and have no mysticism or power. They are affected only by a strong enough force which can change their location or composition: things like a strong wind, or erosion. They’re pretty, yes. But they’re still just stupid rocks.

This rock looks like the Earth! That means it will decrease the pollutants I breathe as long as it's in my pocket!

This rock looks like the Earth! That means it will decrease the pollutants I breathe as long as it’s in my pocket!

Someone has convinced these people that forcing life’s weirdness into neat little imaginary boxes will help you feel better, or that objects or fake energy manipulation will give you a leg up in solving life’s problems. That person is a misguided or mal-intentioned asshole. They are either delusional, or they want your money. Probably the latter. Oh? You already paid $2000 for a course in Finding Your Inner Goddess? Shit, well it looks like you’re out $2000, and gained nothing but a whole lot of made-up crap that manipulates your emotions to make you feel better about losing $2000.

There is a difference between spirituality and commercialized spirituality, and it’s time to learn the difference. Spirituality is when you find methods and ways of thinking that help you to be or become whoever you want. It can help you through difficult times, and help you maintain a positive attitude. Commercialized spirituality is when you find methods and ways of thinking from a self-help book, or an internet article, or some lady at a Renaissance Faire, or anyone who claims they’ve discovered something new about things you can’t see, or figured something out about life. They want attention, money, praise, and devotion. If their methods temporarily help you, then they will absorb your glowing reviews and continue to spew forth bullshit and unsubstantiated claims. If their methods do not help you, then you’re clearly not doing it correctly. You have a lot to learn. How about you purchase these weekly reiki sessions? That will surely clear the invisible wisps of bad energy they see floating around your head. Oh, you don’t see any wisps? That’s because you must not have the gift. Only they do, so you’ll just have to take their word for it.  I hope you’re seeing the issue here.  Hint: it’s not your wisps.

Say the money doesn’t matter at all though.  For the sake of argument, let’s say all the self-help books, blessed crystals, Inner Balance Retreats, Chakra readings, and tarot cards are all free of charge for life. There’s something I want to say about all of them: I get why people think they’re cool. I understand the appeal. The idea that this gorgeous, shiny, multi-faceted crystal could hold unrealized powers is an AWESOME concept.  The idea that there’s another realm, or plane, that’s full of unknown energy that we could discover and harness for ourselves is COOL.  It’s a combination of beauty, an unexpected object, and an impossible benefit to the possessor, which is fascinating.  This recipe has done insanely well in literature and movies of the last 100 years for a good reason. The Philosopher’s Stone, Draconite, The Necklace of Harmonia, The Flying Dutchman, Pandora’s Box, The Book of Thoth, Lembas bread, Mead of Poetry, the list is endless. It’s a concept that’s been used since storytelling first began, since the first myths were spoken, and since humans first wanted to try and rationalize things that happened to them. They are beautiful descriptions and fantastic stories. But they are not real. Objects do not have inexplicable power. Magic does not exist, no matter if you call it astrology, reiki, meditation, healing stones, or raindances. I wish it did, because the world would be far more interesting, but it doesn’t.

So what’s the problem?  If people like those ideas, then why not just let them have it?  Are they hurting anyone?  The answer is yes, they actually are – they’re hurting themselves, and by proxy, their relationships.  They have taken these mythical concepts and twisted them together with their own unhappiness and pain as a coping mechanism. And they’ve convinced themselves that it was a good idea. Somewhere deep down they know it was an awful idea, and it’s all just a waste of time.  They’re stuck in a cycle of trying one new trend or system or ritual after another, and it’s all a bunch of lunchmeat that distracts from the real problem: themselves.  They are ignoring the causes of their pain and the root of their problems, and are trying to smear a magical salve over it by rearranging their furniture or carrying the right stone around their neck.  They are avoiding putting in the work to process how they’re feeling, fix relationships, acknowledge their own mistakes, and talk about the things that hurt in order to truly start healing.  It’s not that their energy flow isn’t right, it’s that they are complacent.   It’s time to come back to the reality of being a human, which is that you’re going to get hurt sometimes (sometimes by ourselves), and it’s awful, but you process and you grieve and you get over it – that is the way to “inner peace” and “balance” and mental and emotional health. You will not achieve those things by burying yourself in empty promises and mystical cards.

An important study was done recently, by some very intelligent and astute people. They realized there’s a problem in our society today: the quickly expanding production and acceptance of bullshit. The entire paper can be found here, and I encourage you to read it. But the concentrated point is that people are startlingly gullible, and easily convince themselves that there is higher meaning to be found in meaningless things. An example from analysis of literature:

“As noted by philosophers studying the topic, the bullshitter oft has the intention of implying greater meaning than is literally contained in the message, though the nature of the intent can vary. For example, the literary critic Empson (1947) describes the use of ambiguity in literature, including a type of intentional ambiguity used by poets in which a passage ‘says nothing, by tautology, by contradiction, or by irrelevant statements; so that the reader is forced to invent statements of his own . . . ‘”

If you are highly susceptible to bullshit, my friend, it does not mean that you are stupid.  It just means that you fell into a hole, and you need someone to turn on the light and help you throw away the plasticky cheese dip.  People who have not thrown it away sooner have held onto their newfound beliefs and rituals because they are scared – understandably so. But the hatred and judgment they believe they are feeling, or will feel from those who love them, is manufactured by their own fear. They are afraid of being wrong, and being ridiculed for admitting it.  Perhaps most nerve-wracking of all: they are afraid of being loved and accepted, because that opens the door for them to soften, become vulnerable, and reciprocate.

Cheese Dip Friends, we will not shun you, we will not insult you, we will not berate you.  But we see that you’re clearly struggling.  Everyone does except you.  It is your job to take a sledgehammer to your own walls.  Those walls are not for us to try and climb over, because you will make them increasingly higher the closer we get to reaching you.  It is your job to self-regulate, accept yourself as a fallible human, and accept our support of you in the dark times that you’re in.

It is terrifying to announce to people that you no longer believe in the thing you preached so hard about.

It is terrifying to embrace the idea that the only thing that can better your life is you alone, with no magic, no prophetical cards, no crystals, and no books to tell you how you should course-correct.

It is terrifying to release the death-grip you have on your pride, because your pride is the shield you use to keep people at a distance that’s comfortable.

It’s terrifying to let go of all the reasons and meaning that you’ve created and believed, and to realize that there aren’t any reasons for things sometimes.

But all of those things aren’t nearly as scary as the possibility of living in a dark, disquieted state just because you believed a bunch of new age lies.  Throw away the self-help books, bury the crystals in the dirt, and throw the tarot cards into the fire.  They will never help you, but the people who care about you will.

 

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The Evitable Holiday Stressageddon

I love the holiday season. I love putting my Christmas tree up immediately after Thanksgiving is over, I love when the temperatures plummet and I can build a fire, I love the food, and I love how stupid my cats look when they chomp on the branches of my fake tree. This time of year is all about an assortment of cozy, intangible things: giving, togetherness, charity, etc. Everyone talks the talk – but Christ on a cracker, people get intensely stressed out. It amazes me how common it is to squeeze past the point of The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

There will always be those people (you know them – don’t lie) who just can’t pull their heads out of the snow and appreciate this time of year. They have to complain and be bitter. Their lives depend on it, I think, otherwise they may deflate. There are others of us who want to savor the season, and we make an effort to every year. We try to make the sugar cookies look perfect, the lights over the garage taut and straight, our kids happy and entertained, and have the perfect, stylish centerpieces for Christmas dinner. None of those are bad things to want, or to have. But when the pressure becomes all-consuming, not only does the purpose of the holidays get crushed, but so does your sanity.

Below, you will find a list of things that will lighten your load this holiday season. These are not life hacks. They are not 3-ingredient recipes that will still wow your guests, nor never-before-seen ways of curling a ribbon. They are changes that are hard, and at times unpleasant to start. But they are long-term, and if you are serious about implementing them, they will drastically lower your stress level during this most joyous time of year.

  

Be Helpful

Yes, you’re overwhelmed. Yes, the possibility of assisting others seems insurmountable right now. But it’s important to make a concerted effort to remember others.  The concept of “the village” is valuable, although it’s been largely tossed aside these days. We were meant to help each other – and not only when it’s convenient for us. If you know someone who is overwhelmed, offer a spare afternoon to help them clean before their out-of-town guests arrive. If you know someone who is strapped for cash, offer to help them with some small gifts for their kids, or even offer to give them some of your childrens’ lightly used things. Offer to bake a pie or a casserole for someone you know isn’t the best cook. Offer to take someone’s kids for a drive through the neighborhoods with the prettiest Christmas lights to give them time. Offer to pick up someone’s family members from the airport. There are endless possibilities here, but the most important element of all of them is the offer itself. Do not wait to be asked. If someone turns down your offer, that’s ok. They probably have their reasons. But offer, extend the kindness first, and be glad to do it.

The village mentality dictates that these people will do the same for you when they’re in the more comfortable position. That’s how it works. It’s not a system of “you owe me,” but rather of “I’d like to return the kindness you gave when I was in need.” This is a practice that has been lost for too long, even though it’s foundational to our communities. The old-timey idea of neighbors running over a cup of flour because you were short for a recipe, or children helping older neighbors shovel snow from the driveway is not a pipe dream, nor a marketing scheme. It used to be reality, and can become so again as long as enough people participate. 

Be Helpful to Yourself

You cannot be Santa Claus. Nor can you be Super Parents, nor The Best Husband/Wife Ever, nor The Most Thoughtful Child, nor any other interpretation of perfection. You can’t be those things because they don’t exist (except Santa, obviously). Doing it all, being it all, achieving it all, affording it all – you can’t do it. Not because you aren’t an exceptional human being, but because chasing all those things will make you a lesser human being. 

I’m about to say something unpleasant. Maybe sit down first. Ready? You have to ask for help. You have to. You. Have. To. You are imperfect, and that is ok, and that is the way it will always be, so you might as well learn to be accepting of yourself. It is wholly, and entirely acceptable to ask for help from your family and dear friends. Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that you are not flawless and omnipotent, follow these two steps: Prep, and Delegate. 

-Prep your kids by explaining to them that December is going to be a lot of fun, but it’s also very busy, and you’re going to need their help more than ever. This gives them a concrete reason to be more participatory. Prep your spouse by discussing the things you’re most anxious about, and be sure you’re on the same page about holiday plans, budgets, parenting choices, and anything else that’s important to you. Prep your friends who get upset if you don’t attend every holiday party, and explain to them that you have other time commitments.

-Delegate age-appropriate, helpful tasks to your kids. Not tasks to keep them busy – tasks that help. Invoke the words of the prep when they whine, and use consequences when necessary. Your kids are capable beings that can take care of the piddly stuff that muddles up your day and ends up in the Latent Stress Pile. Delegating to your spouse is very different than delegating to your kids. Coming up with a game plan of who is responsible for what is an equitable system. You also must trust your spouse to do the things they have agreed to be responsible for (Stop hyperventilating. Seriously, you’re going to pass out). Do not micromanage. You will perish under the weight of your own nitpicking. Delegating to your family can include things across a vast spectrum, from “Aunt Genevieve, please bring the turducken,” or “Grandpa Joe, please make sure Grandma Ethel does not get blitzed from putting Frangelico in her coffee.”

Save Time for Traditions

Traditions are not only a great way to bond and make memories with your family, but they’re a great reason to slow down and pace yourself. A few breathers during the holiday season are very helpful to put things back into scope. If you find yourself wanting to cancel or skip traditions, you’re too busy. Cut some of your expectations, or delegate to other people. Spending time with your family or friends is far more important than vacuuming Goldfish crackers from under the couch cushions or knitting brand new stockings for each family member. 

If you don’t have any, or it’s not really your thing, I would recommend asking around or researching things out there. Not all of them are kitschy like the Elf on the Shelf, or involve too much time/money like going ice skating every year. You can go as a family to decide on one new ornament for the tree, or new candles for the Menorah. You could have a traditional “Christmas-time” food or meal. For example, my Dad used to make ice cream out of snow for us when we were little, and I still make it to this day. You can take an afternoon to put up decorations together, or celebrate St. Nicholas Day on the 6th (a mostly-German tradition that involves little gifts found in your shoes, or a big boot). There are thousands of options, or you can make one up that would be fun for your family. Regardless of what it is, it’s worth carving out the time to purposefully be together.

Don’t Pretend to Be Happy

It’s so tempting.  But do not prescribe to the ill-guided belief that people should be happy 98% of the time, and that all life’s challenges should be like water off a duck’s back. That’s falsified contentment, and it’s a steaming pile of road apples. It will turn you into an unhappy, stiff-grinned exoskeleton of the person you used to be. It is not important to be happy all the time. It is important to acknowledge your feelings, whatever they may be, and react appropriately. You are allowed to be tired. You are allowed to be stressed. You are allowed to be overwhelmed. No one thinks you are weak, or lazy, or in any way lesser. I swear.