The Clock… Notes on a Momentary Respite in a Long Journey

There are, at the moment, three items on my bedside table: Modern Spiritual Masters/Writings on Contemplation and Compassion, edited by Robert Ellsberg; an eighteen-page instruction manual for the Brookstone “Tranquil Moments Advanced Clinically Proven Sleep Sounds” machine; and the “machine” itself. (Yes; I know the Buddha is there, too; either I’m not counting the Buddha, or I always count the Buddha…) If the juxtaposition of these objects does not hint at a body and spirit in transition, then I don’t know what would.

The “machine” is, almost incidentally, an alarm clock – a ridiculously expensive alarm clock, since that feature seems an extraneous addition to a menu of sixteen different Clinically Proven Sounds, created by Experts, to lull one into blissful rest, a fine meditative state, or relief from anxiety and stress. (Perhaps a thoughtful reading of Modern Spiritual Masters would do any or all of the above, without the need for the eighteen-page instruction manual. That thought, itself, should be cause for some contemporary contemplation on my part, now that I think of it.) But an alarm clock I could love is what I was seeking, and – so far – this one seems to be doing the trick.

The arrival of this device on my bedside table is the momentary culmination of a search I have pursued, albeit intermittently, for almost twenty years. At the moment, things are looking – and sounding – very promising!

My husband, “B,” came to our twenty years of cohabitation and marriage with an alarm clock he’d already had for at least ten years. For more than thirty years, he has been very attached to his clock – secure in the reliability and trustworthiness of this small and homely, plastic LED-screeened, device, after his own series of relationships with numerous analog, digital, and clock-radio combinations, and any number of other things in life, which had disappointed him by failing to live up to their promises. It is “only” an alarm clock (no aromatherapy, rising dawns, or soothing sounds included), but that solitary task it has performed without fail, time after time. For this reason, B’s clock has earned – and held – his deep loyalty and affection.

However… His clock performs its sole duty by aggressively presenting its own rendition of the sound track from the shower scene in Psycho, morning after morning. I have never liked this about it. B doesn’t seem to mind being jolted at least semi-awake, hitting the snooze button, and falling right back to sleep, only to repeat the process several times, as often as not. This works for him… But it has always seemed kind of ridiculous to me. Either you’re getting up, or you’re not. Being assaulted into semi-consciousness, again and again, is not the same thing as consciously and deliberately “awakening.” Like so many couples, we are wired somewhat differently, and have learned, for a sufficient part, to live with those differences for almost twenty years.

Over these years, B has been both generous and gracious in trying to satisfy my periodically-expressed yearning for a gentler approach to leaving sleep and greeting the day. He got me a combination “gradual dawn” and aromatherapy device, which included several sound options. Unfortunately, it looked like a tacky plastic ziggurat; I didn’t like fooling around with the smelly little beads; and its version of “morning bird sounds” was a pale rehash of the real birds that get going around 5:00 in the morning here. Then followed the Zen alarm clock, which I wanted desperately, and which was really quite lovely – and very promising. However, after a relatively short period of time, its LED display slowly disappeared into irreversible invisibility… Evidently following some inner Zen directive of its own.

In our recent and ongoing effort to shed things that no longer serve or please us, the Alarm Clock Issue reappeared – this time addressed by me with renewed determination. A few hours of web research on my part disclosed this machine – a veritable Maserati among alarm clocks, purveyed by Brookstone, the indisputable prime source (along with Hammacher-Schlemmer) of all things electronic, complicated, beautiful, costly, and generally completely unnecessary for sustenance of the average human life, even here in Fairfield County, Connecticut. However, it had an absolutely lovely set of chimes to ease one into wakefulness, and that’s what I wanted, accessories or no accessories.

B agreed to give it a try, with the mutual understanding that, if he hated it, back it would go. (I would, in that case, get earplugs.) It arrived yesterday. Disconcertingly, there were few “tranquil moments” involved in the set-up and initialization of the thing – from opening the box itself, to installing the button battery with the Lilliputian screwdriver (which we happened to have, thanks to previous experience with sophisticated electronic devices and their requirements), to figuring out the sequence of buttons to push and hold for two seconds to activate one function, and five seconds for another. With repetitions of the Serenity Prayer, and one dark period of a few minutes where we were convinced that “it isn’t working,” we got through all that; set the alarm; and chose a “sleep sound” for the night that seemed richly appropriate: “Unwind.” (It was a clock, after all…)

When we got into bed, I hit the button, and the Clinically Proven Sounds began… In only moments (evidently the “tranquil” ones for which the machine is named), I had melted into a complete and utterly blissful state of limp relaxation… And we were both soon “sound” asleep. This morning, right on cue, mellow chimes gradually eased their way into our consciousnesses. The first word out of B’s mouth was, “Success.” I could hardly contain my joy. Reliability and grace seemed not mutually exclusive after all.

Ridding oneself of something one really doesn’t like much is usually a piece of cake. Ridding oneself of something to which one has long been attached – for whatever reason – is another story entirely. In truth, we’ve both been attached to B’s little clock for all these years – he, for its fidelity; me, because it’s his. But we were looking, now, for something that might not only be dependable and reliable, but something that was lovely, as well – something that we truly liked – not just because we already happened to have it, or because it worked and we were used to it, but because it offered the promise of bringing new pleasure and grace to our lives, in an area where we had long, and somewhat thoughtlessly, just accepted the status quo, the “it’ll do”…

And what better place to try for something better than in our daily awakening? If it has to be a machine, let it be a fine one.


Democracy or Fear: Pick One…

Because we can’t have both.

The elections are over – mercifully, and millions of dollars later – and one side won most of everything. We have shown ourselves able to speak, after all, as a nation of diversity, and of some responsibility, some generosity, some compassion, and some good sense. And we voted by the millions, as the democracy we are, and were always intended to be.

And, although that is over, the fear mongering is likely not. It will continue – because it works. Democracy and fear are incompatible; they cannot coexist. The mongerers know this fact very well. Democracy functions only when citizens are reasonably fed, housed, educated, informed, productive, confident, and relatively unbowed by fear and want. Frightened people do not make wise decisions, even about their own welfare; often they can make no decisions whatsoever, and will do just what they are told to do, because they are terrified. When we are afraid, we feel powerless – whether we actually are, or not. This is just how most of us are: Human.

If you want to control people, do everything you can to keep them ignorant, poor, and deathly afraid, as much of the time as possible. THIS is the real reason the oligarchs want to gut government assistance for education, nutrition, welfare, job training, medical care, and other social programs. It has nothing to do with “fiscal responsibility”, or “reducing the deficit”, or “reducing the burden on our children and grandchildren”… And has everything to do with keeping as much of the populace as possible in a state of hungering malleability and civil impotence.

The chronically poor have real and legitimate fears: Legitimately afraid they won’t have enough to eat, because they so often don’t. Afraid they will have nowhere to live. Afraid of what will happen to them if they get sick or hurt. Afraid someone else will take what little they do have. Afraid their children will have no chance to live in conditions other than those in which they struggled to grow up. Afraid they are powerless. Afraid their lives mean nothing. (If this election did one thing, I think it did much to convince hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people that they have more power than they knew…)

But how to instill this kind of fear into the “average”, middle class, or even well off, members of our society…? The people who’ve pretty much been feeling they’re basically okay? That’s the ongoing challenge of the One Percent. They’ve got a few ideas, and they almost worked this time. At least almost half of us are apparently willing to give those ideas another try.

A natural disaster, or an incomprehensible act of terrorism, can be a bonanza here… 9-11. Katrina, Aurora, the BP Gulf oil spill, Sandy… In these situations, everyone is reduced to a state of near-equivalent deprivation and fear, at least temporarily. (Read Naomi Klein’s excellent 2008 book, The Shock Doctrine/The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, for an impressive summary of this kind of “opportunity.” She was on to something, even then.) Barring the availability of either of these kinds of events, the most common, and historically effective, tactic is to Invent An Enemy – an Other – and make it very clear that the Other is a real, imminent, and pernicious threat, about to destroy the very fabric of our society, starting by aggressively assaulting everything in which you believe. Nothing has to be rational or proven about the Other; it just has to be presented as an ominous danger, to you, personally. If that gay couple next door is allowed to marry, what’s to stop YOUR children from wanting to do the same, no matter how you feel about it? If that woman who was raped can get an abortion, what’s to stop the Other from making you have one, too? If that lay-about moocher on the other side of town, who probably wasn’t even born here, is given food stamps and a break on community college tuition, who knows what she’ll be asking for next – and how much of that will come out of your pocket? And – good lord – what if the Other insists that you’ll have to register that third AK-47 you’re planning to buy at the upcoming gun show? Keep the veiled innuendos great, and difficult to disprove. Provide plenty of “documentation,” even if you have to resort to recirculating six-year-old pieces of satire you found on the web, as new and factual. Just repost them, again and again, to as many people as possible, with the subject title, “IF YOU CARE ABOUT AMERICA, YOU MUST READ THIS!!!!!!!!!” Truth is for wimps. It’s the goal that matters. And that goal is to engender fear.

Make sure these dangers are kept continuously in the forefront of public consciousness. (It helps to have a good bundle of newspapers and other media outlets under your control for this – but all that takes is cash.) Intone ceaselessly that things are even worse than anyone can imagine, and that the threat has never been greater. Never allow the legitimacy of the danger to be questioned. Make sure that as many people as possible feel PERSONALLY threatened by the behavior of people they don’t even know, at all times, even if – and perhaps especially if – their personal lives are, in fact, not really threatened at all.

The threat of the Other flourishes in either a genuine, or simply perceived, culture of deprivation, oppression, and terror. Democracy, on the other hand, can thrive only in a society of confidence, adequacy, personal empowerment, and the assurance that there is truly “enough” for everyone – a society in which we are confident that we will be given help when we need it, and can give help to others when they do.

The truth is, there really IS – or could be – enough for all, but not as long as some of us insist that it is our “right” to live obscenely at the top, and others of us can be abandoned to live abjectly at the bottom, where we are deemed to deserve to be. It is highly unlikely that the One Percent will abdicate quietly, election or no election, and there is no reason to expect them to do so. Even they are well aware that their tool box is emptying rapidly… But the Fear Hammer is still in there, and I think we’ll still be seeing a lot of it. It’s about all they have left.

So… We have a choice: Democracy or Fear… But we can’t have both. Pick one. And pick wisely.


This Nation is not a Corporation…

No picture this time, friends. Bear with me! I had vowed that I would avoid “politics” here, which was kind of crazy on my part, because that’s just what I’ve been obsessed with for as long as you may have been, and tomorrow we may start to get some idea of where we’re going. (Sandy left me, and much of the East Coast, with very few communication outlets for at least six days and, for many, more days to come. And many of our fellow citizens have lost much more than their ability to communicate…)

Our country is changing. The world is changing. We will either accommodate ourselves to these changes, and work with them, or we will become the newest “Third World Nation”… A nation whose laws are drawn to benefit multi-national companies, and their shareholders; whose land is raped for their profits, and not ours; run by a government who fears and loathes at least half of its citizens, and considers them (us) to be slackers and ne’er-do-wells; a country where a small minority of wealthy people live in walled compounds, surrounded by an angry, hungry, and uneducated populace, many of them armed and dangerous; a country whose government works to legally impose its “values” on the majority of its citizens. This is not the America I’ve ever had in mind, and certainly not the one I’d like to leave for my granddaughter.

These things are the absolute antithesis of what the founders of this great nation had in mind. The great premise of “America” has always been that we are a nation of citizens, not servants of some corporate entity. We are not here to create profits solely for others; we are here to benefit ourselves, and our fellow citizens, and our descendants, and we expect our government to reflect our wishes. Does anyone remember the British crown and its East India Company – the original “multi-national,” whose strangling grip our founders refused to endure? It strikes me as incredibly ironic that our current Tea Party, apparently so in support of letting Big Business escape the chains of “regulation,” is named after an event that was about exactly the opposite. THAT event was about our refusal to have our lives run by a corporation, its CEO, and its shareholders, to our own detriment.

So, IMHO, we don’t need a CEO for President. We need someone who understands that we are part of a global nation, as well as our own; someone who knows that we are one nation among many, and no more, and no less, exceptional than any other; who understands both our strengths and our weaknesses; who understands the strengths and weaknesses of other nations; and who is aware of our common humanity. In short, we need four more years of the President we have now – Barack Hussein Obama… Because he represents the nation we are, and the nation we were always meant to be.