The anniversary of mindful Karen

This week marks the five year anniversary of my “Smug in the now“- post.

Back in 2015 I made a list of things that bothered me about the stereotypical mindful, vegetarian, yoga-practicing, gluten-fearing, urban-dwelling individual (often female, but not exclusively).

I guess today, we would refer to such a person as the yoga edition of barbie-doll Karen.

At the time, I felt I was surrounded by this type of people, and they annoyed the hell out of me. From my point of view they were stressed out hypocrites, tip-toeing their way around their looming burn-out, telling me to relax…

On a sidenote, I just found out the pejorative ‘Karen’ has its own wikipedia page. That is so awesome. Thank you internets.

How did Karen get me so worked up in 2015?

The (shortish version) of my list of objections to mindful Karen back in 2015 was as follows:

1) When she starts applying her ‘wisdom’ on others, she is not only annoying but oftentimes also wrong.
2) Her uninvited ‘health tips’ are counterproductive (and again, annoying, which is bad for my bowels).
3) Quoting an exotic luminary does not make her sound wise, but kind of pathetic, especially when applied as a conversation stopper.
4) It is always a sad day when a high-quality sarcastic retort gets dissected, but mindful Karen can’t help but try to find the deeper meaning behind simple statements, killing everybody’s buzz.
5) Karen is fooling herself by putting a lot of energy into avoiding ‘bad vibes’, but is really missing out on life by doing so.
6) Eliminating fiery emotions makes life colorless, lukewarm and passionless.

Looking back

A fact that I may not have expressed specifically enough in the first point in the original post is that the mindfulness lessons Karen learned are really only meant to be applied on her own inner self. The minute she tries to change other people is the second she stops being mindful all together and therefore has zero credibility on the matter.

As far as my food habits are concerned I think I have evolved. I have become more conscious of what I eat, not only for my own health but also for the well being of other beings and the environment in general. I’m sure the people I was directing my angry words at in 2015 were not all full of shit (no pun intended). However, I do think I needed to move away from that toxic group of hangry gluten-phobes to be able to make a change myself.

The sixth point should probably not really have been part of the list. It is not a point that describes yoga-Karen per se. More than anything, it is the conclusion of why I felt threatened by the ideas of mindfulness, or what I associated it with.

My hardheadedness and tendency to be blunt are traits of mine that I have a complicated relationship with. They are strengths as well as weaknesses. I guess my fear was (and probably still is) that the ‘luke warm’ bath of mindfulness would erase that part of my identity, taking away my uniqueness.

Embracing my inner Karen

Today, I am much better capable of applauding every effort somebody puts into becoming a better, healthier and more stable person. I can sympathize with the struggle that goes with that and understand they may not get it right straight away.

That, in their enthusiasm, they can’t help but project their problems and accompanying labels and lessons on others, is OK.

I have become better at controlling my impulse to snap back at people giving me well-meant advice. I can see their good intentions before condemning them for being wrong or pushy (which I still think they are, every now and then).

An additional thought that may be important to include is that most of my friends are yoga Karens. Ugh…. Did I really just use that argument……? Yes I did…

I realize everything I just typed sounds awfully condescending.

For the sake of honesty I will not rephrase. But I will try to save this sinking ship by patching it up with some additional thoughts…

Because who is that person writing a lifetip on her blog every month? ME!

Who frowns at the people buying bread rolls at the super market without bringing their own reusable bag? ME!

Who asked the neighbor to refrain from spraying pesticides on his roses in his own garden? ME!

I could go on with this list for a while longer, but you get the point; I can’t help but tell others how to live their lives and frequently point out why their actions are some sort of ‘wrong’.

Ergo, I am no better than then people I was aiming my poisoned arrows at in the past and whom I can’t help but talk about condescendingly, even now.

I am Karen. There I said it.

Lifetip 7: Embrace doubt

This post is about doubt, about truth, about facts and our reliance on them.

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

One of my favorite books of all times is Life of Pi, which is basically 400 pages of inner musings of a very contemplative kid.

It is a story about a boy surviving a shipwreck and dealing with his trauma by befriending it. Pi’s inquisitive nature and innocent mind investigate religion in a such an open-minded way, that it opened my mind towards the spiritual realm more than any cleric ever could.

During a conversation Pi had with a fervent atheist, he came to the conclusion that this conviction was not for him, but he did respect the thought process behind it. He understood that atheists were thinkers as well, which was something he could appreciate. He concluded that agnostics were the ones furthest away from the truth, as they accepted the idea that anything could be possible, while at the same time doubting everything. He said:

It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

Even though this is one of my favorite quotes from the book, I will be making a case for doubt as a philosophy.

Uncertainty is the only truth

These are insecure times. Somehow though, this is not reflected by what we see and hear in the media. People with strong opinions debate each other, the one more certain about their point of view than the other.

In the current state of the world, experts are mocked for changing their views on matters such as climate change or the way viruses spread. Yet, it is the ones that claim to know precisely what is going on and what we should do that we should be watching with suspicion.

If you really want to be right, be prepared to admit some things are simply not known or clear. Doubt and nuance are key, yet these properties are not welcome guests at talk show tables.

Mark Rutte

Our own prime minister admitted that during the peak of the COVID-19-crisis he was making decisions for our country based on whiffs of evidence and in some cases deciding what the course would be only minutes before the press conference. There were no clear facts, only ideas. I definitely don’t envy him for having to govern under such circumstances.

I praise him for admitting that he had no certainty to build on.

Subsequently though, as Dutch citizens, we must accept the idea that the prime minister may have flipped a coin to draw the lock down road map, but we need to follow it nonetheless. His doubts may not be reflected in our actions.

The appeal of misinformation

Sadly, US citizens do not have a leader that gives them a clear path to follow. This is not just tragic for the American people themselves, but also for the rest of the world. Just like it gives a kid confidence to compare notes with the classmate with the best grades before a test, we have become accustomed to look at what the “land of the free” does, to see how our own course compares.

In fact, POTUS #45 does pretty much the exact opposite of what our prime minister does. Whereas the Dutch prime minister says much is uncertain he still tells us what our course of action is going to be. The US president says he reads everything and knows all, yet he gives the American people nothing to go on as far as a consistent plan is concerned. More even he contradicts himself on a daily (hourly basis) and spreads (and invents) misinformation on the go.

Fake news and disinformation create fearful people that crave for a simple answer on which they can build a simple truth. People prefer a solution in a happy meal package; not nutritious per se but cheap and easy to swallow. We must not give in to that.

Actual facts take a while to take form. Ideas that don’t rely on research can be up and ready pretty much immediately. When faced with a new situation, people need a frame of reference. Conspiracies and fabricated information find fertile ground in these moments, as scientific information will not yet be available in such an early stage.

Practice doubt

In order to become a doubter, you must:

  • ask questions
  • empathize with people that think differently
  • be brave enough to change your mind
  • accept that absolute facts are rare (if they exist at all)

Because the more we admit we don’t really know anything for certain the closer we will be getting to the truth. The humility we gain in the process could even turn out to have a positive side effect in other areas as well.

Dystopia

The letter D has brought me to Dystopia.

According to Wikipedia a “dystopia is a community or society that is undesirable or frightening. (…) Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, tyrannical governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society.”

A quick online search further shows that imagery associated with dystopian landscapes are often overly industrialized and polluted. I noticed many computer games these days are set in such a landscape.

My motivation for choosing this word as an inspiration for a blog post does not stem from a conviction that my life or surroundings are dystopian right now. On the contrary, I see a lot to be hopeful for.

Despite my optimistic outlook on things, I do feel that many of the ingredients to plunge into something terribly horribly nasty are present as well.

There is a reason the series Black Mirror was such a success. Each episode tells a story based on an exaggerated and uncomfortable aspect of modern day life. It is an unbingeable series for me, because so much of it feels just a tad too familiar. I guess that is why it is called Black Mirror and not Black Window.

The other day my boyfriend said that he wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the near future reality would ‘split’. He didn’t mean we would be entering into a parallel universe or something star trekky like that. What he meant, was that there would be a rift in society, where different groups live by different sets of facts (and therefore different realities).

It’s a scary idea but I do actually catch his drift. People are choosing to believe such silly (untrue) things, and they in turn think I am crazy for believing what I do.

This image of two people debating what number they see, is often used to explain how two people can be right or at least believe to be. It’s a metaphor for people being convinced of different things, based on their point of view.

Still….

Somebody put that number there and that person meant it to be a six or a nine. Communication can solve the mystery. Just find the guy that chalked that numeral there and ask him what the message was he was trying to bring across. And once the number-creator has let us know he wants six loafs of bread, not nine, there is no need to continue debating what the number looks like. It’s a six. Period.

It is impossible to have a conversation about things if you can not agree on the most basic principles. When communication is no longer possible, anarchy awaits.

I remember how my punk and goth classmates used to talk about anarchy as if it was something the world needed. I never understood what they meant, as I believed anarchy and chaos were pretty much the same thing. And who wants to live in a constant state of chaos? This video helped me understand anarchy’s charm a bit better:

Nobody wants hate to prevail over love. Nobody wants to make decisions out of fear. Nobody wants to distrust their neighbor.

Lawlessness and violence are not ingredients for anybody’s utopia, I don’t think. People only want to get rid of laws if they feel those laws are corrupt or unfair. Violence is only a means to bring a process of change in motion, not a goal. People that thrive for violence just for the sake of violence are psychopaths, and I choose to believe those are actually quite rare.

There are moments when I feel there is a bigger power pushing us towards the cliff, like in that horribly disturbing (but kind of catchy) song by Stromae (who felt it was fitting to include an image of Obama in his music video in 2015 to depict people being eaten up alive by the Twitter-demon… man… that hurts even more in hindsight…):

But in the end, I think there is no architect behind any of this.

This current state of affairs has been constructed thoughtlessly by many individuals, all acting selfishly but without a higher purpose. Most people do not base their day-to-day choices on a future plan or any bigger picture. They just react to what is straight in front of them.

And I think that is how I would sum up the current state of the world. It is nobody’s fault. Everybody is a victim of an involuntary structure that forms them and they it.

We all agree it’s horrible but the consensus is that “it is what it is”. We learn to work with this system, even though we don’t want it. We fortify it by basing our laws on the premises of its faults. Many people have convinced themselves that we can’t change it until we have found who is responsible.

The winds are changing though. As I said in the beginning, I am feeling hopeful. More and more people are learning to vocalize their feelings and needs. We are starting to see how society is falling short. “It is what it is” is no longer an acceptable explanation.

If there were a way to achieve true and positive change while bypassing the anarchy-fase, that would be awesome. If keeping the peace means leaving everything the way it is, then bring the chaos, by all means!


This dedication to Freedom is a contribution for my own personal A-to-Z challenge, which I will be adding to once a month. Alphabet so far: