The older I get, the less time I find I have for abstractions.
As a kid and teenager, I read all sorts of books on ghosts, UFOs, aliens, ESP and such. It was the late 80s and early 90s, the era of “The X Files”, and the widespread New Age online culture didn’t yet have the garden of the Internet in which to take root, so such interests were mostly solo. A boring lunch break in Grade 9 saw me pick up a copy of “The Celestine Prophecy” at the school library, which then started me on personal development and New Thought stuff.
Then, when I got older, graduated university, started out on my career search, I delved deeply — much more so — into personal development. Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, all this “prosperity gospel” stuff, “The Secret”, Napoleon Hill, etc.. That, in turn, led to training programs from Bob Proctor, Landmark, and other seminar companies.
Then, in the fall of 2015, I started having small scale nervous episodes, and in October 2016, I had a full fledged breakdown that I felt the need to keep low-key from my family and close friends while I quietly went on an SSRI for six months. It probably saved my life, but I had a lot of work to do to repair my brain.
In that healing and repair process, I saw that a big culprit was the very New Age thinking and ideas that had me deny the empirical realities of my own physical reality. I’ve since kept myself at arms length from them, if not outright set fire to all those old temples in my head.
As it would turn out, that was the right call, with the New Age and personal growth movements bearing a lot of responsibility for the proliferation of white supremacy, cultural appropriation, medical disinformation, and straight up nonsense. More numbers of people are actually less educated, less able to think critically, and more prone to violence thanks to the excesses of the “light and love” contingent.
Just prior to 2015, I was introduced to the work and language of Stephen Jenkinson, a farmer, musician, former palliative care counsellor, and author. He really bucked the trend of most of my seminar people and, if we’re being honest, was (and is) kind of a downer in that he doesn’t traffic in hope and positive thinking, but in “grown up acceptance” of the what’s so.
But Jenkinson’s language…oh man, he validated my intellect in a way that so many of my “school of hard knocks graduate” New Age teachers did not. His work have led me to others in the “bearded, hat-wearing, mythic storytelling” contingent, and while I’m wary to not repeat the mistakes of investing too much uncritical reverence in a particular set of teachings or approaches, I can’t deny that the combination of depth, useful intellect, and heartfelt feelings that focus my attention outside myself and towards community and planet speak to my spirit.
There’s value in being real, in respecting natural limits, in living where you are right now, within a few square kilometres of where you’re sitting. Of being more preoccupied with being valued and recognized by no more than 30 people that you can count as friends, family, and neighbours rather than focusing on becoming rich and famous and visibly “successful”.
There’s value in exploring the big questions as your own inquiry, possibly informed by other cultures, other teachings, other traditions, but primarily led by your own eyes, ears, heart, and brain. The spirits and forest gods that you catch glimpses of, but leave you wondering about whether or not they were spirits and gods or just a trick of the light.
These days, I couldn’t care less about what alien civilizations may or may not be around, whether or not ESP is real.
I’m no longer preoccupied with academic questions like “what is the meaning of life?” Those questions themselves have no meaning to me. I have little patience for simple solutions or useless, Sunday afternoon philosophical navel-gazing.
I’ve got outright contempt for the prosperity gospel, for “positive vibes only”, for the people who and ideologies that appropriate the term “freedom” as an excuse for bad behaviour, and for performative allyship. Increasingly, I’m angered to see the types of folks who used to tease me as a kid for the very cultural and racial qualities — the food, the beliefs, the styles — that they now not only embrace, but take for their own, without any memory of their past conduct.
What grips me is old, old, old wisdom, the stuff that predates complicated ideologies and systems of thought. The stuff that we used to share with each other around campfires in the wintry dark, huddled together as we were.
What grips me is wondering where the sand dunes that overlook the Dundas Valley came from? (My understanding is that there used to be a logging company up by the rail lines that shut down decades ago, but I want to confirm that).
What grips me is the way the folks with walkers all head out to the groceries and pharmacies the day before a snowstorm, knowing that it’s up to the landlords on the main streets to plow and that not all of them do, so for those without the privileges of a car or the advantages of mobility, you have to tune into the natural cycles around you, the weather forecasts.
What grips me is the way the sun now rises and sets over the same side of the escarpment in the winter, not quite east nor west.
What grips me is thinking that my body was born into a tropical climate with no possible way of knowing that it would be raised in the north within the first year of life, that really, I am the first carrier of these particular DNA strands since my ancestors in northern India to live in a place where it gets cold enough for water to freeze.
How can I spend my time writing volumes on the socioeconomics of Arcturans or spend my days figuring out which coffee napkin sketch would make for a great NFT, when faced with the wonderings of this body, this place, this time, this reality?
This local focus doesn’t cure my seasonal anxiety or depression, but it doesn’t pretend to, either. The localism and the old stuff help me see that maybe, outside of physiological causes, anxiety and depression may be completely appropriate responses to the greater times in which we live, same way that big land animals head for the hills hours before the tsunami wave hits.
The radical acceptance of immediate conditions without any notion of resistance, rebellion, or fighting for change it, combined with an earnest curiosity about what’s available through the senses and that heightened intuition, without reference to other corroborating sources nor any grandiose claims that this is how it is for everyone….well, this seems to me a good starting point for connection.
The setting sunlight lands with perfect delight on the rooftops of parked cars outside your window, if you’re willing to see it.
Jody Aberdeen is an enthusiast who is into a lot of different things that are hard to put in a single category, but “author”, “ghostwriter”, “mindset coach”, “podcaster”, “dog owner”, “plant guy”, “foodie”, and “professional dilettante” would be worthy candidates. He lives in Dundas, a reluctant subsidiary of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.