To Infinity & Beyond
I’m just not getting the whole edge of space thing. Every news station covered the last two flights live to great hoopla, as if we’ve never been to space before. Okay, two uber-rich guys found a new hobby, but I don’t get the point. We first went to space, not just the edge, over 50 years ago. And somewhere along the line, we decided it wasn’t worth our tax dollars to keep doing so and that was that. Until private industry figured out they could make a fortune by delivering more satellites into outer space and it became just another business investment to foster our dependence on telecommunications and spying on other countries.
I understand that these private ventures are advancing technology. Building rockets that actually return to earth intact versus blowing up in the skies or crash landing in the oceans seems like a good idea, but what is the end game? Do we want to terraform another planet? Is it just to create a new vacation adventure? I am definitely a why kind of person and I can’t figure out the why here.
I do find it interesting how widespread our fascination is with the rich and with celebrity, which is perhaps part of the hoopla around Bezos and Branson making themselves into astronauts. In between covering their antics, the news and social media have also been obsessed over the past few weeks with Brittany Spear’s legal battle over her conservatorship as well. I don’t understand why it’s even news or why we are so entrenched in a stranger’s mental health and legal battles, but it’s everywhere in cyberspace, along with live fans protesting on the streets.
I did some research to try to answer my why and was pretty disappointed with the results. We’re evidently obsessed with celebrities because we’re avoiding thinking about death or because we fantasize we can be like the celebrity or because we find pleasure in watching not only the rise of a person to fame, but also their inevitable fall or because we are seeking our own identity during troubling times or, well, never mind. The fact that there are so many theories as to why we are fascinated with fame tells me that there’s not really one evidence-based theory but a lot of conjecture and that doesn’t give me an answer to my why.
It does make me think that it’s wired in our brains and that neuroscience will probably come up with the answer some day. Perhaps we are attracted to the rich and famous because they are examples of not just surviving, but thriving and that’s something we are wired to be attracted to for our own existence. Or maybe we just need an endless supply of distraction so as not to have to deal with our own issues.
In approaching this phenomena from a mindful perspective, the problem is not really that we’re so attracted to the rich and famous, but that the distraction does prevent us from dealing with our own lives. I don’t believe I’ll ever be as rich as Bezos or Branson, so I don’t think I’m seeking survival-tips, but I have not always been immune to being distracted by famous people’s failures. I’m embarrassed at how much time I spent following the O.J. Simpson murder case, for example, or Princess Diana’s trials and tribulations leading up to her death. Maybe my wiring is a little faulty – I seem to be attracted to the dark side of fame.
That is actually one “why” I think I do understand. When famous people fail, it makes us feel better about our own failures. If someone like Bill and Melinda Gates, who seem to have everything, can’t make their marriage work, then we, as simple human beings with all kinds of real challenges can be forgiven for not being able to make ours work. If someone like Nicholas Cage, Curtis Jackson or Lisa Marie Presley can become broke or go bankrupt, who are we to be able to handle our comparatively meager finances better? If someone as esteemed as Bernie Madoff is actually a crook, our moral missteps aren’t really that bad.
Again, distractions or excuses not to focus on bettering ourselves, right? And what’s embedded in all of this is comparison, which is a form of judgment. We judge famous people very harshly. When they do well, we judge how they spend their money or how badly they behave in relationships or in public. We judge how they earn their money, be it by luck or nefarious activities or through inheritance, i.e., laziness. We judge those born with a silver spoon, even though most of us wish we had been, too.
But in reality, we judge ourselves harshly, too. Most of us are not famous or uber-wealthy and in a time where it seems just about anyone can be, if you believe social media, then we become self-critical and feel that we’re not living up to expectations.
But there’s a lot more to life than fame and fortune. And as mentioned, even reaching fame or fortune does not guarantee happiness. Actually, happiness is a fickle state, based on external events over which we frequently have no control. Maybe the key then is to go for contentment or joy instead. If we look inward and identify when we feel good and when we don’t, we might begin to see a pattern emerge that can help guide us on our path through life.
Being centered and aware allows us to enjoy much more of life and would probably go a long way to avoiding the pitfalls of fame should we ever achieve that lofty status. But even if we remain just ordinary humans, we can achieve a state of inner peace through mindfulness and meditation that allows us to succeed in our endeavors while building meaningful relationships and experiencing the full richness of life itself. And that’s a state of being that continues to grow with nurturing, making it a much more bankable trip than flying to the stratosphere.
The next time you catch yourself slipping into an unhealthy fascination with a celebrity, take a little pause, ask yourself why you’re spending your energy on that, and consider what you could spend your energy on instead to improve your own life or even someone else’s. We haven’t reached our full potential yet as a species and tapping into that, the deeper you waiting to emerge, is definitely a worthwhile venture. You may not become famous, but you’ll experience life in a much more meaningful way.
Until next time. We can live better lives and create a better world. All it takes to get started is a mindful moment.