Sorry, folks, I’m in an existential angst mood today, perhaps even an existential crisis mood. I’m feeling like a phony, if only in the sense that my day-to-day existence feels inauthentic. But by inauthentic, what do I actually mean? Well, I’ve been feeling for a while now that the life I lead doesn’t accord terribly well with my values and the discord has been rubbing my spirit raw.
I value nature: I live in the heart of NYC. I value contemplation: I choose to have CNN or MSNBC (or All My Children) droning in my ear all day long to keep me company while I work. I value compassion: I brush past people on the street I see crying or downtrodden, and rarely stop to ask how I can help.
Survival mechanism? Sure. In a city of eight million, a certain amount of armor is only practical. Compassion must be capped off somewhere in the endless stream of the needy. And escapism is both necessary and understandable, no matter where you live. But in the long run, it’s killing me by inches.
I see it in the unhealthful comforts I offer myself, like too many sweets or too many hours drifting in front of mindless television, or with my head buried in fluffy beach-reads. I see it in dreams left un-pursued, like the novels that remain unwritten or the hobbies I drop before I even sign up for classes.
So it occurred to me to wonder: Is it unethical to treat this sacred and fragile life I’ve been given with such callous disregard?
I’ve been thinking about it more lately, as a number of the ones I love most dearly have developed life-threatening illnesses, and I myself have hit a new demographic with my thirty-fifth birthday. Gray hairs and midlife crises may be nothing new, but to me, they’re bringing up big questions, like, if I owe society a certain type of moral behavior, do I not owe myself as much?
I may not be able to pick up and move to la-la land (especially not in the midst of an economic crisis) to fulfill my spiritual needs, but surely something should be done, perhaps on a smaller scale, and perhaps piecemeal. Were I the guardian of someone else’s life, I wouldn’t treat it the way I am treating my own. I’d feel obliged to make something special of it, treat its body and its spirit with respect, like a gracious host should.
I guess it goes back to that old ‘body as a temple’ thing. And perhaps if I came from some particular religious tradition, there’d be some specific guidance there about self-care and right living. As a spiritual orphan, I only have my wits and my loved ones to guide me.
For today, I’ll just throw the question out there: Do you feel you owe yourself the “golden rule” treatment? Is it only ethical to “do unto yourself as you would do unto others”?