Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Illusory Life of Michael Jackson

I’ve been thinking lately of the amazing effect Michael Jackson’s death has had on so many people, and while the sheer volume of media attention has surely contributed to the phenomenon, other factors are clearly at work.

For me, I had musical favorites in my life but their personal lives never really affected me. But I can recall the circumstances under which I heard most of the Michael’s songs – I was generally “looking for love in the wrong places.”

Michael’s songs were dance numbers that went on for quite a while, so I remember that I would either be dancing with someone and wondering when the song would end, or waiting for the song would end so I could screw up my courage to ask someone else to dance.

The routine epitomized the emptiness that probably contributed to Michael’s demise. I remember dancing with women who never made eye contact seldom asked my name or much else about me.

While deep inside of me I realized that these venues were not where I was likely to find any kind of real depth, connection or love, I was drawn to them by the surface sensuality of the women, the lure of quick and casual sex, and of course the music.

When I connected with someone, it was invariably these surface qualities that became paramount; first of all I would not show interest in anyone who did not appeal to me on the surface, and then that personal would want to know what kind of job I had, where I lived, and what I drove.

Since I was ultimately dissatisfied with my status in these areas, struggling in my own way for the fame and fortune that Michael had in abundance, I told myself that I could be happy and fulfilled in the future – when I “make it” I will have lots of friends, fall in love, and there will be no more loneliness.

I also was convinced that if I “made it”, I would finally be among the elite of society who would fully appreciate my talents and insights. Certainly in the coveted inner circle of others who had “made it” there would be peace and happiness.

Where did these concepts come from? If I am honest, they came from my father, my peers and the culture, which placed “making it,” particularly in material terms, at the top of the hierarchy of personal requirements. In thinking about it, with my dad it was actually kind of contradictory, because on a personal level my father was extremely loving and warm, but in “preparing me for life” he stressed being tough minded and making it to the top.

It seems that Michael’s father drove him particularly hard for success, and presumably held out the same promise that when Michael made it, all would be well.

The tragic irony of course for Michael is that he really “made it”, and yet all of that fame and fortune could not fulfill his need for real love, and he needed the continuing adulation of millions to make him feel satisfied.

His life manifest the ultimate disconnect between outer success and inner yearnings for true connection and love.

All of the descriptions of his personal life talk about his loneliness and isolation, and the anxiety he felt on many levels probably led to the sleeplessness that ultimately cost him his life.

Yet the millions who are flocking to memorialize him generally have the same aspirations and values; their consumption of his music and identification with a “legend” that they never personally knew speak to their need to find fulfillment in areas that Michael discovered – when he had them in abundance – could not fill him up.

The lucky people are the ones who discover that you’d better find connection, peace and happiness before you make it because if that’s how you expect to get it, you’re in for a rude awakening.

One man who wrote about this discovery is a scientist, Mani Bhaumik, who came from one of the poorest areas of India, got a scholarship, and made a fortune as one of the developers of the laser eye surgery procedure that is now so popular.

Living in Los Angeles, Bhaumik describes his ascendancy to the fast lane in his book, Code Name: God, and its culmination at a pool party at his resplendent home in the hills where he ultimately came face to face with the meaninglessness of his materialist existence, and his ride to fame and fortune.

Bhaumik’s experience led him back to his Indian roots, and his scientific background made him look closely at quantum physics as a basis for a connection with a higher level of intelligence through meditation.

He went from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to a personal journey of self discovery, and many of his friends disappeared from his life.

There are many stories of Michael Jackson’s (true) friends with his real interests in mind who urged him to get off the insanely self indulgent and materialistic ride that led to his isolation and his death. (If you object to my characterization, take a look a the special on Neverland on CNN, or recall the excesses that were routinely the focus of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous).

It might be postulated that Michael’s ego and his appetites overwhelmed his better inner wisdom and nature, to the point where he could not control them.

With deaths like Michael’s and the many other famous people who have passed recently, I have begun to reflect on where I might be if I had “made it” to the extent that I once so yearned for.

It would have taken an amazing amount of good fortune to enable me to avoid many of the same pitfalls; the fact is that I looked for material and sensory gratification at my own level of success for years. In terms of a deep relationship, fame or great success would most likely have allowed me to attract women whom I was much better off having reject me, as it turned out.

At this point in my own life I am reassessing my true nature, and discovering that my sensitivity to a different set of values certainly serves me better than the one I took on earlier in life.

Sometimes that path leads to its own kind of isolation and loneliness. When I watch commercials on televisions, for example, I am constantly conscious of how they appeal to my sense of lacking something that I really don’t need, and that if I had would not fill me up. When I watch others around me I sometimes feel disconnected from many of the things that they value and hope to get.

There is a growing sense of power and inner satisfaction in finding your own way and making up your own mind that I am only now beginning to discover. It’s sad that Michael could never jettison the adopted values of the world he wanted so desperately to embrace him, and find the strength and path to accept and love himself as he was, not as others would have him be.

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