Saturday, September 07, 2013

Ramblin’ Man ..

Just a-Ramblin’, Man ..

Everybody ages and everybody has the choice of how best to manage life passages and phases. Everyone is different, yet most people evolve in life through meeting challenges brought about by stages of transition. Crisis presents opportunity, and opportunity involves change. Change means that some things are gained, whether tangible or emotional, a degree of wisdom or meaningful encounter, and some things or people or dreams vanish in the waves of swirling memory. How one manages the shift in time’s tide, and the choices one makes when confronted by external factors, determines personal character as well as wealth and status, situating one in relation to others and hopefully developing awareness of a healthy balanced way of life.

Most men, it has been suggested in a recent study, carry more regret in their lives than women. According to this study, men in ‘middle-age’ begin to reflect over their lives and question the decisions they’ve made and the place they occupy in the world. They consider the friends they failed to stay in touch with, now lost to time, the lovers who might have been ‘the one’ they let slip from their grasp through foolishness or ego, the career paths not taken to pursue the expectations of family or work obligations and the ventures and prospects passed up for excuses that seem insignificant or even forgotten in retrospect. Men measure accomplishment differently to women.

Many modern men don’t consider themselves successful if they haven’t managed to realize a quantifiable amount of the material wealth the media and culture of celebrity have sold us as being essential to happiness today. Fast sports cars and expensive technological gadgetry, a second home or larger sailboat are the kinds of objects that define prosperity for men in a consumer-orientated society that places value on possessions over experience and family and capital gains over sincerity, happiness and understanding.

People everywhere are encouraged to ‘get a foot on the property ladder’ as if they were climbing the stairway to heaven, or build a portfolio of investments as if a book of numbers will satisfy dreams of triumph over adversity. The sport of conquest is being fought all around and as one moves closer to the centre of the circle the stakes get higher. It’s a game of winner takes all and the champion of men is the one with the most playthings – whether they are casinos or football teams, a catalogue of assets or a share in the future of a Fortune 500 corporation.

'Clothes make the man' we are reminded, and without that bespoke suit, handcrafted platinum watch-face and Italian leather shoes the lesser-tailored man is pushed aside on the pavement of life. The name of the designer is key and the fashion of accessories unlocks jewels in the crown to the new captains of industry and high finance.

But, what happens to the vast majority of contemporary men whose dreams, like the joys of youth dimly remembered through the daily routine of maintaining the modern lifestyle, have been pushed to the back of the mind as though with age comes the inevitable acceptance of an unremarkable existence? Men are often said to go through a ‘mid-life crisis’ when they question the point and purpose of everything they hold dear; typically associated with regression to immature action.

Without a vast accoutrement of accomplishments many men at this age seek solace elsewhere. It may be in a bottle of booze or an extra-marital fling, it might be in retreat to a hobby or in running off to the far-flung corners of the globe in search of enlightenment or, as happens at this time every year, men turn to sport in the form of competitive money-saturated circuses designed to entertain between the numbing regularity of television adverts.

Either way, many 40 to 50-something men spend their days seeking validation and consolation for the few remaining years and hoping for a vindication of the choices made. Athletic events, like gladiatorial competitions, provide brief escape from the overload of daily life, yet very few events televised around the world at incredible expense and with ridiculous fanfare have any point or purpose beyond satiating that need for distraction from the mundane.

Nowhere are similar rewards given to people whose life is spent remunerating caring for a person suffering through illness or injury or the accomplishment of helping another to learn to read or diligently developing the gift of intelligence through academic study. Nor is there discussion of the spiritual illumination that can come from such extreme physical exertion. Thanks to greed in corporate power brokers brawn is winning over brain in the high stakes competition of garnering profit.

Twenty-odd centuries ago there was perhaps a purpose and relevance to running fast and jumping high. Knowing how to throw a javelin further than an opponent, wrestling another man to the ground, vaulting a high wall or lifting a heavy weight were skills that might have had life or death consequences on the battlefield in days of hand-to-hand warfare; today they’re simply irrelevant to daily life. Is it really such an amazing talent to be able to swim faster or jump farther than another person?

Unless desperados are chasing you or you’re out to kill a wily fox with a pack of dogs, knowing how to make a horse jump a fence isn’t very useful.

Physical feats, regardless how interesting as momentary diversion, no longer have meaningful implications for ordinary life and deflect our focus from the consequences of other happenings in the world. Today’s wars aren’t fought in hand-to-hand combat, street battles called uprisings and rioting and looting, revolutions and demonstrations are, but genuine military intervention has become a video game scenario of targets and missiles where subject and object are interchangeable commodities.

I’m not anti-entertainment or sports; I enjoy watching my team play a good game and celebrate when they win. Like many children, people who undertook the challenge of setting new records fascinated me.

What is intrinsically erroneous is athletic accomplishment taking precedence over activities of mind and spirit. While these spectacles draw crowds that make medieval jousts seem quaint, deeds whose importance is of greater significance and challenge to the spirit of humankind have been sidelined to focus on games that resemble a global carnival sideshow run by billionaires (many of whom are the same people who invest in military industries) for the huddled masses.

Additionally, the monetary payoff usually comes from advertising deals to promote products often made by underprivileged, oppressed people, frequently children, in less fortunate places in the world. While wars rage, and new assaults are launched, sponsors and shareholders continue to profit and invest in spreading this phenomenon to untapped markets, places the continuous battles seek to convert to consumer culture.

There really hasn’t been enough discussion about the exclusive rights to the Olympic vendors by McDonald’s, a company not known for providing healthy and substantial food, and other globally exploitative brands of fizzy drinks and shoe wear manufactured by children in backwater villages and disease-infested ghettos where hundreds share toilets in sewage-filled alleys.

The organizers, governments, sporting associations and corporate sponsors apparently thought it better to make truckloads of cash, or at least earn back some of the money spent on stadia that stand idle for long periods and through selling off the logo rather than promoting healthy living and fairness in competition. Perhaps with a greater focus from the higher level of perception involved in sports, the achievement of mind over corporal matter in challenging circumstances, we could lift ourselves from the crisis of confidence the world is suffering in the more serious issues of aggression that await us in the future.

These ‘games’ promote the idea that success through running and jumping and throwing things can bring participants celebrity status where wealth and fame await. Then again, this is the age of cashing in regardless of ethics; style over substance and celebrity over character.

Unlike the late Joseph Campbell, well-known writer and speaker on subjects of myth and religion and a former college athlete, I believe it’s important to delve into the substance of spiritual revelation through the means employed by those before us.

I remember his last series of in-depth interviews with Bill Moyers when he said he had never used any of the substances, either organic or manufactured, used by the shamans of various cultures he investigated and lived with, but instead received his transcendent awareness from an early experience of being on the ‘running team’ at college.

I was and still am a fast runner and reasonably fit for my age. I like to stay healthy and maintain a good balance of physical strength and agility; I swim regularly and walk along the beach and, of course, I love to dance.

Although Mr Campbell was an interesting speaker and well-informed academic on the topics of myth and ancient belief systems, his conclusions were often superficial to the writings he analyzed and lacked insight to the methods and enlightened experiences of his informants.

Eventually contributing to feeding our competitive instincts, this type of thinking eliminates the internal transcendent connection from sporting endeavour to leave only the corporeal; it removes the psyche from the soma to expose only the husk while hiding the kernel.

The consequence of attaching so much importance to physical aptitude is in substituting desire of an idealized image of body for development of character and facility of mind. Previous athletic competitions, whether Roman, Greek or of the Eastern martial arts, had relevance to the lives of those who participated and watched; contemporary sport is dedicated to wealth-seeking rather than purposeful activity.

There is more to genuine spiritual awakening than the light-headedness of physical exertion, which is a secondary and inferior substitute for the actual experience of union, like self-stimulation compared to the joy of making love.

The true mark of spiritual progress is in the life we live, relationships with others and the natural world. This is almost certainly the reason Campbell rationalised and deconstructed the spirituality he encountered in his travels and study; searching for meaning in today's image-saturated world without being open to first-hand experience is a fruitless journey.

Let’s elevate sports once again to the realm of heroes, those who revealed character as well as strength and agility. Modern man, in his search for meaning during this time of transition and growth, is running blind into a dilemma of conflict.

To reach maturity we must search for reconciliation of body and spirit in this age of aggression and instability; healthy activity combined with spiritual progress and mental acuity will provide a model of achievement that can inspire both the youth of today and the seeker to provide balance of perspective in competitive involvement.


Sunshine bestows life and sweetness grows in love like the fruit of a tree; only through genuine concern for a peaceful existence and social health will decisions be fashioned that benefit humanity and our world.

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