By Rob Archangel, 180DegreeHealth.com staff writer
The other day, Matt wrote about the difference between expertise and credentials. Expertise, he points out, comes from the process of being engaged over long stretches in a particular pursuit, and it’s enhanced dramatically when that pursuit is self-directed and borne of one’s own inclinations and predispositions. It brought to mind an insight I’ve come to over the last couple of years: purpose and satisfaction comes more from creation than consumption. Relatedly, community and intimacy comes from co-creation more than co-consumption. If you’re not happy with your life, incorporating more creation relative to consumption can help you re-balance.
I cribbed this idea from Charles Eisenstein, philosopher and author. Some of you may know him from The Yoga of Eating or Transformational Weight Loss. I like him a lot and think he’s a great thinker. In recent years, he’s taken to writing about the gift economy, a counter-model to the exchange or cash economy. Great stuff for those aiming to live outside of the matrix, and understand patterns that might better suit humans needs.
That’s an aside: appropos is this idea that we actually feel better when we can express our creative tendencies. And creation is a broad term in my mind; there’s lots under that umbrella. You need not be an artist in a traditional sense, a writer or painter or musician. You could be a tinkerer who likes to fix things, someone who likes to code or play with computer operating systems. You could be someone who rakes leaves and keeps a garden, someone who edits work, or someone who just likes to cook tasty food. The point is: after we do something creative, we can see our impact, see more order or intentionality after us than before us.
I have a friend who had a rough couple of years. Some time in, wanting to dig himself out, he decided to start volunteering at the zoo, helping with the education program, introducing kids to some of the animals and hosting teach-in parties. Turns out, he’s really good at it, and eventually he landed himself paid work there. Part of what helped with the depression was being outside his regular environment and contributing. He had the chance to engage with people and share his time and insight. That sort of thing feels good.
Some of you know my story: I spent several years in various pursuits (farming, innkeeping, white collar work, temping, etc.), and had long bouts of intermittent time off. After college and some time in the work world paying off school debt, aggressively taking it easy was exactly what I wanted. Like that Office Space scene: “I did absolutely nothing and it was everything that I thought it could be.”
All day for weeks and months, I watched YouTube clips and TV shows on DVD (like The Wire, probably the best series ever). I had lots of food and RRARFed basically. It was great. It also only went so far. Eventually, I wanted more. I started to find internal rather than external motivation to be active and to work. Supposedly, in the Buddha’s youth, he indulged in all manner of worldly desires. After, he was no longer in their thrall, and went on to pursue enlightenment. We don’t have to be Buddha, but the point is, a lot of the ‘unhealthy’ tendencies and patterns wear themselves down on their own if we give them the chance to run their course.
Lots of folks are unhappy with the recent emphasis here on “junk food” and eating whatever we want. But I think this provides a good analogy: we often need to get through that detox period of eating based on outside motivators, whether they’re commercial cues or orthorexic dogma of varying stripes. Eventually, the novelty of pounding ice cream and Mexican Coke wears off, and we start craving foods that are legitimately nourishing for our specific bodies. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” The difference is: afterward, you eat “healthy food” even when you know you don’t have to, and you no longer have to convince yourself it’s good for you, or that you *really* want it, all the while secretly wishing you could go on a chocolate chip cookie bender.
Like one person wrote in this week about her 5-year old…
“Hey Matt, just wanted to give you an update on my 5 yr old son. We let him eat whatever he wants and as much or little as he wants like you recommended to us and the first two days all he did was eat candy, but like you predicted he is now over it and because we don’t ration it to him, he could take it or leave it. He wanted Mcdonalds for three days in a row. I enjoyed that truth be told! But since then he has gradually increased in appetite and I’m just making him whatever the hell he wants (I try to make it nutritious as possible but if its too “healthy” he won’t eat much) and he has only had one dizzy spell which was so mild he barely noticed it so I’m assuming his sugar levels are getting better. He’s finally starting to put on a little weight, sleeping like a champ, 11hrs! And the most impressive change has been his temp. He went from 96.8 to a stable 99.1! We’ve been eating a lot more “junk” and all our temps are doing better and we all seem to be pooping better!” -KS
Anyway, to bring it back to the starting theme, especially considering that the winter blues set in for lots of people around this time: if you’re feeling down, consider how much of your activity is consumption oriented, and how much is creation-oriented. Consumption is great for winding down, but you can wind down too low. Shift the balance as needed, just as you would salt/carb: fluid ratio, Eat for Heat style. Rather than a movie with friends, how about a board game, or cards or charades? Rather than a restaurant meal, how about a potluck, or a cook-in at whoever’s house has the most accommodating kitchen? Rather than a day shopping, maybe have a work party and clean up trails at the park. Have a sewing party or a jam session. Whatever it is, incorporating authorship reliably combats ennui. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel; even just tweaking some of the activities you’re likely already doing can help you re-balance and feel better. Have fun with that!