Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Into the Wild and House of Cards - Envy For Simple Living

Chris McCandless had the right sentiment, but took it to the extreme.
Into the Wild promo poster
Into the Wild is one of my favorite films. The hauntingly beautiful soundtrack composed by Eddie Vedder coupled with the stunning scenes of landscape and of human will make for extraordinary cinema. It was a shame that that film didn't get nominated for best picture in 2007, let alone win.

Not being a film critic, or even a knowledgeable viewer in the technical aspects of creating movies, I cannot make the claim that what I enjoy has much to do with the technical process or planning of the director and his or her staff. What I can say unequivocally, is that I know good story telling and I know good mythology. I know when I witness something that rings true, whether it be a film, a song, a novel, or a poem. There is no prerequisite to make it possible to engage with Truth, for she wants to touch us all.

Where I'm going with this is that I see Truth when I see Chris McCandless leave society. I see Truth in House of Cards when I observe a young and former prostitute leave her twisted and complicated life in D.C. for an anonymous, day-to-day, subsistence-based existence in the American Southwest. I see Truth and feel Envy.

Envy pulls on me hard when I see scenes of simple living like these, no matter if the characters choose their paths of wanderlust, or if they are forced into them like an arranged marriage, and I want to know why. What about poverty and self-reliance is so sexy? What about an unpredictable day, week, month, or year to come is so liberating? Thoreau and Emerson come to mind. I have read them and should re-read them. Emerson himself says that "envy is ignorance," so I should be kicking myself and ignoring the urge to write this, right? 

But it is something more than the satisfaction of taking care of one's self without the help of others, of getting past the coveting that fuels Western society. It is something beyond the communion with nature that the city-life longs for.

So, I dug around and found some other interesting answers.

First, Joshua Becker writes

"Of all the life-changing lessons I learned, perhaps the most significant was the importance of competing less and encouraging more. Marathon runners are notorious for offering encouragement to one another. They understand an important race principle: there is room at the finish line for all of us."
This point is important because the vagabond is in competition with no one.

Matt Welsh talks about the fame trap and its crushing weight:

"Once I had kids, I really started to appreciate the toll it was having on my family (…), and I started to realize that maybe I had my priorities all wrong. (…) I think chasing academic fame is not the best reason to go down that path. I wish I had known that when I was finishing my PhD."

His point is relative to the powerful academic or businessman, but also to the ladder climbing middle manager or budding elementary school teacher. Success and advancement in this culture and economy require a certain level of fame. Fame gets the musician the Grammy, but it also gets the teacher tenure and the maintenance man a pension.

Time Magazine brings in another excellent point: this race for fame, this prison of habits and expectations which comes with its own obvious level of stress, feeds on itself: 

"Facebook is supposed to envelope us in the warm embrace of our social network, and scanning friends’ pages is supposed to make us feel loved, supported and important (at least in the lives of those we like). But skimming through photos of friends’ life successes can trigger feelings of envy, misery and loneliness as well."

Then what is there for us to do? Are we doomed from the start? The hero in us sees McCandless and wants to become our own version of him. To be an off-road vehicle and not a train fixed to a track. The mythos of "I think I can, I think I can" has been drilled into so very deeply. Thomas and Friends pile it on for our kids with a connected message of utility and hard work.

So what's the fix? Dr. Andrew Weil encourages us to "embrace our inner neanderthal," something that McCandless didn't have to be told, revealing his true wisdom, an intelligence that is often ripped away from him by the book and movie's fiercest critics who lambast him for his carelessness. 

To leave you with something practical, Dr. Weil suggests the following (source):

Nurture Your Inner Neanderthal

According to Dr. Weil, one way to combat modern stress is to return to our roots. Spending time outside, eating natural foods, and getting a full night’s sleep are among the basics that many of us overlook.
  1. Indulge your hobbies. Hobbies relax and revitalize us. Even just six minutes of pleasure reading can lower stress levels. If you need inspiration, try new activities with an open mind. Yoga classes are filled with people who never thought of themselves as the meditative type.
  2. Move your body. Exercise breaks the physical stress cycle and promotes restorative sleep. The trick is to find a practical activity that you truly enjoy even if it’s power walking at the mall.
  3. Try mind-body activities. Disciplines such as yoga and meditation induce a calm state that counteracts the stress response. You dwell more in the present and feel less anxious about the past or future.
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