Unmapped Country

The flip side of failure

My Mayan Apocalypse Blog Post

According to Brene Brown, hope is a function of struggle. I embody that.

So. Bad week. End of the world feel to things, huh? The 9th grader came home yesterday looking like she needed to say something. There was a rumor going around school that someone is planning a shooting for this Friday. Apparently the chatter amongst the students was so great that teachers discussed it in class. Then the principal made an all-school announcement that these rumors have been investigated and are unsubstantiated. Understandably, she was upset. What could I say or do? I said it’s very unlikely. I said it's probably just somebody's idea of a joke. But I also said to take a look around each of her classrooms tomorrow and scope out the closets. If anything ever happens, get down and run for the closet. What else could I say? 

Anyway. Bear with me, because this is not unrelated. (Litotes -understatement for emphasis.) The other month, I came across a journal called The Intelligent Optimist. I had to buy it. Partly because I was looking for places to pitch an idea about meditation, which I still haven’t done. Partly because the title is an oxymoron. Or rather, because I was raised in the kind of atmosphere that considers an optimist a moron, which would make the title an oxymoron. I grew up under Murphy’s Law. Remember that? Anything that can go wrong, will. Something like that. Sound familiar?

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So the idea that the title is not an oxymoron is refreshing. It’s a definite step up. A moron’s a moron, and an oxymoron is a contradiction, but in this case it’s a paradox - a contradiction that may in fact be true. Therefore - insert geometic symbol for therefore, which is maybe a triangle - no, it's three dots in the shape of a triangle, so I was close - therefore, it’s possible to be both intelligent and optimistic. 'Cuz that’s what I’ve been aiming for. And, frankly it’s been working, overall. Despite the terrible massacre in Connecticut, despite my sadness, despite my anger.

I also bought The Intelligent Optimist because it had a cover story about persistence and success, which is, you know, up my alley, so to speak. It’s my bailiwick.

Lots of vocabulary words today.

Talk of the end of the world has a certain tang considered in light of certain events. I don’t want to write about that. Leave it at horrific. My point is that inside The Intelligent Optimist were various articles about this supposed end of the world, all amounting to this idea: that this time in history has been earmarked by various cultures or religions or traditions as a time of change. There’s an interview with a psychologist and shaman who says that Dec. 21, 2012, “means the beginning of a new era in consciousness.” He says the Hopi described this time as “the great turning.” Then there’s another article about a Tibetan Shambala Buddhist prophecy about “coming darkness and the summoning of the warriors.” Since this sounds a little glum – perhaps not the aim of a magazine about optimism – the author goes on to say that the warriors will “look like normal people,” but using their powers of compassion and insight, they will “go into the corridors of power to dismantle the beliefs and behaviors that are destroying life.” She suggests that we ordinary folk may in fact be these warriors.

Compassion and insight. Yay, meditation! And psychotherapy.

But it’s not just possibly flaky fringe scholars in a possibly flaky fringe magazine reporting this transition/end of the world stuff. On one of my favorite podcasts on public radio, On Being, I heard a naturalist talking about our era being described by various cultures as both “a great turning” and “a great unraveling.” The unraveling is of our industrial culture, which is destroying the climate, but it is also creating opportunity to turn itself into a “life-enhancing” one. On a different day, I heard a philospher whose latest book is about his idea that humans need to amplify their understanding of “being,” because he believes there is a purpose to our being and the world, and that they are related, but unless we can bring our full awareness to the scope of our brain’s potential, we won’t get it.

Awareness and brain power. Yay, meditation and science!

But it's not just possibly flaky fringe scholars on a possibly flaky radio show talking about the symbolic end of the world. Last weekend's New York Times devoted a whole page plus to “It’s the End of the World.” There was poetry and a short introduction that said, “Predictions vary: it could mean that all mankind will undergo a spiritual transformation, or that the Earth will collide with a black hole or the planet Nibiru in which case, there’s no need to finish all that Christmas shopping.” That statement pretty much sums up my feelings, which I will parse for you, Readers.

A. The kerfluffle is kind of funny.

B. There are plenty of things that make me think of doom and destruction.

3. However, there are plenty of people who are looking beneath the surface and are examining the Big Questions, and this can only be good.

What does this have to do with me? Well, I’ve occasionally wondered, as perhaps you have, too, Readers, why I am going on and on about success. Is it because I want to have a nice stock portfolio when I head into Nibiru? Or is it perhaps that I am a symptom of the more positive reading of the times? Maybe my delving into this topic of success, which has led me into subtopics of "meaningful life" and "happiness" and "fulfillment" is itself a symptom of this turning. Maybe my blog is one tiny emblem of the movement to counterbalance the terrible things that have happened to people and of the terrible things that some people do to other people. As terrible as they are, they aren’t the sum of all that people do. People also struggle with ways to live meaningfully and to improve the world. Maybe, in my way, I am part of that?

This is reminding me of yet another episode of On Being that I listened to, this one last week. It was an interview of a sociologist named Brene Brown, who studies vulnerability and it’s opposite, bravery. One of the things she said was that “hope is a function of struggle. Hope is not an emotion. It’s a state of being.” I always prick up my ears when someone talks about Hope, because Hope is me, after all. Ever since I learned in Latin class that hope (exspectare) is a verb that means means waiting or expecting, I’ve had this weird cognitive dissonance about my name. We moderns define hope as optimism, when really it is what BBrown says, it’s a state of being. Optimism is looking on the bright side, but hope is always about awaiting a result. There's the possibility of a negative outcome and the hint of dread, but it's all potential. You’re in a state of pre-fulfillment. That’s perhaps a curse, but while you’re in that state, there’s opportunity.

Does this mean that I don’t despair of our culture and of our politicians? No. I often do. But I look for positive signs, and I see them. People are talking about a re-awakening, and enough of them are doing it that a mainstream newspaper mentions it. No doubt, some scary shit has happened. Now, though, there’s talk of gun safety legislation. And there’s evidence that radical, conservative Christian Evangelicalism is on the wane as a powerful political force. Global warming is in the conversation. So there’s a lot of unraveling, and a lot of struggle, and frankly, I wish it didn’t take a massacre, a prolonged siege on human rights, and the flooding of New York City to bring out the warriors, but I think they’re coming. We’re coming. We’re here.

So I've done my shopping. Most of it, anyway. My kids have gone off to school, they'll go on Friday, and unless I'm totally wrong, I won't be sorry. These rumors of a shooting are probably just rumors passed by invincible-feeling teenagers. I no longer feel invincible. I think that passes by around age 25. So I've called the police just to let them know I'm another parent who wants to know if they're beefing up security. Meanwhile, I'm betting against Murphy.

 © Hope A. Perlman on Unmapped Country 2012