Welcome to today’s lesson in awareness and consciousness. Take a good look at the meme above. In creating it, an internet artist juxtaposed a normal reality with what is presented as a girl’s life in the media. It’s not difficult to see the point the artist was making. There’s a tense discrepancy between the one’s shallowness and the other’s depth. The piece feels like the sort of thing Banksy would have done if he was a young female artist.
That tension created by the discrepancy above is what today’s blog is designed to reduce. There are undoubtedly some beautiful works of art in fashion and I applaud people’s right and freedom to wear what they like. But that is a separate issue from discussing how adults come to feel tortured. And when we delve into why, it’s almost always due to their egos, which were themselves often created and fomented by marketers and advertisers who were understandably focused on sales, and not on human development or actualisation.
Ever since brands figured out that they could also sell the idea of being stylish, attractive, smart or even beautiful to men as well as women, the onslaught to change us all became genderless. Slowly, men are seeing their lives similarly invaded by notions of perfection until, maybe in some distant future, we’ll get anywhere near where women were in the 1920’s. Today women are literally bombarded all day long with appeals to their egos and the associated myriad of ways to fail. And of course there just happens to be a cream or top or shampoo that’ll help us bounce back. And that bouncing motion is what they’re counting on.
Capitalism exists but its aspects don’t have to take control of your life. You can develop a healthy awareness that can insulate you. Next time you’re in a store waiting in line and you can see the magazines, just look at the headlines on the cover and decipher how they are tugging at your ego–how they are suggesting the importance of some ideal? What mechanisms are they using to convey that you or your life is lacking or wrong? Photoshop? A headline? A tip?
If you do this exercise for the rest of this month, you will easily notice that most modern popular magazines are quite literally about how to be a shallow person and base your happiness on your appearance and/or your reputation for being hip; they set impossible standards and create ridiculous expectations, and they encourage both narcissism and the formation of a goading ego. In fact an ego is essentially what they are selling. A Mannequin Ego, where a person gets reduced to being a walking advertisement; a hangar for products.
I love design and I love artful clothing. But you seeing something and feeling that it’s right for you is a much, much different thing than being shoehorned into something “fashionable;” which only means it’s been marketed to the point of being the tyrannical uniform of “cool.” Look around you. That’s why everyone’s dressed so uniformly. They’re literally worried about stepping out of line. No one wants to be that Gary Larson cartoon about the deer with the birthmark.
Get conscious. Witness how our egos are products that companies sell to the real us. Start making a conscious connection between that fact and your dissatisfaction with your life. I’m not saying never go shopping. Go. Enjoy. But go consciously. Don’t be buying things because they’re in alignment with what your social media feed told you you’ll get “liked” for. But what you–the real you–feels natural in. That’s the path to more peace of mind.
Watch your newsfeeds. Watch your TV and Web series. Watch your magazines and listen to your radio ads. Get out of your busy thoughts by focusing instead on who originally put those dissatisfied voices in there in the first place.
Start today. Become more conscious and more spiritually connected by seeing through the ego utilized in advertising. Because on the other side of that is a kind of peace, satisfaction and contentment that far surprasses the feelings that any external thing could ever give you.
Now go use your powerful mind to go create a worthwhile day. And keep your eye out for manipulations to your thinking.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
This week’s Friday Dose is all about the kinds of beauty that the media can’t sell you anything for. If people—particularly women—are comfortable with their bodies and selves, then they don’t really need anything from outside of themselves to feel good. They don’t need creams or enhancers or concealers or Spanx or worst—to hide.
“Beauty” and “fake” essentially have the same meaning when it comes to women’s appearances. I’ve written about it many times (e.g. Being Beautiful, Cruel People etc.). If a company can’t sell you anything then they need to convince you that you’re wrong the way you already are. That is entirely their job. Advertisers make you think you need products because they teach you there’s an ideal you should be striving for. You know what ideal you should be realizing? The real you. Unadorned, unadulterated, unaltered, unpurchased you. Your beauty does not come from a tube or pill or surgery. Your beauty is innately an aspect of your very being.
We’ll start with photographer Jade Beall who rather accidentally discovered that there were a lot of women longing to see themselves represented more honestly. Now, thanks to social networking, all of us are potential publishers, so it’s not just the people selling something that can spread images. I like that these were popular and if these images were in the media more, women wouldn’t be so stressed about completely acceptable, normal and yes beautiful changes to themselves:
Next we’ll knock down another media barrier. Our perspectives change drastically as we age, which is why many of the insults that young people hurl at older people just bounce off without effect. We know they simply don’t have enough perspective to know what they’re talking about. Sorry kids, but for the most part the media’s completely brainwashed you into liking what they want you to like, and about the best you can do is try to do the opposite, but even that is a form of imitation. Even an anti-social person is letting society decide who they are. The very best part about ageing is the gain of wisdom and experience that allows us to see through all of that salesmanship. There will certainly be innocents who will find something like this unacceptable or even funny. But if they’re lucky enough to live long enough, they too will come to recognize the short-sightedness of their vision:
And finally we’ll end on a discussion about ageing. This radio documentary asks people of different ages what it’s like to be those ages and how their perspectives have changed. They’re wonderfully honest and frank and the result is a journey of self discovery for the listener. I was amazed at how many of these ideas I had never really thought much about and yet when I heard them I immediately knew them to be true. Download the podcast, listen to it online… it doesn’t matter. But if you’re in the right head-space, it’s a fascinating look at something that will happen to all of us. It certainly nothing to be afraid of. The world just gets cooler and more interesting to me every day. Enjoy:
We have a constant ego-based structure in our society that will prohibit our spiritual development until we succeed in shifting our priorities away from personal individual gain and more toward collective well-being. Money was intended to act as a place-holder for labour. We could store someone’s labour in the idea of money, and then they could collect on their previous labour later, when they found something they wanted to have or experience.
Eventually ideas like interest and fees came to exist and everything was disturbed because now it was possible to get the money without the labour. This evolved over time and eventually raced out of control. Because our ego has so many wants —and because advertising exists for the sole purpose of inflaming those wants– we have a culture that now urges people to place their personal wants ahead of the health of the tribe overall. This is a form of egoic disease that has the potential to be our ultimate downfall.
You cannot exist without others. No matter how many iDevices you own, no matter how many advertising slogans tell you that you’re important or special, no matter how much money you have you simply cannot live without other people. Can you grow or inspect or even prepare your own food? Can you generate electricity or fix your own machines? Can you clean your own water, or can you educate yourself, or perform an operation on yourself?
All of these things require cooperation and yet capitalism has told the lie that we benefit most from competition when modern science shows that cooperation is what we’re wired for. I’ll go along with the competitive advantage that to a degree. Boys running across a field might run quicker if they’re racing each other, but they don’t need an artificial, external imaginary reward like money or status for that to happen. They’ll do it naturally until we corrupt that with me-over-them thinking.
The Tarahumara Indians are featured in the brilliant book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall. They have zero violence in their culture, their diets are remarkably impressive, and they are the absolute best runners in the world. You can completely remove them from their experience—you can put them in cold weather, way above sea level, running in conditions that are entirely unfamiliar and yet they will still beat the best professional runners in the world quite easily. And how do they train? They don’t. They run for fun.
The Tarahumara run because they like it. And with that as their motivation: when they have “races,” they don’t recognize a winner. They’re like kids. Children are happy because happiness is the pursuit not the achievement. Adults in our cultures are unhappy because they have surrendered joy so instead they can work to close the gap regarding inequities in beauty, wealth, power and status. The Tarahumara prove that you can be an adult and still keep your priorities straight.
Why is Capitalism so insidious? Because it creates a falseness between us. Do you think it’s a coincidence it’s hard to find the contact us link on most commercial websites? Do you think they forgot to include a convenient number for you to call, or that they didn’t know to hire enough people to answer the phone?
These are people’s jobs today! Their job is to irritate, trick, confuse and lie to their fellow man! Capitalism was supposed to be about making things better but the stock market and concepts like status have turned that into people wanting your money or they’ll make your life worse. Just one word: telemarketing. Is it any wonder everyone’s stressed? And then we all get on the roads at 5pm and drive home with all of these other people who’ve also been forced to do awful stressful things because someone was trying to trick their money away from them.
Likewise, our personal interactions are sullied. In 90% of cases the clerk at the computer store will not love his job, so he will not recommend the best part to you he’ll recommend a workable part for which he is paid the biggest bonus. $4.99 is a lie—the thing is five dollars. Interest is money invented out of thin air and it has no relevant labour connected to it. And thanks to the stock market wanting 15% growth every year, a company can be seen to be failing even though it has experienced a 10% rise in profit. That’s simply silly.
So how do the Powers That Be suggest that 15% is achieved? By charging you 15% more, or by making your soup can 15% smaller, or by paying the farmers 15% less, or by adding in 15% more filler that isn’t good for you. It’s a losing game and that’s guaranteed by the rules. Growth (or winning) in a capitalistic market is created by providing less for more. Period.
As we age we become jaded by the falseness of life. We realize that many people we do business with are willing to use this system to get the money without the labour. Repairmen charging for work that isn’t done, food companies silently inserting less healthy ingredients and accountants looking the other way because something is profitable even though it is clearly not something we would have done to anyone we cared about. If you’re approving dumping effluent into a river because it saves money then you are profoundly removed from your spiritual nature because that is not something you would do without the egocentric attraction of money or success.
We usually recognize the falseness of the material, capitalistic world once we first face the notion that our time here is limited. People always say time is money, but they forget that money is also time. And if you’re busy making more money then you are missing out on the time you could otherwise be spending with those you love. And once you recognize that time is limited your ego begins to fall away and you begin to re-prioritize the world the way a healthy child would. You’ll pause to care for the suffering—your compassion will not be mitigated by any calculations of who gains or who loses. You’ll value joy and laughter and caring. And you’ll realize that the rest really is just stuff.
Capitalism isn’t antithetical to spirituality. But it’s currently running contrary to it because it hinges on us forever wanting more. That constant pull on our society steals energy from the open, supportive loving that we would otherwise do. What do we do in emergencies? Do we ask the Tsunami/ Volcano/ Flood/ Hurricane/ victims if they have cash or do we send them what they need? Do we worry about who’s paying for a search and rescue team or do we act on our natural impulse? Do we think people with more money deserve better health or would we like to see any loved-one, no matter how wealthy, get the health care they need to stay happy and available to contribute to the lives of their loved ones?
Star Trek didn’t show people elevating themselves through their wealth or their clothing. That’s not how we fantasize our future. We fantasize that we’re past all of that. That we’ve risen above it. Okay, well what’s above trying to get things from each other? How about trying to give things to each other? After all, you didn’t see Captain Kirk sending a bill after he’d rescued another planet.
Yes, there is more wealth in the world. But there remains a lot of preventable suffering, we have deteriorating ecological conditions and we’re still willing to sell objects of death as a way of paying for the high life. We don’t even live like we believe what we claim to believe. So if you want the world to be a better place consider asking what you can give instead of what you can get. Let your life be your prayer.
I was once in a little store on Salt Spring Island and I heard a lady ask how much a hand-made hat was. The owner asked what the woman thought it was worth and the woman said $25. The store owner agreed to the price and the lady left happy with not only the hat but also with the authenticity exhibited in the purchase itself. After she left and I asked the owner what she would have been happy with, she told me $15. And she didn’t even have to compete for the other $10 because the other lady obviously thought it was worth it.
Both women felt they had been given a gift. Now that’s a win-win. And yet, despite you believing me about what living this way has the potential to do, you still feel resistance—don’t you? You still want your stuff and you’ve got narratives to justify why. That’s okay. You’re hardly alone. Just remember: that is ego. You don’t have to rush out and kill it. But whenever you can, watch it. As you come to realize that it is the bane of your existence it’s power over you will slowly dissolve.
Go live as though you’re an integral part of the world you want to see created. Because it is your actions and the actions of those around you that will cause that to happen. Forget ego. Forget ownership. Forget wealth. Forget status. Instead, look at your life closely. For if you do that reflection honestly you will easily recognize that your most rewarding joys throughout your life have not come from what you got, but rather from what you gave.
Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.