Being human is messy

Bowl, Lombok Villa

Talking to my friend, Lesley, tonight at the bar at the end of a blank, empty lane where the door, when opened, beckons one inside to Freda’s, a bar on Regent Street with music, old timbers, raw old bricks and freshly opened oysters, and beans that’ve been kind of curdled, and much more, she said, “Being human is messy”.

I agreed.

Lesley meant ‘messy’, I think, as in ‘ungovernable’ or ‘uncontrollable’ or a place where we’re not really in control. Or, as the saying goes, “To make the Gods laugh, tell them your plans”

Lombok sunset, taken on the beach outside the villa

Yet these photos given to me this week by a friend I met in Fremantle, WA, Lisa who goes with her husband to Lombok several times a year show the other side of ‘messiness’ in our life; so I thought I’d share them.  They’re taken in and outside the villa I’ll be staying at from 30 August. They show simplicity.

Lesley’s right, I think.  Life just is . . .  ’messy’, like it or not.

And,  it’s interesting, when we seek to control or to head off or to avert ‘messiness’, to look at the choices different people make.  (The thought we can avoid messiness is silly; or as John Lennon puts it in his great song, Hey Jude, “. . . let it out, and let it in .. .”  A great song.)

Some choose to deal with the ‘messiness’ by being different, by being a seeker of things different.

Being a ‘seeker’ doesn’t let us be content with the ordinary or the status quo.  (Yes, I suppose that’s true: reflecting on that sentence that seems a fair summary of a ‘seeker’, yes?)

But can a ‘seeker’ be, in part or mostly, narcistic?

Attached to the act of being different can there be an underlying narcistic motivation?

To be noticed?  To be . . .  oh, heroic, or long-suffering, penniless, or whatever makes the seeker develop a sense of their own difference?

And do those who seek to avoid having a  ’messy’ life by choosing to be narcistic make their own and other’s lives more messier than need be?  Me, I’m wondering a lot about my own narcism these days.  What’s on your mind?

Now, there’s a good question.

May the sunsets and simple bowls be with us,






2 Responses to “Being human is messy”
  1. Chris says:

    .. “it’s interesting, when we seek to control .. or .. avert ‘messiness’, to look at .. (the) choices .. people make.” & “The thought we can avoid messiness is silly ..”

    You’re right, messiness is Nature’s Way. Contrary to being ‘perfectly balanced’, as we are repeatedly told in the glossy TV animal planet shows, Nature is a shotgun, throwing up multifarious options & testing what works in the prevailing biological context (often brutally – “red in tooth & claw”): things that don’t work under one set of circumstances may do well under others – like mammals, small & covert when dinosaurs ruled, but predominant once the meteor cleared the field. Natural selection can winnow the shotgun pellet field to intricately interconnected & finely tuned outcomes, but for each apparently finely tuned interaction, a multitude of rough & ready relationships, partially or poorly balanced, also exist, &, importantly, survives by hook or by crook (Ebola, a highly virulent virus that kills its’ hosts quickly – producing billions of infectious particles that afterwards apparently disappear, but somewhere remain viable for years between epidemics – nonetheless survives as well as a chronic virus like Herpes, which hides itself from its’ host’s immune system within nerve cells; which is to say, simply, that Nature has invented a multitude of ways to skin the proverbial cat!).

    Underpinning descriptions of ‘perfectly this or perfectly that’ lies the economist’s mis-conception of optimisation, once (& still in some circles) widely abused as a buzz word to imply carefully managed ‘perfection’ (ironically, much of what was once described as optimal is now recognised as emotional behavior rationalised after the fact – which is largely how the human brain actually works – emotion followed by self-serving rationalisation). An inverse rule probably applies – the more these buzz words are employed, the greater the disguise of irrational, unbalanced & imperfect processes.

    Of course, most natural relationships – imperfections included – are indeed incredible, marvelous, & complex (dare one say miraculous – just a word expressing wonder & awe that such & such a thing could exist; creating at once the imperative & vernacular of Gods), & it is counter-intuitive that such complexity could arise from simple rules of behaviour – between sparrows, molecules or nerve cells.

    This is why many tend towards supra-organismal explanations, to the idea of a flock or species as a single entity controlled by a wise leader emitting some magical vibration or clarion call that all follow ‘for the survival of the race’ or the ‘benefit of the species’. Yet it is demonstrably upon the individual that Natural Selection operates, & as the science shows, at the same level that organisms interact (swallows, schooling fish etc), notwithstanding the clear benefits of acting co-operatively, as evidenced by many social species, including we Homo’s, which do very poorly without the support of their social stuctures.

    Your reflections on narcissism suggest to me that you may be paying a price for ‘being different’, or feeling pressure from those who may have legitimate claims on your time, disagree with, or are inconvenienced by your choices or decisions. Narcissism is more than desiring attention though, it is a self-obsession producing serious dysfuntionality in individual choices & actions. And, yes, when you have responsibilities – to children, a partner, a community or society – that u may find inconvenient to meet & have perhaps been avoiding – it is easy to feel selfish, or narcissistic.

    This is the perpetual dilemma of life – to be satisfied as an individual whilst functioning responsibly within a family, community or society – & it is the organic underpinning of democracy, civilization & society. When institutions deny people the freedom to be individuals, they act against their own interests, as those disaffected individuals withdraw. Breakaways also occur when the whole is dominated by powerful subgroups, as injustice, resentment & withdrawal inevitably follow. The democratic model is a ‘community’ or ‘human development’ model, the latter the preferred paradigm now employed in efforts to aid the ‘developing world’, to describe human centered development models – those seeking to enhance human education, resilience, enjoyment of life etc, rather than the usual measures such as GDP, per capita income etc.

    I saw a story last night on the artist Margaret Ollie, about whom ‘messy’ would be a vast understatement! Her home/studio was like a bomb site, & she habitually worked on many paintings at the same time. She died working at 88, last year. Her power seems to have resided in a very clear idea of what she was trying to do, & a lucid recognition of the fact each attempt was just that, an attempt to reach a desired goal. By repeatedly & determinedly seeking to reach that goal, which undoubtedly evolved over time, she became highly proficient at what she chose to do. She had, when young, been very broad in her artistic scope, but at a point made a conscious decision to specialise in still life, since this was something that attracted her, & more interestingly, was practically & logistically easier, requiring a minimum of organisation to pursue – no need for models, fine weather, difficult sets etc.

    Her capacity to pursue what she wanted to achieve, apparently unperturbed & unafraid of the unholy mess around her, was a manifestation of a character untroubled by the need for control. Most are less fortunate, & struggle to achieve control, wasting finite energy on guilt, regret & believing with indelible certainty that if only they could gain control fear would subside; but it never does.

    Such things are genetic (apparently, like the propensity to religion), & each must accept limits to what we can change about ourselves, & to what beyond ourselves we can control! And history, democracy, mess & clutter, all would – if we would listen – teach us that it is when men believe they are omnipotent that they depart most radically from reality, that we are, as individuals, most powerful when connected to our fellow ‘man’, including, critically importantly, the elemental maternal & paternal forces (not one – politically correctly – at the expense of the other), & to the biological & environmental context within which we evolved.

    This is the key to the health of the individual, of community, society & the planet – recognition that health lies in community sustaining & supporting difference, creativity & innovation; so to be comfortable as an individual requires the approval & support of the community. But back to messiness – such approval is always hard won, as the forces of conservatism cling fearfully to tried & tested rules, resisting perceived threats of creative individuality, & perhaps it is human nature that such forces are inherently in conflict, & the desired truce is never declared, let alone supporting. My understanding of human nature suggests that only at the last desperate moment is the so-called tried & true foregone & even then the alternatives given only slim chance to carry the day, with judgment hanging ready to swiftly resume control.

    Witness Israel, the classical manifestation of human frailty. It is clear that higher human capacities are necessary to resolve the complex & emotive issues there, but fear imbues Israelis with a desire, nay need, for strong men, ex generals often, as political leaders, since in apparently existential circumstances to err on the side of caution always trumps liberalism.

    Hence the key to unlocking human potential in the face of disturbing change, is feasible & authentic pathways to the future, not convenient or misleading short term sops to the need to act, which dilute trust, respect & energy.

    So surely, Michael, you recognise that the type of information you develop & disseminate is instrumental in creating such authentic pathways, & the uptake must indicate that you are on the right track. Of course it is slow, & one may wonder if it is enough, or will win the day, but all revolutions begin with small steps, & the one you’re involved in will, in the words of highly placed diplomats, turn out to be ‘on the right side of history’.

    I am an entomologist, long versed in the professional integration of methods to produce sustainable, low input solutions to the problems of commercial horticulture, currently living in Torres St, where there is a slowly growing impetus for hydroponics, community gardens etc, but the impediments are many & large. Agriculture is virtually non-existent, with what may be referred to as a total capitulation to ‘store bought goods’ unthinkable in the days of, & before, Jardine et. al, who’d no choice but to grow their own meat, veg & fruit. This is a tough area, but there is good water from Horn Is. dam, excellent soils on the volcanic eastern islands (Darnley, Murray & Stephen), plenty of rain in the wet, & an abundance of day degrees for growing produce. Soils are mostly sandy elsewhere, but this need not be an impediment with appropriate amendment, water & nutrient delivery. And I see no reason why animal products can’t be produced as well; at least one island (Badu) has a large piggery – removed from the community to prevent close association of pigs & humans (the mosquito vectors of Japanese encephalitis do not move far from their preferred pig hosts, & only transmit the disease to humans where the reservoir & humans are in close proximity – the reason the old custom of fattening a pig or two in a back yard enclosure was banned some years ago). Chickens or ducks surely would also be a goer.

    This is, perhaps, a long winded way, Michael, of saying I’d like to have a yarn with you about things up here, & how some of your ideas might be incorporated into development plans, or private enterprise. There’s a multitude of govt depts up here, all beavering away to ‘Close the Gap’ of indigenous disadvantage, but somehow I think it’s all doomed to fail unless proper processes are employed to put all this effort onto a sound & sustainable, minimal input footing. Community engagement is critical, but also the greatest risk, as most are sea-focused & the cultural heritage of a once highly developed gardening culture (the reason Mabo was legally attractive, as the absence of recognised agriculture had proven a substantive impediment to prior aboriginal land rights claims) is, functionally, almost a historical artifact in need of resuscitation (like the rest of Aus, these skills reside largely in old folk & younger generations are little inclined to get involved).

    Chris Freebairn

  2. ibika says:

    good questions..
    what is this the self?..
    what is this messy consciousness with all its desires, wanting, cravings and demands.. its need to stand out, to control others , to divide itself from others through ideologies, religions etc etc
    is it real anyway or a construct of conditioned thought?

    they say a man 2500 years ago in northern india( now nepal) looked at these questions deeply under a bodhi tree..

    No “thing” perhaps?

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  • Michael Mobbs

    Michael is a former Environmental Lawyer who is uniquely placed to consult in four main areas:

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