What if all the self-im­prove­ment is point­less?

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - FRONT PAGE -

THE real shock of the heresy was that it was said to me by one of the most avid and en­thu­si­as­tic self­im­provers I know. “Do you not won­der if the med­i­ta­tion ac­tu­ally works at all?” she said ca­su­ally.

This, from the woman who in­tro­duced me, to among other things, the short-lived bul­let­proof cof­fee fad. That was the cof­fee with the but­ter and co­conut oil, re­mem­ber? When we con­vinced that tak­ing a cof­fee with about 1,000 calo­ries of fat first thing in the morn­ing was key to weight loss and eter­nal hap­pi­ness.

I was reel­ing. Be­cause if we start ques­tion­ing all these midlife self-im­prove­ment things, where does it leave us? If I stop be­liev­ing in the med­i­ta­tion, then I’m into the ap­palling vista. Does that mean that the whole regime of Re­vive Ac­tive ev­ery morn­ing with added Vi­ta­min C and glu­tamine pow­der for gut health, is a waste of time and a lot of money too? And then there’s the Alflo­rex... maybe even the get­ting up an hour ear­lier to go for a swim is point­less too. And maybe I might as well sit on my ass and drive in and out of work ev­ery day in­stead of walk­ing or cy­cling.

Maybe it’s all point­less. Maybe I’m just a ham­ster on a wheel and God is laugh­ing at me. Maybe I’d be as well off, in the words of Ali G, sit­ting on me batty watch­ing Vanessa. Is Vanessa even on any­more? Or did I miss out there be­cause I was too busy self­im­prov­ing?

It was a lit­eral heresy for her to sug­gest the med­i­ta­tion might be point­less, be­cause this is our new re­li­gion now, all this self­bet­ter­ment.

Once we are im­prov­ing our­selves, we feel good and vir­tu­ous and happy and we feel life is OK. And we fear for what would hap­pen if we lost our faith.

It re­minded me, too, that I wasn’t al­ways like this. Like St Au­gus­tine, I was a late con­vert to the vir­tu­ous path. There was a time when I would have dis­missed med­i­ta­tion as just sit­ting there do­ing noth­ing. And, in­stead, I would have just sat there and done noth­ing. In­deed, there was a time when I was able to do noth­ing. With­out guilt, I would just sit there and do noth­ing, with no real in­tent. Or I might lie down, and my mind would drift. Or I might sit around with other semi-idlers, talk­ing point­less rub­bish, in the mid­dle of the day.

Nowa­days we all have to be do­ing some­thing all the time, to some end, the usual end be­ing to im­prove our­selves in some way, to make our­selves bet­ter, fit­ter, hap­pier, more pro­duc­tive. When you think about it, the mod­ern world has done a huge num­ber on all of us. We all work so hard that we can’t re­lax or switch off or sleep at night, so we spend all our free time pur­su­ing things that might help us re­lax or switch off or sleep at night. So ba­si­cally we spend much of our free time try­ing to make our­selves able for all the work and try­ing to undo what work has done to us. But then again. Just be­cause you don’t see any ob­vi­ous ben­e­fits doesn’t mean any­thing. It’s easy to think, “All this stuff is mak­ing no dif­fer­ence. Shure I’m grand any­way.” But I’m prob­a­bly only grand be­cause I do all this stuff.

In fact, when the heretic tried to rat­tle me I hadn’t med­i­tated in two days and that was pos­si­bly why I was vul­ner­a­ble to her devil talk. And while it’s easy to take for granted how rea­son­ably func­tional and fit I am now, I haven’t al­ways been this func­tional and fit.

And I’m not go­ing to find en­light­en­ment with the med­i­ta­tion, but it’s prob­a­bly no harm to have a habit of sit­ting with your­self. And re­gard­ing the sup­ple­ments and the swim­ming and so forth, I’d have to ad­mit that my weight is sta­ble and I have a rea­son­able amount of en­ergy and I am rarely if ever sick.

So I think I’ll just go with the phi­los­o­phy of if it ain’t broke, then maybe that’s be­cause you’re fix­ing it. I’ve ac­tu­ally added cannabis oil into the mix now. But that’s for an­other day.

‘This is our new re­li­gion now, with this self-bet­ter­ment, we feel life is OK’

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