the tea of self-transcendence

There’s never a shortage of things to feel guilty about.

For example, I always thought tea bags were the most perfectly compostable waste product ever. Today I found out the average tea bag is actually sealed along the top with a tiny strip of plastic. So all this time I’ve been slinging them in the compost bin, thinking the worms and slugs were jumping all over them and loving it, when in actual fact they’ve been rubbing their snouty faces up against those strips of plastic and – I don’t know – grimacing?

And if I’m not feeling guilty about tea bags, and the hundred other ways, innocently or otherwise, I’m contributing to the destruction of the planet, it’s more immediately personal stuff, like – why do I still feel so directionless and unfulfilled?

One consolation, though: I’m not alone.

I saw an advert for a personal development seminar today. A famous life coach is bringing his message of self-improvement to a conference centre near here. The promo picture shows him up on stage, head thrown back, arms wide, fingers spread, conducting great currents of change through the wires of his cheek mic. The crowd are up on their chairs, of course, arms in the air, too, clams at high tide, opening up, filter-feeding on the nutrients flowing so fruitfully, aisles A thru’ P.

The thing that struck me most about the picture wasn’t so much the guy’s messianic display of certainty, or even a sense of the complex organisation behind him – a New Model Army of staging techs, transportation managers, merchandising and catering providers, PAs, marketeers, legal teams and accountancy firms. No – the thing that struck me most was the point of it all, the reason they were all there in that conference centre together, which was to answer two simple questions: Why do I feel like I do, and what can I do to feel better?

I remember an English teacher trying to explain to me what metonymy was. ‘It’s like when you say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ she said. ‘You’re using pen to represent writing and intellectual pursuits, and sword to represent war. So what you’re saying is that negotiating and debate and all those things, these are more effective at resolving disputes than clubbing it out with tanks and guns. But you’re saying it more concisely, more poetically. So it’ll have more impact. Hopefully.’

I wish I was still in touch with that English teacher. I could ask her if it would be an example of metonymy to say this life coach is a poster boy for the disaffected, and in that way sidle-up to the extent of the problem.

Come to think of it, maybe that’s just a metaphor. The point is, though, if it’s true I feel a little guilty for continually passing-up all these opportunities – the life coaches, psychotherapists, self-help books, religious groups and gurus and so on, all these invitations to engage with the problem in a particular way and experience a particular brand of salvation – it’s also true that my guilt is eased somewhat by seeing that I’m in the middle of a great, lost and malcontent crowd, looking around, standing on chairs, wondering what’s going on, and trying to figure out what the hell’s to be done about it.

Another cup of tea, for starters.