How to buy peace of mind in Britain

Ever feel like you need peace of mind? Well, now you can buy some. The high-end British department store Selfridges (please note: no apostrophe) held a workshop teaching people to relax and reconnect.

Reconnect with what? Themselves, of course. Because they lost themselves somehow. Or their phones lost their signal and when that happens what’s left of the self? And so they turned to a department store to fix the problem. Because stores have stuff. And if you don’t count your self as stuff, maybe you should. Think how much simpler your life would be. So having lost their selves, these people also lost their signals and couldn’t look for the self-stuff they needed on the internet. That forced them back to an older, simpler time.

A vaguely related photo: If this doesn’t bring you peace of mind–or at least remind you what it is–well, I’ve done my best.

Listen, don’t expect me to sort out your every confusion. I’m just some idiot you found on the internet. What do I know? These are highly stressed people. I’m feeling a little stressed here myself, trying to make sense of the latest trends in the culture. I’m guessing these folks have outsourced large chunks of their lives and that creates a kind of disconnect with the world and its physical reality. They’ve probably outsourced their cleaning to cleaning people. Their food comes either pre-cooked or intravenously, so someone else is doing the preparation although they never get to see them and don’t know their names. They barely remember that there’s a someone out there who does this. They think food drops off the trees in this form.

Some of them are so far down that road that they’ve outsourced the effect of gravity on their bodies. They step on a scale and don’t register at all because they have people to do that for them.

People working on zero-hours contracts for multi-national corporations.

What’s a zero-hours contract? That’s a contract that binds the employee to employer while the employer owes zilch to the employee—not even a set number of hours’ work each week. Not even the title of employee, because presto lawyer-o, they’re told they’re self-employed.

The employee (or non-employee) is available when the company needs someone. When it doesn’t, they disappear from the planet and don’t need to eat or pay rent or raise kids, so it’s okay that they’re not getting paid. And it’s all for the greater good, because look how many jobs this creates.

Not jobs you can live on, necessarily, but still jobs. It’s good when people have jobs. We all know that.

(In case you’ve noticed, yes, I do mix the plural with the singular. It’s the simplest way to get around the he/she problem that crops up in English sentences when you’re talking about a person who could, for all you know, belong to either sex. Or, in these interesting times, to neither or both. I’m not mocking, just struggling to get my head around it.)

Anyway, I may be misrepresenting the people who took the class. I wasn’t there and I didn’t meet them. Maybe they were just your average media-obsessed types who are stretched thin trying to maintain what they consider the essentials of a middle-class life, which always lie just a little out of reach, no matter how high their incomes are.

Or, may the god of potato peelings help us all, maybe it’s not about a middle-class life but a middle-class lifestyle. Have I mentioned recently how much I hate the word lifestyle?

There’s a funny thing about the middle-class life. Everyone who isn’t either a gazillionaire or broke defines it as the life they’re living—or trying to live. So if their almost-in-reach middle-class life(style) is someone else’s definition of rich, we shouldn’t be surprised, right?

But I’m off the topic again. Sorry. When I start having too much fun, that’s when I have to worry. What I was trying to say is that of course paying a high-end department store to reconnect you with yourself is part of a middle class life(style). So what we need to focus on is how these stressed-out folks reconnected with themselves.

They peeled potatoes.

Potato peeling as meditation. Hence the god of potato peelings, who doesn’t get a lot of respect these days and is very pleased to be honored once again, however briefly.

The Guardian, which seems to have sent a reporter to the event (several papers covered the story; for all I know, nobody but reporters signed up; or maybe they all used the same story, which they bought from an agency that outsourced it to a freelancer who disappears off the planet when they’re not needed). Let’s start over. The Guardian writes that the event was held in a “conceptual farmhouse” in the store and that participants rang a cow bell to get in. Then they took their shoes off. Anyone who wanted to could stretch out on a straw bed for a nap. The paper didn’t say how many straw beds were available, but it did say that, in keeping with the rustic theme, participants could buy £20 incense sticks (that’s £20 for one, I think—to get to the plural I just used, I assume you’d have to fork out an additional £20) or a £1,000 wooden bowl.

That’s not an exact quote. The snarkiness is mine; the information is theirs.

“It’s about a simple enjoyment and awareness of daily life,” Selfridges’ Creative Director Linda Hewson said.

Yes, that is your grandmother you’re hearing—or depending on your age, it could be your great- or great-great-grandmother. She’s laughing so hard she can’t get a sensible word out.