Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Bleeding Heart?

Several recent comments by Christian have given me pause. Do I really portray myself as such a guilt-ridden bleeding heart? Do I frequently temper a post about the pleasures that I experience in life with a comment about those who are without such pleasure? Perhaps I could answer yes to both of those questions. I imagine the next question would be: is that a bad thing, in and of itself?

There are multiple answers to such a query. If I were to actively deny myself pleasure over the pain I feel vis-a-vis others not having access to such pleasure, that would certainly be cause for concern (and psychotherapy!). If I were to berate my loved ones and friends, negating their experiences "because people in Africa are starving", that would also be a large red flag.

Over the years, many people have chosen voluntary poverty (Saint Francis, Mother Teresa), or devoted their lives to helping others less fortunate while ignoring their own needs. The "wounded activist" is often the psychologically battle-scarred denizen of most any peace and justice group who eschews self-care and interpersonal relationships for "the cause". I fall into neither of these categories, though I admit to doing my share of ruminating over the plight of others less fortunate.

While I may frequently process guilt and angst over my relative priviledge---and sometimes bemoan my Jewish genes which hard-wire guilt so efficiently---I fully enjoy the pleasures in my life and encourage others to do the same. I use my writing as a way to process my demons, share my inner machinations, illustrate my life, and also bring a different perspective. If someone was to read my blog and experience a subtle change in consciousness after reading it, a shift in perspective or altered awareness, I would be ever so pleased.

As for my ability to experience life's pleasures without guilt, I still enjoy a good dinner out, a well-timed vacation, a tasty latte, a new CD. Do I sometimes think twice about such extravagances? Yes. Do I occasionally feel indulgent and horrifically middle-class? Yes. Am I willing to give up some of my simple pleasures in order to somehow assuage the suffering of others? Perhaps, but it is not necessarily in the giving up of pleasures and luxuries that we attain enlightenment, it is in the consciousness and conscience with which we approach our easy access to such ephemera that we can grow in ways both emotional and spiritual. I can decide to not buy a CD and give that money to a charity. I can boycott Wal-Mart and try to buy fair-trade gifts and coffee. My purchase of that CD will not cause suffering to another, and the pleasure which I experience in listening to that CD might in fact lead me to an action much more profound and effective than I might have chosen otherwise.

So, am I a bleeding heart? Without a doubt. Am I in danger of emotional and spiritual hemorrhage? Not any time soon. If signs of such hemorrhage make themselves known, I'm sure some frequent flyers here on DD will bring my attention to my approaching demise in no uncertain terms.

So I say yes to pleasure, yes to moderate luxury, yes to moderation in everything (except wild abandon), and even yes to moderate amounts of healthy guilt. An oxymoron, you say? Perhaps, but life is filled with oxymorons, and healthy guilt may be one which I may never fully exorcise.
Post a Comment