(Aerial grid and gridlock, and we all look just the same ... Los Angeles, CA 2010)
- APRIL 20, 2020 -
Striking news of the day: Social distancing in India has caused pollution to drop so dramatically that for the first time in a long time, you can see the Himalayas from Mumbai.
Mark Manson elucidates how everything in life is a trade off, that we live in a psychological tyranny in the States, oppressed by our own culture of exceptionalism that markets to our fears and insecurities, telling us that we are sick unworthy inadequate failing, and selling us various pre-packaged remedies to become “like Mike” or some other quick fix, how calculating any opportunity cost means that essentially everything you do, no matter what it is, costs something, even if indirectly. His point is that it is impossible to avoid compromise. We all suffer our choices; we all have pain from too much attachment or too much aversion. But our salvation lies in choosing our pain. You cannot escape the fact that you will suffer, so why not decide what pain you are willing to deal with? When we answer that, our path becomes clear, we live more honestly. We are free, because we are choosing; responding, not reacting.
That being said, this prevalent "psychological tyranny", very American disease, of always thinking we need more, always needing to be productive, creating something, in a hurry, always improving our status, just for the sake of the race, may be responsible for our incredible growth and rise to power, but if we never stop to take stock of, appreciate, or engage with what we have in hand, we will only be locked into cycle of eternal lack, leading to desperation, despair, and more wanting. Power is a lonely post.
And this is the fundamental difference I notice in the Moroccan mindset. When you ask people how they are, they talk about all that they have, their health, their family and friends, their work, and everything is always good, even if it isn’t. They always come from a perspective of abundance. There may be many things that they do not have, but they only see what is already in their hands. And this is the magic that keeps a person grateful, feeling whole.
As profoundly lucky as I am to be an American, and for all the gifts and opportunities I have been afforded simply by winning the geographical lottery at birth, living abroad has taught me to slow down, to be more humble, to be more present in the moment, to enjoy the sweetness of living.
My quotidian flow in Morocco emerges in stark contrast to my American roots. I do not feel the same pressure cook time bomb chest squeeze circus climb that I navigated in the States. I do not feel the underlying malaise driving and corroding American culture, deepening the chasm between us, our humanity dissolved into extreme polarization. We uphold a relentless economy of convenience fueling an insatiable advancement, the bitcoin billionaire or brand hero fifteen minute fame mania, make money make money make money, at all costs, as if nothing else matters, get what's yours. Why is the highest value always to go faster? To have more comfort? For what purpose? To what end? At what point do we acquire enough? Efficiency, comfort, and convenience cannot be the only measure of good.
And for younger generations, all that freedom and self determination we have been raised on has been so easily perverted into a super selfie sickness. I see how Americans abuse time. We work incessantly. We strive for more and more, just for the sake of more. We chase celebrity. We worship money. We accept that it is taboo to rest. We accept that if you stop, or choose not to participate in the psychosis, someone will just run over the top of you, take your spot, and no one will show any sympathy. Because those are the rules of the game, and it is to be expected.
This competitive individualistic extinct that drives us to actualize our potential, this belief that we can do anything, our notorious American optimism and belief in our own exceptionalism, has been both blessing and curse. That which drives our bold creativity and innovation also blinds us, binds us to the wheel, turning turning turning, at speeds constantly unprecedented, faster and faster, more and more, yet still a stagnation occurs. An alienation, an unforgiving loneliness and emptiness fills the spaces in between, an unmooring, disconnectedness, because the finish line never arrives. So often, I hear stories of sacrifice rewarded with a sense of futility, of working so hard, giving up so much of yourself, just to still be standing in the same place.
I lacked balance living in the States. And I certainly never found peace. I felt like a crazy person juggling a full time shop manager gig, pursuing my MFA at night, organizing an art exhibition, and caring for my dying mother in the spaces between. Life felt full and hard, sad and relentless. It is no wonder that I found myself completely spacing out for days after she died. All this work, all this sacrifice, for what? Not just my own, but hers, and everyone else around me. Seems like we all felt that way to a certain degree, and perhaps we still do. Death brings everything into focus.
So a decade ago, I chose to extricate myself from this American way to be. I no longer wanted to participate in the race that leads nowhere. But it is hard to break habits when everyone else around you cannot break free either. The social tsunami is a strong currency. It takes courage and honesty to take back your time.
It is often said that you do not know what you have until it is gone. Well, in a world fraught with inequality, the one thing we all have in common, is time, a devastatingly short and precious amount of time in this life. And value is not necessarily in the outcomes, but in the process. So then why not enjoy the process? Why not take back your time, redefine what it means to you, and how it should be spent best?
An old Berber saying roughly translates, “God takes from your heart what he puts in your pocket.” And if you think about it, the more one focuses on money, the more one loses heart, compassion. "One has to be a sociopath to make it to the top, because the ladder is made of humans" - that gem I got from some random Netflix series … because in our culture, it seems that it is not about keeping up with the Jones’s, it's about always being the Jones’s, always ahead of everyone else … anything less is unacceptable. But what is so great about being caught up in this endless game of one-ups-man-ship? It’s exhausting, and to me, a waste of time.
My years living in Morocco have brought me more and more balance, and a peace of mind that I have never known before. I have shed the need to keep up with any Jone’s, or anything for that matter. I do not live to acquire more. I live to evolve more. It has been here in Morocco where I have truly been able to heal. Five times a day, the call to prayer, can pull me out of my monkey mind preoccupation, and reminds me to simply be thankful, to recognize the forces larger than me moving and guiding us all, to be grateful for the blessings I have already received, and to honor them the best I can.
My soul sister, Marisa reminds me that, “the less I have, the more I live.” And I smile. This is not about becoming some nazi minimalist. I like to indulge in luxury too, as it is a crucial part of keeping a healthy balance in life. Rather, it’s just that I believe more in simplification, in working hard to create an uncomplicated existence, unencumbered with things, toxic relationships, or stress. When we take time to strip it all down, we find that we do not need most of what we cling to. Dropping the weight of expectation, allowing for things to breathe, to let be, and let go, can lift you up to a freedom worth more than all our possessions combined.
Everything coming to you is a gift.