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Knocking Out The Walls
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

MOST OF US humans have an internal barometer for assessing anxiety and it employs a number of factors, both internal and external, to move the needle. If you are newly, or chronically, unemployed in this nation, counting your livelihood among the average of 73,000 jobs disappearing monthly like a puff of smoke, your needle is jumping like crazy. If you are one of the 2.5 million Americans projected to have your home repossessed this year, your needle is past the danger zone. If you're one of those folks who has to decide which you would rather do -- fill your gas tank to drive to work or eat, this week -- your anxiety mechanism is buzzing and popping and scaring the bejesus out of you.

And if you are one of those who are comforted the government has a handle on all this, believing the statistics reported by FOX News and other propaganda agencies, you have not paid any attention to your barometer at all. You should. It's hooked up to more than just your circumstances; it connects you with your intuition, and consequently your creativity.

I'm a contractor's daughter; both my son and son-in-law are contractors. Sawdust smells like perfume to me. As a small child, I'd awaken to the high-pitched squeal of a skill saw and follow the noise to find my father taking out a wall in the kitchen or the bathroom or the living room: my mother loved a good remodel. My Dad went to school full-time, worked full-time and remodeled at night; a night owl of a kind anyway, I would usually find a perch to watch him work until dawn. As I grew older, I became his assistant. As a result of this exposure, I know how to demo a kitchen, frame a house, lay brick and shingle a roof.

I personally like the creative aspects of design and architecture, and over the years I've appreciated watching Home and Garden Television as a break from more serious issues. In the last few seasons, shows like Flip This House and Designed to Sell have become very popular. They fascinate me. In Designed to Sell, a crew of skilled carpenters and an innovative designer revamp a home for a few thousand dollars in order to make it "pop."

Popping appears to be mostly about presentation; it's the equivalent of giving a home a facelift, of covering flaws and redirecting the eye. I'm always amazed at the dearth of imagination a looky-loo brings to the viewing. The same people who proclaim a family room dark and menacing, quite unlivable, will return a few days later and deem it light and inviting without the slightest notion that paint, knick-knacks gone to storage and a furniture rearrange was all it needed. I also find it a consternation that the public would rather a house resemble a motel room than a home; sellers actually rent furniture to "dress" a room. I wonder if it's occurred to potential buyers that they're being sold an illusion -- or that their own furniture is likely too clunky and their collection of gee-gaws as extensive as those just removed.

Flip This House is a program dedicated to those who want to buy a fixer-upper, rehab the property and resell at a profit. This is more a process of actual remodel, where walls come down or go up. It rode in on the Bush "owner society" rhetoric, and the easy loans that have now put us in a hole that has no foreseeable bottom. I've followed this program more for political reasons than the pleasure principle lately.

At the end of these shows, the conclusion of the project is highlighted -- whether the house sold, whether the owners chose to stay and try to market their property at a later date, whether the investment was worth the effort. Slowly, slowly, reality has begun to intrude on HGTV. More flipped houses are being rented now than sold; more homeowners are staying put than moving up. More people are having their illusions squashed and their anxiety barometers activated.

Illusion squashing is very tough stuff, traumatizing. It presents us with challenges we don't have much capacity for, being newly reality-driven. We vented our collective spleen on the horrors of Katrina; now few of us have additional energy to pay attention to Wisconsin, much of which has remained underwater for more than a month. We've become accustomed to California burning down; my cousin who lives in Butte County, above Sacramento, is on his second round of evacuations in a state that has been fighting as many as 1700 fires in the last weeks.

The public can no longer swing its vision to the next emergency, or the next, without getting whiplash; there's too many in a day. It's overwhelming and dispiriting. Our communal anxiety barometer has gone past stress and meltdown to complete overload. Why? Because the message, loud and clear if never actually articulated, is: you're on your own, citizen.

Now, before you clutch your head in gloom, let's look this squarely in the face. We're in a phase where we are still calling for governmental services that are gone, hoping against hope it will answer the phone. Nope -- dead air: something in the news to help? John McCain is on CNN as I write this, proposing a "plan to grow and restore this economy," which is being met with an almost embarrassingly uninspired response from his hand-picked audience; even his own party doesn't believe him, and his is the "money party."

In a stunning moment of accountability (and self-interest, I'm sure) the International Monetary Fund has decided to audit the United States Federal Reserve; they know something's very wrong and they want to check the books. Whoa. I don't think this bodes well in the short-term OR the long.

This economic downturn and seeming inability of government to respond positively is prompting more than nervousness or anxiety; it's delivering a big dose of grief to a country unaccustomed to the stark realities. Grief takes its stages, and we would do well to process them quickly and efficiently. "All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind is part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another," said Anatole France.

All changes. Is this the change we've longed for? I can't help but believe it's a critical part of it -- and a difficult stage. All that is so very wrong about our economy had to implode at some point, or we never would have noticed all that's calculated to keep us on the hamster wheel; continually working and spending and consuming with the unrealistic goal of living in some perfect, neutral-colored, clutter-free motel room, constantly moving up the economic ladder. The price we're paying now is the result of trying to sustain that level of illusion.

Once we pass through the grief, practical matters come to the forefront. What are our resources? I expect you're thinking savings accounts, credit scores, work opportunities -- and yes, all that's important. But I think the resources that are equally as important, if not more so, are to be found in our ability to think in a flexible manner.

Habit and routine has forced us into an established mode of problem-solving: we do what's worked before. It's time to rethink our response to everything -- yes, everything! We're in that space between the old and the new; we cannot use old skills to create a new way of being. Deepak Chopra told us what we are likely to achieve with old thinking when he said, "Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future." 

We need to begin to move ahead using our intuition, our creativity and our imagination. And we need to re-think our relationship with what's taking place. Neale Donald Walsch said a profound thing recently, in his Conversation With God dialogues: "...disappointment is your thought that God doesn't know what God is doing." Please sit with that for a moment. Think about your past, about the relationships that needed to fade in order to bring in new ones; the seeming disasters that eventually brought you to a renewed sense of direction; the discouragements that turned you toward another enterprise to which you were better suited: the events in our lives that grew us the most.

We're so sure that bad is, indeed, bad that we make no room for good to spring out of the ruin. We are not accustomed to thinking of each event as a stepping-stone to some vital reorganization, a possibility for progress.
We have the ability to see things differently, to think outside the box, to conspire with our own creativity -- we just don't have the skill because we haven't developed it. We're like the looky-loos that house-hunt, searching for the perfect circumstance and unable to visualize what a course of change could produce. It's time to use our imagination. Every time you're met with a problem, try this -- shove your first thoughts aside with this affirmation: that's what I USED to do. Then get quiet and allow your mind to take a left-turn, and a right. Find out what else is in your bag of tricks.

Yes, you have one -- you just haven't opened it since you were a little kid, playing pretend and seeing castles in the clouds. The more you flex your creative and imaginative muscles, the more they can lift. Opening your thought system to this new potential will give you surprisingly innovative ideas and solutions, and provide you confidence in your ability to cope.

"Bloom where you're planted," was one of those bumper stickers I internalized over the years, as I planted myself in a lot of different places. "When God gives you lemons, make lemonade," was another. Both ask us to use what we've got on hand to deal with our circumstances. What we utilize from our willingness and creative center is always more important than the physical resources we bring to the process.

If you're one of those people who has lost their job or home, I have no quick fix for your dilemma; but if you sink into old thinking, you will miss some possible options and blessings. Perhaps your family needs you at home more than you realize, perhaps there are elders that need your time and attention as they prepare for their transition. Or maybe a friend needs a roommate, someone to help out for a while and allow you both a breather. Perhaps you've been unhappy in your job so long you've forgotten what joy in work means, and now you can find something more satisfying that will lead you to a new and prosperous future.

Perhaps your value system and ethical underpinnings have outgrown your circumstances, and you've known it was time to move along but have been afraid to do so. We need to trust the process. And we need to do life differently; we need to think outside the box.
There is a word that I hear from the Greens a lot; one we should think on: sustainability. What is it we can sustain? So much of what we require of our lives is modeled on someone else's idea of success. It takes an enormous amount of personal effort to sustain the kind of lifestyle we've chosen in this country, more by the day. Clearly, we're going to release our absolutes about this a bit at a time, but we can streamline that process by examining both the positive and negative poles of our choices and discovering alternatives.
An extraordinarily wealthy and conservative oil-man named T. Boone Pickens has decided to bypass our (some say criminally) lethargic government and promote wind farms; he's invested heavily in them and will benefit enormously if he can sway public opinion his way. He's running ads on television; you can view one here. I include mention of him because, although the Lefty blogs are questioning his intentions, I think his idea is brilliant. This is exactly the kind of forward-looking proposal we should be investigating.

Not everything we try will work, but nothing reasonable should go untried, given the emergencies we face. Notice, if you will, how little the government either acknowledges OR tries, toward our benefit. They're the problem, not the solution. It's just us, kids -- we're on our own; but there are billions of us, and we can be brilliant if we try.
My favorite part of the HGTV decorating/remodeling shows is what's called "the reveal." They're the before and after shots, showing all the changes in space, color, texture, tone; it's the home equivalent of a personal make-over. I take great pleasure in the reveal, knowing how much work the process itself requires, acknowledging how much pure imagination went into a low-budget, creatively inspired remodel. And for me, because I have these kinds of skills, I also celebrate the absolute joy of making something from nothing, the pleasure of redesign and inspiration that weaves through that process. We can learn how to walk into a room and "see" a wall knocked out to open the living space, "see" a new texture on a wall that adds interest and sophistication or a color change that lightens or darkens. This is the process of imagination called "visioning." We need this skill to usher in a new tomorrow.
The most important part of a remodel is the foundation of the house; in our case, the government is not our foundation, they're the neighborhood: they're the organizing principle around which the homes are being built. Americans are nothing if not self-determining. We're the homes, ourselves, each of us, and our foundation is vastly more powerful, collectively, than anything the government will offer us. Each wall we knock down within our consciousness gives us a larger perspective, each creative effort brings in new energy and possibility.
Life as we know it is undergoing a remodel. Our challenges are dramatic, but they're not new; they are, instead, habitual and let's all agree, exhausting. It's time to break the habit. Now we must dig into that seldom-used bag of tricks to find creative new approaches to old problems, trust that doing things differently will offer us something fresh. If we approach life in untried ways, we break old patterns that are worn and outdated and allow our experience to reflect a different future. Does that sound like risk to you? Perhaps it was, once upon a time -- now it's a life raft.
We have set about to knock down walls that have kept our life space too limited and our philosophy too cramped, to add color and texture to our changing reality by calling on our creative center to open long-forgotten options. How do I know? Look around you -- this mess in our country is a direct reflection of our own changing consciousness. We need to stop fighting the process that has put our anxiety barometers off the scale; it's within our power to see life as a never-ending drama and victimization or, instead, embrace it as adventure and revelation -- that last is the epitome of making lemonade.
The changes are here and we have the coping mechanism within us to take us safely through them. On this journey through change, we will learn new skills and recognize new talents along the way if we offer our willingness to engage in the process of this grand-glorious remodel. Terry Cole-Whittaker has famously suggested that falling apart is falling together; if you can wrap your imagination around that possibility, I promise you the eventual reveal will be worth all the busted barometers of this collapsing paradigm.

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