There are two kinds of people in this world: Winners and losers. This belief is celebrated in song and movies, entrenched in education and sport, set in the cement of corporate temples to Mammon. Dream big, reach for the stars, you can have it all, because, dammit, “you’re worth it!” This sense of entitlement, this determination to be worthy, might be a warm poultice on the inflammation of our unworthiness.
For some, the race to “get ahead”, to set higher “bench marks” has become utterly meaningless. Some may be in the right place at the right time. Their moment of glory will be encoded in the birth chart as they elatedly clasp the Oscar; proudly stand on the winner’s podium. Success—or “failure”—may be predetermined by a sacred soul contract—a Divine Plan.
Many of us are sailing across the rivers dark of change and uncertainty at this time in our collective evolution. We can merely determine or control the meaning we give to events as they unfold in our lives. England and America are in the throes of Pluto transits. The fabled “American Dream” has long faded. Britain is befuddled and confused. The long and painful process of re-defining national identity and a radical re-invention of what it is to be British or American.
In societies where individualism and equality are valued and encouraged we may believe we alone are responsible for every aspect of our lives—our successes and our failures. We concoct our very own recipe for our happiness. Our ancestors could rail against misfortune, or the gods, or the circumstance of their birth. Today, self-made men and women sail solo. When we slam against the dark reef we cannot blame the gods, our parents, our ex-lover, or the government for our choices and perceptions. So, we perform the blood-letting when our scapegoated heroes fall from grace, baying like frenzied hounds at their blunders, their stupidity.
Wherever people gather together they create a language that binds them to the tribe, or anesthetises sensibilities to the savage brutality of what is really going on. In the military, it may be “friendly fire” or a “dust off” which shrouds the unspeakable horror of legalised mass murder or an air lift of mangled bodies. In the 24/7 world of advertising and marketing it will be power words that convey enthusiasm and the admonition to “Just do it” as we deliver the “deliverables” or disassociate from the pointlessness of our allotted tasks.
Life is simple in the fast lane. Or is it? Success will be yours, if you work hard, have the right attitude, pointed focus, if your character and integrity are “good enough”. In the 1920s Bertrand Russell asked, “what will be the good of the conquest of leisure and health, if no one remembers how to use them?” His question is still pertinent today. I have a friend who works within the honeycomb cells of a large corporation. She sprinkles her sentences with hollow phrases that encompass our cultural comprehension of success: products, like people, must be “relevant”. By unspoken implication, if we are not “relevant” we are obsolete. Disposable. Like tooth brushes, celebrity marriages and old people.
We hunt success with bows that are stretched to breaking point. Like Love and happiness, success has myriad, illusive permutations. And yet, in this world of contrasts could it be that even in external “success” there will be some measure of loss or painful sacrifice? Perhaps in our tenacious climb to the summit we must cut loose our close family bonds? Eschew intimacy. Perhaps the trade-off will be a bloated ravaged body. Scarce unstructured, unaccountable time to enjoy the financial benefits of our long labour. Sometimes we seem to be rowing around in circles. The straining, the striving can wear us to a scooped-out void, our hands bloody and blistered on the oars. We forget our “holy song”. We do not know, we cannot see our own reflection in the moonlight as we panic on.
“What do you do?” A question that carries in its vapour trail a cloud of unspoken appraisals. A question that may be as difficult to answer as “Who are you?” as we comb through the interwoven layers of our complex human lives. Oriah Mountain Dreamer asks us to see each other through a different prism in her Invitation: “It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive…”
Sometimes it is a dispassionate Collective Fate that steps in to decimate our lives – the savagery of a bombing, the watery obliteration of a tsunami, a deadly sheath of blistering flame. Sometimes it is a private tragedy that rips the windows and blows the roof off our reality. We may resume our striving unaltered, unshaken, defenses nailed back in place, just as they were before. Or we may painstakingly sift through the broken foundations of our hopes and dreams and find that nothing is and will ever be the same again. Our values, priorities, longings now sound forth in a quieter song. Perhaps then we may lift up the oars. Allow ourselves to be carried towards the jetty, accepting things are as they are, for now. We may smile, because we sense that this life is but a dream. In this part of the dream we can put down our bow, pack away our arrows, success no longer our quarry. Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.
Leonard Cohen delivers his unsurpassed deliverables—By the Rivers Dark