04 October 2011

Always looking backwards

The checkout line at the grocery store is perhaps one of the most boring places in the world.  It's a non-place really.  You are only there because you aren't at the place you would like to be - at the cashier.  This kind of situation is a dreamland for modern marketers.  Turn your head to the right and you'll see all the hydrogenated corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, and preservatives you can stuff into brightly colored wrappers.  Turn your head to the left and you'll see junk that is even worse for you.  Did Brad really dump Angelina in Nice?  Her thighs really have cellulite?  Is that a baby bump?

Where did our carefully protected individual control over our lives go in that short bit of time? To paraphrase Epictetus, "If a person gave your body away to a stranger walking down the road, you would certainly be angry, and yet you feel no shame in handing over your own mind."

In those moments, standing there aimlessly, waiting to be somewhere else, we freely give our mind over to whomsoever wants to sell whatsoever is fashionable at the moment. During the first twenty odd years of my life, another guy bumping into me might lead to a fistfight, but I willingly sat through thousands of hours of commercials- giving my attention and my thoughts and a large degree of my autonomy over to whomever would temporarily distract me.  My body was sacrosanct, but my mind...

If we're not to give our minds over so easily, it falls upon us to determine what we should turn them towards.  When we turn away from mindless entertainment, we're left with a good deal of time which our present day society doesn't leave us very capable of dealing with.  We're quickly bored, and there's always a salve.  Our hands instinctively pick up a phone, our bodies move seemingly on their own to a refrigerator. Sometimes the best medicine isn't the one that is closest at hand though. I'll argue in the next post that one area to which we can turn for inspiration and self-improvement is the past.  Not because of some ill-conceived notion that we're "determined to repeat it". Every combination of human actions is unique and all attempts to forecast those actions will end up as a failure, so we have an infinite amount of mistakes that we will make.  The reason to look to the past, then, is because we can't hope to fill our lives, in our locations, in just our times, with the quality of people and events that we can reach through history and biography.  When  you look to the past to think about whom you can learn valuable lessons from, where does your attention land?  I'd love to know.


  1. It's so true that we care more about our body than mind.

  2. That's a tough question. From personal history I suppose I can learn from my immediate family and how to or how not approach certain things. Financial matters, child rearing, and how to be of service to other family, friends, neighbors, and strangers.

    I admit that I was a little saddened at first because immediately I felt a little lost. I thought why can't I think outside of my immediate circle. I'm still thinking about this and trying to reach outside because for some reason I feel I should. I'll have to get back to you on that.