Forgive me for carrying on about this mental health thing, as if I cannot turn it loose. Perhaps it is the ugliness of this time in which we are living, reflected in the sordid politics of would-be leaders who flash the disturbing behaviors of personality disorders, ethical malfeasance, xenophobia, materialistic greed, obsessions with power, grandiose expectations of entitlement, a failure to show any signs of a capacity for empathy and fair play, etc. -- perhaps it is the spirit of our celebrity-driven age that hangs over my recent blogs.
In any case, last month I attempted to break out of the heaviness by describing the four-legged stool of mental health, a balanced life of work, play, spirituality, and shared affection. Soon after finishing that blog, I was amused by a post in The New York Times, "15 Ways to Be a Better Person," with the aim being to suggest tips for "improving your existence," by following this "guide to living your best life." (August 17, 2016) The editor, Anya Strzemien, acknowledged that these "timeless tips" were first published on December 30, 2015, an appropriate time to inspire those of us who need prodding to get creative with our list of New Year's Resolutions!
But vacation time has always been an even more likely time for me to compose such a list. And sure enough, this "guide" fell on the screen of my laptop as I enjoyed some vacation time on Cape Cod. The Cape has always pulled me back to something deep and timeless, inspiring me to want to live a better life. How is that for synchronicity? That such a topic wound its way through the labyrinthian corridors of cyber space to my computer window just as I was reflecting on the meaning of my existence while looking at that haunting, wind-caressed beach of the outer cape?
Now, a little warning is in order here. Don't expect these "tips" to go too deep. Remember, they are vacation tips, OK? And because it was a gift, of sorts, from The New York Times and Anya Strzemien, I am going to pass the gift along to you, not without a few of my own personal comments, of course. Here is the guide to living your best life, followed by my observations -- strictly mine, not those of the editor or the paper.
1. Wear comfortable underwear.
Be warned however, before you burn your Victoria's Secret credit card and rush out to the lingerie department of Walmart or Target, you might consider how this tip impacts #'s 6, 11, and 12.
2. Drink coffee.
Yes, it is a psychoactive drug with antioxidant properties, and it gets us going in the mornings. However, for those of us who might become a little hyped or jittery, think of how difficult the caffeine rush might make the tip below, number 3.
3. Stare into the eyes of someone you love (or want to love) for exactly four minutes.
Four minutes exactly! I have not timed this one yet, hesitating to interrupt my wife's reading of her murder mystery with my less-than-confident proposal that we further the reaches of science with this experiment.
4. Don't ghost.
That means not to drop out of the life of someone you cannot stand, with no word of your planned disappearance. I gather we are to break the news to them over a period of random, unavoidable encounters.
5. Be nice to babies.
And pray you do not have to sit beside one in your five-hour bicoastal endurance
airplane ride, in which case this tip really means to be nice to the haggard mother, should fate bring you together in that exercise of air industry torture.
6. Dress in a way that makes you feel powerful.
Mark Twain said it best: "Clothes make the man [and woman]. Naked people have little or no influence on society."
7. If you divorce, play nice.
(And make sure your "x" reads and signs off on this tip.)
8. Toss the cigarettes.
We are still having to be told this?!!
9. Get a pet.
Sheba, our "most-wonderful-cat-in-the-world," of 16 years, gives this one a two-toes up affirmation.
10. Take on a seemingly impossible task.
What it feels like each time we go to visit the in-laws for what is supposed to be a happy holiday gathering.
11. If you would like to keep your marriage together, stick it out.
I found it interesting that this tip immediately precedes the one below!
12. Put sex first.
I found it interesting that this tip immediately follows the one above!
13. Make sure you are the boss of your electronic devices.
As if the in-law challenge is not sufficient, this one surely qualifies for tip number 10.
14. Relish the phrase, "I'm too old for this."
Surely whoever dreamed up this tip must be a twenty-something! Anyone of any mature age is daily reminded by everyone and everything in society that they are not "normal," that they would do the younger "normal" people a favor by using their meager life-holdings to buy a one-way ticket to some remote outpost on Shemya Island where they would not take up useful jobs or resources -- also where they would not have to worry about parallel parking and finding their lost car keys.
15. Be generous to those who have helped you.
Or, as I was saying above in number 14, surely there is place for all of us where we
will not dismiss ourselves, or be dismissed by the phrase, "I'm too old for this." Pulease...!!!
Well, there you have it -- fifteen "tips to help you live a better life." But here we see the problem, do we not? A "better life" is not the same as "an authentic life," which is why you probably asked yourself if something is not missing as you followed along the list.
Of course there is something missing. There is no mention of a spiritual life, no mention of how we deal with our irrational fears, or deep hatreds, or anxieties about the state of the declining standard of living for the middle class, or the despair of the poorest of the poor, or the degrading banality of politics, the wasteland of our television offerings, the absence of safety for our children, etc.
In other words, any tips for "living a better life," if that life is to be authentic, must help us deal with the shadow side of life, the warnings our dreams bring to us each night, the glimpses into our unconscious life that analysis brings, and the portrayal of a moral center that a spiritual consciousness offers. Without these, we are left with the posturing of an adult whose ego-driven personality has regressed to the vacuousness of a celebrity-seeking society.