“We all try to escape pain and death, while we seek what is pleasant. We are all ruled in what we do by impulses; and these impulses are so organised that our actions in general serve for our self preservation and that of the race.”
"Our nervous system developed for one sole purpose, to maintain our lives and satisfy our needs. All our reflexes serve this purpose. this makes us utterly egotistic. With rare exceptions people are really interested in one thing only: themselves. Everybody, by necessity, is the center of his own universe."
“We're horribly mundane, aggressively mundane individuals. We're the ninjas of the mundane, you might say.”
This morning I was contemplating my wardrobe options, trying to find an outfit that looks at least remotely summery but is warm enough to insulate my body from the sub-zero temperature in my arctic-like office building. While I was debating the heat retention capacity of cotton vs. synthetics, in the background, NPR was reporting about suicide bombers in Indonesia.
Suddenly, what I chose to wear seemed completely trivial.
This is the perfect example of how, every now and then, the universe sends you a message. It may be subtle, it may be blatant, but the point is clear – don’t waste energy on the small stuff. There are plenty of big things more worthy of your attention.
A few weeks ago I was browsing the Sunday paper. On the left hand page, an article laid out the plight of the starving in third world countries, complete with photos of skeletal children. On the right hand page was a full size lingerie ad, complete with photoes of a model who looked nearly as thin as the starving children. The contrast could not have been better if it were planned. Good morning, this is the Universe with your wake-up call.
The problem is, we are not really designed to live in the bigger picture on an ongoing basis. Human beings evolved taking care of the basic needs in front of us every day: food, safety, social structure, and reproduction. We have the same programming today, but live in a very different environment.
Take food for example. Most of us (thankfully) don’t have to worry about getting enough food to survive. But we still obsess over food. The amount of advertising dollars spent in the food industry is astronomical. We spend huge amounts of time and energy thinking about food, preparing food, reading about food, fantasizing about food (okay maybe that’s just me with chocolate), talking about food, and actually eating food, is huge. There are television shows, web sites, books and even international tours all focused on food.
And, if there is one thing we are more obsessed about than food, it is sex. Guess what? Reproduction is no longer critical for the survival of the species! Look around, there are quite a few human beings here already. But our programming is geared toward reproduction at all costs, which translates into sex. Sex appeal, romantic relationships, physical attractiveness, and, oh yeah, sex itself. If you don’t believe that this is a national obsession, turn on your TV for five minutes. Or open a magazine. Or better yet, let your email address leak out into cyberspace.
For example, I never knew, until my email address found its way to several SPAM lists, just how insecure men are about their sexual performance. Based on the proportion of SPAM received on this topic, this must be the absolute number one concern of every man. Here are a few of my favorite subject lines. And no, I am not making these up:
- We offer the best alarm-clocks for your small friend down there.
- "Your device is so petite she barely finds it in bed?"
- "Every man dreams of the power and stamina that never end." (okay, but if it lasts more than 8 hours, call a doctor)
- "Break her down with your incompatible power." (to quote The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means”)
- "Your manhood will return to you like a boomerang." (um, yeah, and hopefully it won’t hit you in the head)
My point is this. We are designed to worry about the immediate, mundane, in-your-face concerns. What will I eat today? What will I wear today? Does this make my butt look big? Paper or plastic? And we know, at some level, that this stuff isn’t all that important. World Peace is important. Saving the Planet is important. Helping to End Suffering in Third World Countries is important. But it’s really hard to live our lives staying focused on those bigger issues. We just are not wired to work that way. As long as our basic needs (and those of our immediate inner circle) are met, we are content.
Every now and then, the balance shifts when a tragedy forces the world to take a collective deep breath. Think about your life immediately after September 11th. Think about what seemed important and what suddenly seemed irrelevant. Think about how your priorities changed that day.
But the truth is, for better or worse, we are amazingly adaptable creatures. No matter how much we think something will “change our lives”, it very rarely does so in any significant manner. We are always amazed to find that we have somehow adjusted to the circumstances and are now re-focused on the same old short term concerns. Most of us prefer to hit the snooze button on the Universe’s alarm clock and go back to our comfortable lives. And at some level, many of us are conflicted about this.
We need to live with awareness of the bigger picture. Our time shouldn’t be spent worrying about the size of our thighs (or the size of our “friend down there”). But it is a balancing act. Focusing too much energy on the big things that you cannot control can also lead to problems. I am certain that one of the keys to a happy life is finding that perfect balance between our day-to-day concerns and the universe as a whole.
Let me know if you figure out how to do that. In the meantime, I’ll keep relying on messages from the Universe to keep me in line.