Location

Do you ever pause and muse, “how did I get here?” Not your physical location, but rather your location in life. Married or single. Employed or not. Friendless, or surrounded by people you love. A grimace, or a smile, gracing your face as you emerge from your bed.

How did I get here?

People tell me it isn’t fair to try to pinpoint a moment, a decision, where things began to go awry. They tell me I am too hard on myself, that life happens, that you have to try things and make mistakes to learn what kind of career you want (that is ultimately the source of my mental panic – how am I going to make it for myself in this world?).

I desperately want to believe them, a penitent sinner scrabbling at the hope of salvation.

But I don’t.

I must have gone wrong somewhere, I must have f*cked up, I must have made a series of illogical, cowardly, or rash decisions to get me to this place. I must be deficient in some way, that I cannot function as a normal employed adult in a civilized society. I must be too childish, I must be lazy, I must not have what it takes. I must lack perseverance. There must be something wrong with me…call it an imbalance of neurotransmitters or a weak and meek spirit. Take your pick, I don’t care what worldview you subscribe to.

I must be bad. Dysfunctional. Not enough.

See how easily my mind slips from doing something bad to being something bad? As far as I understand it, “emotionally healthy” people don’t slip up like that, at least when they are thinking of themselves.

I have no doubt I previously wrote other posts similar to this one. Surprise surprise, I haven’t changed much. Personality psychology, I salute you. Anyway, I didn’t have an end point in my mind for this post, other than to get myself out of this eddy of thought.

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Little Ones

An idea, a fleeting thought embossed itself in my mind’s eye as I stood up to take a break from studying. 

I was in a house full of children – eight at the least, all about four to six years old. They were all mine, all loved by me, all running around elated in my house, the place they called home. They jumped, they grinned up at me, they sought my and my husband’s attention, and we gave it to them gladly. Loved filled my heart, for each and every one of them. We had created a place of rest, peace, embrace, vitality, and most of all, a love of life, for these children.

They were my children, our children, our beloved little ones. We cleaned their wounds, we encouraged their interests, we indulged their curiosity, we taught them to love the outdoors, to care for nature. They brought joy to our already happy relationship. 

In that fleeting moment, that image in my mind’s eye, I was perfectly in joy to simply be their caregiver. Career, ambition – these were irrelevant. My joy came from loving them.

And though they were mine, though we called them our children, they all were of others’ flesh and blood. No older than I am now, I was in love with loving forgotten and abandoned little ones. And it was more than enough.

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Moments

November 25, 2013

Here I sit. This morning, I can do no other. Life is moving, going, slowly slowly by. At times, I am caught up in the midst of it. At times, I feel strangely separated, an outsider to the activity and life that is going on around me in the lives of my roommates and friends. Isolation, chosen.

What is life other than a string of moments, action, brought together? Moments, lived for a higher or baser purpose. Moments I get to choose. No one makes me do anything. I ultimately have a choice. As do all the people in my life. I cannot make them do anything, as they cannot make me do anything. We all live our lives freely, and choose to let each other influence them.

Thus, every day, I come to a choice – how will you live today? What will you choose to live for, the present, the past, or the future? What will you hold in your mind? Hedonistic pleasure? Future goals? Appreciation for the present?

It is up to you. And none of the choices above are wrong. They are yours, and no matter the judgment upon them, you must live with their consequences. That is your blessing and curse.

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April 11, 2011

Part of a journal entry I made on this date.

“God…wow.  You are SO BIG.  And I am so small.  And that is what makes all the difference!  You, Almighty Creator of the whole world, of the sun, of a million suns, of billions of galaxies; You, who spoke a word and light came to be; You, who know my most intimate thoughts about myself, about my life, about the people I see; You, who know every delight of my life – music, acoustic guitar, dark chocolate, the countryside, exploring the woods, observing creatures and critters, reading compelling literature, drinking sugary coffee, spending time joking, laughing, and gaming with my best friends, of simply talking to strangers and hearing their story; You, who know how repulsed I am with pride (in others and myself), war and violence, the typical way of doing church, unhealthy habits, fat or lack of tone in bodies, the American dream/lifestyle, hypocrisy (again, in others and then myself – hypocrite!), condemnation (hypocrite here again…); You, who see all the good and bad potential of each and every person in the world, and who loves each of us perfectly…You are God!

You, the enthroned one on high, above the heavens, You gave up Your glory and power and knowledge and became a man, a creature of flesh and bones, of this earth, and walked this sod.  You ate and drank, slept and woke, peed and pooped, probably threw up, who cried, got angry, embarrassed, laughed, felt affections for your earthly family.  You worked the ground, worked with wood, carried burdens, helped in building things, swam in the Jordan or other lakes.  You, who unlikely enough, without earthly training began to teach about God and Scripture, gathering followers, performing miracles of healing, of supernatural knowledge, of forgiveness and transformation of human hearts.  You who chose to carry the intense burden of physical and spiritual torture, were crucified on a cross, laid in a tomb once dead, and rose again in glory!  Ha…after you ascended to heaven, You sent Your Holy Spirit to Your followers to empower them to perform signs and miracles, to tell the story/news of your life and death and resurrection, and to further drive back the kingdom of darkness.  Your followers and Spirit have continued to do this throughout history.  And, though this description is long, You transcend it by a million times…wow!  WOW!  What a God.”

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Silence

Snow falling in forest with pine tree. - HD stock video clip

Today I woke up to about 4-5 inches of fresh, powdery snow covering the scenery out my apartment window. Formulating my plan for the day, I settled on hunting for a few nearby geocache sites.

Once I was well into the trail, walking through the powder covered Vermont woodlands, I noticed the quiet. The noise of the road was well behind me, I was the only person around, and the only animal I heard for my hour long hike was a solitary bird, tweeting about for just under a minute. Far from seeming oppressive or odd, the silence was comforting. The only sounds I heard: my winter gear rustling as I walked, and the soft, almost imperceptible fall of the snow from the trees to the ground.  Sugar, being poured into the bowl of the forest floor.

My thoughts usually would have jumped from this idea of peaceful silence to the noise and distractions of modern life, how we as a society should work to separate ourselves from the many diversions which vie for our attention. But they did not. Instead, I noted the peaceful quiet, paused to appreciate it, and moved on. This, my friends, is progress toward a more present and peaceful life.

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Waiting

I wrote this poem a couple of years ago, November 27, 2010.  It was particularly relevant then, and it is relevant now.  Always.

Waiting.

Hoping.

Expecting.

Dreaming.

Waiting.

I wait for a love. I wait for a destiny. I wait for a calling. A clear one. I wait for an adventure. I wait for people to see things as I see them.

I wait.

I wait because I must. I wait because I cannot change a heart.

But I wait because I fear. I wait because I am paralyzed.

NO.

No longer.

No longer will I wait for my life to happen.  No longer will I wait for perfection. No longer will I be controlled by the will of others.

will not wait.

I will pursue my dreams.

I will pursue my hopes.

I will pursue my desires. My interests.

I will chase those things that give me life.

And I will not look back.

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Getting my LOTR geek on

On Tom Bombadil: ” “‘He is the Master of wood, water, and hill'” (I, 174; 160), and [Goldberry] goes on to say that nothing belongs to Tom; all that of which he is master belongs to itself. Tom’s mastery consists of seeing to it that all in his realm preserves its own identity–is, in a word, free.” p.29.

There is beauty in this, paralleling the Garden of Eden – a man is master over the earth and living things without subjecting or abusing them. True mastery of an object or being is not a relationship in which the master has power over the subject, but a relationship in which the master uses his or her own powers to ensure the freedom of the subject.  Consider the example of a king, his subjects, and his kingdom.  It thrives not when the king is a despot, controlling each detail of his subjects’ lives; rather, a kingdom thrives when its ruler provides protection, counsel, and guidelines within which its subjects are free to live, create, and even challenge their ruler if they observe inequality or injustice creeping into the kingdom.  “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.”

“The powers of Gandalf begin to appear at their fullest, and much of Gandalf’s power is in language; words have magic.” p.33

The Fellowship of the Ring ends with Frodo having to make a choice (of where to take the Ring) and having exceeding difficulty in doing so. Only the intrusion of Boromir clears his mind; here it may be that Frodo knows the decision he must make but is reluctant to make it. And we will soon be looking at cases in which individuals must choose to ignore or violate some law or rule or edict in light of what they consider a higher duty and must suffer the consequences of their choices.” p.46

“‘Are these magic cloaks?’ asks Pippin. The Elven leader relplies only that they are cloaks which have the qualities of the places the Elves love–they have the color and the power of woods and waters, for the Elves put such virtues ‘into all that we make.’ (I, 479; 437) Again, the idea is that ‘magic’ is a deep affinity with and understanding of the natural world.” p.47

I quite enjoy this idea that a deep connection with nature is the root of magic.  Fitting for Tolkien’s life, and for mine!

“If a mind can gather energies into itself and re-direct them, so the mind’s own native energies can be projected outward to influence its surroundings.  This is demonstrable by the effect the Nazgûl have on others just by being in the vicinity; everyone freezes in terror or blankness of mind.” p.47, that “States of mind can have physical power“, whether one’s own state of mind or others’.

“Only the intrusion of Boromir clears his mind; here it may be that Frodo knows the decision he must make but is reluctant to make it. And we will soon be looking at cases in which individuals must choose to ignore or violate some law or rule or edict in light of what they consider a higher duty and must suffer the consequences of their choice.” p.46

“This idea of disobedience as true obedience, or as obedience to a higher consideration that the letter of the law, has been seen before, in the actions of the Elf Haldir on the borders of Lórien in letting Gimli enter the Golden Wood. (I, 445; 406) It will be seen again in Book V where it saves the life of Faramir. It is a powerful nuance in a book whose business is so solidly with the establishment of rightful authority; it deepens the whole concept of duty, and underwrites the idea that individuals can and must make meaningful choices. Éomer is imprisoned for his choice, but his loyalty to his king is soon made clear and he is released.” p.57

“Thus this final chapter [of the triology] embodies the paradoxical theme that runs throughout The Lord of the Ringsthe inevitability of change and the need to restore what has been changed. Tolkien argues for the inevitability of large historical processes, which we must accept, but also for the restoration of former states of peace and plenty, of former grace and beauty, whose end or diminution we must not accept….So the passing of the Elves (irrecoverable change) and the Scouring of the Shire (restoration of what had been changed) are both necessary.” p.93  I could comment on this, but it speaks well enough for itself.

“Ilúvatar chided Aulë severely for this usurpation of power, but Aulë pleaded high purpose and good intention. Ilúvatar had compassion on Aulë and his worthy but mistaken aims, and let his creatures live, and they became the Dwarves (thus does intention structure result…)” p.110

“Even the Númenoreans who did not rebel and who came to Middle-earth after Númenor’s fall were obsessed with evading death, and thus with death itself….They put astrology, and alchemy, and medicine to work seeking [endless life]….The irony of this is inescapable: seeking to live forever, these Men neglected to live at all. Seeking to prolong life, they failed to nourish it….Part of the evil of the Enemy’s schemes was to teach Men to regard this departure, called Death, with fear and hatred.”pp.123-124. That which was meant as a blessing, through desire and lust for what they did not have, became a burden to men, giving the Enemy victory over individuals and for a time, their very race.

“My own estimate, after some thinking, is that the book’s essential religious nature and even its specifically Christian cast lie not in theology nor in symbolism but in emotion. And the emotions in which these matters are embodied are hope and despair….To despair is to commit an enormous act of pride or hubris, for it means seeing the end beyond all doubt, that is being omniscient….In this question of hope and despair, certainly it is Christian–but not exclusively so–to put oneself lower than one’s Creator, and not, by despairing, to set oneself equal to him. But the idea of something happening “beyond hope,” or something coming to pass which was only a “fool’s hope” (as Denethor characterizes Gandalf’s strategy) seems specifically Christian….What the Christian is called upon to believe is so far beyond the merely rational as to strain the faith, hope, credulity of any but a fool, just as anyone’s belief that Frodo’s errand will succeed and destroy Evil is beyond any probability.” pp.163-164, 165-166.

The symbols in the book certainly can be Christian, though they probably fit better within the whole realm of human experience than within one specific religion (even if Tolkien was a Christian, The Lord of the Rings appeals to people regardless of religious affiliation). Hoping beyond hope is a unique characteristic of Christianity, that much is certain.

All of these are quotes from a book titled Hobbits, Elves, and Wizards: The Wonders and Worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” by Michael Stanton.  I purchased this book, written by a University of Vermont professor in 2001, at the Rivendell bookshop in the state capitol, Montpelier.  Such a purchase was brilliant!

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Body Language

A young woman stands, shoulders back, arms relaxed at her side, head turned at a slight angle. Her eyes set, her feet planted. She breathes deeply, and exhales. Her posture remains unaltered, her eyes continue to gaze ahead.

She wears black sweats and a loose red flannel Pendleton. Her hair falls just below her ears. It is unkempt at the moment – spent all day under a hat. Glasses on, her mouth a firm line, she takes in her own appearance.

Strength. Something she perceives in the way she holds herself. Not something she feels at the moment.

A calm attentiveness. She is surveying her body language and inner state, after all.

Control? She feels less in control than usual tonight. What if her plans fall through? What if she fails to accomplish what she set out to do? Her brow furrows, she feels anxiety and panic begin to rise within her.

Breathe deeply. Close your eyes. Shove down the worries and fear. She tells herself this to regain control.

She looks in the mirror again, chewing the inside of her cheek. What would people think if they knew all this? she wonders.

She sits. They would know you are human. That you have stopped pretending to be perfect. You should tell them. She knows. That does not make the confession any easier.

Pressing her lips together, one foot balancing on the toes of the other, hair falling from behind her ear into her eyes, she resolves to stop being such a perfectionist. To publish the “unfinished” blog post. To stop fretting about grad school applications. Maybe.

She sighs. To relax and stop being so hard on herself.

Her shoulders sag, her head drops. Her eyes…they feel dull, tired. She knows they look that way. They certainly don’t feel alive and bright.

She turns the page, continues writing. That might be it for today, she muses. Now what do I want to do?

No energy, but not sleepy either. The night and technology offer a myriad of choices…

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Healing through Simplicity

Let me preface the main thoughts of this post by saying it is quite appropriate for me to be writing this on Black Friday (though published a day later), when I hope to shop, but more importantly shop with the intention of spending time with my father, brother, and mother.

Every year for Black Friday, stores pump out more ads, open earlier (into Thanksgiving evening this year), attempting to draw in more customers with exceptional deals on the biggest shopping day in America.  Rather poor at this time in my life, and never a big spender, I find the effort and attention put into Black Friday shopping amusing.  And sometimes sickening. After living the past year and a half of my life on a subsistence level, and now living in a place where the simple joys of life reign supreme, I must ask, why do we obsessively chase the manufactured ‘needs’ of fashion, high tech gadgets, and the like? How is our humanity being shaped by the need for more stuff? And how can we resist this ever escalating march toward ultimate greed?

If human desires are in fact infinitely expandable, consumption is ultimately incapable of providing fulfillment–a logical consequence ignored by economic theory.  Indeed, social scientists have found striking evidence that high consumption societies, just as high-living individuals, consume ever more without achieving satisfaction. The allure of the consumer society is powerful, even irresistible, but it is shallow nonetheless.

Alan Thein Durning, p. 70, “Are We Happy Yet?” from Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, 1995

It is common for ecopsychologists whose work includes long wilderness trips or intense urban restoration projects to report dramatic breakthroughs that shake individuals to their core. When the natural world reawakens in every fiber of our being the primal knowledge of connection and graces us with a few moments of sheer awe, it can shatter the hubris and isolation so necessary to narcissistic defenses. Once this has happened, ongoing contact with nature can keep these insights alive and provide the motivation necessary for continued change. It is these experiences that will ultimately fill the empty self and  heal the existential loneliness so endemic to our times.

Allen D. Kanner and Mary E. Gomes, p. 91. “The All-Consuming Self,” from Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, 1995

It is not difficult to explain the trend toward depression, loneliness, and dissatisfaction amongst Americans.  As several articles from the book quoted above note, the rat race of consumerism runs Americans ragged, and tears them away from time spent in leisure, social connections, and meaningful work. Deep down, we know this – we are most happy and at peace when we are on holiday, enjoying the company of close friends and family, and satisfied with our jobs.  The fix to our problem is easy then: spend more time with the people we love, take some time to ourselves, and find a job we actually enjoy, irregardless of how much money we lose and how our reputation may be affected.  All that is needed is the courage to change. Why stay unhappy when most of us have the resources for happiness at our fingertips?

Making the changes to our lifestyles which will truly foster happiness necessitates life at a slower pace.  Less work, more hanging out, more leisure. The rhythms and cycles of nature indicate life is meant to be slow, deliberate, simple.  Sane. Our deep desire for meaningful relationships proves we are creatures made to be connected and dependent upon one another and our environment. We live more fulfilled and effective lives when we are intimately connected with one another and with the earth which nurtures us.  Who among us can enter a beautiful garden, a secluded meadow, a solitary glade, and not emerge from it in a more peaceful state?  Who among us, if we are mindful, does not marvel at the marvelous intricacy, grandiosity, and simplicity of the natural world?  I will give you an answer – those of us too long buffered from it, and taught to ignore it.

As far back as I can remember, nature has been my place of escape. It enables me to clear my head, to express my emotion and consequently come to a place of calm, to let my anxieties slip away in the presence of vibrant life.  Excursions into nature, whether fifteen minutes or days on end, are my personal therapy.  Subconsciously, it reminds me that there are great cosmic forces at work in the world, in the patterns of constellations, the movement of the planets, the growth of trees, the flow of the tides. This constancy is…comforting. It brings me back to center.

Nature is a powerful force in bringing inner peace to many.  Many Americans, especially the depressed, would do well to re-connect to this source of life. I cannot explain it, but stepping away from our mechanized lives for a time into the simplicity of the natural world is a healing activity. It is a step towards our past, when we recognized our dependence on the earth for life.  I think that regular jaunts to re-connect with the natural world, whether on a hike, camping trip, stroll through a park, or time spent in the vegetable garden, are integral to holistic health. Spend some time outdoors – you cannot afford not to!

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The Alchemist

One book that all of my wilderness guide comrades recommend to anyone who enjoys reading is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.  I decided, after browsing the field office’s library, to give it a shot.  [Just fyi, there will be spoilers.]

The story follows the adventure of a Spanish shepherd boy named Santiago, some years ago.  This boy is educated – he went to seminary to become a priest, but dropped out because he wants something different out of life.  He wants to travel, to know the world.  So he took up a traveling occupation, shepherding.  A few years into this occupation, he has the same dream twice – he is watching his sheep when a child appears to play with them.  The child then takes the boy’s hands, magically transports the two of the to the Egyptian pyramids, and says the boy will find treasure there.

This dream begins Santiago on a journey towards his own ‘Personal Legend’, the thing one has “always wanted to accomplish” in one’s life (21).  He crosses paths with with a Gypsy woman, an ancient king, a thief, an Arab crystal salesman, an Englishman studying the ways of alchemy, a whole Arabian caravan, the love of his life, and a true alchemist in his journey.

More importantly than any adventure the boy has, than the fact that he indeed finds the treasure from his dream, is Santiago’s personal spiritual journey, which coincides with his Personal Legend.  He comes to know and communicate with “the Soul of the World”, the underlying force which binds all other things together, which will eventually become one with all things as all things achieve their own Personal Legends.  Towards this end, the Soul of the World helps all things towards achieving their Personal Legends.  In the climax of his spiritual journey,

The boy reached through to the Soul of the World, and saw that it was a part of the Soul of God.  And he saw that the Soul of God was his own soul.  And that he, a boy, could perform miracles.

p. 152

At this point, Santiago already communicated with the elements – the desert, the wind, and the sun – and in the moment mentioned above, communicated with God, ‘the hand that wrote all’.  He was able to do all this because he learned to listen to his heart, which always conspired to help him achieve his Personal Legend.  He understood that as humans genuinely attempt to follow their Personal Legends, they learn to understand and act in love, bettering themselves, the world, and thus also the Soul of the World.    This process is to continue in the world until the Soul of the World cannot be bettered, and all things have become one.  This is the reality Santiago enters into, in the moment above becoming one with God and performing a miracle.

Now, in non-novel terms, I would situate the above philosophy in the Eastern tradition, slightly influenced by Christianity.  Coelho makes the Hindu idea of moksha, realizing one’s union with God and/or the unity of all things, the central teaching of this work of fiction.  I am not sure how love factors into Hinduism, however, and the Internet is not producing helpful, reliable information on this point.  He ties Christianity into the story by placing a smattering of Biblical moral lessons in the mouths of a few characters.  One can see a bit of Christianity in the hierarchy of forces Santiago communicates with through his heart, with God at the very top, the Soul of the World below God, and various elemental forces forming a step-ladder downward.  One can also see the integral role of sacrificial love in moving the world towards its climax, perfection and oneness.

An easy read, with a positive message encouraging readers to follow their dreams, endure through hard times, and become a better human being in the journey, The Alchemist is a book I would recommend to book lovers who feel discouraged, unaware of their purpose in life, or scattered, unable to dig in and commit to achieving their life goal.  Coelho’s novel will provide you with some brain and soul cud to chew!

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