Monday 16 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: What if all the self-improvement is pointless?

'This is our new religion now, with this self-betterment, we feel life is OK'
'This is our new religion now, with this self-betterment, we feel life is OK'
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

The real shock of the heresy was that it was said to me by one of the most avid and enthusiastic self-improvers I know. "Do you not wonder if the meditation actually works at all?" she said casually.

This, from the woman who introduced me, to among other things, the short-lived bulletproof coffee fad. That was the coffee with the butter and coconut oil, remember? When we convinced that taking a coffee with about 1,000 calories of fat first thing in the morning was key to weight loss and eternal happiness.

I was reeling. Because if we start questioning all these midlife self-improvement things, where does it leave us? If I stop believing in the meditation, then I'm into the appalling vista. Does that mean that the whole regime of Revive Active every morning with added Vitamin C and glutamine powder for gut health, is a waste of time and a lot of money too? And then there's the Alflorex... maybe even the getting up an hour earlier to go for a swim is pointless too. And maybe I might as well sit on my ass and drive in and out of work every day instead of walking or cycling.

Maybe it's all pointless. Maybe I'm just a hamster on a wheel and God is laughing at me. Maybe I'd be as well off, in the words of Ali G, sitting on me batty watching Vanessa. Is Vanessa even on anymore? Or did I miss out there because I was too busy self-improving?

It was a literal heresy for her to suggest the meditation might be pointless, because this is our new religion now, all this self-betterment.

Once we are improving ourselves, we feel good and virtuous and happy and we feel life is OK. And we fear for what would happen if we lost our faith.

It reminded me, too, that I wasn't always like this. Like St Augustine, I was a late convert to the virtuous path. There was a time when I would have dismissed meditation as just sitting there doing nothing. And, instead, I would have just sat there and done nothing. Indeed, there was a time when I was able to do nothing. Without guilt, I would just sit there and do nothing, with no real intent. Or I might lie down, and my mind would drift. Or I might sit around with other semi-idlers, talking pointless rubbish, in the middle of the day.

Nowadays we all have to be doing something all the time, to some end, the usual end being to improve ourselves in some way, to make ourselves better, fitter, happier, more productive. When you think about it, the modern world has done a huge number on all of us. We all work so hard that we can't relax or switch off or sleep at night, so we spend all our free time pursuing things that might help us relax or switch off or sleep at night. So basically we spend much of our free time trying to make ourselves able for all the work and trying to undo what work has done to us.

But then again.

Just because you don't see any obvious benefits doesn't mean anything. It's easy to think, "All this stuff is making no difference. Shure I'm grand anyway." But I'm probably only grand because I do all this stuff.

In fact, when the heretic tried to rattle me I hadn't meditated in two days and that was possibly why I was vulnerable to her devil talk. And while it's easy to take for granted how reasonably functional and fit I am now, I haven't always been this functional and fit.

And I'm not going to find enlightenment with the meditation, but it's probably no harm to have a habit of sitting with yourself. And regarding the supplements and the swimming and so forth, I'd have to admit that my weight is stable and I have a reasonable amount of energy and I am rarely if ever sick.

So I think I'll just go with the philosophy of if it ain't broke, then maybe that's because you're fixing it. I've actually added cannabis oil into the mix now. But that's for another day.

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