And so it was Christmas 2017, and a Happy New Year’s … and I assume that most of us anticipate some cheer and brightness a week into 2018. But really, I do not feel like it (yet). I have always wanted to say it, but I have also been admonished to be courteous. Do.not.stir.(again).
But here’s the thing.
The older I get, the less I understand this mass manipulative brainwashing hoax that the New Year, these next twelve months, will be the best ever. Ever. Bugger this terrible, achy past year that was a cluster-fk, so to speak, and reach out to the new, nice, better, big, richer year.
The year before last, we all have said and wished and believed the same. Oh, this New Year, it is going to be a fantastic prosperous, good and happy new year, just wait and see! Hello?
Because what the hell happened? It feels as if these events – more than ever before – have flashed past me and us all, in a vague haze. I’ve had a few nice meals, two glasses of wine, some social appointments that I could not get out of, while feeling deeply tired and severely worried.
I struggle to determine why I feel so utterly robbed and thwarted. I have never liked the festive season at all. Just because everyone shouts “happy, happy” does not necessarily make it happy, and very few people are indeed happy anyway. Maybe it has something to do with my Calvinist upbringing where we needed to put on a brave face, regardless of how we felt or were. This kind of mindless denial has always been deeply unsettling in itself. But when I stop at a traffic light and look at the people in their cars around me, I wonder how they manage to look so happy and positive and fine in the face of the state of the world, singing along with Smile Radio.
Then I realized that it really feels, once again, as if this festive season has passed with no deep personal soul-searching or even any navel-gazing involved. I am aware of the theory that time passes more quickly as one gets older. But seriously? What has happened to these days that they are just gone and done, and only another memory! Has climate change shortened the hours of the day as well?
When I was really young and had the yearning to focus on my so-called self-development and spirituality, in the days before technological media and social platforms took over our lives, I’ve deeply believed that these annual celebrations were actually about a certain pensiveness and self-analysis; also, a spiritual appreciation of one’s life was in order. Something like, “okay, you, what has happened since last Christmas and the first day of this year that could be described as significant, meaningful, important, and life-changing”? A kind of stock-taking, not only sock-taking. Many of the traditional Christmas songs make this exact point: what has changed for me and for us in a country, or city, or even as mankind, especially in the face of renewed hope about Jesus’s birthday?
Yet, all I feel now, or have been feeling for the past decade in the aftermath of every Christmas, is a deep discontent and emptiness. I feel hollowed out. It feels increasingly as if I was waiting for a significant moment that could contribute to my human growth, albeit marginally – and then it fizzled away before I even knew it was coming. I know that life is what we make of it ourselves; of course, others cannot make me feel positive or happy or optimistic. Logically, I know this all is up to me. But honestly, I feel without hope, in a specific sense. Lost, hopeless and depressed.
I am not the world’s healthiest person, living without an entire colon as a result of an auto-immune disease called ulcerative colitis, and with Rheumatoid Arthritis eating the bones at every joint in my body. I’m not sleeping well, I’m not young; I live in beautiful, turbulent, crime-rife South Africa and a drought-stricken and waterless Cape Town, which already presents plenty of reasons for anxiety. Also, South Africa has a staggering 28% of unemployment, and poverty is hovering in the shadows. Add the fact that South Africa’s main headline for months during 2017 was that the State was captured by our own government and their Indian best friends, the Guptas, and the discontent grows. (I marvel at this notion: how does a State get captured by a Government in the Age of Knowledge?)
Checking my news feeds, social media and favorite newspapers, I see that the big news on this third day of the brand-new year trumpets Trump’s taunting of Kim Jong-Un about the size of “his button”. Really? Boys will be boys – the only difference is the size of the toys? In the very next report on my news aggregator (written by the National Review), it is declared that mindfulness is now the official mantra and organizational religion of the USA. And I wonder: would people who are mindful and paying attention to the state of their minds threaten one another with the size of nuclear weapons?
I theoretically understand that words may acquire a different meaning over time. “Bitch” may have been your worst enemy in high school, back in the eighties or nineties; now, she is your best friend. Sometimes even your mom and your granny and your enemies are your bitches as well, apparently. Quite often men are also now bitches.
But mindfulness? I don’t think many people can misunderstand the meaning of mindfulness. Because, apparently, every company in the USA, and maybe in the world, now have mindfulness programmes to boost productivity and profit. It is apparently a national corporate obsession. But if any one word ever demonstrated our neediness, mindfulness may just be the one. You cannot, after all, be mindful just because someone tells you to be mindful. You become mindful, probably as a result of some harmful incident, or trauma, or sadness, or disease or other circumstances, or when you really want to change the course of your life. Some old people, I believe, are mindful. Or you are a mindful type of person, who yearns for a more serious approach to life. To me, mindfulness implies that you are giving attention to things in order to move from a weaker position to more understanding and strength and insight. It means that you try to balance certain aspects of your life so that you will feel less anxious, distressed and depressed. It says that you are recalibrating the scales, while taking deep breaths, and realize that things may not be as bad as it feels or seems – or that it needs some tweaking.
However, I have a last confession. I am deeply and perversely soothed to note that other people are feeling so distressed that they fork out millions of dollars for one-week courses in mindfulness. I think that we may just need to switch off our phones and computers, and be quiet and alone and still for at least an hour. Imagine telling a huge company that mindfulness requires them to be passive for an hour, think about their own lives, what is great about it, and what is lacking and wanting. I am totally convinced that this will not happen, though, because an hour out of any company’s time will reflect in monetary terms. Heaven forbid.
So for the time being, until I really can negotiate myself out of it again, I am just going to sit here, being depressed and sad and anxious about the world, about my spectacular city without water and the parching drought on many continents, about Trump and Kim Jong-Un, and the boiling Middle East. I am going to try to be mindful for a bit, and resonate with the pain and distress of the world.
Who really knows what 2018 holds for us individually, and for the world collectively? Hopefully nothing disastrously will happen on a global scale. No meteors crashing into earth, no nuclear bombs, and no (new) wars whipped up by Trump in the Middle East, or Africa, or Korea, no more rhinos or elephant being killed. Undoubtedly politics will remain turbulent in South Africa as elsewhere, while Zuma and his Gupta comrades are skulking around like vultures and continue depriving the wretchedly poor from their pensions and other human rights.
Sometimes I believe it will be superb if something does go wrong on a colossal scale, where the whole world just needs to stop and pay attention. Remember that movie with Steve Carrell in Seeking a friend for the end of the world? I thought that was so cool because it sidestepped the traditional, happy conclusion where the world did not go bust and was saved again in the nick of time. In this story, the world actually did end, but at least some loved ones and friends were together.
If something does happen on a mammoth scale, I may have the feeling that at least it is more fair. Rich and poor, young and old, men and women, clever and stupid, pretty and not so pretty, all colors and genders and ages – all of us will be bound by the same very large catastrophe. I know, it’s a profoundly selfish thought and conjecture – to want all of us to feel equally worried and sad and scared. No money or brains or positions or addresses or bank accounts or healthy bodies could save anyone anymore in such a scenario.
Until that happens, have a mindful 2018. (Whatever that means, bitch.)