Thursday, April 28, 2016

Stepping Out and In


Every time I contemplate writing something, I feel almost mute—and a bit sick to my stomach. I have been writing since I could, telling stories through pictures and then words for decades. Yet lately, I have felt surrounded by people screaming and distorting and being generally...inhumane...and I haven’t want to jump into the fray. 

Most of this feeling came as a result of me spending too much time on social media, I know. But in real life, too, I kept encountering one bad actor after another, usually accompanied by an unleashed dog or sitting in a vehicle that was too close to the backside of my own vehicle for my comfort.

I realized not long ago that I had lost almost all faith in my fellow humans. My own natural and life-long compassion and empathy disappeared. I began responding aggressively and angrily to those who were behaving badly. Given where I live—in a country where a lot of people have guns—I figured if I didn’t get myself under control, I was going to get myself dead—or badly hurt. So I stepped off.

Aahhhh.

Most days, I stepped onto the trail at a nearby refuge.


What a relief it has been. I have subjected myself to very little news. No advertising, little news, no social media. I took thousands of photographs of cottonwoods, ospreys, woodpeckers, great blue herons, finches, red winged-blackbirds, and many ducks and turtles. I soon began to sleep better, my anger dissipated, and my compassion and empathy began to return.

On this particular refuge trail, I encounter so many kind and interesting people. We stop and talk to each other about the weather, the watershed, the birds (and other wild life). Not everyone wants to talk, of course. I passed one older gentleman almost every day for a couple of weeks. At first we just nodded to one another. Then after several days, I said hello, and he answered me likewise. In another day or two, he smiled as he said hello. Then one day, we stopped and talked to one another about the birds we had seen that day, and then we continued on our separate ways. 

A couple of times I have encountered people with dogs on the trail or about to get on the trail. (No dogs are allowed on this particular trail. It’s critical habitat.) In my recent naturalist training, the ranger had suggested that we make everyone feel welcome and safe at the refuge. I have remembered this each time I’ve met someone with a dog. 

One woman was looking for water for her dog. (Actually, she had borrowed the dog from a friend—so I guess that’s why she hadn’t brought water!) I offered her my water. As I poured water into the dog’s dish, I asked her all about the dog. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was just practicing being kind. Sometimes it does take practice.

 Once I encountered a group of young people with a dog. I stopped and said hello. “How are you doing? Hey, you probably didn’t realize it but this is critical habitat, and no dogs are allowed here.” The young man with the dog said someone had just told him, and they were leaving. I didn’t scream at him and point out prominent signs about no dogs on the trail—in fact, I didn’t even THINK about screaming at him. 

No screaming. No meltdown. All was well in River City.

I also haven’t had any road rage incidents lately. If someone tailgates me, I move over as soon as I can. If I can’t move, I imagine being surrounded by protective runes. (Hey, some of you pray. Some of you curse. I throw out runes or Celtic chants.) I’ve also started listening to audio books again. I guess that makes me a distracted driver, but I think it makes me a better driver: Listening to a good book keeps me from focusing on the asshat on my tail.

I have been doing my library work, too, and researching two novels. I won’t mention which ones just in case nothing ever comes of the research. I’m enjoying the research even though I’m not actually feeling any urge to write.

Right now, it’s important to me to try and disengage from as many of the cultural smokescreens as I can as I try to figure out what’s true (and real) in my life and in the world. It’s always been important to me to know the truth. I don’t mean that in some pompous or na├»ve way. I want to know what’s true. What’s real. I have always believed there is so much we don’t know. I think much of our full potential gets dampened or wounded or never realized because of cultural constraints: by what our culture tells us is so, what advertising tells us is so, what social media tells us is so. What we’ve been told doesn’t make it necessarily so, of course, but we don’t always understand this.

No matter who we are, we are affected by the culture—by the cultures of our family, friends, school, church, country, work. They want us to stay a part of them, they don’t want us to change, they don’t want us to rock the boat. This isn’t because of any evil intent. It’s about survival of the tribe. Flying the coop or living up to our dreams or full potential doesn’t maintain the status quo.

I know this sounds vague. It’s late. I’m tired. Maybe I can’t make it sound concrete. It’s like a fish who has lived its whole life in a fish bowl trying to talk about what it would be like to live in an ocean, I suppose.

I believe every decision we make—at least every important decision—is influenced by our various cultures. I believe illness and health and how we get well (or don’t get well) is influenced by our cultures. Scientists now know that our gene codes are only a small part of what makes us healthy or ill. They are learning from the study of epigenetics that our environment, including our cultures, can change and does affect our health.  

During this respite from social media, I have been trying to get well, something I’ve done for nearly every day of the last 30 years, so I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes us ill and what makes us healthy. I want to know the truth of what ails me so I can be well. 

Actually, I just want to be well. Maybe the truth doesn’t matter. 

Just bring me wellness. 

As you know, the musician Prince died last week. When Mario first told me, in an offhand way, I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. I was certain I had heard it wrong. How could Prince be dead? He was younger than I was. And he had always seemed so...like himself. He seemed to go his own way, to understand himself and his talent. I have chaffed at the constraints of my culture, but I have never thrown it off fully, not in a healthy way. Prince seemed full of himself. I’ve always felt that the world would be so much better off if each of us was full of our true self—not the self created by cultural constraints.

Later that day, the day Prince died, I wondered what I would have done with my life had I been able to truly know what I wanted. Would I have been a writer? I had wanted to be a writer for almost as long as I could remember. I was good at it, and I liked the accolades I got when I did it. Was that the reason I had become a writer?

I let my mind wander. I asked myself: What would I be now if I could be anyone? What would I do if I could do anything and be good at it? 

One word floated into my head: healer.

Healer?

What? No, that couldn’t be right. The thought of being a doctor or a nurse was repulsive to me. Not because there’s something wrong with those professions: I just wouldn’t be good at it. I’m queasy. I don’t have a strong stomach. I pick up symptoms easily. 

Yet I had studied folk healing for almost twenty-five years. I had even practiced some of what I learned. Sometimes I felt like I had helped people; sometimes I had no idea. I was even able to help myself a few times. But with the big thing that had ailed me for so many years, I was helpless. And I was still sick. After a while I thought, who gives a shit? If I can’t help myself, what good is it? If it was real, I’d be well. So I didn't’t believe in it.

I believe in what works: whether it’s a god or a medicine, a job or a relationship.

Because if it works, then it’s true.
And even if it had worked for some people, why hadn’t it worked for me?

Why? Why? Why?

Ugh.

Anyway. It was strange, odd, unexpected: healer. Did I really want to be a healer when I grew up?

I’m not sure what it means. Maybe nothing at all. I don’t really know what this post means. Maybe nothing at all. It’s almost as if words are new to me. Again. 

Whether I suddenly become a healer, tinker, tailor, soldier, or baker, I know I need to continue to step out. I don’t want to be the witch at the edge of the village, alone except when people need her. Nor do I want to be the one in the middle of everything stirring up trouble and feeling completely burned out. Somehow I need to balance out my despair over what is happening in the world with the joy of living in this beautiful world. I need to find my place in this old world.

Now, every morning I go outside and stand in my bare feet on the cold wet grass. I imagine my roots going down into the ground to wrap around the roots of other trees growing in the area. And then I reach my arms up into the sky and imagine myself eating light, just like the trees. This always makes me smile. And it feels...chilly and thrilling. 

I realized today it’s not just other people I’ve lost faith in. I’ve lost faith in myself and my abilities. I need to regain some trust and confidence in myself again, in my ability to be in this world as a whole, hale, healthy, true being. Maybe as I wash away the influences of the culture, I will become full of my true self.

Wouldn’t that be something? 

If I could do that, I guess I would be a healer. 

  


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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.