life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond

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Call them vermin; I call them friends

I destroyed someone’s home today, and I feel terrible. I did it for purely selfish reasons, wanting to protect my material possessions from possible damage at their hands.

 

Was it worth it? Was it really necessary?

 

At this point, I am not sure I can say either way. It was certainly a move from the I’m stronger than you and can thus do whatever I want to you rule book, which seems to be my species’ go to manual for decision-making.

 

I don’t feel good about it. In fact, I have felt like crying ever since it happened.

 

My husband has been battling the smaller creatures in and around our house for over a year. It is kind of a losing battle, and I am all for carving out a healthy co-existence, but things can get out of hand.

 

Last summer, when there was one or two lone ants wandering along the surfaces of our kitchen counter, I would carefully scoop them up and transport them back outside. When the numbers grew until there was a steady stream crawling along the counters and up into the cupboards, it was a bit overwhelming for my husband’s 18-year-old daughter and me. So we called the exterminator, who informed us that many other creatures would perish as a result of his work. I thought of all the poor spiders and let out a sigh. Did their deaths stop me from making the decision to exterminate? It didn’t.

 

This afternoon, my husband and I began clearing brush from around our house. We had taken down a large, old cottonwood earlier in the summer and stacked little logs along the side of our freestanding garage. Whenever we do this, the ants take little time to move in.

 

As soon as I began lifting logs and tossing them down the little incline toward the fire my husband had going, ants began scurrying about in every direction, including up my arm. I don’t mind insects, I am just not super keen on having them crawling around on me.

 

The more logs I removed, the more ants I discovered. I also found evidence of packrats in the form of lots of little pellets. I didn’t realize that I had unearthed a packrat den until a little creature came wandering around the corner and stopped, looking up at me.

 

We stood and sat, watching each other.

 

I’m sorry, I said. I am so sorry I have ruined your home. The packrat looked at me. Then, it scurried under the few remaining logs.

 

Did I stop there? I thought about it, and then I gently lifted another log.

 

The packrat came rolling out. It had been stunned by another log that was knocked out of place by the one I had lifted.

 

Shit! Not only was I destroying its home. Now, I had injured the poor creature.

 

You’re ok, I whispered quietly. I touched it gently and helped it turn back over. No blood that I could see. No permanent damage, at least not physical damage.

 

Do packrats suffer psychological damage? What if I had given it a concussion? It was living alone. Was it a lone packrat without friends or family or community?

 

I am so sorry I hurt you, I said as I looked in the packrat’s eyes. I know you will be ok.

 

It turned and crawled under the remaining two logs. I went back to my work, leaving the two logs untouched, for the time being. Periodically, I peered underneath to see a little tail just barely visible.

 

Finally, I though I saw a brief blur of light color move toward the larger stack of rotting logs next door. I gingerly lifted one of the two remaining logs. No packrat taking refuge underneath. As I removed the final log, I found a small nest and fresh leaves.

 

My heart sank. I could feel the tears. I had destroyed this animal’s home, and I really had no good reason for my actions. I have had my home violated and my belongings taken by a stranger, simply because they could. Discovering the violation was an awful feeling, a hollow in the pit of my stomach.

 

Now I had perpetrated a similar violation.

 

I imagine I am being a bit dramatic and am certainly taking liberties with anthropomorphism. I watched The Rats of Nimh many times as a child. I think that rats and many of the creatures who are able to adapt to living in and among humans get a bad rap. They are certainly not given the respect they deserve for their incredible ability to survive in the harshest conditions.

 

Still, I left this creature vulnerable to prey and without a home or dinner just before dusk. I destroyed its home for no good reason than I was worried it might go into my garage and chew on my belongings.

 

I have long felt a sense of kin with wild creatures, especially those in the rodent family. Call them vermin, call them what you will; I call them friends. This was not the act of a true friend, and for that I will always be sorry.

 

Wherever you are, small one, I want only the best for you. I am so sorry for my actions. Forgive me, if you can. I wish you safe, warm, and with a full belly.

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Free yourself from fear…the world and I will thank you

It has been many years since I have experienced outright bullying. I have been mistreated by those in a place of power over me, to be sure, but I recognize the difference between positive and negative intentions. In my job in Alaska, I knew that my direct supervisor and our division chief felt it their express responsibility to create a community of well-mannered, acquiescing government automatons. Anyone with an independent mind was perceived as a threat to the stability of their tenuous locus of control.

 

I do not yet feel an authentic sense of forgiveness toward my superiors in Alaska. I can empathize with their intentions, however misguided. I find that I am less and less able to condone cruelness of any kind, particularly over those powerless to defend themselves. We as a species should know better from our myriad past atrocities, but we seem to perpetuate ignorance, fear, and hatred more readily than empathy and open-mindedness.

 

At the end of the day, we are none of us so very different, and I believe it is important to act from a space of love, however difficult it may be at times due to the limitations placed on our hearts from our own demons.

 

The world desperately needs more kindness and understanding—our own survival depends on it, of this I am certain.

 

Sadly, I have experienced enough of the world to know that it is to the darker place that people often move with instinct and reflex rather than taking the time to step back and evaluate whether there is a true threat or merely one perceived by fear and illusion.

 

It was instinct and reflex, goaded by fear and cowardice, which inspired my flight from Alaska, and it is this same behavior that often causes me to take refuge from the world at large.

 

I most recently experienced this surprising behavior just before and during the fourth of July parade in downtown Prescott, Arizona. I realize that in a state as conservative as Arizona, I really should not be surprised by outright bullying, but I still cannot help but scratch my head in response.

 

I arrived at the staging area for the parade a couple of hours before the actual marching would begin. Having already drunk a full glass of water and coffee, my thimble bladder began to inform me early on that it would require emptying prior to the walk around the square. I decided to take a little stroll with my puppy and search for a possible place with a public toilet.

 

We passed what appeared to be a gas station, and I walked around to the front and toward the door to poke my head in and inquire into the restroom situation. Walking up to the establishment, I had noticed menacing signs (menacing to someone open-minded, that is). Trump signs were sitting in the windows, along with signs claiming to serve only those who had served.

 

Well, I had thought to myself, I can still make a deposit in such a place.

 

It was not to be, however. Just as I was walking toward the front door, a woman in a large black SUV came driving up and waving frantically at me through the windshield.

 

I turned and walked toward her, and she rolled her window down.

 

You cannot go in there with your dog. You need to get out of here right now, she screeched at me.

 

I stood there, shock keeping me from responding (at first).

 

Then, I responded, you could be kinder, ma’am. I didn’t want to be too scathing because she likely armed (this was Arizona, after all), and she clearly felt threatened by me, which I found absurd but didn’t wish to test too much.

 

She said something in response, but I cannot recall her exact words. It was not an entirely clever retort. She was wearing a sequined top in red, white and blue, so if her level of intelligence and education was any where near her fashion sense, I can’t place judgment on her lack of wit.

 

I began to leave the premises and then thought I might like to take a few photos in order to immortalize the venue and its inhospitable host.

 

The woman had parked her jeep and came toward me. It seems I did not fit the bill for those who would be served because she told me she would call the police if I did not leave.

 

I wished her luck in her police calling endeavors, took a few more photos (just to irritate here), and left. My body was trembling. This seems to happen every time I bear witness to insolence.

 

When I reported the experience to folks waiting to walk with the democrat float, I was told not to be too surprised because the woman had a reputation for being psycho. I was not surprised, but I still wondered if I should be wearing protection before marching in the parade.

 

As it turned out, the only protection I needed was my natural defenses for ignoring the ignorant.

 

As we walked, my husky puppy was a great success and brought mainly smiles and words of admiration.

 

This IS Arizona, however, and veterans and others waved us away as we walked by them. I could hear parents instructing their children not to pet the husky because it’s a democrat. It was unsettling to watch natural this attempt to overpower empathy and pass on intolerance from one generation to the next.

 

One man booed over and over again. I stared at him in disbelief. He couldn’t be serious? More open hearts won out, and people in front of him cheered so loud as to drown out his negativity.

 

I wish I could say that I expected more from people during an event meant to celebrate every person’s freedom in this country, but sadly I know too well that there are many in this state and beyond who believe that freedom is only for the few who fit into a tidy regulated box that meets their strange and limited standards for existence.

 

The experience wasn’t so terrible as the time when I in elementary school and riding bicycles with a friend on a side street near their home when two other children on the street came flying at me on their own bikes, insults flying. It was a chase, and I was filled with fear as I was forced to decide to stand before them or to ride my bicycle all the way home on the main street, which had been strictly forbidden by my parents.

 

I chose flight, as I often have in the wake of intolerance. I have found that there are some people who are so enmeshed in their hatred and cowardice that there is no way to reason with them or to open their hearts. I believe their perspective can change, but I imagine it will take more than words alone to cause such a shift.

 

For those who cheer and spread the energy of love that this world so desperately needs, I am ever thankful. I set my intention each morning to be one of these beings.

 

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This time last year…

This time last year, it was unbearably hot

From early in the morning until late at night

We would close up the windows and draw the shades

And try to keep cool in the midst of the blaze

This time last year, when the sun would go down

We would walk near the house ‘neath the cottonwood trees

A barn owl would screech her babies were near

They left gifts of their feathers for me to find

This time last year when you were far away

It was just me and my wolf dog in the heat of the day

This time last year, it was unbearably hot

My wolf dog was with me, this year he is not

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Keep your Chi off of me

Lately, I have felt like I am being constantly bombarded by negative energy from the people around me. I think what is likely is that the bombardment is a natural part of life. When my stress level is high, I simply notice it more readily and also tend to take it far more personally.

 

Life is limbo. There is uncertainty and instability all the time because there is the possibility for so many things to happen at any time. We cannot anticipate or plan for them all.

 

I have grown accustomed to this idea, but there is another limbo that has been adding to my stress. It is the limbo I create, or at least that I am party to. My husband has been researching how to earn a PhD in Europe for the past several months, so I have been thrust into an intentional space of unknowing. Being in this space is challenging for me. I realize that I want to know what is going to happen right away. Having to be patient and wait is not my strong suit.

 

With the building stress of the unknown, I find that it does not take very much to set me off—inconsiderate driving (at least, what I consider inconsiderate), a terse email, a stern look from a stranger or a friend, no response from people I care about in a social media forum like Facebook. All of this energy keeps coming at me, and I can feel myself getting beaten up.

 

How to respond to negative energy is something I have been thinking about for a long time. I have imagined that I am engaging in a kind of energy Aikido. Should a person send something negative my way, my job would be to stop that energy in its tracks and let it fall to the ground. In this way, I would not be deflecting the energy back toward the person, which never improves a situation. I would also be ensuring that the energy did not carry on and hit someone else. Finally, I would not be taking the energy on myself.

 

The latter thought process is where my thinking has been flawed.

 

A few weeks ago, I began taking Tai Chi. I am a complete beginner, but I listen closely to the tenets of this martial art that my teacher conveys to me.

 

This evening, he was teaching me a posture that would allow me to grab hold of the wrist and forearm of a person who might be sending a punch my way. The following move would be to deflect the punch by pulling them first towards me and then behind me. In following through with these movements, I would deflect the punch from hitting me.

 

My teacher explained, It only takes 4 ounces to move a thousand pounds. Think of it as they are already moving in that direction, and you are just helping them continue on their way.
We took a break, and I quickly wrote down as much of what he had said me as I could remember.

 

And suddenly, I experienced a moment of completely clarity.

 

I stood up and walked over to where my teacher was standing looking out the window.

 

Can I ask you a question?

 

Of course.

 

So, when you were talking about deflecting a person’s attack, can that be compared to how to respond to a person’s energy?

 

He responded affirmatively.

 

The highest skill in tai chi is environmental awareness. If you sense someone with ill will in the distance, you try to go around them. But if you can’t, you should also be aware of what is going on behind you. And if there is no one behind you, you know you can deflect the energy in that direction.

 

(Clouds separate to reveal sunlight streaming through from the blue sky above)

 

I have always thought that if a person directed mean energy toward me, I should try to stop it from possibly hitting someone else.
That makes sense, but it takes a lot more energy to stop a moving force than it does to deflect it, he told me.
It was this idea that sparked the ah ha moment for me. it was like moving from an IBM to a Mac. Suddenly, I realized that I had been making my life much harder than it needed to be, and I felt lighter. Clarity was right there looking directly at me.
All of these years, I have been thinking that I need to put my hands out in front of me and physically stop the negative energy coming from the people around me. Yet I seem to find myself failing at this task.

 

Am I a bad person? I would wonder. Why do I let people get to me? Why do I engage? Why am I not able to practice my energy Aikido?

 

The reason is that I have been setting myself up to fail.

 

The reason I have been failing is that my thinking has been flawed.

 

I am not an energy superhero. In some fairly benign energy instances, I may be able to stop the energy in its tracks and let it fall to the ground. However, in most instances I am not strong enough to stop it, and so it simply comes crashing right into me. When this happens, if I am not under a high amount of stress, I can sometimes let it pass through me (though not without some damage). Most often, I am inclined to push that negative energy right back at the person because I am feeling attacked.

 

If I take the practice of Tai Chi to my energy theory, I realize that I don’t need to try to stop the weird, often nasty energy of the people I meet, in some capacity, each and every day. I don’t know where their negativity or aggression started, but likely it originated long before they met me. What I can do is to attempt to gracefully redirect the continuing path of their ire and let it continue on its way without taking it on myself. The origin of their ire is not my fight. I can simply help a little with the path of its trajectory.

 

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Vows beyond “I do”

I do not recall learning the safety measures for crossing the street as a child, but I am certain my parents can remember the process quite vividly. It must be terrifying imaging your child running out into oncoming traffic.

 

I cannot imagine how terrifying it must be now to teach your children these rules when so many people are dividing their awareness and attention between driving and their smartphone.

 

Just this morning, I was driving on highway 89 after my morning swim, when I noticed a young deer run out into the lane ahead of me. I watched as the car just in front and to my left slowed down (there are some people left who practice mindful driving). I slowed to a halt as I saw mom and three other babies all earing the median between four lanes of traffic.

 

I sat quietly watching and wondering. I knew they needed to get to the other side where there was access to water, but I had no idea how to encourage them to carry on their way.

 

Instead, a white compact came zooming toward them from the lanes in the opposite direction. I held my breath as the compact came to a screeching halt, followed by a large black pickup truck driving at top speed, which nearly drove straight into the stopped compact.

 

The deer family turned and ran full tilt in the direction they had come from, and I said a silent meditation that they would reach water safely and all in one piece.

 

You are likely familiar with the saying, If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all?

 

Well, I am attributing this saying to the reason I have refrained from writing from a little while. I seem to be experiencing a decreasing tolerance for humankind, and I have not wished to write a super negative piece.

 

I used to say thanks for my life after driving anywhere in Massachusetts, and I could not imagine a place where there were crazier drivers; however, I have come to believe that good drivers may no longer exist anywhere because our species has grown so accustomed to thinking it can multitask on the road. There is less and less awareness and mindfulness and more inconsiderate, ignorant action being taken, and it shocks and terrifies me every day.

 

Being sensitive, I instantly take personally people’s lack of awareness. Being an attempting Buddhist, I made a vow to do my best to not engage in any way with other drivers on the road. I have failed to fulfill this vow already many times, but the important thing is that I am trying.

 

In other areas, I have begun to vow kindness over other less savory alternatives, with mixed results.

 

Many weeks ago, I encountered a fairly sullen, less than friendly lifeguard at the pool where I swim nearly every day. I was already feeling the stress that has been building for the past year as my husband sends waves of intention out into the universe for a possible path that will take us away from our lives in Arizona. This stress is always so near the surface that it seems to take very little to set me off, vows be damned!

 

On this particular day, I had just purchased a new month long pass for the pool, so I knew my name would not yet be entered into the computer when I went to swim directly after making my purchase. However, all of the lifeguards at the pool knew me, and they never asked me to bring a receipt as proof.

 

Surly lifeguard man did not even look me in the eye when I said I would not yet be entered in the computer. He simply gestured with a flippant wave toward the locker room for me to leave and not come back without a receipt.

 

I stormed back into the locker room, brought back my receipt, and shoved it in his face. You must be new, I had said in a tone dripping with condescension.

 

He studied the receipt, commenting that my name was not on it.

 

Do you want to see my driver’s license? I had asked.

 

Finally content that I was not attempting to swim for free, he let me go. I swam for my usual twenty minutes, fuming the entire time. I was irritated that he was so unfriendly. Beyond that, I was disappointed in myself for letting his attitude get to me and responding in kind.

 

As I walked back to the locker room, I had paused at the door and apologized for assuming he was new.

 

I have been here six months, he had said.

 

Six months? I remember thinking. Sounds pretty new to me.

 

Instead, I had responded by saying something about how six months was still quite a brief amount of time, geologically.

 

Ever since that unfortunate encounter, I have dreaded that he will be the lifeguard on duty when I go swim. After all, he is paid to save my life should something happen in the water. I probably should not have been so unfriendly.

 

Every time I went to swim and he was there, I tried to smile and say hello, though I rarely saw any kind of emotional response appear on his face.

 

One morning, I went to swim earlier than usual, and there he was.

 

How are you? I asked.

 

Ok. Tired.

 

Oh no, late night?

 

He proceeded to tell me about how his girlfriend was an early riser, while he tended to be a night owl. He was trying to shift his usual habit, but with the addition of a Rottweiler rescue dog added into the mix, it had gotten a bit more difficult.

 

Tell me about your dog, I had invited.

 

And he did. He went on for at least ten minutes before I could ease away to get into the pool.

 

As I edged toward the water, I told him I was sorry I was so mean the other day. I said that I imagined he had to deal with cranky people all of the time.

 

He responded enthusiastically and that people would always get irritated because the computer was always down.

 

Having worked as a park ranger for the National Park Service for a decade, I was well aware of how pushy and entitled people could be if they did not feel they were getting their way as quickly and effectively as possible.

 

People think I’m mean, but I am super dedicated to my job, he said.

 

Well, maybe it is because your face makes you look like you are angry, I suggested.

 

Oh, he said. I call that my stern resting bitch face.

 

We both laughed.

 

Well, I said, I was really stressed out that day, but I should not have acted the way I did. I’m really sorry.

 

Now when I go swimming and he is there, I have only to ask after his dog, and he will happily chat away. It is like he becomes a different person entirely.

 

I think we are both better for it.

 

In conclusion, not all people are bad, and it is important to practice mindfulness…at the pool, on the road, and everywhere in between.

 

Don’t forget to be kind to yourself, too!

 

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Health “care”

A man walks into a doctor’s office. His appointment is at 2:30pm, and he was asked to arrive at 2:15pm to fill out the usual paperwork.

 

The man has not had great luck with doctors in this country. They tend toward nursing their own ego at the expense of the patient. Sadly, this visit will prove to be no exception.

 

The man is brought through the usual steps at the beginning of an appointment. And then he waits.

 

And he waits.

 

And he waits some more.

 

At 4pm, the doctor saunters in.

 

The man explains his ailments to the doctor, who becomes fixated on just one.

 

He begins writing out prescriptions for multiple drugs and physical therapy. The man interjects, reminding the doctor of his preference for less medication. He explains that he already has tried physical therapy, and it didn’t help.

 

No no no no no, the doctor interjects. This place is very good.

 

The doctor then insists that the man return every three months for blood work. The man responds that this seems extreme and not necessary (not to mention that the man knows his health insurance will only over blood work and one visit to a doctor each calendar year).

 

The doctor measures the man’s heart rate and remarks that it seems high.

 

The man responds that it is likely because he is frustrated and upset.

 

The doctor becomes irritated, and tells the man that he is not going to lose his license over him and perhaps this is not the place for him.

 

Patients love us, the doctor gushes. We see 125 patients a day, he tells the man. We don’t need you!

 

The man reaches for the paperwork he brought with him. Before the man stands up to leave, the doctor storms out, never to return.

 

Now, correct me if I am wrong, but I have always been under the impression that healthcare was meant to help people in need and not the other way around. I grew up with two parents working in public health, and I had fairly traditional experiences with doctors and dentists and the like.

 

Sadly, however, over the course of my life in this country, healthcare has become an industry, a well-oiled business machine, where the needs of the many outweigh the decadent desires of the few.

 

My advice? Stay super duper healthy with rest, exercise, meditation, yoga, or whatever works for you and hope you can keep your visits to the doctor to a minimum.

 

OR

 

Move to Canada or a country in Europe.

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You can dance if you wanna

This morning, my husband and I sat outside on our porch to enjoy the cooler temperatures and sounds of nature while eating our breakfast. Our home is surrounded by outcroppings of large, granite boulders, and a small creek fed by a nearby reservoir and bordered by tall cottonwood trees flows year round across the way, a rarity in the high desert of Arizona.

 

Thanks to the presence of water year round, there is a variety of wildlife who share this corner of the desert with us—bobcat, coyote, and many species of birds.

 

As we sat drinking coffee and eating our toast and over medium eggs, I heard a familiar two-part song. Looking up above the creek to a small exposed branch of a cottonwood tree, I saw a small dark bird. A cowbird. This is not a bird known for the beauty and complexity of its song, yet this did not seem to inhibit the bird from singing out to whoever might be listening.

 

As I sat watching and listening, I thought about the differences between my childhood and adult selves. As a child, I, too, sang uninhibited and danced with abandon around our living room. Yet, at some point, I stopped. Was it because I noticed people were watching and possibly, quite likely, judging my every move and the notes pouring forth from my mouth?

 

According to the Tibetan Buddhists, life is suffering. My meditation teacher, Will Duncan, a local philosopher who has been studying Tibetan Buddhism since he was seventeen, says that we are all on a sinking ship. Every one of us must someday part with everything and everyone we love. We are all born, grow old, and die. Many of us are taken long before the wrinkles of time take shape on our well-worn bodies. So why do we spend so much precious time increasing our suffering through judgment and mean-spirited action?

 

I grew up in a small suburban town south of Boston, and it was very clear to me that my peers and their parents were judging my every action. And it took so very little for the judgment train to start moving and pick up speed. Wearing the same dress to several Bar or Bat Mitvahs was a big no no, for example. Much judgment and misery surrounded fashion choices and material possessions, all monetary symbols of status in the eyes of the young privileged Jewish children and their parents who also inhabited the town. For me, there was simply no way to win. I didn’t even go to the cool Jewish temple, and by the age of twelve I was so miserable that I made a vow to stop attempting to impress the unimpressible. I exchanged in season clothing from the Gap and the Limited, Too for the comfortable and well-worn Levis and old sweaters my mom had been saving for me. Letting go of the desire to be seen as cool didn’t change my desire to feel like I belonged, but it went a long way toward helping me begin paving my own path toward a life of happiness, a path I am still figuring out today.

 

The desire to belong and to simply live a joyful life is still present for me today, and I know I am not alone in this pursuit. Finding ways to focus on the joy without being worn down by the judgment of others is a constant challenge. And it is a challenge that does not solely exist in Massachusetts Suburbia.

 

I remember a dear friend telling me how his wife would only work in her garden at night. They had lived for twenty years in a coastal town in Maine that had grown increasingly inhabited by pretentious wealthy people, who bought second homes lining the shores of the harbor. When his wife and neighbors—wealthy and otherwise—would work in her garden, their neighbors would walk by and make nasty comments in intentionally loud voices about the fact that she was doing her own landscaping and the choices she was making for said landscaping. Thus, she began only working in her yard, pastime she loved, with the protection of darkness the blanket of night provided.

 

You might be thinking, sure, but that is the east coast. People are way more judgy and pretentious there than in the Midwest and beyond. Well, let me tell you a little story about the extreme judgment I experienced in Alaska, a place where people go to reinvent themselves and find acceptance for who they are and who they wish to be.

 

I have told this story from many angles, but today I wish to focus on a woman whose life appeared to have become such complete suffering that she had seemingly dedicated her life to increasing the misery of those around her over whom she had the illusion of control.

 

The concept of illusion is key here. People respond differently to the reality that much of what goes on in life is beyond our control. For me, awareness and intention have become the guiding forces in my own attempts to dance with the uncertainties in my life. I have spent many hours learning to listen to my inner voice and to speak my truths F$in ways that will honor my identity and establish equanimity in my heart, mind, body, and spirit.

 

Others do not always welcome speaking from a deep place of knowing. Seeing a person navigating the uncertainties of life can be threatening to those for whom the need for control has become akin to survival. My actions seemed to put people on the defensive, perhaps because it caused them to step back and review the state of their own life. I cannot know for certain; I can only speculate.

 

I do know from communicating with members of the small community in Alaska where I lived that this person, the Chief of Interpretation at the national park in town, had been so threatened by the many artists and idealists drawn to work there that she had deftly worked to make their work lives so difficult that they eventually gave up and left. Each time an artist left marked a return to my boss’s illusion of control. No longer was there a person in her presence causing her to reflect on her unhappy existence. No longer was there a reminder of a world of freedom outside of the tenuous bubble her life had become.

An artist responds to a life of suffering by finding ways to break free from the confines set upon them by the people in their world who feel threatened by their desire to discover and highlight truth.

 

A person who lives in such fear of this freedom finds every way to break the spirit of the artist. In my experience, this began quite quickly after I started working at Glacier Bay National Park. First, I was called into my supervisor’s office at he bequest of the Chief of Interpretation to receive a scolding for wearing nose jewelry and dangly earrings. Sure, there are clauses with strict rules for the kind of jewelry a park ranger can/not wear, but these rules tend to be taken with a grain of salt as jewelry is one of the rare forms of personal expression possible for a person who wears a uniform.

 

It didn’t seem to matter that all of the other staff in our division and other departments wore all manner of personal jewelry. I was the artist and independent thinker who needed to be tamed, and fast.

 

Moving to a high position in the government requires a certain acceptance of loss of control. One must adhere to strict rules and regulations and be able to enforce those regulations upon their inferiors. In giving up control, one gains a certain amount of control and also a set of guidelines to work and live by. For a person afraid of uncertainty, this may help to create the illusion of control I referred to earlier.

 

There are many ways to avoid dealing with the realities of the Tibetan Buddhist’s belief that life is suffering and unavoidable truth that someday we all will die.

 

Religion can offer relief from these truths. By adhering to the Jewish Orthodox religion, for example, a person need no longer make any choices for themselves. Choices are made and actions taken through interpretations of rules that were designed long ago and that are enforced by your rabbi, husband, etc. This way of life can be a convenient way of avoiding uncertainty and maintaining a sense of control, though for me it is far from engaging with life in a full embrace for all that comes with it.

 

It is not my place to judge. Having learned the hard way how hurtful judgment can be, I cannot say I have a deep desire to perpetuate this kind of behavior. I think the negativity that judgment brings constricts my ability to experience life in a joyful, unbound way. But those fetters can also connect back to the want or need for the illusion of control. Placing judgment upon another being creates an illusion that they are behaving in a way that is wrong, thus placing our own behavior and choices as right or better.

 

Judgment is othering. It creates the sense of us and them, of our own superiority and their inferiority. It removes accountability. And it removes the human face and spirit of the person being othered.

 

To my boss, I was a threat to her illusion of control, and thus she painted me as a dangerous other who needed to be removed from her sphere of control in order for her to avoid looking into the mirror and seeing what everyone else around her seemed to have already discovered—that she was a sad person who no one liked.

 

Even despite the incredibly pain and discomfort I experienced in the wake of her need for control, I still cannot help feeling so sad for the time she has wasted making the people around her so miserable. I do no imagine that it brings her a true sense of joy. Her actions created a sphere of fear around her. People were afraid of her. People did not like her.

 

In the wake of my experience in Alaska, I have spent more and more time listening to an inner voice that had nearly disappeared from the one that inspired childhood dancing and singing with reckless abandon. And I have begun to sing out in ways that create positive energy in the world. It may be as simple a song as smiling at a stranger as we cross paths on a trail. It might be blowing a kiss and sending thoughts of apology to a squirrel lying silent on the road.

 

I do not always succeed, and it often feels like darkness can creep in far more readily than light. But always I feel better when I take the time to envision and embrace the lighter possibilities in life.

 

I have come to believe that we do not dance or sing to look or sound any particular way. We do it because it brings joy. We do it because we can. And if we are very brave, we do it even when it may bring upon us the wrath of the fearful.

 

And so I return to my cowbird neighbor. He may not be the brightest and most beautiful bird. He may not live to see the sun set on each passing beautiful Arizona day. Despite all of this uncertainty, he still finds the courage to wake up each morning and open his heart, mind, and spirit that his voice may sing out for all to hear.

 

In a life full of suffering in the face of the unknown, what better way to start the day?

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