The insatiable American

Updated: February 27, 2009 - 4:24 pm

I detested what I read and saw of "The Secret" because, for all its purported philosophical teachings, it was, in the end, another slick self-help guide to materialism and getting ahead. This winter I’ve returned to the masters on the subject of inner peace, including Joseph Campbell, who talks about how all desire is a reaction to mortality, and Buddha, who tells the tale of all the silly monkeys jumping from one berry tree to another, constantly in search of bigger, juicer berries.

I’m thinking about all this in the context of the Obama bailout and the woman who had eight babies via in vitro fertilization, both of which are decidedly American parables: On a purely aesthetic basis, the specter of mountains of money being shoveled into a bottomless pit of debt and the tale of a woman so lonely she tried to fill it with a mountain of her own flesh says something deep and disturbing about us all.

It’s no secret that America has a hole in its soul, but rarely has it been as obvious as it is at the moment. As everyone scales back and reprioritizes, we’re finding out what we’re made of, and we’re finding out what we can get along without. Turns out that’s quite a bit, unless you’re stuck in 2008 like some "rich lady who’s crying over luxury’s disappointments" (Billy Bragg), or, worse, someone who has never learned to talk and listen to themselves.

As Americans, we’re born to run and so unsatisfied and constantly striving for more, bigger, better freedoms. I saw one interview with the mega-mother, Nayda Suleman, who said she wanted a big family because she was an only child and always wanted that close bond of kin. Her loneliness bled out of the TV screen, and when I mentioned this to a young mother friend of mine, she said, "Now she’s in a whole other kind of loneliness."

Meaning, of course, that even when you’re surrounded by loved ones, you can feel utterly alone. Which is only to say that loneliness is a part of life, and that not even the people closest to you can make you feel whole. Only you — not the mall or multiplex — can do that.

So to get off the stimuli treadmill, what I do is I get quiet. I need to do internal work, as the shrinks say, and pray, as the spiritualists say. I need to breathe, and meditate, and spend some quiet time alone so I can hear myself think, feel, and be. It’s that simple, and it remains the best, cheapest entertainment option I know: The new happy hour.

Contributing writer Jim Walsh also writes for the Southwest Journal.