Often is the question posed to me, maybe over on my Facebook page or via email after someone has made it through the messier parts of my book, but also in sundry sweaty nightclubs or boutique SF coffeeholes and therefore almost always fully clothed but almost never in a state of calm emotional stability: Mark, how the hell do you do it?
How do you avoid becoming horribly soiled and tainted, downtrodden and depressed every single day by the relentless onslaught, the endless horrors and bleakness hurled forth by the blood-soaked and desperately panicky mainstream media, inside of which you apparently still writhe and (mostly, sporadically, drunkenly) thrive?
It's a common refrain, of course, a question posed to anyone not merely aswim in the MSM, but also to upbeat politicos and yoga teachers, spiritual gurus and organic farmers, smiling scientists and perky baristas -- pretty much anyone at all who seems to move through life reasonably free of the bone-crushing angst so delightfully common to our misery addicted species.
Take, for example, how the UN and the International Energy Agency just revealed, like a gun to the head of humanity, that 2010 was the year in which worldwide carbon emissions broke yet another record, easily surging past any known threshold of planetary pain for the first time in our species' short, sputtering history.
You want disheartening? One million sold Prii aside, all those heartfelt green movements and carbon offsets notwithstanding, it appears nearly every significant environmental effort to date has done exactly zilch, cumulatively speaking, to curtail the extremely hard work of China and India (but mostly the U.S. and France and everyone else) to ensure we still pollute the world with as much carbon dioxide as quickly and as irrevocably as humanly possible, and accelerate climate change to the point of no return.
Perhaps you were mildly encouraged by what happened down in Cancún last year, where member nations gathered and debated and then pinky swore, in the pool, over a pitcher of 'ritas, to do their absolute best to cut way down on CO2 emissions as soon as possible? Or perhaps you thought Obama and his gutted environmental agenda might have made a dent by now, by way of a few lackluster environmental strategies?
You are so cute. Obama has apparently decided to let his once potent environmental agenda burn to soot. Mexico turned out to be a sunny little joke during which everyone furrowed their brows and made concerned tsk-tsk noises, then raced home and fired up the coal plants and approved more oil drilling and decided to leave the really hard decisions for the next generation, if there is one.
It's more than depressing; it's downright fatal. Extreme weather and a low-level worldwide panic are increasingly becoming the norm. No nation of any scale -- particularly the U.S., still by far the worst overall polluter in the world -- is making any serious moves toward dramatic change.
How to remain, if not upbeat, then at the very least not fatalistic, burned out and misanthropic in the face of what appears to be such abject malevolence, such stupidity at our chosen fate?
But wait, you haven't noted the bizarre mutations yet. Take what's happening in China. Thanks to its white-knuckle, largely coal-powered, breakneck growth, China now enjoys the highest rate of cancer in the world, with hundreds of "cancer villages" springing up wherever filthy factories are built. Cancer rates are soaring countrywide faster than anywhere else in the world.
Do you think this is horrible? Do you think this is ghastly? You're clearly not an investment banker. For this repulsive statistic merely means the emergence of -- can you guess? -- that's right, a new $1.5 billion cancer treatment market in China. Time to invest in biotech! After all, capitalism begets death begets still more capitalism. It's enough to make you want to go for a bottle of sake and a fine sushi dinner and forget your worldly woes.
Not so fast, seafood maven. For now we glance at this astonishing visual representation of world seafood stocks over the last 100 years, at what was once the seemingly limitless fecundity of the oceans, which we have now somehow, in a mere handful of generations, utterly decimated the way the Tea Party decimates historical fact.
You already know many fish stocks are depleted worldwide. You've already heard global populations of large predatory game fish, the bluefin tuna and the swordfish, et al, have been almost completely wiped out. But this visual does something more. It hits at the heart, the soul of who we are as a species at a level words can't quite access. Simply put, the oceans are being systematically emptied out, and refilled with... plastic. Edible fish are nearly gone. And without major action very soon, most of them will never return.
What is to be done? How to not sit in front on your screen and rage and shake and weep at the unchecked horror show? It is, you might say, the most pressing question of the age. I'm still struggling to answer it, every single day.
This is the practice. This is the study and the meditation and the perspective, the insight and the consciousness and the awareness all rolled into one mandatory spiritual cocktail and sipped gently as you inhale and exhale and try not to freak the hell out every minute because, well, what good would that do?
We say, the karma of the world is not yours to solve. We say, the collective burden of seven billion cannot be taken on en masse by any individual -- save a few incredible beings of light -- lest you become instantly crushed and suicidal, prone to lots of sneering and road rage and screaming at the TV, your loved ones, yourself.
We say, it is not a matter of turning your feelings off, or shutting everything down, or ignoring all media, or somehow transcending all suffering and pain and floating off into some airy detached bullsh--land of wimpy bunnylight.
It is simply a matter of understanding your role, your part in the schema. We say, don't you realize you are the universe in microcosm? Oh, stop whining; you totally are. You are asked, what would you do if you could be God for a day? Then why not shut up and do it, in proper scale of your life and your energy and your abilities, right now, because you very much are? I mean, obvs.
How to endure/digest the horrors of the world? You don't. I mean, please. You cannot possibly grasp and resolve the whole of the pulsing organism. It's not your job. You simply resolve and illuminate your own world; you become that messy imperfect gorgeous thing, that drop of lucid dish soap in the sinkful of water away from which the grease scampers and leaps.
And then, you engage. You get out from behind the headlines. As recently put by Jonathan Franzen in a fine commencement speech to overly Facebooked youth of today, "When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to real people, or even just real animals, there's a very real danger that you might love some of them. And who knows what might happen to you then?"
Not clear enough? Still deeply confused by the mass misery of the world? Try ee cummings: "Unless you love someone, nothing else makes any sense."