The Dead Ends of Money, Sex, Botox and Spirituality
The other day I observed my 12-year-old talk for hours on the phone about a boy crush, check out her appearance in the bathroom mirror and then work intensely to get yet another perfect grade on a school project. She was busy pursuing three weapons of mass distraction, preoccupations aimed at keeping her looking for happiness outside herself. When she grows up these preoccupations will surely morph into their adult versions—the search for romantic love, the maintenance of physical beauty and the drive for a successful career. And, over time, if she is like most educated creative types, will likely develop the fourth preoccupation, the quest for wholeness.
So, in the spirit of offering pointers, here are four paths of distraction that promise well-being, but dead-end in suffering.
Power: This could also be named control, but semantics aside, this WMD looks like the culturally ballyhooed drive for wealth and status at the expense of right livelihood.. This drive can take you all the way to the top of the corporate or finance ladder, but will never take you up the stairway to heaven. Do you ever notice that super-high-achievers are often angry or passive aggressive? That’s because the fuel that drives this success-machine is a high-octane competitive streak and a ruthless perfectionism. Even the slightest hint of making a mistake or coming in second can spark self-worth issues. Let’s face it, it’s nearly impossible to surrender to stillness when you are perpetually sprinting through life toward the next bigger and better goal or shiny new toy.
Intimacy: There’s nothing wrong with emotional vulnerability or sex, that’s not what this distraction is about. The pursuit of intimacy is really the heat-seeking missile aimed at the false idea of romantic merger—as if we are not already one with everything. People focused on this distraction are secretly sad, because there is a hidden belief that aloneness equals loneliness.Fundamentally, a disconnect from Self becomes the quest for connection out there. This weapon of mass distraction is promoted in every romantic comedy, romance novel and check-out stand magazine that promises happiness through falling in love. It’s the Match.com craze and the soul-mate literature all tied up in a pretty bow that is really a tight knot. You can spend your life ‘Calling in the One,” but until you realize you are The One (and there is nobody else here) the hide and seek game of love will keep you pre-occupied until death or divorce do you part.
Vitality: This is the fitness, vitamin and health groove that runs right smack dab through our fear of death. The youth and beauty culture denies old people media face time and keeps us on a steady diet of “get your sexy back.” Even menopause is treated like an illness instead of a rite of passage, a problem to be fixed with botox and hormone replacement therapy. At the end of this stay-young regime (bodybuilding, exercise treadmill, cosmetic fixes, nutritional fixation) you are likely to find yourself acting young and restless even if you are feeling wise and serene. Yoga becomes a short cut to ripped abs instead of a practice of surrender to inner peace. One thing for sure—there is no rest for the fit, let alone an enlightenment vacation where stillness is on the agenda. The forever-young crowd would have told Buddha to see a personal trainer, and thenget on with transcendence.
Wholeness:This is the seeker’s disease, the psycho-spiritual distraction that tells us we need to fix our broken parts. Years on a therapist’s sofa, the yoga mat or meditation cushion are only some ways we spend money and time imagining our fragments will ever equal a whole. Like Humpty Dumpty, we look to others to put us back together again, instead of realizing the cracks are, as Leonard Cohen sings, “how the light gets in.” At the end of the day, a yearning to fill a bottomless emptiness undergirds this endless quest for a wholeness that has been here all along.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that these distractions are evil. However, they can be like carrots in front of the donkey’s nose, an always out-of-reach happiness instead of the well-being available right now. Ultimately, true happiness derives from recognition that we are far more than the limited self we imagine, especially a self chasing weapons of mass distraction. Instead, we are an infinity starring in a divine play, written, directed and produced by one Divine Self. And despite the ups and downs, you are the star of the show. And by the way, it’s a love story.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger