First of all, I am so sorry for my absence. I’ve missed writing here. My mother, who has been ill for a few months from pancreatic cancer, passed away. My sisters and I were there in the room with her, holding her hand when she went. It was very peaceful. Then, we got to plan the memorial service according to her wishes, held at the beach. It was really quite lovely…even in the midst of a hurricane. The waves were the largest I’d ever seen them here. The water is usually mirror still. I’ve spent the past couple of days sleeping..finally. So, that’s pretty much where I’ve been. It’s good to be back.
I love Halloween. Even better is the Day of the Dead tomorrow or All Saints Day, whatevs.
When this time of the year rolls around, I generally turn my thoughts to death. I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating what I consider to be a healthy attitude towards it. My own death doesn’t frighten me. I don’t hold many things to be True, unchangeable and steadfast, but this I do: facing and accepting the inevitability of my death is the most important work that one can undertake to set oneself free. The inevitability of everyone’s death should also nurture in us a deep respect for their fragility. This is more true than True because somehow my own death is far easier to accept than the inevitable death of those I love. Their death makes me feel clingy to them instead. But, lately, I’ve done my duty with death.
Here’s what I really wanted to talk to you about. In all mythologies, there is a trickster. In the mythology of my country, we have the gede (hard “g”). Tricksters are generally given high status in human stories because tricksters dare to see things and push us to see things that can be uncomfortable but are ultimately to our own betterment. In essence, they are the archetype of dangerous play (and if you’re playing doesn’t have even a touch of danger, you may not be doing it right. 🙂 ) The danger come from pushing the guidelines of society to their breaking point and often past it.
When I think of health (held up as a nearly impossible ‘holy grail’ these days) and society’s role upon it, I see that we can take one of two approaches to it. There is the treatment of the ‘condition’. The treatment is sanctioned by society, does not mess with the status quo, often creates a dependence of some kind, and generally doesn’t demand anything of the person undergoing the treatment. It is all quite passive, prescriptive…..and, gulp, dull.
Enter the trickster. With the trickster comes the game. For a game to be well played, there needs to be knowledge of the rules. This helps you look the rules in the eye as you break them. With the trickster, you need to engage fully in the process with awareness. The trickster will get you question everything. She will get you to play with the issue. The trickster will urge you to detach yourself from the social ramifications of a situation. He will get you to laugh at the constraints you’ve placed on yourself. The trickster shatters preconceptions.
Let’s look at the same “problem” from the two points of view. We’ll look at weight loss.
First the treatment:
The very first assumption that the treatment subjects you to is that you have to lose weight at all. You really might now have to, but the societal prescription to be ultra-thin is already assumed. With treatment, you get very clear markers of progress that may have absolutely nothing to do with you.
Next, to maintain its own…integrity?…society will make sure that you understand that this problem is somehow all on your shoulders. These are some of the things you will hear: you have no willpower, you have no self-love, you have no merit, you have no intelligence, you have less worth. You will NOT hear: this culture that we humans made up a while ago has failed you.
Then, you will be given the party line. Watch your portion intake. Eat everything in moderation. Exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes.
If you fail (and according to this treatment, you WILL), you can repeat the whole cycle for the rest of your life with a never questioned dependence on the treatment.
Enter the trickster. Enter a little insecurity. Like I said before, with the trickster you must engage.
The first question the trickster may ask might be along the lines of this: Do you really need to lose weight or are all your girlfriends just really jealous of your public speaking ability? Do you really need to lose weight or are you really just wanting to get a divorce? Do you really need to lose weight or do you feel weighted down by this job that is stripping all the joy from your life? Is your weight the issue or do you wish you knew how to fly a plane? (Really, the treatment finds safety in attributing your malaise to something visible that they can point to. The trickster loves to play with dreams.) If you decide that you do really want to lose weight, the trickster won’t be satisfied with that. She’ll want to know why. He’ll want to know what that MEANS to you.
Then, and this is the fun part, comes the process. The trickster will not be satisfied with pat answers to anything. Your journey will depend on your ability to question the answers that you’ve been given.
Why should my portions be the same size every day when some days I’m hardly hungry and other days I’m famished? Why should I eat everything in moderation if some things just aren’t good for me? Why should I exercise 3x a week for 30 minutes a pop when I would rather hike for three hours on a Saturday and deadlift my bodyweight for 5 minutes on a Wednesday? Why should my culture dictate to me that I should be 5’11 and 110 pounds when I’m 5’3 and feel ill when I drop below 130?
Most of all, the trickster will get you to play. Concepts become toys and regulations become malleable. You become your own authority.
Following the treatment is easier. Being passive is always easier than being engaged. But, it sure isn’t nearly as much fun.
Speaking of fun, here’s a video from my favorite Haitian roots band. I’ll be at their Gede Ball tomorrow night.