New book by Philip Kenney

The Writer's Crucible Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity

Phil Kenney

Philip Kenney is a practicing psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon. He did his post-graduate work in British Object Relations at the Washington D.C. School of Psychiatry and has taught Self Psychology as part of his private practice. A long time meditator and poet, Mr. Kenney is the author of the novel, Radiance, and a collection of poetry, Where Roses Bloom. He strives to bring together the worlds of psychology, creativity and spirituality in his work and is the author of a new book on those subjects entitled, The Writer's Crucible: Meditations on Emotion, Being and Creativity.

Living To Be 101

March 24, 2015

Everyone has at least one thing in common: we are all aging. Even those adorable babies you see cradled in a backpack close to Mom or Dad’s chest are probably aging faster than any of us as biology races to make them fit for living in the world.

Yesterday I saw one of those beautiful babies on the cover of Time magazine. What a cutie. I couldn’t help but pick the little bundle up to stare at that open and beaming face, but then I read the caption and about dropped the poor baby onto the hard floor. This is what it said: “This baby could live to be 140 years old!” 

Really? One Hundred and Forty years? This is starting to sound Biblical. A real Social Security funds buster! Should we call these kids, “Generation Eternal?” I guess that’s a contradiction in terms, but what do you expect from human beings?

We embody more contradictions than can be counted, and yet seem to be driven by a compulsion to iron them out and present as a unified, species, together and in control of ourselves. Please. The great American cultural anthropologist and writer, Ernest Becker, would have had a good chuckle over that delusional project. He said of our contradictory nature, “We are Gods that shit.” I like that one.

At the thought of striving to reach 140, I think he would have shaken his head and mourned the consequences of a culture so bent on avoiding the reality of death. His classic work, The Denial of Death, analyzes the terror that is at the root of our predicament. The terror that motivates our species to push and push for more and more of that which will shield and distract us from this frightening and painful truth.

***

I think I was ten or twelve when I began thinking of living for a century. It was in my room in our home in Ohio, with my new transistor radio in hand. Man I loved that radio and listening to Bobby Rydell singing, “That Old Black Magic,” and Jerry Lee Lewis pounding out songs my parents believed were written by the devil on his flaming keyboard. Many nights I lay in bed and listened as the Cleveland Indians broke our hearts with another tough loss. But I was right there in the dugout with my guys, Minnie Minoso and Rocky Colavito.

And that was the magic. I was traveling, freed from the confines of our house, from the shell of Akron Ohio, from the constrictions of the Lutheran Church: unstuck in time, as Mr. Vonnegut said. I began to dream, and holding that beautiful black and gold space ship, not much bigger than a wallet, I dreamt of living to be 100 and all the changes in the world I would witness in that time. I had lived long enough to know that a whole lot had changed since the invention of cars, and the TV, but what would the world look like in a hundred years? What magic would I be holding in my hands in 2049?

As fate would have it, I am fortunate to have several centurions in my life. My father in law turned 101 on New Years Eve and our neighbors, Milton and Selma, still living in their house across the street, are 103 and 102. I really must do some research to see if they are the oldest living couple on the West Coast.

All three have led very active lives. Lori’s dad was a carpenter and still roofing and building houses when I met him at 80 years of age! He was still building bookshelves and stuff for his children when we celebrated his 100th birthday. In fact, he still gets on the riding lawnmower and motors down to the creek at the edge of his property. The kids aren’t delighted with this, but it is just his nature to keep working. Is that what it takes?

Milton and Selma were similarly active. Both were oncologists and Selma was one of the first women to receive an MD in New York early in the 20th century. She left medicine when she was in her 60’s to become a Jungian analyst and continued that work until well into her eighties. Both were politically active and, until recently, read and discussed politics with all the gusto you would expect from a New Yorker. One of the great thrills of my life was finding Selma reading my novel, Radiance, when I went to visit on her 100th birthday.

***

I’ve watched these people live their lives for the past fifteen years and a few simple things are obvious. If you want to live to be 100, follow these simple rules:

  1. Keep moving! Lori’s dad never went to the gym, but he was active in a hundred different ways. My neighbor Lois is 86 and until she broke her hip last September she was mowing her lawn and raking the leaves. Don’t hire a gardener!
  2. Have lots of heated political discussions. Milton and I never missed an opportunity to dissect the latest developments out of Washington. We exchanged books and engaged in bashing both political parties with gusto.
  3. Get rid of sugar and your sweet tooth. It is the killer drug.
  4. Throw in some yoga and walking. Meditation adds years!

Okay, there’s my recipe for longevity. Nothing to it. Can’t promise it will get you to 140, but it just might help you make it to triple figures.

***

That is, if you want to. I took care of my mother the last four years of her life and watched as her brain turned to cottage cheese, so I have my reservations about living a long, long time. What is it with people and the living forever thing? Is it as Ernest Becker said: are we terrified of logging out for good? Are people really so happy that they want to keep going no matter what?

It looks to me like another version of that ubiquitous and nasty four-letter word screaming from the four corners of America. What is that word? Are you ready? The word is MORE. Everybody wants more money, more coffee, dessert, sex – oh yeah, lots more of that, profit, insurance, security, clothes, cars, profit, adventures, thrills and, of course, years. Lots more years if you please.

One thing I know for sure is that when the more demon has me in its grip, appreciation of the moment goes out the window. I don’t taste my food, I worry constantly about money, and hunger for the next adventure moments after the last one has ended. In short, there is no peace and satisfaction lasts but a second.

I have an idea for a national mantra: ENOUGH. Sing it, shout it from rooftops, make big gold buttons to pin on your lapel: you are enough, I am enough…go tell it on the mountain! Enough, breathe it in, and release it to the world. This is enough, this moment, this life, no matter how long or short, this world, no matter how lovely and insane, this you and me, no matter how goofy and lost, no matter how brilliant and profound.

Enough comes from the old English, genog, and the German, genug. Try rolling that around your palette for a while. Say it silently for 60 seconds and see how you feel. Next time someone says, “Hey, how are you?” try saying, “Good Genug,” and you?

Some synonyms of enough: savor, appreciate, enjoy, content — words that make you stop, pause and take in the plentiful moment. Words that help you practice being satisfied.

***

I don’t disagree with Ernest Becker. And I whole-heartedly recommend reading The Denial of Death, just not on a sunny beach in July. It is a piece of work. However, I do think there is another way of looking at the quest for longer and longer life and the Faustian bargain for more.

Maybe the fear of dying is a symptom of having missed your life. All the hustle and bustle of chasing after this and that, all the helter-skelter movement trying to earn self worth by being busy and successful add up to speeding in the fast lane right past that which is most precious. Doing eclipses being, and no wonder we fear disappearing into that dark night.

And what about greed? It is tempting to think of our cultural mania as the worst manifestation of greed, which it surely is. And yet, greed is one of those religious, and moralizing descriptors, that leads us down a certain path to judgment day: greedy people are bad.

I think the more addiction is actually connected to a core feeling of insufficiency that western white people suffer from. Looking up at the stars and the Milky Way, it’s easy to understand feelings of smallness, inadequacy and terror. What a place to wake up in!

But the terrible feelings of insufficiency, the shameful sense of not being good enough that clings to the soul like a leech, has more to do with our ways of living and being right here on earth than it does with our relation to the cosmos. In fact, ironically, when I am connected with myself I can look up at the cosmos and not feel small and afraid. I feel awe, and little sense of an individual identity that could feel dwarfed and puny.

Feeling deficient, feeling that something is wrong with me, feeling never good enough, feeling that I have to earn love, that I have to be a superstar to be worthy and loveable, feeling that I have to conquer the world to compensate for being less than everyone else; these distressing states of mind have everything to do with what comes out as greed.

Our lust for more is in large part a reflection of feeling less than good enough inside. You could live to be 180 and it wouldn’t be enough if the name of the game is to have more and more stuff, experiences, accomplishments and all the rest. Speaking of rest, couldn’t the world use a good dose of that? How about more rest?

Enough.

Catch you in April, when Philz Blog wonders, Does the entire human race suffer from PTSD?

Namaste,

Phil

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response

  1. Lynda Bell says:

    I agree with you 100%. I appreciate that you brought this topic of ” enough” up. We need to stop feeling like we are on some kind of contest and feel content with what we have.
    Thank you Phil.
    Lynda

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