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Seeking Peace of Mind Amidst Insecurity

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My experience these days has led me to a new respect for the path of the monk and for the societies that afford respect to that path.

I've long been aware of the importance for my peace of mind of what I call "my personal empire."  By that I mean the various little ways I've set up my life to make me feel secure.  I've got my family and my house and the things in it I use.  I've got food in the pantry and in the fridge.  I've got financial resources I've managed to husband over the years and have stashed away in various holdings around the world.  I've got my bike and my car to get me places.

When all my little empire is in order, I feel secure.  It's a nice feeling.  In the evening, sitting with my nightly bowl of brown rice and dried fruits and nuts, reading a book, with my sweet wife on the other end of the sofa reading hers, ensconced in my orderly empire, I wish only that we can stay ever thus, that fifteen years from now we'll still have the means to fill the bowl with rice and nuts and pay for the electricity that lights our reading lamps.

I don't like the feeling I get when some part of it breaks down.  If my computer won't boot up, if the VCR on which I tape my nightly COUNTDOWN goes kablooey, if I run out of onions or oatmeal or the makings of hummus, if a pipe starts leaking, my life doesn't feel so solid.  I get an anxious feeling that headquarters someplace near where my throat borders on my chest.

Lately, my empire hasn't been doing well at all.

For one thing --a problem in which I have a whole lot of company-- there's been the precipitous decline in financial markets around the world.  Every day, almost, the numbers by which I gauge my ability to maintain our relatively frugal life-style for our remaining years get smaller.  A sinking feeling accompanies those sinking market values.

The fate of my savings has always been a point of vulnerability for me, given my choice throughout most of my adult life to do the work I think I <em>should</em> rather than the work that will be best rewarded.  These past four years of pursuing my NoneSoBlind mission --working with no pay-- is a continuation of a life-long pattern of putting a priority on following a calling rather than making a living.

So I've developed financial habits in the mode of a camel: expecting long stretches of desert in the path ahead, I put my resources into developing a hump to sustain me in lean times.  When the fat of my hump shrinks from the decline of financial markets, I look at the desert ahead with increased anxiety.

Nonetheless, as I said, I'm hardly alone here:  millions of others around the nation, and around the globe, are experiencing a similar anxiety.

In addition to the widely shared pain of falling markets, however, my empire has some sources of deterioration more specific to our situation.

To begin with, we're moving soon.  (See "Two Paths Converge on the Way to the Sacred: My Wife, April, on Two Big Life Changes," at .)  That by itself is unsettling.  Literally.  Just the process of packing up all our worldly goods, knowing that where we are now is not where we soon will be, knowing that where we're going is going to take a lot of work to make the place into the home we want-- that already puts a strain on an imperial power such as my security-loving self.

On top of that, we've found ourselves caught up in another well-known disaster:  the collapse of the housing market.  When we made our decision to move, we were given to understand that our local market in Albuquerque had largely escaped the housing plague that has swept much of the nation.  Inventory and selling times had increased somewhat, we were told, but values had not come down.  We thought we were living a charmed life:  sell in a month or two, and take off for our mountain hideaway with some increased equity to show for our six years of a good life (other than the dark shadow of Bushite fascism) in New Mexico.

The charm ran out.  The fleas carrying the Black Death of a plagued housing market infiltrated our area around the time we went onto the market.  The distant disease has struck home.

Here we are now, two and a half months later, and we've worked really hard to achieve nothing.  Daily, we work on our house to get it so that --if a realtor calls-- we're within our Half Hour Drill of making the place look as much like a picture from Better Homes and Gardens as we know how to get it.  Yet we remain at square one, forced now to contemplate the possibility that we'll have to be carrying this house from our "old life" even as we begin our "new life" in the mountains.

The barbarian Goths and Vandals seem to be massing on the borders of my empire.  

My finding it harder than usual to feel safe and comfortable with my empire in this disorder has got me thinking about the spiritual challenge this situation represents.  Is there some place inside myself that I can settle into, I wonder, where I'm fine, despite the disrepair of those structures I usually rely upon for my security?

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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