Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Riding to the eastern shore with my husband, a big car whizzed by us to the traffic signal and idled with a powerful growling sound in the lane right next to us. The elaborate painting, specialized bodywork and big tires reminded me of reading Thorstein Veblen who developed the concepts of “conspicuous consumption” and “conspicuous waste” as aspects of the human form of display that were evident in other cultures prior to our own. Modern consumer materialism may be more elaborate than what he described but display precedes even human cultures. Bowerbirds make elaborate platforms with all kinds of things woven in including daily changes of flowers. They try to outdo the other birds in creating a stronger visual impression and thus attract the female. The degree to which something gets attention is the degree of its attraction. Visual power creates its own gravity, gives weight. Power could be seen as the ability to command others attention. An effective display gives greater visibility. Display grows from a mindset of competition. With a competitive approach to life, whoever is most visible, whose satellite representations can be seen far and wide, wins. The dark side of being a “heavyweight” is the pressure of having so much attention, how the media jumps on every imperfection, the more visible the personage, the more airtime. The gravity we’ve created pulls so much into us we can be crushed by it.
Weight pushes us down. To carry it is a burden. It puts emphasis on the material world and all the separate things in it. It focuses on substance, admires what is substantial. The metaphor of weight builds on accumulation; weight grows as stuff piles up. The ego loves this because we are enlarging on our sense of our scope by building our bower of visibility. In a way, the life story that comprises our ego, the way we identify ourselves, is a weight that can drag us down, is the rock that Sisyphus pushes endlessly up the hill.
What keeps us from feeling light is weight. To feel light may be necessary to joy, to liberation. Weight expresses attachment and desire. Lightness releases self-importance and is in harmony with present being. D. K. Chesterton said, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” To “take ourselves seriously” is to hold protectively to the identity described by our story. We struggle with our attachment to the things that weigh us down. It’s part of the human drama and not something we can reject and stay alive. The dualities of light/dark, light/heavy are cyclical conditions, part of a whole that oscillates. Whether the metaphor is applied to moods, or the smooth and difficult times in life, clinging to one end stops motion. They are the crests and troughs of an all- encompassing vibration, which we should acknowledge and accept as the experience of being human. As Milan Kundera wrote in “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”, “The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar to the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real…. the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.”

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