2009

5 August 2009: Is dropping out a proper apporach to life?

Is dropping out a proper approach to life?

A good friend and I, as is the wont of hikers replenishing their spiritual and mental energies ambling through nature, got to conversing about some rather esoteric topics.

I asked her if she had ever “dropped out” in context of the 1960s mantra, to which she said yes and cited a couple personal experiences.

Her response prompted this question: What’s the difference between taking a time out and dropping out?

In the sixties, dropping out was defined in context of political and social issues: the war, racism, sexism, and materialistic excesses that had become the purpose of American life in an increasing hedonistic society—hedonistic defined as in going to church on Sunday and amassing piles of earthly treasure throughout the other six days.

History shows the number of revolutionaries that morphed into respectable Republican types, which seems to give evidence to the system winning with erstwhile radicals surrendering to the establishment by caving into the idea that the valueless life filled with valuables is preferable to one of instability and insecurity.

Institutions—public or private—always act towards one goal: self survival. Rules are created and sanctions rigidly administered, allowing no deviation, the reason the two revolutionaries Thomas Jefferson and Chairman Mao advocated, in Jefferson’s words, “a little rebellion now and then.”

If a cohort of companions manages to escape to uncharted territory and displace the natives—think America, circa 1620—it becomes tribal and, therefore, conservative as it turns inward to protect what it has become rather than continue the pursuit of its purpose.

So then, is true dropping out possible? Or does chaos theory also apply to individuals hell-bent on total escape, doing the mountain-man thing like Jeremiah Johnson?

Even if possible, what would dropping out look like in the 21st century? If the sixties’ radicals came up short in a more fomented atmosphere than our stifled one, what can today’s individual do to separate from the whole, to disconnect, to wend his/her way along an undefined and uncharted path with no purpose of going other than going?

Writing in what, I would think, most would consider a much simpler time, Henry David Thoreau observes, “Our life is frittered away by detail.” Busy amassing more stuff: It’s who we are and what we do.

To find the meaningful life, Thoreau offers a simple suggestion: “Simplify, simplify.”

When studying Walden, my juniors would become excited and make brash statements that they, like Thoreau, would “go to the woods because [they] want to live simply” and “to suck the marrow out of life.”

To which I would challenge them: “Oh, really? And what little life’s convenience would you be willing to forego? Computer? Cell phone? Hair dryer? Microwave?”

That would in turn launch us into the direction of discussing the difference between simplifying and making life easier.

Even as a passionate admirer of the guru, I would be reticent about giving up any of the above, except for, of course, the hair dryer, a most worthless contraption from my clear-headed point of view.

By making life easier, we have made it more complex, far more than even Thoreau could have imagined when he wrote, “We live meanly like ants.” And easier and complex do not necessarily correlate to better.

Reaching middle age and going beyond, with the number of sand grains available to fall through the hourglass decreasing, those paying attention wonder whether the time and energy invested in accumulating earthly treasure has been worth it.

Many who come to the conclusion that it hasn’t and have the ability to set out on a different path or blaze another remain fearful of doing anything other than what they have always done: staying busy. Thus, they make commitments in terms of job, portfolio enhancement, or volunteering their time.

Certainly there is much to be said for continuing to work and volunteering as we have great need for people to do such. But in the end, they can serve as excuses for not treading along unmarked terrain so to explore for the sake of exploring, seeking and never finding, nebulous to be sure, but full of meaning for those paying attention.

Of late, it’s fascinating to find myself in the company of Sarah Palin. We’re both quitters after all—she as governor of Alaska and me as a member of the Board of Education.

Which makes me think Sarah might be on to something, for what better place on Earth than Alaska to go into the wild and explore unmarked terrain?

So that is something to think about: drop out by moving to Alaska, learn how to field dress a moose bagged from a helicopter, and run for governor. What else could be closer to disconnecting from the whole and wending one’s way along an undefined and uncharted path with no purpose of going other than going?

On second thought…

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