Archives for Relationships
About seven weeks ago, my boyfriend and I returned from a 6-day trek into the wilderness of West Texas. The town we stayed in had a population of 349 people (coming from Houston, a town of more than 2 million people, this was pretty wild all on its own)! Our goal was to hike the tallest mountain peak in Texas (you can read this post to find out how well that went!) Our other goal was to reconnect to our wild insides - the parts of us that still remembered how to live simply, how to breathe in and breathe out, how to allow our jaws to drop open in wonder at the vast natural beauty around us, how to sip coffee in the morning without simultaneously building the day's to-do lists in our heads. One night we decided to browse through the DVDs at the sweet rental casa where we were staying. We came across a film called "Wild" and popped it into the DVD player. As it turned out, the main character in the film, Cheryl Strayed, had recently experienced some tragedy and decided to "hike it off" - literally. For her first-ever hiking adventure, Cheryl chose to tackle the PCT, or Pacific Coast Trail. The PCT took Cheryl from California to Oregon and then across the "Bridge of the Gods" into Washington State. A young 20-something, she had just lost her mother very suddenly to cancer and then lost her husband with nearly equal suddenness to divorce. She had never hiked or camped before. Her pack, which her PCT trail-mates quickly nicknamed "Monster," was so heavy she couldn't even move it at first, much less strap it to her back and stand up. I am reliably fascinated by these kinds of stories. For instance, in the movie The Way, a bereaved father decides to hike through a Pyrenees trail called "The Way of St. James" as a tribute to his recently deceased son. Of course, in Wild, Cheryl hikes the PCT, and cites similar circumstances as her inspiration to do so. On a lighter note, The Big Year chronicles three avid birdwatchers, each with his own deeply personal reason for pursuing a "big year" trek of counting rare bird species around the world. I have never hiked the Pyrenees or the PCT, and the only bird I can reliably identify (and count) is the one living with me in my casa. But there have been many times when I have woken up one day, only to realize I had reached my limit of how many days I could go on living the way I had been living and feeling the way I had been feeling. When these days come, there is no arguing with them. And until they come, there is no rushing them.
As of this morning, I will have moved into my new casa. I am writing this blog post in advance deliberately, in hopes when I read it in a week (aka today), I will discover that all the bad stuff I've been worrying so persistently about will have not manifested....and all the good stuff I've been so sure won't manifest will have presented itself quite faithfully. You see, I have a real problem trusting the good stuff. Worrying, however, seems to come to me with ridiculous ease. If I knew why I am like this, I would of course stop it at once. Is it DNA? Bad example? Personal choice? Am I lazy? Did I take the "easy way" (in that worrying seems to be so much easier to do than not worrying?) When I google "what we worry about rarely comes true" I get all kinds of proof that this statement is, in fact, true. According to various pros in fields as diverse as Biblical studies, medicine and cognitive therapy (as well as many non-pros whom, I suspect, are mostly like me), 85 percent or so of what we worry about never happens. And since my mentor has drummed into me that the definition of insanity is, of course, persisting to do the same thing again and again while expecting more desirable results, it would seem just reasonable, if not also a huge time saver, to STOP WORRYING. And yet, it's almost like I don't know what else to do with my mental time.
Last month my boyfriend and I took a trip to West Texas. I was so excited by our itinerary! First of all, after being born and raised here, I had only just learned Texas has MOUNTAINS. I couldn't wait to see them. I also had my heart set on climbing one of them, and not just any mountain, either. I wanted to climb the highest mountain - Guadalupe Peak. According to the brochure, standing at 8,751 feet tall, Guadalupe Peak is the "highest point in Texas." The views are said to be spectacular. Of course I wouldn't be able to verify that, since approximately 10 minutes into our straight vertical trek up the mountainside, I developed a severe case of heat exhaustion/altitude sickness. Coughing turned to hacking, which turned to wheezing and then vomiting. Sweat was streaming down my face and body. My boyfriend called it and I hobbled after him back towards the air conditioned sanctuary of our rental car. To say I was mortified would be an understatement of Peak-level proportions (approximately 8,751 feet's worth, if you happen to be interested). I was sure my boyfriend was going to break up with me. Heck, I was contemplating breaking up with myself. I wanted to squeeze myself into a teensy invisible ball and activate my cloaking device until....well, no sense putting any time limitations on it.
Relationships with people have never been easy for me. I grew up watching my extroverted mother and extroverted younger brother making friends with ease. When I did make a friend, it was usually the other way around - that person (for some obscure reason I couldn't ever quite put my finger on) chose me. While I found relating to my pet parakeet, Perky, effortless and joyful, and I delighted in the company of my 5 slider turtles, I mostly lumped "birthday parties" and "dentist appointments" into the same category of "events to avoid at all costs." People mostly just mystified me. Often they would say one thing and then promptly do another. Sometimes they would say one thing when a particular person wasn't around, and then say just the opposite when that person finally appeared. It took me years to realize that many of the strange interactions I had with various classmates might have actually been attempts at bullying. Once, a girl in my class (a notorious puncher) walked right up to me and punched me in the stomach. I just stared at her.
What can I say. I got my dad's back DNA. A former weight lifter and bodybuilder, my dad's back first started to go out when he was in his late 20's. Ever since (he is 76 now), Dad has continued to experience random bouts of excruciating back pain. And I am my father's daughter. Apparently. At 45 now, I can look back over approximately 20 years of surprise back spasms that have led to many unproductive and grumpy hours lying on the couch with ice packs and heating pads. It can be scary - having your back go out on you. For me, it has often felt very depressing too, because there is a lot in life I miss out on when I'm spending my days sequestered indoors (while pondering whether a cane or a walking stick is a more fashionable choice to pair with my retro wardrobe). But occasionally good stuff, like aha moments, come out of those healing times. When my back went out again about a month ago, it was the worst pain I'd ever felt to date. I was woken up in the middle of the night by two sharp lower back spasms, and suddenly I couldn't move my legs. Over the next few days, most of which time was spent self-administering a variety of painkillers and then napping them off, I did my best to stay productive by meditating a lot. In particular, I tried to focus my meditations on the intersection of the weak body and the strong spirit. My meditation teacher has often remarked that "when the body is weak the spirit becomes very strong." But I've never been able to experience that in past moments of injury or illness, on account of how painfully disruptive and thus distracting whatever the injury/illness of the day happened to be. This time, I was determined to at least try to detect if my spirit was stronger than normal. One day a few days into my healing process, I woke up with a spasming lower back yet again...and a startlingly bad attitude to match. So I started trying to focus my mind to meditate and pray. Praying to "have faith" felt insincere, since the only thing I was intending to pray for was a laundry list of the things I wanted, like spontaneous healing and an equally spontaneous source of my lost income. Oh, and no more back pain - ever. In other words, my "Year of Having Faith" all of a sudden started to look like a total waste of time. Already 5 months into my journey, it appeared I had learned nothing, nada, zip, about faith, myself, or me having faith. At that dejected, irritable, frustrated and impatient moment, suddenly the thought popped up....
Being a turtle mommy, for me at least, has been like winning free tickets to the "learning curve rollercoaster" - that really fast, scary one I never wanted to ride in the first place. If you've been following Malti's adventures on her blog, you probably remember that she recently went missing for 6 days. Those were pretty much the 6 longest days of our life together to date. In our personal network, no one seemed surprised that I would ditch work, socializing and pretty much everything else for 6 consecutive days to search for my baby turtle. (This, of course, is because our flock has the coolest network ever.) But outside our network, and sometimes outside (literally) as I was searching, I would get "those looks." Like, "Why are you on your belly on the ground looking under my car with a flashlight?" Well, um, "My baby turtle is lost and I'm searching for her." Oooohkaaaay. "Your baby - what?" "Turtle." "Well, uh, good luck with that...." Yup.
For those of you who have been following my progress for this year's intention, "The Year of Having Faith," you are no doubt aware there have been many starts and stops, aha moments and setbacks thus far. Recently, nearly halfway through this faith-focused year, I came across a definition for faith that I actually resonate with. In a sea of definitions that read like textbook-based memorization lessons (i.e., "having complete confidence in someone or something" and "strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion") it was a real relief to stumble across a definition that felt - human. Authentic. Compassionate. Inclusive of both questions and answers. This definition, discovered in an older yoga lesson I recently re-read, stated: Faith is believing the unseen is as real as the seen.
I follow Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., on Instagram. I say that because recently he re-posted the opening lines of from a chapter in his book called "The Mastery of Love" on his Instagram. Now, I have read this book many times.....oh so many times. I credit "The Mastery of Love" with the many oopses I have avoided making in my own relationships. It is truly a miracle worker in print. This particular chapter, titled "Seeing with Eyes of Love," read: If you look at your body, you will find billions of living beings who depend on you. Every cell in your body is a living being that depends on you. You are responsible for all of those beings. For all of those living beings that are your cells, you are God. You can provide what they need; you can love all those living beings, or you can be so mean to them. I read it. Then I read it again. Then I read it again. Something in me was reading in a new way, at a new level, at a depth where suddenly I GOT IT. I can almost say I felt each one of those billions of cells, those living beings relying on me with such trust and devotion, hoping each day that this will be a day when I am loving and not mean. These cells, with their humility, their willingness to follow, somehow are also serving as my mentors, ever so hopeful that I will learn to see with the eyes of love today, if not yesterday, or if not today, perhaps tomorrow. Their hope was - is - so palpable.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." The book gave me a lot to think about on a lot of different levels. And while I expected to feel upset, especially while reading (or skimming, or sometimes skipping over) stories about the cruel things people have done to animals that is now prompting a push to give cats and dogs expanded "human" rights, I didn't expect it to become personal. As in, I don't think of myself as a cruel person. I have pets - my parrot, Pearl, and my tortoise, Malti - plus a puppy named Flash Gordon to whom I am a proud auntie. I have never deliberately harmed any creature...or at least I thought I hadn't until I read "Citizen Canine." The more I encountered stories of cruel animal abusers, the more everything inside of me began to revolt. To rage. I started questioning everything I thought I believed about how we are all connected....somehow....even though I couldn't begin to explain where my beliefs come from or how all that alleged connectedness might actually work. But I mean, how could I - gentle soul that I consider myself to be - have anything in common with those so-called humans who commit such horrific crimes against the non-human beings we share this planet with? How can those people - the cruel animal harmers - even be considered "human?" And if they are in fact human, then what species am I? I mean, I honestly think I have more in common with the garden rocks in our backyard than with those kinds of people. So I continued to ruminate as I continued to read. I continued to ponder, to worry and rage. This went on for days. And then one day, a small band of black sugar ants snuck under the sill of my kitchen window and onto the counter.
I just recently finished reading a book by David Grimm called "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." I won't lie. I was expecting something a little....lighter. At nearly 300 pages and with a 2014 publication date, the book took me on a journey from our earliest interactions with companion animals all the way up to today. Along the way we hit a few (many) rough patches. This was especially true in the chapters addressing animal research, animal rescue during disasters, animals and religion and working animals. In the chapters detailing how dogs and cats' legal rights have moved increasingly closer to our own rights (what the author calls "personhood"), I found myself wishing the book included parrots and tortoises (and all other animals, of course). In the chapters reviewing all the horrific stuff we've subjected our canine and feline counterparts to, I found myself wishing to change my own species affiliation. People can be pretty awful sometimes. There is also an ongoing book-wide parallel drawn between how slaves became full citizens and the trajectory dogs and cats appear to be on now. This (at least as I read it) is not to downplay the significance of the end of slavery, but to signify how, when we change our mindset about the worth of any being, positive changes in the quality of life of that being tend to quickly follow. For instance, after quite a lengthy battle, pets can now legally inherit money left to them in people's wills. But canines working for the military are still classified as "equipment" themselves, and there are groups actively fighting to change that even as I type right now. Perhaps the most gripping part of the book is near the end, however, when one Rutgers university professor named Gary Francione makes an unorthodox suggestion - to do away with "pets," period. When I first read that, everything in me revolted.