Man is a credulous animal, and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones.--Bertrand Russell
MORAL OUTRAGE IS A TRAP I spent the vast majority of my life in a state of outrage. I continue to struggle, on a daily basis, with impulses and input triggers for outrage.
When you're an empath, sensitive to feeling the emotions and vibes of other people, you're bound to wind up carrying a burden of suffering; outrage and righteous indignation are a given -- inevitable -- they come with the territory of self-awareness. When you're righteously indignant and outraged, you're motivated by consciousness and compassion, right? You're responding to injustice. You're technically a good person; a better person for being aware, right?
Hating the haters just isn't going to cut it. You can dedicate yourself to tearing down towers of greed and axes of evil -- that's never going to be the same thing as building lighthouses.
When I say I struggle with outrage, that doesn't mean I'm losing or failing, or that I've resigned myself to defeat; I wrestle my sense of outrage a step further -- I shift it -- into an ever-unfolding, on-going process of co-creation where the questions are "So what? Now what?"
DIATRIBES Throughout my twenties, before there were blogs, I was still blogging. I wrote a column, a series of essays, on culture and spirit called Diatribes. They were intended for spoken word and live speeches and film narration. I successfully attached a few of them to films; my efforts, the display of my talent, was well-received. But they were essentially rants -- criticisms, diagnoses. Skill or literary merit can -- and often does -- exist separate from potential solutions, treatments, courses-of-action.
In 1997, I was introduced to the idea of Gratitude Journaling by Julia Cameron's The Artists Way; it changed my writing -- and, I realize now -- my very thought processes. My existing journals suddenly seemed like records of whining and despair. Maybe well-written, maybe insightful -- but "So what? Now what?"
A SPECIAL PLACE IN HELL My outrage continued to plague me and strain against my best intentions. Something you may not know about me is that I am an obsessive consumer of politics. I'm a total news junkie.
Back in 2005, my first personal blog concept was an aspiring pundit's vehicle -- a tongue-in-cheeky, modern twist on fire and brimstone called A Special Place in Hell. You know the old expression, "There's a special place in hell for people who _____." There's certainly no shortage of material.
Let me be clear, I don't believe in a supernatural hell -- but I do believe we make our own hell in a very real way, right here in the third dimension. I similarly believe in the ascension of humanity and that heaven on earth is a future worldly reality. Which would you rather spend your energy dwelling in?
Gorging myself on politics and punditry… "So what? Now what?" Regurgitating and spewing bad news? It's a formula for indigestion, a pessimistic obesity of the mind, heart, and soul. The world doesn't need me to diagnose it. That's not enough of a contribution. It's social psychoanalysis; not spiritual coaching.
I would be consigning and resigning myself to my own Special Place in Hell.
THE BOOK OF FADED GREEN For years, my private non-fiction notebooks lined up on a shelf in a subtle spectrum of subdued hues in leather and velvet. I selected them with some subconscious aesthetic instinct but I would consciously use the colors and textures as conceptual parameters. I would name them for their literal appearance, which became the abstract lens or filter through which I viewed the contents.
There is a Book of Sunday Gray, a Book of Blood Red, a Book of Wine, a Book of Sky… (I suppose it's unfortunate that I couldn't stomach a rose-colored diary.)
I worked on filling multiple books simultaneously, organically, but with an obsessive, disciplined writer's work ethic. It was a meaningful coincidence that a blank book bound in soft moss-colored velvet was available for my first experiments in gratitude. Beyond the contents and the intentions, the most magical thing about the Book of Faded Green is that it was physically transformed through use to reflect the content, instead of the other way around. My "scientific" theory is that natural oil on my hands and the wear of its repeated handling changed it from faded and fuzzy to slick and saturated.
Before I finished filling its pages the somber little tome awoke to some supernatural spring -- it literally turned shiny bright leaf-green.
I had to change its name to reflect its greening -- simply to the Book of Green -- and that's how I came to discover what the book was really about. It wasn't doomed to be faded; its face and body were malleable, able to be shifted through my intentions and actions.
The rules of the assignment are simple: Beyond just a list of what you're grateful for -- what's good and wonderful about your experience -- it's a bridge out of pessimism that acknowledges and focuses on the steps in between.
- You are not allowed to complain, whine, or rant -- except in the context of a proposed solution.
- You don't ignore your suffering or your problems -- but you can't identify them without recording a potential treatment or possible course of action.
- Instead of writing thoughts like "I'm broke; I'm worried about money."
- Instead of "I'm lonely; I wish I could meet someone."
You append the undesirable situation with an answer to the questions "So what? Now what?" It doesn't have to be the answer -- just an answer.
- "My finances need my attention; I'm going to keep a conscious record of every penny I spend for a month... I'm going to find a second job…"
- "I wish I could meet someone; I'm going to join a gym… I'm going to join a class filled with people who are likely to share my interests… I'm going to say Yes next time my co-workers ask me to go out with them after work."
NOW WHAT? Consciousness, sensitivity, sympathy, empathy, and outrage… They take you half-way across the rope swing, the high wire, to the steepest vantage point on the gorge, and then what? That's the place where the tiniest movement is magnified, where the elastic bounce becomes most dangerous and…nauseating.
It doesn't get you to the other side. It's a scary half-way point where you panic, where even turning around and going back just doesn't logically make sense, seeing as how it requires the same effort as completing the journey.
It's actually not easy for me at all to consume the political punditry and righteous rants backstage in my dressing room. The commitment to come out once a week and try to answer "Now what?" is the most difficult writing assignment I could have ever accepted.
I am committed to breathing deeply at this half-way point -- don't look down, look forward -- and keep asking "Now what?"
What is it about where we are right now that is wonderful and powerful? Conspiracy theories and deconstructive social analysis, whistle-blowing, righteous indignation, and moral outrage cause us to vibrate dangerously in our precarious position half-way across this tightrope walk -- they move the wire in a sickening, frightening bounce.
FOUNDATION FOR CONSCIOUS EVOLUTION Hang on. Don't look down. There are brilliant minds asking "So now what?" One of my most beloved gurus is futurist author Barbara Marx Hubbard.
If your consciousness is burdening you with more despair than hopeful options -- and if you want to watch something that doesn't feel like "two hours of your life you'll never get back" -- I recommend you watch Humanity Ascending.
In the forward to Barbara Marx Hubbard's book Conscious Evolution: Awakening the Power of Our Social Potential, Neale Donald Walsch says he believes "the human race is beginning to lose patience with itself."
What makes this particular period so revolutionary is that people are now doing rather than simply watching all of this. They are taking hold of the apple cart and shaking the hell out of it. And that is exactly what they are trying to do: shake the hell right out of it.
Image credit Bill Tyne via Creative Commons on Flickr