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The Problem with Living Pure

Real people will never be pure. That's for storybook saints and cartoon character heroes. Higher purpose is useful, but what happens in practice?
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Maybe it's because I live in the yoga capital of the world, Santa Monica, Calif., but I hear people saying the word "sacred" every couple of minutes. They even say "holy" a lot. Pretty much, I hate that kind of talk. "Holy" makes me think of words reverently spoken by priests who take advantage of children, and "sacred" has been uttered by any number of false prophets who are all about profit. There are only two words more often abused than those two, and they are "targeting" (as in "targeting customers") and "branding" (as in "branding yourself"). If you brand yourself and then go around targeting people, it sounds like the makings of an edgy, homicidal lifestyle. ("Honey, what's that smell? Oh, that's just me branding myself again. When I'm done, I'm going to get right back to targeting people. I knocked off 10 today.")

When a word is detached from meaning, it can roll around on the floor, and that's really dangerous. You could trip over it, and that would be "impactful," a word I always trip over because I get nauseous just thinking about it.

But it's not a bad thing that I hang around people who say words I don't always like hearing. They cause me to ask questions like what's "sacred" in my life and how might I try to live more "purely."

I will often come home from a yoga class and have a glass of wine. It reminds me of people who finish a nice run and then light up a cigarette. A yoga teacher I respect once mentioned that alcohol reverses the effects of yoga, but to me it's a comforting contradiction. It's part of what makes people people -- their humanness, for me, is bound up in their complexity. This will sound a bit like a Zen koan, but I don't think people are meant to be pure, because impurity is the very essence of our purity. Objects are pure. Design is pure. A VW Bug always makes me smile. It exists purely unto itself, independent of function, which, of course, is transport. But it doesn't need to be going anywhere to be serving the higher purpose of beautiful design.

Real people will never be pure. That's for storybook saints and cartoon character heroes. Higher purpose is useful, but what happens in practice? Well, what do you make of Pepsi, a malicious maker of addictive sugar water, funding the Pepsi Refresh Project, which is helping fund the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and things like warm winter coats for children in need? How much money will Pepsi have to give away to worthy causes before it becomes a corporate expression of higher purpose? As you do the math on that, consider this item from the Kansas City Star.

A 300-pound chimpanzee escaped from its owner Tuesday afternoon and ran rampant through a Kansas City neighborhood, scaring walkers, pounding on passing cars and breaking a police car's windshield. The 21-year-old ape, named Sueko, also pointed and laughed at residents and flipped off an animal control officer near 78th Street and Indiana Avenue, witnesses said.

Not only is it remarkable that there are newspapers still being published somewhere, but when I think about a manic chimp flipping off an animal control officer, well, that makes me smile, and that's sacred.

Photo credits: Lee Schneider and VW Beetle by Chris Keating via Creative Commons License.