We are not so different

In the town where I grew up, there was a lake. Lake Massapoag. I once swam across the entire lake with three of my friends. In one direction, two of us swam while two others rowed a canoe beside us. Then, we switched.

 

Also in this town, there were many committees. One committee’s sole purpose was to find a way to rid the habitat around the lake of the growing population of Canada Goose. As a child, I did not think very much about the ridiculous nature of such a committee. It made sense. The Geese belonged in Canada, they were pooping in our lake, and they never seemed to leave. I considered them a nuisance with the rest of the population.

 

It was not until years later, when I introduced to the world of birds, that I began to rethink my ill treatment of a beautiful being.

 

My partner and I were driving by a group of them standing in a field in Western Washington, and I made an offhand remark about how obnoxious they were. The moment the words came out of my mouth, I realized I no longer believed them.

 

With this realization came many others, not all at once but with time, awareness, and dedication to learning about the world around me that stretched beyond the human-centric existence.

 

There were birds in the world, this I had known. But I began to know them as individuals and characters in an exquisite dance with the universe. On my trips east to visit my family, I found dozens of species frequenting their bird feeder that I could not recall ever having seen during my childhood.

 

The lake where I went swimming had been a habitat for animals long before people, and the grass that my own kind had planted made it possible for those birds to overwinter in New England. A migratory life was no longer necessary. The fecal count from their poop may have made have put a damper on our ability to swim in the lake from time to time, but the impact of the choices we made to allow motor boats, jet skis, and the like were far more likely to cause long-lasting damage to the earth, water, and sky.

 

In my daily life, I try to take responsibility for my actions and to make choices that reflect a heightened awareness of the full scope of repercussions that will follow—social, economic, and ecological. I am aware that as I write I am seated on a plane bound for Utah, and then I will board a second plane that will take me to British Columbia. Flying is no friend to the earth; of this I am painfully aware. But I have not seen my sister in nearly two years, so I have made a choice.

 

I take photographs of the fallen that I may remember them and bury birds that have been lost to the fast-paced urban environment of Lowell. I pick up trash and plastic bags, even though there are still thousands that will continue to blow into the canals and waterways around the city.

 

I know we are not alone in this world, and I am thankful. No matter how hard we try to rid the city of so-called pests and weeds, they will return and remind us that we are not so different. There are commonalities in our ways of being, and we are each working to survive against many odds.

 

Perhaps, someday the human species will take step down from its pedestal and unceasing thirst for more and greater power over others and realize that this great planet’s ability to continue to support future generations will only follow greater awareness, humility, and intention.

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Non-attachment isn’t easy

I am feeling sad this morning. On my way to work, I carried with me three, large garbage bags full of cherished stuffed animals from my childhood.

 

I told myself not to look in the bags, to just set them aside until I could meet up with a friend who runs a therapy practice downtown and lets her younger clients pick out a book or toy to bring home with them.

 

It is a wonderful way to part with possessions that have meaning. What use do they have sitting on a shelf? Stuffed animals need to be loved and to bring love. That is their destiny, and I am denying them said destiny by keeping them in my life.

 

I remember a friend of mine telling me that one will always experience seller’s remorse after parting with something meaningful. I should be able to live with this. The lightness I feel each time I part with material things makes the parting of value, despite the bittersweet end to an oft-lifelong relationship.

 

I broke my tenuous promise not to look in the bags. Each time I do this, memories wash over me with each stuffed animal I pick up and hold in my arms. My favorite black lab puppy stuffed animal that I wanted to name Blackie (my parents would not allow me to do this but never explained why….it took me a decade or so to figure it out on my own) and settled on Penny. My Snoopy with the purple ballerina costume and curious George with eyes missing. The pink rabbit that my sister gave me with a skirt she made herself.

 

These animals, who I thought of as very real when I was a child, have gathered dust for several years. They deserve to be the center of a child’s world once more.

 

What worries me is what will happen when the next child is done with them? Will they be cast aside or sent to a landfill? I relinquish control when I let them go.

 

I am going to go out on a limb here and entertain the notion that my difficulty in letting go of these stuffed animals may be a projection of my own desire for stability and control in my adult life.

 

I do not have a background in psychology, but I am well versed in my own inner scape and inner demons. Loss of control is something I have grappled with for years. The ways I created a tenuous sense of control was to take control of tangible things—cleaning, biting my fingernails, the food I ate on a daily basis. All of these components reveal measurable results, however fleeting they may be.

I intermittently experience a similar sadness (call it seller’s remorse) over the loss of my black cat Izzy. Even though I know I gave him a better life by giving him up, I feel sad for myself without his presence in my life. my partner reminds me that it is ok to feel this sadness but to know that my own life is simpler by having fewer animals in it and Izzy is happier because he is with a family who can give him more attention than I could.

So what to do? I have moved seven times in the past two years. I am trying to simplify my life. I have an opportunity to part with material possessions so that my next move may be lighter in spirit and physical weight. I may also bring joy to many children in the Lowell community. And there are some pretty amazing kids here.

 

Do I let go of my desire for control and allow the universe to lend a hand in the destiny of my childhood stuffed animals?

 

Do I hold onto a few? Will that make me feel better initially but heavier in the long-term?

 

I already know the answer; I just have trouble letting go and feel a deep sadness in my heart.

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Don’t worry

As a child, I spent a lot of time avoiding answering questions my teacher asked in class. I often knew the answer, but I was terrified of what would happen if I were wrong. I was afraid to take the risk of being right.

Time and again, another student would raise their hand and give the exact answer I was holding inside. And then, I would feel sad. No one would know that I was smart and had known the answer all along.

Years went by in a similar manner. My reticence extended beyond the classroom to how I expressed myself in life in general.

In hindsight, it is clear that I was always an independent spirit. I wore variations on a red shoe theme for most of my childhood (thank you, mom, for supporting my uniquely marieke taste in attire).

Yet, behind the bright, ruby slippers was a searching soul with low self-esteem.

I wanted to have the right answers, to say the right things, and to fit in.

It only took me nearly three decades to begin to realize I already knew the right answers (at least, the right answers for me), that I could say whatever I wanted to say because there was no one right thing to say, and that I did not give a flying *$#& about fitting in the kind of crowd that was deemed desirable in my youth.

Going through a divorce helped me realize how much energy it really takes to play a part in our culture. When I was in survival mode, I just did not have the extra oomph to make other people feel falsely warm and cozy about how I was doing. It did not make me feel better to pretend. It was also dishonest.

So, I started writing about what I was going through in this blog. What had started as simple writing exercise turned into a treatise and reflection on life, sustainability, culture, and transition.

I did not sugar coat what I was going through.

I did not avoid sharing experiences that were painful or even embarrassing. Those moments were a part of my choice to take hold of my life and create the reality I wanted and needed to be happy based on my own self and no one else.

And lo and behold, my words seem to speak to other people, those who had gone through a divorce or difficult time. Not everyone. There were plenty of people who responded defensively, passive aggressively, and downright aggressively. I tried my best to avoid them, even if it meant moving seven thousand miles away.

In writing about my experiences and hearing from readers, I felt less alone and less weird.

I started to entertain the notion that asking questions was more important than having the right answers. I also began to notice that I was not the only one searching for answers to difficult questions.

In my life today, I ask a lot of questions. I have found more often than not that when I am sitting in a room full of people scratching my head at something, I tend to be in good company. The moment I raise my hand and ask the question, I can literally feel the tension ease in the room.

So this has become my approach. I ask questions. I speak my truth and attempt to do so with kindness and respect. I try not to filter who I am. And I try not to worry about what people think about me. I know from experience that the people who really love and accept me for who I am will continue to do so whether I wear shoes that red or purple or covered with glitter.

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Sing from your heart

IMG_1918No jokes. No fooling. Spring has arrived in Lowell.

I know this in part because my desire to clean and purge has taken on new force from within. In addition, I feel a deep desire to bring new life into the world. No, I am not talking about that kind of seed. I am talking about plants! I now have many house plants with fresh soil who are much happier (I hope).

My inner scape tells me spring is here and also the cityscape that surrounds me.

The past two afternoons, I have heard a northern cardinal singing his heart out from a tree somewhere in the vicinity of my concrete yard.

On my way back from the gym earlier today, I heard the familiar tones of a killdeer. “Kill-deer, Kill-deer.” An aptly named bird, if you are going for the literal.

And just moments before sitting down to write, a black-capped chickadee joined the cardinal, starling, and house sparrow chorus.

What more could I ask for? An early birthday gift, perhaps?

For the curious, there are a few things I have been thinking about, though to be fair they may be difficult to gift.

My partner often speaks of the power of stating our intention with the universe. This past winter, with palms open wide, we spoke of a shared intention to bring our lives together while holding deep, red Sedona rock.

I have experienced synchronicity with shared energy and desire, and I believe that I can gently try to nudge the universe. The ripple that returns to me may be different than my hope, but I am certain it will be far from dull.

So, with a new season just beginning to walk on wobbly legs, here I state my intention for the present and future months to come:

I will care for my health and wellbeing while continuing to grow my songwriting business.

I will continue to try to be less sensitive to other people’s negativity, even when directed at me.

I will write music and stories.

I will sing from my heart.

I will find a way to be as physically close as I am spiritually with the love of my life.

What are your intentions for today, tomorrow, and the next day? May they be as beautiful and amazing as you!

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Posted in adaptation, art, arts based research, autoethnography, change, creative nonfiction, ecopsychology, ecotherapy, future, inner voice, journal, life, live, love, narrative inquiry, path, Ph.D., place, relationships, self-sustainability, woman, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the spring promises

IMG_1931Another month has nearly passed. Today felt more like spring than the frigid, windy weather that has been blowing through eastern Massachusetts.

I have been so busy moving forward with my songwriting business that I have neglected this blog and all of you. Have I told you how thankful I am for you? You have helped me through some difficult times, and I am sure I do not thank you often enough.

Thank you!

I find it interesting how easy it is to slip into the habit of only venting the negative, frustrating elements of life rather than communicating the positive. A couple of years ago, I thought I should begin cultivating the practice of expressing beauty and kindness as I witnessed it in the day to day.

I began telling people I found beautiful that I found them so. I tried to tell the people I loved more often how much I loved them.

But the mind works in mysterious ways. I fall back into the habit of focusing on the negative so readily that it can be alarming when I recognize how far down the spiral I have traveled into darkness.

IMG_1904This winter has been a stressful one. A woman came into my life who embraces the negative far too much for me. Typically, I try to disengage from individuals that behave aggressively toward me. my first instinct is to respond in kind, but I know that it will only serve to worsen the situation. Instead, I try to practice energy aikido.

Aikido does not work if you have to deal with a difficult individual on a regular basis, so this winter was one of sleepless nights and anxiety attacks.

I am heartened by the knowledge that winter cannot last forever. Spring, with its grey sky and showers promises new life and new beginnings.

I look forward to those new beginnings, the ones I cultivate and the ones the universe delivers. May they be plentiful and uplifting for mind, body, and spirit!

Happy spring!

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No one else in the whole world

As a child, I was quite tempestuous, and I had the habit of making wildly rash statements in moments of extreme emotion. My mother would always respond, “Marieke, do not make blanket statements.”

It took me a couple of decades to figure out what she meant. When I was little, I would just imagine a blanket being part of the message, but the rest was kind of lost to me. Her tone and body language let me know that I should perhaps rethink my choice of words in the future.

Language has become a focus of my life and practice. the more I study language in from different angles, the more I realize how very much power lies in the words we use and in our method of delivery.

Take this afternoon, for example. I was running a couple of quick errands in Nashua, not far from my home in Lowell. I spent a few minutes in an establishment called Guitar Center, vowing on my way out never to return to such a musical, man-cave version of a Starbucks’. Then on to Trader Joe’s. Both errands without incident. I held the door for people. They held the door for me.

Life could be a dream, right?

Then, I followed multiple cars into the parking lot for the United States Post Office. I had one envelope to mail, and I saw that there was a mailbox right outside. So, I pulled out people’s way and without blocking anyone who was parked, put my car in park, turned on my blinker, hopped out of the car, dropped my letter in the box, and returned to my vehicle. Less than ten seconds had passed.

As I was opening the door to the driver’s side, a tall, thin, balding man wearing a black, North Face fleece coat made a comment under his breath that was loud enough and clearly intended for others to hear.

“No one else in the WHOLE world would do that. UnbeLEIVable!”

It took me a minute, but I realized that he was talking about me. And that he had made the most ridiculous blanket statement I had heard in a long time.

I turned to look over at him, nonplussed.

“Huh?” was all that I could muster.

He did not return eye contact and instead opened the door to the post office and walked in.

I got in my car and drove off, still perplexed.

For one, I could not figure out what I had done wrong. It had occurred to me that it would likely be safer to not pull directly into a space because backing up in New England parking lots is a leap of faith for one’s life.

Also, I was fairly certain that I was not the only person in the entire world to have made this choice and would likely not be last, certainly not in this region of the country.

I mean, maybe he leads a solitary life and avoids modern media as a means of finding balance with his propensity for aggressive, curmudgeonly behavior, so he is wholly unaware that there is unrest in Venezuela and Ukraine, among many other countries, including our own, in the world. Perhaps, he is under the impression that racism, bigotry, bullying, vengeance, and slander have been cast aside in order to promote peace, love, and understanding.

Has he heard of a state called Arizona, where a wall has been built to avoid taking responsibility for our past and present mistakes and refuse entry to people looking for a better life in this so-called “land of opportunity?”

These were the thoughts that swirled through my heads as I formed sentences and witty (at least, they sounded witty in my head) retorts to send to him through the ethos.

In the end, I was thankful that I had not engaged with him and had simply gotten into my car and drove away.

The part of me who grew up in Massachusetts and has been living in Lowell for the past two years wanted to walk up to him and shake my fist in his face.

The part of me who has been studying sustainability and cultivating practices to help me process negativity and ill-will rather than return it to its source or perpetuate the cycle of energy to the world around me felt some remorse and sadness for his clearly unhappy and cowardly state of being in this world.

I would far prefer to try to make sense of his blanket statement through writing and reflection than to engage with him in any way in proximity to such irritable energy. It feels unproductive.

That being said, should you find yourself in Nashua this afternoon and in proximity to a tall, balding man wearing a black North Face jacket, please be kind and wish him a happy day. Who knows? It might make a difference.

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Change is not always a constant

Change is not always a constant.

Change can also be a choice.

In the midst of writing my dissertation, I wrote a piece called “self-sustainability is not selfish.” The piece was inspired by the pressure I felt to defend my choice to make my own life more sustainable and to focus the research and writing of my dissertation on my self as subject.

Both of these choices were against the grain of the society and culture in which I was raised. By culture, I meant social, professional, and academic. Even my own inner personal culture railed against my choice to change the course of my life to one that was healthier.

When first beginning to take the steps toward creating a shift in my life, I struggled against a range of negative emotions. It was like my inner self was on trial and there was a panel of voices on high looking down on me and listing off a litany of accusations to which I felt obliged to respond.

What these accusations boiled down to was an overwhelming feeling of guilt for choosing my self.

How could I choose my self when there was so much suffering in the word?

How could I be so selfish?

Most of what I had learned thus far in my personal, professional, and academic life was that one should bend over backward and do whatever it took to be successful.

So, if I wanted to be successful at my job (which meant moving up in the ranks from being a seasonal to a permanent employee at the agency where I worked), I had to work extra hours, talk to my supervisor on the phone when she called, and allow my job to completely take over my personal life.

In the realm of the environment, which seemed to blend all three realms of my life, I learned that I must be in service to something greater than my self, a movement to save the earth.

No pressure there.

I must sacrifice everything to fix repair the damages inflicted on this poor, forsaken planet. This meant feeling guilty every time I did something that ran counter to the path of martyrdom—buying something that wasn’t organic, buying something I didn’t need, feeling rested when I should be working myself into the ground because every second counted if I was going to change the world.

And no matter what I did in service to the earth, other people were doing more and they were doing it better than I was.

No matter how much extra time I put in at work, other people were chosen for permanent jobs instead of me.

I ignored my own self, silently and effectively saying that I didn’t matter. My own health and happiness did not matter.

I enrolled in a doctoral program to study sustainability education at the highest, academic level. In so doing, I continued on the path of self-sacrifice in service to.

As I studied sustainability through an academic lens, I began to notice little red flags appearing in connection with the elements of my life that were just not working, parts of my life where I was not walking the sustainability talk.

And slowly, ever so slowly, I began to take notice, to listen, and to respond.

Noticing and listening were difficult practices to cultivate because I was so accustomed to ignoring warning signs and to simply plowing forward. The work I was doing was important. If I didn’t plow forward, that work might not get done.

I received support in my academic community for this shift in awareness and practice, but I was alone in this work in the other realms of my life. It seemed that other people did not understand what I was trying to do. Some people even seemed threatened by my choice to stand up for my own sustainability, health, and well-being.

I am not typically the kind of person to run away from an unhealthy situation or to give up when the going gets tough.

However, this newfound awareness was tenuous at best. I was afraid that I might lose my momentum and not be able to further cultivate the practices I required to live more sustainably. As much as possible, I found myself choosing to leave unhealthy situations and avoid people whose behavior had a negative impact on me.

Making a drastic life change in the midst of a culture that does not understand or support this choice is no easy feat. Imagine deciding to become a vegan in the middle of cow country? Or becoming a pagan in Vatican City?

I started to think that maybe I was a bit crazy for so desperately wanting and needing to cultivate a healthier life because everyone around me seemed so hell-bent on swimming with the tide of mass consumption, the culture of working oneself into the ground, and immersing oneself in escape behaviors rather than coming to terms with the darker side so as to adjust to the darkness and find light there as well.

I know that change is possible without making drastic changes, moving thousands of miles, or even separating from a loved one.

For me, however, the unhealthy behaviors were so intensely engrained that I found the only way that I could begin to embody new ones was to completely separate my self from anything and anyone who might weaken my ability to succeed.

Is my life at this moment the embodiment of health and sustainability?

No. I still struggle to maintain a more sustainable life in the midst of a culture that tries to convince me otherwise each and every day.

I work too much. I worry too much. I buy things online when I get stressed out.

The difference between now and four years ago is my own awareness. I know the negative affect of unhealthy behaviors on my psychological and physical health. I know that there are some times in life when can expect to be overwhelmed. When this happens, in order to maintain a healthy balance, I will need to let something go because I just cannot do all the things I want or feel that I need to do and stay healthy.

I also know that I should not continue on this path if I want to maintain a sustainable existence. At some point (and I hope it is soon), I know I will have to make changes if I want to choose to follow a sustainable path.

I envision that people will probably think I am crazy when I make this change because it will run counter to what is accepted and expected in this culture. But there will be some who will understand and hopefully others who will be inspired to take similar action in their own lives.

And then maybe, just maybe, a rippling effect will begin. Small at first and then ever expanding outward until people begin to realize that it is ok to live a balanced, healthy life. It is ok to want to be happy and healthy. It is reasonable to create boundaries and to say no to the status quo.

It is ok to say yes to a sustainable life.

Will you join me?

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