By Celia Coates
The computer problem that kept me from publishing all of last week’s post may have been another example of “just the right wrong thing” – one of my favorite ideas. This was to have been the first line:
I wish I could write this post without sounding preachy or crabby but I probably can’t, so I’ll just go ahead with the point I want to make: the words we use matter!
The cancellation gave me time to remember that being “preachy” and “crabby” can come from a combination of feeling angry and helpless. Often when I feel that irritable mix, I over-focus on what’s causing my discomfort and begin ranting. Unconsciously I look for who or what is to blame and then project the problem onto a source outside myself. I have the common, empty belief that I can change “them” or “that.” Or, at least, I can start an argument. When that’s my approach I feel less powerless – briefly. That’s just what many of us do. Last week I was really annoyed about some television ads. Then, I ended up struggling with an uncontrollable computer program and the end result was complete frustration. I had to let go. I had to give up.
Then, many hours later, I remembered an old saying:
“Whatever gets your attention, gets you.”
I was caught up in preachy crabbiness. I was helplessly angry about how advertisers usurp sacred words, ideas, and images to add significance to what they want us to buy. I decided to refocus and rewrite the post. Here it is, beginning again with Wordsworth (sorry about the corny pun for a title), but with the real point: we are in charge of what gets our attention.
Some collections of words are beautiful and meaningful:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home
This is just part of Wordsworth’s reflection on our glorious awareness of the world around us. As we move into adulthood we may lose touch with “our life’s star” – the soul and our in-born sense of beauty, joy, and the divine. But we can regain it.
I’ve been concerned for a while about the words we use: it’s a long way from Wordsworth’s “soul” to the name for an inexpensive car – the KIA Soul. Why did a corporation name a vehicle soul? There’s more. It’s not just words that are re-purposed, taken from the sacred and turned to commercial use. Advertisers also make use of ancient practices to catch our attention and elevate the presentation of their products. Here’s one that I think was part of a promotion for a credit card, one in which a woman sitting on a meditation cushion says,
I visualize travel rewards,
I receive travel rewards.
Then – I feel real discomfort each time I see the ad in which a pricey SUV climbs up and over the last of the 999 steps that are part of a stunningly beautiful UNICEF World Heritage Site in China. It’s an ancient sacred place named Heaven’s Gate. A fancy car transports us to Heaven? (I’m still not completely free of crabbiness.)
In the Tianmen National Forest Park there’s a mountain that holds what was once a vast cave. It collapsed in 263 AD and it became the opening you can see in the image that accompanies this post. (www.WINNpost.org) Tianmen is the highest peak in the mountains near Zhangjiajie City and is regarded as the “soul” of this beautiful area. A tourist guide writes that long ago, “When the mountain suddenly opened like a giant door it was considered an auspicious sign.”
In China the number 9 is a lucky number and borrows meaning from a word that it sounds like, the word for “everlasting.” Multiples of 9 are considered even more significant: in some texts 999 means “infinitely large” or “the infinite.” Those steps were built to lead us up towards the Infinite. The brand of the pricey SUV declares that it is “Above and Beyond.” The sublime aspect of our existence has nothing to do with the all-too-human need to climb to the top and dominate everything. What is truly “above and beyond” is not triumphantly material and has nothing to do with power and status.
Advertisers are adept at manipulating our attention – they have to be. These days we’re supposed to buy a lot of stuff. Catchy words and slick images stream in front of us to persuade us that having the right possessions will lead to living the good life. There’s a financial interest in taking sacred words, ideas, images, rituals, and practices that have profound significance and attaching them to a particular brand. There’s no point in my blaming the advertisers who are only being true to the idea that the business of America is business. There is nothing wrong with that, but I need to clear my own mind and fill my attention with what I believe matters most about being human.
Because I was angry about what advertisers have been doing, I wanted to find out more about Heaven’s Gate. Although the search landed first on the advertiser’s material, there was also a gift – I learned what the site was really about. Now in my own mind I see the 999 steps as a way of climbing through difficulty with discipline to meet the divine. I like paying attention to that ancient wisdom.