Sunday, August 9, 2009

Into the Wild

language disclaimer

I spent this weekend doing a bit of external exploration, looking for old friends, finding new places, sending off friends with my blessings and sort've accepting that as nervous as I am about a lot of things, it is better for me to honor those things that inspire me to continue to give than to focus upon those things that paralyze me with fear and disappointment. The universe is abundant, and there will always be an opportunity for me to get what I need from it so long as I just take that; the things that I need and leave the rest to the wayside.

I noticed that the way that I approach, or have approached love in the past has been a bit excessive despite my attempts to try and control how I've let love or lack of it from the people I care most about shape my fear of it. I've been reading this book on biomimicry, a very fascinating subject about designing agriculture and technology in a way that adopts the same orderly principles as nature in order to create energy efficient and ecologically sound tools. But when I think of how these natural perspective correlate with human behaviors, it seems that many of our ideological and economic systems are designed to fail. this is because many man made systems, agriculture, monetary, and ideological (including spiritual, political, and moral) methods of operation are just so inefficient. We've raised society to think that going big or excessively indulging in these things, having an abundance of these material things or even faith in those unseen is what is necessary for us to be able to achieve a state of happiness and we don't need all of those things.

Christopher McCandless said: "It should not be denied that being footloose has always exhilarated us. It is associated in our minds with escape from history and oppression and law and irksome obligations. Absolute freedom. And the road has always led west."

And i would not feign to argue with Chris that there are definitely moments when I see and experience things that make me want to reject society's poison and go out into the safety and freedom of a simpler life, free from society's ills, from the burden of responsibility and meaningless mores and acquisitions. I'm the chick who hasn't owned a car because she thought they were wasteful and too much of a hassle to keep up, hates insurance and pharmaceutical companies, things that cigarette smoking promotes a culture of waste (even though she will light one occasionally), etc. I will displace my own groceries, lodging them half submerged into my tiny purse or backpack in order to use the plastic bag they've given me (on the days I've forgotten to bring my own bag) to pick up trash to recycle on my walk home. I refuse to eat meat, not for health reasons, but started out initially for human rights issues, and there's a laundry list of quirks and eccentricities that I've adopted that to me seem quite normal because they align with the kind of person that i am. And some people just don't get that.

I remember once, I printed off a sheet of computer thumbnail images to make a series of magnets that i had re-purposed from this hideous sheet of magnet tiles and arranged them on the fridge. There were beautiful pictures; tin pails full of heather, sunflowers and eucalyptus, hands cupping baby bonsai trees, hands covered in burnt henna and bangles, the old wrinkled skin of a black woman's hand, mandalas, babies clutching a father's hand who shaped his hands to form a heart around her feet, and so on. My mother upon these looks at the fridge and yells across the room, "what is this sh*t on the fridge". and granted, she was pretty drunk at the time, so i didn't let on how her biting criticism had affected me. i was hoping that she was referring to the matrix baby sketch i'd placed up there and asked her if she liked them because they were examples of things that I was into. "Well the one with the baby, but i don't know what the hell the rest of this is." you know she never did try to consider them even through my very blatant attempt to try and share with her a piece of who i was. that was the day i learned the importance of casting pearls before swine, either way it goes down, you're not going to get any gratitude or feel rewarded, so it may be in your best interest to be more decisive about who you open up to. and i had to make that decision about my own mother, but it didn't mean that i shut everyone out.

for a long time i thought that shutting my own mother out was kind of excessive behavior, but as i get older and meet more people like me, mostly those oddly active white guys and ethnocentric folk women who go conquer the wilderness through the primitive arts, join drum circles, eat slowly grown local food, and bake breads with a nice glass of home brewed mead or beer. they all seem to come from backgrounds like mine where the privilege was there but they've had to wrestle for so long with how to employ gratitude toward those who seemed to have depleted any sense of joy they could have extracted from their home lives, and so now they fill those holes with freedom and sunlight, the words of their peers and authors, and holistic living. we fall off of the grid, because that is the only place we can find a sense of identity is in the margins with others who are like us, taken in from time to time like strays by people who seek to transfer their misplaced affection upon us because at some point they were unable to do that for their own children.

By the time we are reminded of how very different and separate we are from our adoptive families, we hit the road again rather than face the pervasive guilt that underlies now that we've lost touch with our own loved ones, but that we have taken from these people and created this dependency upon those who have so much love to give that we don't feel worthy of. we don't think that we touch people's lives, because that was never our intent. Our confidence in ourselves comes not from the gifts that we inadvertently give to others but rather in our freedom and our ability to awaken others to this sense of wonder, which is rare. I never really see myself as this person unless I meet someone who sort of mirrors what I'm hiding from myself or reflects a sense of connection and commonality such as McCandless did. I backpacked once to San Francisco when I was 19 via Greyhound, and it was such a heartening and reaffirming journey to get to see beauty out of my backyard. That's why when my friend took off yesterday on a bike trip to New York.

The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences. ~Christopher McCandless

I went to see him off at 1am and went through a mental checklist with him, told him to check in, which he has yet to do, and sent him off nervously with my blessing. Of course the first thing he did was go the wrong way, and passed me on the correct street by the time he managed to get himself oriented. He stopped to ask me to help him with his directions and I will probably not rest easy until he is back here safe and sound, but I understood what he was doing, and I supported his decision, because he'd climbed out of a bottle in order to be able to make the trip. So of course in my fear and worry I send out loving thoughts of clarity, safety, and warmth his way. It was very difficult for me to watch him head out on his wobbly little road bike, (that he built himself) with about 150 pounds of weight take off. I even gave him my lanyard clip to attach his instructions upon the front of his bike.

I understood what mother's must feel when their children go off and do crazy stuff like that knowing that her little boy seeks to go out into the world and come back a man. But secretly, even though a part of you is terrified that you won't be able to see your baby for a while, protect them from hardships, and that stinging feeling that they feel as if they have to go out and seek something that you could not give them, that when they come back,they are going to be a little more seasoned, a little more hardened, and that your little boy will come back and be that much more of a man. I talked with a friend about this and she thought it sounded great that he was off exploring and that he was able to have that kind of trust to be able to head out like that. I told her that it was definitely something that i was going to have to work out before I had kids, but perhaps it could be something I could work out by taking hiking and biking trips and studying nature with my kids.

I especially think it would be a beneficial attribute to teach little black boys, just so that when they feel the need to be remasculated, to step away from a sense of oppression and feeling trapped and in a cage for a while that they can have something affirmative that isn't contingent upon other people to reaffirm them as individuals, as loved, in abundance and concordance with nature, and to give them strength as men. I suppose it might even be a good idea to get my daughters acclimated this way, with a reverence and appreciation for the land so that they can escape with groups of people from time to time and understand how nature can be healing and reaffirming. I would rather see them braving life out there where they can live it, than to see their sense of freedom and identity stripped away from them trying to fill a part of themselves through other people, especially with the growing lack of leadership these days. But hopefully that will change.

Some people feel like they don't deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past. ~Christopher McCandless

My biggest fear is that as I try to maintain my own sense of self and identity as a wife, or a parent that I won't be as affirming that I need to be to MY kids. I would rather equip my children with the tools to learn that balance through nature than to learn excess from our civilized peers. Anything that has ever been able to sustain itself in nature has had to strike a balance and establish an order that accounts for abundance, conservation, and deficiencies in order to survive. Organism that have evolved with excessive mutations have almost always ended up extinct, and so I think that to learn and engage in a gradual progression that integrates interaction with strong communities combined with an appreciation of a respect for nature will equip my loved ones with the tools they need to be able to find love and inspiration even when I'm not always there to provide it, which, if I allow my children to be independent and take ownership of themselves, will be an inevitability. (because i'd rather work myself out of the job of caretaking, than run the risk of inadequately preparing my loved ones to take care of themselves).

I think Janine Beynus described it best when she stated that (and I'm paraphrasing here) that even with the duality that we often have about how to serve the needs of our external environments, others and ourselves can be sort've established by making decisions that meet all of those needs in an apex or "sweet spots," where all of these ideals converge, but often we've been so conditioned to think that we have to choose between sacrificing our own needs or disregarding the welfare of others that we end up going to extremes to try and prove to the other side that they were wrong, or to ourselves that we are right. It is crucial that we start looking for solutions that fill a variety of needs if we are to live our lives in a more sustainable manner that will keep us from burning out, losing faith in others and giving up on ourselves.

It broke my heart to watch how Christopher McCandless went off searching for that missing piece and sacrificed the very thing he was looking for when he set off in lieu of his excessive dream, something that he was completely unprepared for, and how the very thing that could have set him free was the one thing that he was too afraid to utilize to take him to safety, that damn river. Instead, instead of rejecting the ills of society he ended up becoming a tragic martry to his own ambition and died, scared, alone, and disillusioned because he embarked upon a journey that he was unprepared for without fellowship, without guidance and ignoring the warnings of his intuition because he preferred instead to follow the naggings of his own pride.

I had a hard time ingesting this movie. At the beginning I just felt so touched and inspired by this guy because I could identify with some of what he went through, the awkward tension at home, the loss of identity, the need to seek, the numbness and longing to live and experience life, the euphoric thrill of being out in it, the warmth shared with others, those poignant moments with people that you forgot existed, because had you not left you'd honestly have never known had existed; that is human kindness, insight, actual inspiration. I think that where McCandless and I differed is that occasionally I feel a responsibility to give back, in my attempts to aid those who look to me occasionally for support because they just need a little bit of something to believe in in order to hold on. It may sound a bit conceited, but when you have such a huge age gap like I do with people that you go to school and see a lot of people making these transitions, sometimes you need people like me to keep your kids from spiraling into a train wreck. I WISH and I suppose I did have some responsible people to look up to later on, but had they been there before, I wouldn't have gone out seeking half of the trouble I managed to get myself into, all with what seemed like at the time, the best of intentions.

I look at how McCandless's life ended, and his is the shape my life would have taken had I not sort've returned back to inhumanity for a while, had I not been so discouraged by it, so shaken up by reality and backed into a corner by it that I HAD to make the decision to be a part of the movement to create refuge for those who want that kind of change. Because the reality is, that a lot of us want out, and I think that while running away is often a more affirming experience than resulting to suicide or substance abuse, it doesn't take away those holes that we try to fill, pushing out every other worthwhile part of us so that we can make room for that one thing that we think is going to make us whole. We become victims of the 80/20, where we disregard the 80% of our life that is composited with little things that are going well in order to chase that one little thing (seemingly a very big thing) that is going to set things straight. How do you think lotteries and advertisements got so popular? They play to the insecurities of our psyches.

Many times they make me want to head off into the woods and escape, as I often have. But I keep the trail relatively close to home and i wander off the path i'm taking i try to keep a sense of where i am. i read the sunlight, the footpaths, follow streams and memorize the locations of fallen trees, look for animal tracks, or rock types of giant rocks. i've only gotten hopelessly lost once, and i solved it by simply going back the way i came. the couple i passed in the woods, however, beat me back to the same meet up point by scaling through the brambles and were fortunate to come back with only a few minor cuts and bruises. other times I go and explore neighborhoods, or old factories, neighborhood trails, inspecting the plant life, insects, flora and fauna and that is enough of an escape for me right now. This weekend there was a lot of complaint from those on facebook about boredom, and I don't know that i had that problem. I have too much of an overactive imagination and the ambition to see out all of my ideas to keep me bored for long. For me, boredom is the reflection of squandered imagination but you know, you don't tell your friends that. Even when I had to hole myself up in my room with a terrible migraine, I had a bowl filled with hot water and rocks and placed them on my neck and spine, pressure points while I watched the movie "Into the Wild".

So I've been trying to resolve where that point of convergence lies between the following ideas.

Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild. - Alexander Supertramp May 1992

You don't need human relationships to be happy, God has placed it all around us. ~Christopher McCandless

It's a mistake to get too deep into all that kind of stuff. Alex, you're a hell of a young guy, a hell of a young guy. But I promise you this. You're a young guy! Can't be juggling blood and fire all the time! ~Wayne Westerberg

Happiness only real when shared. ~Christopher McCandless

because i think there is validity in all of these arguments, among those, but even I knew how the movie would end, It still didn't keep me from feeling this very tragic sense of loss resonating through all of this. But I felt like that when I read about Thomas Merton, and my friend Zach Sieben. I think it's just one of those things that is to be expected from those who hold such a keen insight and intellect who just want to live at the end of the day, and will go to any lengths to do it. I think the only thing that keeps me from being out there with them is my sense of duty to my responsibilities and complacency toward being tired of being alone as long as I have. But to be in the company of these ideological giants would be a treasure in itself and I take what I can get in composites when we cross paths rather than go off chasing those who go off seeking things outside of themselves. I've worked too hard for the other 80% so of course when they leave or move on, I always feel it that much more deeply.

Anyway, you can't exactly go to bed on something like that. So I listened to a little bit of spoken word on youtube and checked my facebook messages and stumbled across this:

Just wanted to let you know that making friends has been a bright spot for me today (not that I'm in the dark). I APRECIATE you.

It was exactly what I need to hear. I received this note from this older guy I met at the social forum who sent me a friend request. He saw my profile pic and said that he often wore a clown nose to the hospital when he went to volunteer to take care of hospice patients, and was very interested in my take on spirituality and consciousness for dummies (who i wrote the revised simplified explanation of it for). he asked me how i was staving off boredom and i gave him a list of things i'd been up to, projects, trails i'd discovered, old buildings i'd inspected like the factory i found tucked down a small cul de sac in a secluded neighborhood nearby that used to be used as a weaving works. or how blowing bubbles when you're feeling lonely but don't necessary want to put the energy into entertaining is a great way to meet new people and attract friends. it's a much older guy, but i think that perhaps he saw in me what i saw in McCandless, promise and a reaffirmation of identity. my response to him was to thank him and explain to him how touching it was to be told that, and that i aspired to continue to honor those who inspired me to continue to want to give, which is true.

sometimes the only thing that keeps me going is the kind words of others that remind me that what i do is not in vain. This is sort've the framework I go upon shared by Coleman McCarthy, which he discovered while interviewing Mother Theresa at her home:

The Paradoxical Commandments

by Dr. Kent M. Keith

1. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
2. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
3. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
4. The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
5. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
6. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
7. People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
8. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
9. People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
10. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

"The Paradoxical Commandments" were written by Kent M. Keith in 1968 as part of a booklet for student leaders.

I'm always wary of the energy and attitude I project in social situations, not just through my manners, but also in my ability to be able to breathe life or suck energy out of a room. It can be a fine line, when something strikes your convictions, or you're dealing with a fairly heavy issue, which is why i rely on this outlet. I'm definitely working on being a bit more mindful of my presence of mind and attention to the moment as well as the presence I project toward others and my environment. I think I'm definitely back on the path I set out upon, even through my initial resistance to this process of growth and transformation.

It can feel a bit scary at times to live outside of the margins and the only thing that keeps you going is the understanding that your existence confirms that there is an alternative to what other people have felt that they've had to settle for, and as long as i am able to find the answers, peace, and insights I went out in search of and find a way to disregard those pieces of me that I often mourning that perhaps I can find those missing attributes in other forms. Love has been a primary example of that. I value that I have the heart and will to seek something like that out, but I worry that in the process of seeking, I give up my chance to live, and that in the process of living I am sacrificing my ability to give to others. Perhaps there is a middle ground that allows me to do all of these things creating opportunities in the ebbs and flows. I will have to work better at charting my biorhythms to see where these eddies are, these opportunities to recharge those pieces of myself that i evidently need in order to feel rewarded. perhaps these are the parabolic parts of myself that constantly need renewal and by knowing when to fuel or coast each part i can continue to renew my interest in those things that really matter to me so that i'm not so consumed by the parts of me i feel are sometimes missing.


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