Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I found Alison Clement’s “Suzy Joins the Sex Club” [July 1994] mostly appalling. I’ve had many of the same sexual feelings that the character Suzy has, but I’m not thirty-eight, or married with children. I’m a twenty-year-old lesbian who is proud of her sexuality and sensuality.
The story degrades women. The main character appears strong and independent, yet in the end she yields to her husband, repressing her sexual energy.
When people (usually women) are having fun or expressing themselves more than usual, others (mainly men) say they are crazy. So Suzy had a run-in with the “sex club.” The reader assumes she’s now recovering in the mental hospital or sitting in her wicker chair doing needlepoint, waiting for her husband to come home so she can serve him.
Just think — it was a woman who wrote this. That doesn’t make me feel any better.
Dan Coleman [“The Danger of Being Environmentally Correct,”July 1994] says that simply buying environmentally safe products and organizing boycotts won’t change corporate behavior. Sadly, this is true. But his solution — to become more involved in the democratic process and the production of consumer goods — fails to mention another critical component: education.
By supporting environmental-education initiatives in our communities, we can raise children who will grow up with love and respect for the earth and will base their decisions on that education.
It may seem difficult to get involved with production at a local corporation or to circulate petitions, but it may not be so difficult to take your child on a nature walk, or to the recycling center, or to the library to check out a book on the rain forest. It is in our hands to educate the future corporate decision makers right now.
I teach environmental education for a recycling center, and I am constantly urging people to take personal responsibility for their resource consumption and waste making, but that doesn’t mean I believe that consumers drive production. Clearly, profits drive production and consumers are only considered when it’s time to market the product. As Dan Coleman indicates, supermarkets purport to offer a wide range of choices, but in fact offer very few. Thankfully, there are still some options. For instance, forget Peter Pan peanut butter. Go to your neighborhood co-op or health-food store, glass jar in hand, and make your own peanut butter.
Before supermarkets, people ate locally produced food. After the arrival of supermarkets, we thought we’d been given greater freedom — all those brands of cereal and potato chips! Truth is, we were trapped into a system that has put us at the mercy of corporate whims.
I don’t know about hundredth monkeys, but I know I don’t care how Peter Pan packs its peanut butter because I don’t buy it anymore. Truth is, I rarely go to the supermarket at all these days. There’s nothing there I really need.
Coreen Walsh is correct to stress the importance of environmental education for our children. Unfortunately, tomorrow’s environmentalists, like today’s, will find themselves with minimal political power and in service to an economy that is fundamentally anti-ecological. My book, Ecopolitics, emphasizes the social, political, and economic structures behind the environmental crisis.
I assure Mary Siler Anderson that I, too, grind my own peanut butter at the neighborhood co-op. Unfortunately, many neighborhoods lack any alternative to chain supermarkets. Economic alternatives are the foundation for ecological living.
Andrew Weil [“Why We Are All Addicted,” July 1994] misses the point when he defines addiction as a “craving for something other than self.” He forgets that we are by nature dependent on many outside sources for comfort and survival: air, water, food, touch, and emotional contact, for example. In fact, we exist in a state of interdependence. As Alan Watts said, there is no separate honeybee and flower; each is an aspect of a unified system.
Addiction is not the need for something outside ourselves; such is the condition of life. Rather, it is the compulsive attachment to fullness, a continuous attempt to fill the empty space within. Our task as self-reflective beings is to learn to negotiate the ever shifting flow of experience that defines life. This means fully accepting our basic emptiness, and not valuing satiation over hunger.
From this standpoint, addiction can be seen as a primary occupational hazard of embodied existence.
As someone who has attended many twelve-step meetings over the last seven years, I have experience with addiction. Andrew Weil points out that people use secondary, less-destructive addictions to replace primary addictions. For example, he says it is better to be addicted to an AA program than to alcohol. He fails to acknowledge healthy dependencies, such as someone being addicted to love (not romance) or truth. I consider these dependencies wonderful.
I may be addicted to meetings, but I don’t think so. I do know that I need them, however. I call meetings my home because I find in them a resolution to the question of being human, a satisfying counterpoint to the craving Weil describes.
Another strategy for dealing with the ubiquitous emptiness is to face God and ask for help. It is my experience that we must continue to go back to the Great Source for well-being. Weil has only described the half of the story where we are emptied.
It seems extreme and a little irresponsible for Andrew Weil to deny that alcohol addiction is “fundamentally worse” than coffee addiction. In our society, they are not comparable; alcohol is more destructive by far.
Also, as a mathematician, I think Weil is not fair to cosmologist Stephen Hawking. I agree that Hawking comes off as being a little arrogant in his book A Brief History of Time, but his arrogance is confined to physics. The “theory of everything” he refers to simply means a unified theory of the forces of nature and the elementary particles. No sane person would attempt to explain consciousness, or even a haiku, using physics. Weil objects, “But what about before the big bang?” In Hawking’s theory, time is not linear, but spatial and cyclic: there is simply no “before” on a circle. The event called the big bang is a locus on a multidimensional object called the universe. There is no originator or prime mover. Asking “why was there a big bang?” is akin to asking why things are red. Now that’s a question for mystics and not for mathematicians.
Apparently Andrew Weil’s work with chemical addiction has made him addicted to perceiving all human endeavors in terms of his specialty.
He can think of only two choices for the “victim” of addictive behavior: shifting the addiction to less harmful forms or getting at the root of the craving. Personally, I prefer Freud’s idea of sublimation into creative activity.
I sought in vain in Weil’s piece for any reference to or acknowledgment of passion. Thank God there were no therapists around in the days of Beethoven and the thousands of other artists whose pathologies created our cultural heritage.
As for Weil’s cosmological questions, my favorite answer is still the ancient metaphor in the master-student dialogue:
“What holds up the universe, master?”
“It all rests on a giant elephant.”
“And what does the elephant stand on?”
“And what does that elephant stand on?”
“Another elephant. You don’t understand, my son, it’s elephants all the way down.”
I couldn’t agree more that “addiction can be seen as a primary occupational hazard of embodied existence.” That was the point of my article.
“Healthy dependencies” is a contradiction in terms. People may pursue or devote themselves to love and truth, but they become dependent on (and addicted to) romance.
As a medical phenomenon, most — not all — cases of alcohol addiction are worse than most — not all — cases of coffee addiction. But from a spiritual point of view, I consider them equivalent. A great many persons who think themselves sane are at this moment working to explain consciousness in physical models, and they are doing so with the same kind of arrogance I find in Hawking’s writings.
Freud’s view of sublimation concerned neurotic conflict, not addictive behavior. There is a striking correlation between addiction and creativity; many of our most creative writers, musicians, and artists have also been addicted to mind-altering substances or destructive behavior. And in the version of the dialogue I’ve heard, it’s turtles all the way down. Somehow turtles seem a more appropriate universal foundation.
I like to dabble in truth. I once chased after an Indian guru. Then I became a minister. Now I dabble daily in the lives of others. Occasionally, amidst immense confusion, I run across a nugget of gold. Like when I read Michael Ventura’s essay “An Inventory of Timelessness” [July 1994]. It knocked my socks off. It set me dancing in a field of moss and singing on the mountaintops. Thanks for printing it.
We received many letters in response to Stephan Cooter’s complaint [Correspondence, July 1994]. Most of them upbraided Dr. Cooter for his irate tone and indelicate language; Lisa Stopoulos-Alexander of Chicago said that William Faulkner would never have stooped so low. But Bob Wetmore of Oakland, California, had a different interpretation: “Stephan Cooter, Ph.D. , is in reality a high Zen priest posing as a frustrated auteur. His letter provided great mirth. We need to hear more from Dr. Cooter!”