Thursday, June 21, 2012
You are not who you think
But don't kid yourself - in most of the world there are not that many "middle class" people. There are mostly the handful of very very rich and the very poor who slave away in the mines and fields to bring us luxuries. I realize that those who can sit and read this blog are probably among the fortunate, like me. You don't even want to know how many computers we own here. We are middle-class Americans who grew up in a time when there was a larger, stronger middle-class.
Before you turn away from this post, thinking it is about, yawn, politics or economics, it is about to get intimate. Actually, all those big-thinking things are intimate, in a sense. Your air conditioning affects the whole world. That's the problem discussed in the Times today.
But it is my personal life that's been nudging me to wake me up to reality these days. Faithful Readers know about the majormajor problems of Tom's parents aging and not admitting to that fact. Reading Pema last night, I felt like she had Tom's mother perfectly described. To say, at 90, "I'm not old - I can drive - I'm perfectly capable of living in my house" is to insist on your delusion of invulnerability. I'd guess this is connected to having spent your whole life refusing to acknowledge that you will not only age, you will die.
I have been rummaging around in Buddhist teachings for quite a few years now, and am familiar with the concept of ego. This is not quite what we mean when we say someone is egotistic or has a big ego. That refers to someone who thinks very highly of himself. I say "himself" because most women seem to suffer from the opposite problem, low self-esteem. How could we not when even Oprah, who ought to know better, has her nice plump zaftig body airbrushed into a size 12 on the cover of O? (Here, I will restrain myself from posting a candid shot of her.) In a competitive patriarchal society, most people feel inadequate, I'd guess. There isn't much room at the top.
So you see in the grocery store a big woman with huge (painful, beautiful) tattoos on her arms. It is as if she is saying defiantly, "Hey, I might be stuck in a crap job, but I'm someone."
Well, you are someone. But not who you think you are. Who you think you are, that I-dentity you've worked up, that's a fixed idea, an ego. Because we are really this cloud of constantly changing active systems. A human being grows, matures, and then starts to age. You could think of it as the decay of the carbon atoms we are composed of. I like that word, composed. Made. Then de-composed. I wish I could say that to my mother-in-law. You're old, and getting older as we speak, I'd say with a smile, like I say it to myself after I try to take a flattering self-portrait. Get used to it, I'd think - it's never going to go the other direction. But I won't tell her that - everyone's been telling her that - it doesn't work.