Being in charge, getting more and doing more is the cultural status quo – but at what cost to our quality of life?
“What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.” — Bob Dylan
Like many people who work for themselves, for most of my adult life I couldn’t afford proper health insurance. When I asked the editors for whom I have written 65 articles to be paid for my writing or for health insurance, they laughed in my face.
A few years ago, I signed up for Obamacare and had my first extensive physical in a long time. I feel particularly blessed to have found Dr. Jennifer Sudarsky who is one of the most conscientious, comprehensive, and compassionate physicians I have ever met. When I went in for the results of my blood tests, Dr. Sudarsky confided in me that she has been treating many patients who are “tired and wired.”
This phrase made me think of Brigid Schulte’s recent book “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.” My take-away from the book is that although the average leisure time in America has remained fairly consistent over the past 50 years, the way people perceive that time has dramatically changed. For example, I texted a yoga teacher who had asked to assist me at Esalen this summer to meet me for tea to discuss. She texted back, “Slammed. No can do.” This is an example of what Schulte discusses in “Overwhelmed.”
Most of the self-employed people I know — yoga teachers, psychotherapists, meditation teachers, nutritionists, graphic designers — often say that they are “slammed” or “crazybusy.” And yet, all of us get paid to be someplace probably an average of 15 to 20 hours per week. Technically, the remainder of the 60-65 waking hours would be considered leisure time. From the outside it appears as if we should have a plethora of free time, yet I’ve never met so many tired, wired and slammed people in my entire life as I have during the last few years in sunny, laid-back Los Angeles!
Nobody in my orbit is curing leukemia; nobody I know is working 80 hours per week in a Chilean coal mine or at the Foxconn factory assembling iPhones. Anyone who has a job where they have to show up someplace for 20 hours per week is not “slammed” in comparison to the billions of people on planet Earth who live on less than $1.50 per day or the millions of people who work 80 hours per week in factories (no 5 year-old ever woke up and said, “Someday, mommy, I want to work on a factory assembly line!).
So the question is: taking all of this into consideration, how does one alter their perspective to perceive that being obligated to show up someplace for 15-20 hours per week is a tremendous luxury? Or, more precisely, how does one learn to replace the resentment and non-acceptance (the “not good-enough”) that our minds create with gratitude and acceptance?
A friend suggested I read Rod Stryker’s “The Four Desires” to determine my “vikalpa” or the underlying message that I was signaling to editors and publishers. What if I told them “It’s OK, I’m so happy your company is thriving! You don’t need to pay me for writing. Don’t worry if I don’t have health insurance … really, just make sure your shareholders get their dividend checks.”
I must admit that at any time during the 25 years following my near-fatal car accident, if someone examined my life from the outside — Ivy League degree in Sociology (moderately useless), Master’s degree in Philosophy (substantially useless), three years writing in Paris (fun, indulgent, yet ultimately profoundly useless), film school in New York City (or, “How to flush $150,000 down the toilet”), Master’s degree in Buddhism and Hinduism (ideal for a career in the food service industry), yoga teacher training (I don’t even need to say it), Master’s degree in Psychology (oh, that one might come in handy someday) — they would have said, “The poor soul … he’s lost!”
It’s funny because the occupation box on my tax return from 1991 through 2005 was always filled with the word “Writer.” Is that even an occupation anymore or are we all just weaving together sound bites such as: “6 Things To Do In The Rain,” “7 Ways To Roll Up Your Yoga Mat,” “”9 Ways To Make A Dinner Reservation,” “Kale and Your Colon: A Love Story,” “How To Burn The Maximum Calories When Farting” or “New Harvard Study Links Wearing Underwear Backwards To Early Onset Alzheimer’s”?
I dunno … maybe I’m idealistic? Or maybe I’m naive?
Or maybe my writing sucks, is utterly worthless, I completely wasted 25 years of my life reading and writing, and I am fundamentally incapable of saying anything that anyone wants to hear?
I don’t know anymore.
But this is what I do know: I need to retrain my mind to think “Wow, what a great luxury it is to have the time to write meaningful articles that raise consciousness around all of the hypocrisy, exploitation, greed, fear, and selfishness that permeate our culture” instead of thinking “Ira, how is it possible that the person who cleans your editor’s toilet earned more money this morning than you have been paid to write for all of the last three years combined?”
Los Angeles psychotherapist and counselor Ira Israel is an LMFT, LPCC and Certified Yoga Therapist. He has graduate degrees in psychology, philosophy and religious studies and leads “Cultivating Meaning and Happiness through Mindfulness and Yoga” workshops at the Esalen Institute. He is the author of several books on anxiety, depression and yoga. For more information, please visit: Optimum Integral Wellness.