Cocklebur Time Again

Aside from our age’s particular flavor of the culture we are all indoctrinated with, there are two major ‘cockleburs’ embedded in most of us: our family and our work. Family covers so wide a scope as to be almost unsuitable for discussion here, but there are many aspects of work which are germane to almost everyone.

I picked up my last paycheck today after being a ‘non-active employee’ since May 1st and in two days I will be officially unemployed/retired. The terminology made me wonder why most employees aren’t classified the same way, since 90% of the real work in most companies is done by 20% of the workers. Be that as it may, the occasion set me thinking about how I look at the world and my place in it.

In recent weeks, John Michael Greer has been doing a series of posts examining what he calls the ‘civil religion’ of Progress, as well as our concepts of Time.

Today’s article
discusses our tendency to adopt one of two positions:
Progress/science will triumph over all obstacles – Ever Onward!
The Sky Is Falling (or will do so as soon as we can find the next ‘Mayan Calendar’ myth to cultivate).

I’m pretty up on psychology but he used a term unfamiliar to me: Provisional Living (and for once, both Google and Wikipedia were useless), by which he meant people basing their lives/actions on provisional events, particularly events over which they have little or no control.
“We will be happy when X happens”. “Things will get better after Y happens”.
When X an Y never happen, we have an excuse for all the screwed up ways we continue to function instead of accepting responsibility for our lives.

The imagined world of the future, whether it’s the product of business as usual or of the cataclysmic repudiation of business as usual, becomes a dumping ground for every kind of fantasy, and those fantasies never have to stand up to the test of reality because the x event that’s supposed to make them real never quite gets around to happening. This allows believers in progress and apocalypse, like other practitioners of provisional living, to put a wholly imaginary world at the center of their emotional lives. This makes it relatively easy for them to ignore the depressingly ordinary world in which they actually live and, more to the point, the role of their own choices in making that world exactly what it is.

…the creation of imaginary “real worlds” by the human mind as a way of devaluing the world we actually inhabit.

In regard to accepting responsibility and moving forward, he touched on the views of the Stoic philosophers:

[Stoicism’s] core insight was that human beings can control only two things — their own choice of actions and their own assessments of the things they experience — and that sanity consists of recognizing this fact and refusing to make any emotional investment in those things that aren’t subject to the individual will.

Reminds me of a line from a Guy Clark song:
“Ah you never really have control, sometimes you just gotta let it go.
When the final line unfolds, it don’t always rhyme.”

The older I get, the less patience I have with bullshit, stupidity, greed and sociopaths. (I once had a blog titled Get Off My Lawn).
My wife tell me I am becoming a grumpy old man and I can’t argue the point. I have no problem with being grumpy – a lot of my grumpiness is justified and the targets are deserving of it – but I hope to be something more.
Work required focusing on what others felt was real, important and meaningful.
Since the cocklebur of employment is now gone, I am that much closer to focusing on the miniscule portion of the world which is under my control.
Whether that turns out for better or worse is unpredictable, but aside from some well-defined and compartmentalized family obligations, I am finally at a point where my life is totally my responsibility.
From now on, it’s the old military way: “No excuse necessary because none will be accepted”. For some reason, I like that.
In theory, this is how we should all function, from the very git-go, but I have met no more than a handful of people who attained that.
One of those people was the late Richie Havens, so the following video is both apropos and somewhat sobering.
The Last One is not your typical Richie Havens song, but appropriate to my mood today.

If so inclined, you can consider this an Open Thread.

3 Replies to “Cocklebur Time Again”

  1. “Provisional Living” – That’s a good term. I suppose people living that way are convinced that they’re correct – if they just do/get/see/feel etc “X” then they will fulfilled/happy/done. It may look ridiculous to us but to them, it all makes sense.

    Another term out there, one that’s supposed to give us peace is “living in the now.” Translated, that means that we see the best in what’s around us at any given moment. It’s a path to serenity. I think someone totally in “the now” would look incredibly stoned.

    I like the “no excuses” philosophy. Combine it with “I’m sorry” when you screw up and it’s a very civil lifestyle. The I’ sorry must not be modified with a “but … my pet just died; my wife delayed me; I just wasn’t in the mood, etc.).”

    We could come up with some fun combinations of the above. ‘I’m sorry that I’m living in the now’ or ‘When I start living in the now, I’ll feel better.’

    I wish that I were your neighbor. I’d come over and mooch food from you (with your new freedom and time;)

  2. Looking back, I’ve had many careers, and gave most my best, but, in those many careers I was fortunate; none ever defined me.
    Six years in to my retirement I’m a grumpy man who still hasn’t quite decided what I’ll do next. But it will certainly be interesting as has life lived…

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