The Secret Seduction
"I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul." William Ernest Henley
(And yes, I was aware of the poem before it was used in a movie, thank you very much. Googling merely reminded me that Morgan Freeman quotes it at the film's end. Rather a neat way of wrapping up the dialogue without Mr. Eastwood having to come up with anything profound on his own. Not that I could have done any better.)
Does this notion of domination over destiny lead to cosmic levels of self-absorption, especially in artists? Do we need religion to keep us humble? I was both thrilled and horrified to hear about "The Secret", which is a delicious tome for narcissists. What better way for a narcissist to reaffirm his/her deserving of the high life than by continuing to believe that self-esteem manifests all that we desire, and that poor self-esteem and negative thinking will manifest all that we wish to avoid. Our lives are a self-fulfilling prophecy: losers will continue to lose and winners will continue to win.
This is a particularly appealing concept to my fellow Americans, relentless purveyors of optimism. I felt like a dark, twisted inner cynic until I moved to Britain; here in London I am constantly applauded for my sunny outlook, although roommates who have witnessed my kitchen meltdowns may beg to differ. Like a magnet, I am both drawn to and repelled by the exhortations of "The Secret" and other new-agey self-help philosophies. Part of me would love to believe in the vaguely-Humanist concept of being in charge of my life, relinquishing control to no one else, gods or men. And most of all, believing in my own sure-fire success. How can I hate on positive thinking, yo? Haters gonna hate, if you know your hip hop memes.
So I flirt with New Age positive thinking, which is all pilfered from ancient ideas anyway. I don't go to a church/temple/mosque, but I have regularly attended Yoga classes for more than 10 years; Yoga is often very "spiritual" in Los Angeles but terribly pragmatic here in London. And for all my wishy-washy agnosticism, I find that I miss the spiritual aspect of LA Yoga classes more than I thought I might. (And the London classes don't push me until I want to vomit, which means I'm not as easily toned.) As an artist, who has always believed that the creation (and celebration) of the Arts is one of the best ways to access the metaphysical and divine within us all, I appreciate the quest for transcendence, whether in a house of worship or on the page or in a concert hall or in a yoga studio. The gesture of "Namaste" at the end of a yoga class gives me a gentle reminder of the divine spark within all of us, even as I'm thinking about whether or not I should indulge in a post-class latte (an iced latte in LA, of course). In 3 days, I am actually heading to India, a place I have wanted to visit since I was a child and read "A Passage to India"(please don't be horrified; the politics of the British Empire were not the fault of E.M Forster). I can only hope that a week there will give me a tiny grasp of a country that seems to be a spiritual smorgasbord.
As a musician (and also adding "writer" to my inner and outer identity), I am cursed by interminable self-analysis. Have I been a good friend today? Have I accomplished something artistically? Have I actually made any money? Have I eaten too many cookies? The self-examination is endless; I was born this way (NOT a Lady Gaga reference - shudder) and a lifetime as an artist has only enhanced the inner triumphs and turmoils. But by believing and obsessing in my own fortunes, whether good or ill, I often worry that I am not living in the moment, rejoicing in the things I have. If my existence involves a constant assessment of how I can have more, do more, be more, perhaps I am blind to the current situations giving me pleasure. I was reminded of this when I received a long letter from an old friend who is going through unimaginable legal and personal hell, and yet sounded more positive than he had in years. In his situation, I fear I would lose all sense of joy and hope, and yet it appears that he is dealing with the most appallingly bad luck in a healthy way; his coping mechanisms apparently include meditation and the reading of Buddhist texts. His outlook has inspired me to privately commemorate all that is uplifting along my journeys, not because that will bring more good things into my life, but because there is no better way of combatting the approaching darkness than with memories of the sun.