Fall 2008

Dear Catherine,
I live in Oregon and was raised in a family with progressive values. We were into recycling and green philosophy long before it became fashionable, and my dad always taught us to live in a way that considered sustainability as the primary goal. My problem is that since I have been earning my own money, I find that I am sort of addicted to stuff. I like new things better than repairing old things. I have way more than I need. I like to have the latest version of all my technology. And my car is not green-friendly, but I love it. I can feel my parents’ disapproval of me (and even I sort of disapprove of my way as well), but I don’t want to give up any of my toys or my new way of life. Plus, the girls I go out with seem to like my way better as well. Do you think I should just blow off what my parents think?
Eco-incorrect,
Portland

Dear Eco-incorrect,
Sometimes when our parents have instilled strong philosophical values, we have to rebel against those values at the first opportunity. This may be a phase you pass through on your way to finding the appropriate balance in your lifestyle. You may come to an equilibrium that does not feel deprived in cutting back your current use of resources and is in more harmony with the ecological considerations that you value, not out of guilt or parental pressure but out of clear seeing. When your own inner values are aligned with your actions, you won’t worry about others’ approval or disapproval of what you are doing. The only person you have to please on that score is you. But I sense you are not entirely comfortable with your current level of consumption. And incidentally, there are plenty of girls who like green-friendly cars.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
By nature I don’t seem to be predisposed to experiencing happiness. Does it matter if we’re happy? What importance does it have? I am not sure nature intended us to be happy, and I wonder if the very idea of being happy puts an unrealistic pressure on us. The constitutional idea that we have the right to pursue happiness indicates that it is out there for every one of us if only we would try hard enough to find it. But what if happiness is not really in one’s nature, as I feel is true in my case, and no amount of trying is going to change that. I am now nearly 70 years old. I am not depressed, but it has been a lifelong experience of non-happiness.
NM,
Seattle, WA

Dear NM,
Your letter focused mostly on what you are not feeling; i.e., you are not feeling happiness and you are not depressed. You didn’t describe the state of mind or being that you are feeling, such as peace, for instance. If you are at peace with not feeling whatever it is that you imagine happiness to be, that is actually a form of happiness. It may seem less exciting, but I would propose that peace is not a lesser happiness. It is true that perhaps nature itself does not have a lot of use for our being happy. Evolution needed us to be restless and on the hunt. Yet we can override our natural impulses and tendencies by re-directing our awareness into the calm experience of simply being, despite whatever else is arising in that same field of awareness. My recommendation to you is to let go of the notion of happiness and incline your mind to accept yourself as you are– without bells and whistles, but with a great deal of peace.
Catherine

Dear Catherine,
I recently posted myself on an internet dating site. I told my real age of 57 and, as you can imagine, I had hardly any responses. However, one guy, who told his real age as well (at 64) wrote to me, and we have now been out to lunch and coffee a few times. He is an accomplished person, a good conversationalist, an outdoorsman, and if I would have put all my desires onto a list, he would be a close fit. The problem is that I am not that attracted to him physically. I don’t know if it is due to my age (those diminishing hormones!) or what, but I just don’t want any physical involvement with him. There is nothing wrong with him. I worry that the problem is me, and I wonder if I am destined to be alone.
RP,
San Rafael, CA

Dear RP,
If you are destined to be alone, it will be by your own choice, so take heart in that. You are not forced to be physical with someone if you don’t feel like it. That, in itself, is a privilege that many women the world over do not have. If you’re not attracted to this man for whatever the reason (diminishing hormones or not), then rest in your own majesty of aloneness unless or until there is a change in your circumstances that has you in partnership or in community or exiting this world. If you were more afraid of aloneness than of being physical with someone who didn’t turn you on, perhaps you would have gone for the relationship. That doesn’t seem to be your choice, so relax in the dignity of the path you have chosen, and let it unfold as it will.
Catherine