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Hope For the Guest

If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive, do you think ghosts will do it after?

Author

mike27clark

Choose, Choose and Choose Again.

How do I begin writing after so long.

There are two options that come to mind.
1) It is easy, just write anything. It may be bad but that is worth the price of getting back into writing.
2) It is difficult because writing when others may read it is a power and power should be used wisely. It should be used carefully. So I should take the time to plan.

I think starting is usually better then waiting until conditions are perfect.
I have waited too long to start so many times in my life.

There was a time a few years ago when I just ended a season job that took up my entire being for the summer. I was doing something I loved and it made it impossible to focus on anything past that experience.
However, it also didn’t pay very well so I needed to find work very soon after the summer ended. I spent two weeks researching jobs and places to live. I had many ideas but nothing sounded ideal. It was overwhelming for me to try to decide what I might be doing for the next six months or year. It finally hit me that there is some wisdom in the saying “A good plan today is better then a perfect plan tomorrow”

I picked a city to move to primarily because I wanted someone colder for the winter. I sent job applications and emails to rooms for rent in two days. I left without getting any responses. I knew two people so I had a place to stay for at least a couple days. Even that fell through in the first two days so I needed to find a place to live even sooner. Almost magically I did. I had a job, and a place to live in under a week. I had accomplished more in a few days then I did with two weeks with my face stuck to my computer screen.

The only problem was that I chose something that I didn’t enjoy. I was in a new city without friends or things to look forward to. I wanted the challenge of making a life in a new city but it was a false challenge. It was hard just to be hard. There wasn’t any reason to push myself like that. Looking back now I can see that I did not know the whole lesson. I was pushing through just to prove to myself that I could. I set a goal from outside the situation and once I was in it I felt obligated to continue. I was taking the saying too far. “A good plan today is better then a perfect plan tomorrow” the part I didn’t understand was that the real wisdom in it is about choosing your plan based on the circumstance that you are in currently. I thought it was about not waiting for the perfect plan, and although I still think that is part of it, it is also about the ability to choose again when the information changes.

There is an advantage that is gained when acting quickly. It can compensate for some of the disadvantage of having less information. Jumping into action is an important skill to me and so is continually deciding. When the situation changes I get to choose again. Choose, choose and choose again.

So now I’ve written for the first time in months.
Jumping in might not always be the best option but it is often possible to jump in and jump right back out when the situation turns out to be different then you thought.
Thanks for reading.

A Child Again

“Could you help me read this” This is something I didn’t expect I’d ever have to say again. Perhaps this speaks to how American I am. I thought of learning to read English as learning to read instead of learning to read one out of hundreds of languages. Now nearly everyday I have to ask for help doing things that I learned how to do as a young child. Things like going to the grocery store, proper manners, reading, and communicating.
It’s a strange feeling and I think a pretty universal one. When each person experiences it is different but I’d bet most of us experience this at some point.

I don’t usually think of myself as an ego driven person. I think having some level of ego is important, it helps to have a positive opinion of myself, but I’m not able to stay within the experiences I’m confident or even competent in. I can’t read Danish, or Norwegian. In my two months in Scandinavia I’ve had to say that many times. “I can’t read” aren’t the easiest words for me to say. I associate them with being a child and since I’m not the right age to be considered a child I feel my ego pulling away from admitting my limitations.
It’s a strange kind of game. I’m playing like I enjoy new experiences but when I find experiences that are truly new I start to shrink from them.

Sure we all have to find our zone. We have to get a skillset and put some time into creating our self concept so we can create our lives based on that. Still it’s uncomfortable learning about the borders of my knowledge and understanding. I didn’t expect to feel so uncomfortable.When I was traveling it was easier. I think passing through was somehow different but I’ve been living here. I’m surrounded by people who look just like me and can speak at the very least two languages fluently. I only speak English. For some reason I feel like I should be able to understand more than I do because of all the similarities.

In the US we have this mentality that if you live in the US you better speak English. It’s not a very helpful mentality at times and I don’t even agree with it. Or at least I didn’t think I did but now I can see that I’m using that same ideology from the other direction. I’m telling myself I should communicate in Danish when I’m in Denmark. No one else here seems to think that. Most people are happy to switch to English. Still I have been beginning to think less of myself for not being able to operate like someone from here.

I never realized or even had a reason to think about what it means to immigrate. What it means to go from the society of my childhood into a whole new country. The amount of cultural differences is shown a little more every day for me even in another Western culture. I would never fit in here, I could learn to function but to actually appear as if I am from Denmark or Norway is much harder than learning a language.

The US acts in such a naive way in so many world issues. We tend to act as if we are the victims of immigrants or that we belong more than newer immigrants. The depth of our strange beliefs go deeper than consciousness. I didn’t realize how much it means if I leave my home country. I didn’t realize when so many people said they’d move to Canada if Trump was elected that it showed a real lack of understanding. If I were to lose or give up citizenship to my home country it would be like a forced exclusion from my family.
I actually never felt like I had a cultural heritage, and I definitely never felt like I could lose it. Lucky me.

It seems like a strange thing but I’m going to read some of my beginner (children’s) Norwegian book and think a little bit more about what it means to lose access to your own cultural heritage.

A Couple Memories

The taxi bumped through walls of dust and rivers of wheels. I sat in the back wondering what a dead body smells like. The streets were incomprehensible veins of city life. Each car carrying the nutrients a city needs to live, the tourist to the souvenirs and the politicians to their early lunches. We stopped in the road, it was a traffic light or more likely a traffic jam holding each car in place.
A little boy wandered out into the street, barefoot and magic holding the rags to his bony body.
Like an animal his eyes were the most piercing part, all else had faded into dust that was now caking his feet and hands. The little boy reached up his arm and began tapping on my window.
I watched him and listened as he began to speak in a language I didn’t understand. His need was like a heat turning the already sticky air into a sauna of thick death. It appeared to me like a thousand children tapped on my window, a thousand was too many. I could not give a dollar to each one. I could not turn my American poverty into his Nepali princedom.
The tapping became a hurricane as the cars began to grumble forward. He screamed and slammed his fist against the glass, again and again. We picked up speed and left him with another layer of dirt separating his skin from the sunshine.

In another town and another country the morning started off cool but quickly grew into a skin darkening afternoon. The guesthouse room was 2 US dollars and the 16 hour train to this town was almost three for the upper class seats and less than two dollars for the school bench like seat I paid for one half of. I had slept on the floor so that the women next to me could have more space to lie down. No one in the train car could communicate in words and it was such a human environment that we didn’t need words to get out points across. I didn’t feel weird about sleeping on the floor between a basket of onions and a drunken policeman spooning another basket of produce.
By the time I lurched onto the suddenly still platform I was beat. I wondered up the road and had no idea if the town I was in had anything except the train station.
I walked past the guesthouse three times before someone lead me right to it so I wouldn’t get lost. I just kept putting my hands next to my head in the sleeping gesture. I fell asleep in the sunken bed, in the room without a screen on the window, in the guesthouse without electricity, wifi or running water, in the town whose name I could not pronounce, in the country with malaria and on and off electrical power.
My goal in being there was to get to a town near by which was known primarily for George Orwell’s stay as a British police officer back in the days when Britain still held Myanmar as a colony. Myanmar is a country that has been through colonization. It’s made up of many different ethnic groups and some do not get along. One ethnic group is the Rohingya, they are not seen as belonging in Myanmar so they are stateless. This is a group of almost a million people that aren’t given citizenship to their own country.
The government and several of the other ethnic groups fight over poppy plantations but not always how it sounds. I heard people say that the government is growing the poppy for opium and the other groups fight to stop them. It wasn’t clear if it was so that then they could make more money from opium or if they didn’t like the drug trade and wanted to end the government producing opium.
The following day brought another shimmering heat and I began to walk for the next town. I had drank milk tea with the local people at the train station and that was the only thing to do so I thought I’d try to walk the 18 miles. Maybe I’d find a bus or hitchhike  or there might be a motorbike taxi. I didn’t mind not making it there if that did end up being the plan.
I saw up ahead a railroad crossing and under some of the only shade around there was the person who’s job it is to wait for a train all day and when it came they are to warn the cars and motorbikes since there is no mechanical arm with an electrical hookup.
The man waved while I was still quite far off and by the time I made it to where he was he gestured me over so he could give me his water bottle. I took it gratefully, the heat had the sweat beading on my neck. I continued on but this time it all felt lighter. I held his smile in my head, it was hard to shake such a genuine thing.
I got to a highway with motorbikes chugging by every few minutes. The land was hilly but my walk as flat. After no more than 10 minutes a motorbike that had already passed me turned back to ask me if I needed a ride. His bike was old and must have been his pride and joy, and the only thing allowing him to have a job in the town so far from his home. He asked me questions and the wind flipped my hat away. I didn’t mind the loss when faced with such generosity. In my other life I would have been bothered for a good while about losing a piece of clothing but it didn’t seem to hold merit in a place where anytime I had need I was freely given what I needed. I had already experienced many offers of food and drink by my neighbors on the train.
I ended up that night back in my 2 dollar room with such a sense of comfort after feeling the generosity of the Burmese people in so many ways.
I don’t know how a people that have been through so much have kept such open hearts.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how little importance I’ve placed on my experiences in the poor places of the world. Of course what I’ve seen is important for me but I just assumed they would only be for me. I assumed because of the lack of understanding when I would share that it isn’t worth telling the stories.
Obviously I was wrong.
The United States can be a willfully ignorant place and is one of the places in the world that has the smallest understanding of whats important in life. Of course not everyone is blind to the world outside the US and everyone is ignorant in one way or another but I’m talking about a country that statistically travels very, very little and when Americans travel they avoid the third world. I chose to travel to the third world for the first time when I was 19 for a totally arbitrary reason, it was all I could afford.
Now its clear that my random choice was an important one.
The contrast and perspective is so important. If you haven’t been to a truly poor country you probably wouldn’t understand, its not an intellectual problem. I probably don’t understand a tenth of what it means to be an American in a world like this one. If I did understand I probably would have given away everything I have by now knowing that even if I did give away every dollar I have I would still be able to eat every day and sleep in safety.

I grew up going on survival trips. Going into the woods for a few days with no food and just a few tools. I would come back with a much greater appreciation for a hot shower and easy meals. Even after being in countries where most people live like they are on a survival trip for their entire life I can still complain. I complain less but I still don’t hold what I’ve seen in my mind everyday.

It’s hard for me to take anything that happens in the US seriously.
We will complain about paying for education. I’ve been told that I’m lucky to even have it be possible to get an education.
We complain about stop lights, grocery store lines and gas prices without any idea that just the fact that we have these things is a wonderful thing. In some countries someone would have to work for a junk car the way an American works to pay off a house.

I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve barely seen anything.
Even though this is true I have still seen some important things, especially for Americans to know. When I came back from traveling I knew that if I could teach one thing I would say that people should be thankful for what they have.
I have such a charmed life and I’m not the only one.

A while ago there was the whole 1% thing.
Americans were so upset that the ultra rich had so much more than them.
I didn’t realize at the time that I’m one of the ultra rich in another category.

I’m going to try to keep sharing, for my own good I want to remember.
And guilt or shame need not have any part in this.
These lessons are about appreciation and feeling connected.
I don’t want anyone to feel guilt for their blessings.
For myself I just want to know and appreciate my blessings.

Wandering Forward

Writing is about putting letters into specific positions to create words and then putting words into specific positions in order to represent the world.

I haven’t written more than a handful of patterns for months.

It feels less like instinct the longer I go without writing.

At the same time as feeling less natural I want it more.

It starts to eat at me.

I have the thing that needs to be represented growing in me.

I just haven’t put it into words.

So it grows and grows.

My mind becomes a backpack.

Packed for many different purposes.

I reach in and pull out an ice axe and a three ring binder.

What kind of story includes an ice axe and a three ring binder?

I think maybe a very long story.

Or a choose your own adventure kind of story.

I’m unpacking.

At the same time unpacking is writing.

So I’m preparing and doing at the same time.

While I was traveling I would wonder on the many long bus rides.
I wondered if I could write poems in my head before writing them down.
It was suppose to help me train my mind, it was a kind of meditation.
There was one poem I made, I don’t think I ever finished more than that one poem. It didn’t take me long before I would get distracted with analyzing what I was trying to accomplish. I was trying to use words in a zone where words might not be necessary. Words are suppose to be the representation of some real thing. “Red” speaks of something seen and “rough” explains about a relationship between textures. The words are parts of the world but they are only words. The rough or red thing is the real piece.
I thought since my mind should be able to hold the red and rough things I could write a poem directly. I could write a poem made out of experiences.

I began by trying to imagine feelings and colors. Shades of things I have experienced.
Soon I realized I had been telling myself poems for years without touching any words.
I have this habit of visualizing that I’m walking with a suit of armor on. I try to see it from as many different angles as possible and in as much detail as I can hold in my mind. I look at the joins and clasps to wonder how they would have to fit together.
I think this started as a kind of calming exercise for me. I have several visualizations that I do regularly. Some help me feel calm, and some help me feel strong.
If I was walking down an especially foreign avenue during my travels I would hold one of these in my mind to help me feel comfortable.

Later I realized another kind of poem made without words.
I wondered if I could write a poem without words. A poem uses words to represent some aspect of the world so it would seem a poem without words would use another form. This seemed hard to create at first but soon I saw that even something as simple as drinking a cup of coffee was a poem without words. If a cup of coffee is a poem then nearly all of life’s chosen experiences are poetry. Going for a walk could be a poem or smelling some fresh cut ginger.

If all of this is true than I find myself wondering what I’m trying to represent. If poems represent something, and if nearly all experiences are poetry, then what is the thing that is represented by my senses and words?

I have no idea.

All I’ve found is a bunch of languages describing whatever is underneath.

Maybe all the languages are also the the real thing.
Like how “red” is a word and something seen. Also it occurs to me that my eyes are speaking their own language called sight about the real thing I call “red”.
Maybe all these things have layers underneath.

Maybe poetry is more about what we choose to experience and less about the language it is spoken in. I can read a poem about sadness or summer and choose to experience some aspect of sadness or summer. The choice of what aspect I experience is one of the really interesting aspects.

I think the reason writing has been so difficult for me over the last few months has been the struggle to see the world as poetry. I have become so attached to the outcomes that I don’t allow myself a few steps back for a greater perspective. I stand right up close, and in doing so, I struggle to see. This election, climate change,and the polarizing and otherizing has really glued my feet close. It has made it really easy for me to feel like these things are being done to me. It’s easy to feel like a victim.

I get overwhelmed because I feel small and separate and the stress melts the words in my head before they can reach the keys on my computer.

I believe the struggle of this age is whether we choose separateness or connection. I hope in some small way my own struggle to hear poetry is my part in the overall movement. It’s my way to be the change.

I’m a Baby

The sound of a crying baby is suppose to be the single most annoying sound for a human being to hear. If this is true then call me a gray skinned, pair-headed, saucer-driver. Call me a long-haired, banana-fang, slit-eyed seer. Call me a toe-digging, light-sucking, chlorophyll-painter. I’d take a babies cries any day.

Just please don’t turn your tongue into a transatlantic vessel blasting the words “self sufficiency” or “independence” like a fog horn at the nearest sight of a haze called my life. In years past I would have been the captain pulling the fog horn myself. I would have been standing at the helm steering for the exact center of the Atlantic or any  place that looked as far from needing help as possible. If my childhood taught me anything it taught me that I needed to be resilient. It gave me many opportunities to problems solve and learn the value of responsibility. I took responsibility on until it was too heavy to carry and then I’d drop what I couldn’t carry in frustration before slowly picking up some more heavy bricks.

But lately I’ve been faced with a very peculiar situation. I’m in the middle of a two month period in between buying my ticket to Denmark and actually leaving.
After some unexpected floors falling out from under me I had to figure out how to have a place to be and work to do in a period of time that was not quite enough to set up an American life complete with a job, a place to pay rent and transportation but was also too long to not work and have no plans. This lead me to many very uncomfortable feelings of needing help, of not feeling independent. Oh boy this was uncomfortable for me. I immediately began filling my pot with worries about inconveniencing my friends and generally being a drain on society. Quite soon that pot was boiling over and I needed to get away from this feeling so I could examine it.

I thought that going into the woods could make me feel independent. I had the idea that the knowledge that I could take care of all my needs in the woods would help me to relax because I would know of one place where I didn’t need anyone to to take care of me. I knew in a intellectual way that every organism requires other life to support them. There was something not connecting, some level I had missed. I have experienced this so many times in my life. I think I know something but at some point I understand the deeper implications of that knowledge and it becomes applicable in real life. I had already started to think of this idea of self sufficiency and independence as a cultural idea. An idea that makes sense within the cultural beliefs but only within those bounds.

When I came out of the woods I had the experience of watching a baby flop around like a beached seal. He needed everything provided for him. He can’t eat unless someone pushes his milk into his mouth. He can’t even reach his own bottom to clean himself when he poops. He is the epitome of dependency. ‘But wait, who do I think I am?’ I thought. ‘What is the food truck that supplies my local grocery store but a large milk bottle being places in my reach? What is the money I use to pay for that metaphorical milk bottle but my substitute for familial love?’.

If I compare my abilities and my needs it appears so similar to me. I can walk to the store and I pay for my food with money as a way of mutual support. A baby’s world is geographically smaller but he or she lives in a similar level of dependency. I need thousands of people to do their job for me to be able to buy food at the store, not to mention the infinity of creation that is required to provide even a single potato chip.

My culture loves to separate and pick apart everything. Even the word ‘Everything’, ‘every’ ‘thing’ is a way of saying that the world is made up of distinct pieces, of things. We say people have legs. We say people are made out of molecules. We divide the world into cities and forests, roads and trails, bedrooms and kitchens, atoms and molecules, animals and humans, tools and weapons, clouds and mist, this and that. There is so many different distinctions that even something that is one thing can also be many things. A dog is an animal, a canine, domestic or wild, a Golden Retriever or a Dhole.
In so many ways we try to make things into only one thing, we dive into everything with microscopes and telescopes to find the farthest and smallest pieces of each thing we have a name for. So much of this is useful and helpful for us. We need to decide if we’re drinking coffee or chlorine. We need to walk on the sidewalk and not the highway. But there are times when we use our definitions to draw the knife to our own necks. We use words to turn the existence that we occupy into a minefield or even a hell.

Think about what would happen if you labeled a piece of food ‘safe’ when it was toxic, or if you labeled those two yellow lines in the middle of the road ‘your bed’. What if you didn’t think of your mother or your son as your family? What if you decided that half of your neighbors house was ‘your house’? What if you stopped thinking of your garden as yours?

I think climate change is what happens when a world labels their garden as someone else’s and something toxic as something safe.
I think most of the problems I see in the world are coming from an underlying unhelpful label. A definition or idea about the way things are that sways are decisions in a way that harms us. The idea is that there is any system other than the system we are in. The idea that nature and humanity are separate. The idea that anything can exist without the all. When we say that we’re destroying the environment we are destroying ourselves. We’ve probably all learned about how trees need sunlight and good soil to survive. Tree’s also need a vast variety of other things to exist in order for them to fit in their place. Things like gravity, animals to spread their seeds, bees or bats to pollinate, other trees to die and become richer soil, mycelium and other plants to hold the soil together and so many more things for these to exist. If you talk about a tree you have to start describing its environment also. Before long you have to describe more and more of the world. At some point a tree is its environment and so much of the separateness is actually more of a way of learning and trying to understand and less actually the way the world organizes itself.

I see this interconnection all around me and I wonder how people started to move their idea of themselves away from other forms of life. At what point do we say ‘self sufficient’ as a joke or a lie? I used to feel ashamed to need help but now I feel that less and less. I am not independent or self sufficient. I need other people, other animals and countless other parts of existence to live. This is natural and good.

I also realized that when I thought about wanting to be independent as an adult what I was really thinking was that independence was synonymous with paying money for all my stuff. I have always been anxious about money and the idea that money is the only way I would feel self sufficient has been present for a long time. I was playing by some rules that I didn’t even understand. My only valuable resource is not money. I have many resources to offer the world even when I don’t have very much money.
Money makes it possible for people to trade more easily but the system is still interdependence. In a strange way we are now more intimately connected to people farther away from us than we’ve ever been before. When I tried to become independent by paying for all of the things that I need I was denying what money was created for. A way to exchange goods across time and space. I can work today and spend the money I make next year in Vietnam. The things I have to offer are the things that money can often represent. Things like time or a skill set. I have all the things I use to exchange for money with me all the time.

The more I think about independence the more I see it is a harmful idea. Humans are fighting over so many differences and we are destroying our one home over the idea that we have many little homes. Labels and defining our world is important but it can also be a dangerous power. The words are only ways of representing how we truly feel about our world and sometimes it really is the way we learn a new way of seeing. It’s something that can change realities whatever way its used, intentionally or not, constructively or not.

Now that our human village has connected to the size of the planet we can harm or help people we’ve never met and destroy or help to build things we’ve never seen.
Maybe in the little villages of the past it was easier to see all the people you knew as your family, to see them as people whom you should care for not only for their sake but  also for your own. In this larger world sometimes we ask for cheap clothes and a child in some poor nation makes it for us without most of the people in between ever knowing the child doing the half-pennies labor.

Maybe the next time you hear ‘independence’ or ‘self sufficient’ you will feel a bit like an alien as well. Resilience and personal strength are great but when we try to be independent we could succeed in disconnecting ourselves from the consequences of our own actions. If we lay down the idea of separateness we could begin to see more and more of the world as our home and more of the worlds people as our family.

Not a Two Step Process

There once was a story about a monkey. The really peculiar part of the story was that this particular monkey was not especially creative or unique. It wasn’t the biggest and it wasn’t the wisest. This monkey wasn’t known for doing anything exceptional at all actually. This particular monkey was known for washing a sweet potato. It didn’t create this method and it wasn’t the first to do so. It saw another monkey sharing its island and as the saying goes it repeated the practice it had learned.
Despite many other monkeys doing this and learning in much the same way it was different this time. This particularly ordinary monkey washed its potato and like a flint spark finally chipping off the monkeys all over the surrounding islands were lit with the spark of genius that started in the very first sweet potato-washing moneky.

The story says that once this critical mass was reached monkeys separated by many miles of ocean began to learn this skill at a wildfires pace. It took the first monkey and every monkey in between in order for the idea to spread but once it spread it was a kind of transcendence from the normal learning flow. The idea was that at a certain point, a certain critical mass an idea or knowledge can spread through the lives within a species faster than the see and do pace of a wordless species. It is a kind of field that is produced by ideas or thoughts and if it becomes strong enough it can be tapped into with greater distances than sight and maybe even faster than human communications.

Now I couldn’t tell you if this is a true story, I simply don’t know if I can believe everything I read. Maybe monkeys can teach each other how to wash sweet potatoes with their minds and maybe it was just a tale to entertain a bunch of bored scientists somewhere. I know I’m inclined to wonder: What if?

If ideas can teach mind to mind then how does that change the meaning of the quote “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Could being that change actually create that change?

I ask this because so much of my life has been spent wondering how I want to be in the world. Who do I want to be and how can I be the strongest most vibrant version of myself. I always thought I was on this journey for my community, for my greater-than-blood family. I thought my process of soul searching was a two step process.
Step one: Become strong and good.
Step two: Use my strength in service.

But what if its only a one step process?

The only thing I have to do is become the person I want to be and change is like dominoes. It all sounds awfully democratic to me.  It doesn’t make it easy, it does make it simple though.
It means ideas matter, learning matters. It means even the meekest introvert changes lives without the need for a single speech.

I couldn’t tell you the truth, I don’t know the truth.
It’s a nice thought that some monkey out there is teaching the other monkeys how to crack rocks together properly. It’s a nice thought that some gentle-hearted young human thinks the world is a gentle home.
Sometimes the nicest thought is the one that floats.

A Rushing River, A Rushing Mind

The rushing of water was all I could hear, all I could hear until the little bird landed on a rock and shot out its crystalline call. Its rock-shaded body dipped and bounced with its dark bead eyes focused on me. Somehow its voice was clear over the overwhelming water noise. I couldn’t tell why it might care to point at me, I couldn’t imagine I seemed like a threat and it would have been hard to believe that its home was hidden in the rocks I stood in. Maybe it was some kind of underwater dweller but it seemed more likely that I should take some thread it seemed to have attached to me with its voice and let it show me something.

I needed to think, I needed to get away and maybe not be seen for a bit. The little bird didn’t have a human mind behind its bird eyes so I thought the nature of the forest would look at me without any humanity. That suited me, and that is why the woods seemed like the correct place to get away to. To be in the trees with some drippy moss would do the trick is there was any trick I knew to do.
It wasn’t that I really was troubled specifically. It was starting to become hard to tell if I was bothered by anything specific or if my mind had just learned to say “It could be good but its probably not”.

The water reached high on my legs as I gripped with my toes to the tiny edges. I knew it was cold but it didn’t feel cold. The bird beeped and then flew away. I wondered down the opposite bank wondering what I might find. I found a branch that had been lodged under a rock with one end in the splash of the current. It had worn itself into the clay and the clay had worn the branch into a sandy bow shape. A bit past this there was some rock pools under the yellowing leaves of some Maple trees. It gave me the idea to create a hot tub. I knew I’d have the time, I had planned to be out for at least a week with only some meditating and thinking on the agenda. It seemed like the right kind of task to keep my body active while my mind could relax. I crawled up the bank into the woods and found that everything was too wet to move through comfortably. I didn’t want to get soaked right away so I set down my pants that I had not put back on after crossing the river in a dry nook so I could explore the Ceders and Salmon Berry without soaking the cotton. I immediately felt more a native when moving in just a T-shirt and underwear. It was cold but not very if I kept moving. I could easily duck and slip through the undergrowth and I began moving towards a clearing I saw a few hundred meters through the trees.

I came to the edge and saw that the clearing was just the river again as it made a large oxbow to nearly encircle the little patch of woods. It was a bit disheartening to have to return the same way back so I moved down some slippery logs and onto the bank. I climbed onto a log jam and smiled a big grin. There was clay, a whole hill of it sliding into the river behind a fortress of logs. I knew at-once that this could be a perfect spot. After I found a drier area under a Hemlock I went back to find my pants and my backpack.

I was a bit alarmed on my way back across the river to find that it had risen a few inches. It had rained hard a few minutes off and on but I didn’t expect that to change the water level. The air of the place began to feel darker and wetter so I set my mind to get ready for night. I gathered wood off the log jam before the rain completely soaked it and by the time the light faded I was tired and hungry.

I felt an emptiness creeping into my chest just like the water had risen after the rain. The last I had checked the river was up by at least a foot. I often feel that emptiness when going to sleep in a new place if it is quiet and quite alone. I felt it and didn’t call it bad, I just don’t tend to think its about here and now. I felt it many nights while I was traveling and I have felt it other times I have been alone in the woods. If I am occupied it is kept at bay but after dinner is made and sleep is between me and the next day it can creep in. I think its like a memory of something that I don’t remember in my mind. Its not true now but still likes to exist. I said “I feel alone” to myself and it slipped a little away. I think it survives because it doesn’t have a name. It’s not really a feeling that can live in the light so I gave it a name, loneliness, and it started to leak away.

The morning was easy with plenty of sun and soon enough I was building my hot tub and my mind was busy with wondering how best to heat the contraption and if there was any way to make it extra durable against the water. I enjoyed the warmer weather and listened to the simple messages. I would rest if I got tired and eat when I felt hungry. I thought about the kind of routines I wanted to practice.

Before I had left my mind was dull all over and sharp in the wrong places. I was finding it hard to form healthy routines the ways I had learned in the past. I began to feel like I was standing on the sidelines. This muddled mentality was one thing that was clear to me. I tried to change it. I tried to think positive thoughts and turn negative spirals into something moving forward but my mind kept in the ruts until I realized I knew just what to do. It came to mind that I felt like I didn’t know what to do but that actually I knew what I wanted and I already had a blueprint for getting there. The confusion and frustration acted as some kind of band aid so I wouldn’t have to face the fact that I knew how to regain some breathing room in my head. I didn’t know why I had not realized earlier. I had just spent 8 months learning about healthy habits for me. Traveling had taught me many tools I could use. Those are the routines that made traveling so rich for me and had brought me back home with such a sense of calm.

The first tool was gratitude. While I was traveling I grew a strong routine of focusing on what I was thankful for and on savoring my experiences. I had so much time and simple activities became significant. I would take the time to taste my meals, to focus on experiencing what my senses were telling me only lead to greater depths of experience. Over time it became natural for my mind to focus on the positive and simply notice the negative in passing. The positive being experiences that were easy to enjoy and the negative being experiences I didn’t enjoy.

The second tool was focus, I think of focus as the ability to hold a single thread, a specific thought in my mind. The longer and clearer I can hold the thought the more focus I have. While I was traveling I would try to think of poems in my head and only write it down once I had finished it or I would practice visualizing something specific. I would try to stretch my ability to visualize by doing things I could not do normally. Like seeing an object from more than one angle at the same time or I liked to try to intentionally change the things I imagined. I was always baffled by how hard it was for me to change what I saw in my imagination on purpose. Sometimes the object would change into something else and I couldn’t quite get it the way I was trying to choose.
I would also practice focus by thinking through questions. When I was in transit between towns I would have a lot of time to think on the buses so I would save things to think about for those times. Over time I got a lot better at remembering what I wanted to think about later. It’s a useful skill for me because I often want to write about something but I forget the details or the entire premise before I get to writing.

The third tool is to give my mind a break from active thinking.  It can be easy for me to get caught on certain thoughts if I don’t have ways to shake my mind off the topic. If I was riding on a bus for 12 hours it would be really hard to have enough energy to keep my mind happy and moving forward the whole time without breaks. I usually used music and sometimes audio books to help me zone out.

The fourth tool is to introduce my mind to new ideas. I could do this through audio books, deeper conversations, or other thought provoking experiences. It was  important in helping my mind to move forward. It would give me avenues and new perspectives on old questions. It is definitely something I can get too much of also. I can take in more information than I can adequately process.

The fifth tool is a breathing meditation focused more on not thinking actively. Some of the other tools are probably other kinds of meditation but it seems like having different kinds helps me.

There are many skills I like to practice but these have proven to be really helpful in establishing a kind of stable framework for me. It’s easy to have a poor balance but that’s also easy to know when it happens because I feel it immediately. I add these elements in and it seems to really help level out my thinking and move my brain out of unhealthy feeling spirals.

I am continuing to learn about how to maintain a healthy mind. I think there are probably things I’ve left out but this is because I am not done learning and crystallizing what I know about this.

As the days went on I added these tools into my day. I savored my meals however simple, I sang a song and gave thanks for as many parts as were on a Ceder frond before dinner, I meditated in various ways, I listened to audio books, I did carving projects to allow my mind to rest and I wrote a little bit each night to help me remember more of the details of each day. The thing I really went out on a limb for was if somehow I could compress what I practiced for many months while traveling into a week in the woods.

Strangely enough by the last night out in the woods I didn’t feel any lighter or much less fuzzy-headed. The point of this time in the woods was to give my mind a chance to get back into more positive, and all round healthier patterns. It was hard to notice much change. I thought it would be a gradual trend of growing thankfulness and a less cluttered feeling mind. I didn’t expect it to feel very much the same on the last night as the first night but then feel the changes I was looking for as I walked out of the woods.
I didn’t expect the transition to be such an important part of the process for me. I wonder now if I would have had the same experience if I had not left and come back. Would I have felt like a different person if I had practiced the same routines without a form of transition?  This is a question I’m left with as a continue to savor the quieter mind I still have access to. I will likely need these ways of reestablishing routines many more times in my life and each time I hope to understand more of the mysteries of how my mind works.

AfterValue

The shutter clicks and pops open for 1/400 of a second. It opens to an aperture of 7.1, its a bright day and the fire they’re using to scorch away the hair makes it yet brighter. I snap a few more pictures with lines and framing in mind. The men are focused on their work and don’t seem to mind the stranger hovering around the periphery. I can smell the hair burning away and the smell of burnt skin as the edges of the gutting wound is singed. I remember the dust, the welcoming smiles, the way they lifted my gift of beetle nut and tobacco in appreciation. It is clear in my mind. The pictures remember too, they are etched into the reflective surface of a little spinning disk. They exist in some physical sense, but my memory is more physical, more real. Can I show my memory to the people that wish to experience it? Can I find a way to show the people who sit in comfortable chairs what a life of chairlessness looks like?  The error message on my computer every time I plug in the hard drive says “No, its just for you now.”
I’m sure there is some explanation to the message that appears on my screen. It’s some kind of corruption of data or some software misspelling but when I see the message I see a barrier between me and the hundred thousand sensations I captured some fragment of. I see the barrier between my clearest hope of expressing my experiences. I see rain on the kindling of thousands of fires waiting to be sparked back to life.
I don’t know how to value something like this.
Do I base it on time spent gather these pictures?
Do I think about emotional value?
Do I base it on possible financial value?

It is certainly a strange thing to never doubt something and than to have an error message remind me what I care about. I don’t notice loss of things I don’t value.  The other day I picked up my phone and it still worked, I didn’t notice anything. I didn’t pause in thanks, regret or any emotion. I put my phone down after reading a mundane message without a pause of any kind. If tomorrow I pick up my phone and it refuses to turn on I will notice.
My pictures have more of my attention right now than they did a week ago, I appreciate them more. If the point of life is to learn to appreciate what I have, not what I could have, than loss might be the clearest teacher. I want to listen to this loss as a sincere appreciation, as real gratitude. I really do think that my life is primarily about learning to appreciate what I have. I don’t think its about getting what I want, or the development of skills that make me more efficient at getting where I want to be. I have seen too many lives full of rich comfort, beauty and relationship that instead chose to be lived in suspicion, stress and lack. If you have an apple and only an apple do you think about the cheese that could go well with the apple or do you think about the crisp taste of your apple?

My pictures are valuable to me. I would have told you that a week ago if you had asked, but I would not have told you if you did not ask. I’m telling you that right now because I am acutely aware of their value. Lately I have been asking myself about how I asses the value of things, how do I know what is most important to me. This is probably the lesson I was asking for.

Do I appreciate my pictures because they are gone? or at least very hard to retrieve.
Or am I just now being reminded that I appreciate them?
And either way, how do I know the value of things in my life or not in my life before I have and lose them? To be honest I think the value of my pictures changed when I received that error message. I don’t think I can know what something is worth to me in any future time because between now and then it may change many times. I do appreciate my pictures more because they are gone. I reassessed  their value and found that it had changed. Their are many other ways it could have changed but having it become so hard to access my pictures has actually upped the value considerably.

Now I must ask, does this mean that my pictures are worth more to me now? not if I could access them but are they actually worth more out of my reach? Is it actually better to lose something if it causes me to gain a higher appreciation for it and most likely my future pictures?  Can losing something have a higher reward in my life than having that same thing?

I can still taste the cup of coffee that I had this morning, the flavor is infused into the tissue of my mouth. Its rich, comforting smell can be brought back to mind by running my tongue along the sides and roof of my mouth. Whether or not I enjoyed the actual cup of coffee while I was drinking it I still have a choice in front of me. Can I find a way to enjoy the afterlife of that cup of coffee as much as the life?
That’s exactly what I’m choosing. To enjoy, to appreciate, to love it now.
I want to choose the moment whichever part of the ebb and flow I’m in. The excitement of wanting coffee, the warmth of the cup in my hands, the comfort of the nostalgic flavor, and the faint after tones once the cup is empty.

Fish Are For Swimming

There are many ways to live and lately I’ve realized that my way of living doesn’t always make sense at first glance from the outside. It’s okay that it doesn’t make sense, its natural and very common. I don’t think its even necessary to understand someone’s choices to be a good support to them but this realization lead me to thinking about the people and choices I don’t understand.

It began with realizing that many of my choices come from the fact that I deal with depression. I say “deal with depression” because it sounds more fluid than saying “I am depressed” and because I think that words create my reality in some way. The depression I feel changes and is actually what I would imagine to be a pretty low strength depression if that’s something I can say. I define this because of how I can live more than half my life happily and healthily as long as I pay attention to my choices and how they effect the stability of my happiness. I think this is normal, I may have stronger impacts because my depression can make seemingly minor events feel major but other than that I bet most peoples lives are influenced by external events.
Even though I feel lucky to have pretty manageable hardships in my life I do have to construct my life around my gifts and wounds, my desires and fears. That might actually be silly to say because its so normal, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t choose their life based on their own personality. It’s actually kind of ridiculous to have to say that I have to build my life around my personality, part of which is my trauma’s, loves and even my depression. talking about Mental illness, disorders and pretty much emotions in general have a few rules I’d rather not follow. I’m not the most open about my emotions, not in the present anyways, but in my head I know that what I feel is probably shared by countless other people.

The other day I was asked what I considered to be normal or ordinary. I was speaking about jobs and how I find it scary to work an ordinary job. When I was reflecting I found that this perspective comes from how I have to be sensitive to my happiness because a wrong step can take a long time to correct for me. I have worked many jobs I didn’t enjoy and while maybe this would mean to some people that the job is boring to me it doesn’t mean boring. Working a job that I don’t enjoy and that is stressful for me for an extended period of time saps my energy to the point where I have close to no ability to enjoy life or do anything outside of that job. In the past it has taken 2 or 3 months for me to lose motivation for a job. I used to think this is because of a lack of motivation but now I understand it to be more from an abundance of draining facets of my life. Things like the amount of energy mundane actions take from me when I am especially low on the mood scale. I have pushed myself months into these situations and I haven’t found a way to stabilize. This makes me prone to work shorter term jobs and choose in 3 to 6 month partitions. It could be easy to see this as a disability but it actually provides me with a very sensitive happiness compass. I know pretty quickly whether I am engaging with my life. Sometimes its not helpful because I will feel depressed when one aspect of my life is inadequate even though the other aspects support me. Or sometimes I will need to do things I don’t enjoy for a time in order to reach a grander goal. Because of this I have delayed my happiness for long periods of time.

There are so many ways to live and I bet most people are doing their best to make their life make sense. Sometimes that’s kind of crazy from the outside, but usually crazy looks just as crazy from both directions. If you call a person crazy for having a job for 30 years they might think you are crazy for switching jobs every 6 months, their is good sense from both sides of that. The cultural perceptions of what is normal and right change continually and those are some of the slower changes. It might be strange to imagine the difference between burning witches and deciding whether or not the death penalty should be legal in the US but this is how much perceptions of right and wrong can change over time.

I’m finding that I can’t test myself by any test that is a comparison to other people or other peoples choices. I make my choices from the best perspective I know and with my own goals in mind. When my plan doesn’t work I change it and when it does I remember it.

I write all this because I’ve often lived with a heavy heart thinking that my life will never be as great or happy as those people that live without depression or one of the other struggles I have lived with. I have wondered all my life about how the great figures in history became great and some part of me always wanted that. Because of this its important for me to take a closer look and learn that I will always have the ability to make the best out of my life, my life can be great and I can be the person that believes that. Maybe I won’t be able to work boring jobs because it makes me feel like my chest is hollow and maybe there are many other limits I will face throughout my life.

I can remember when I was younger I would have to choose in a video game what type of character to be and I always tried to choose all at once. I didn’t want to just be a good magician or a good warrior, I wanted to be good at everything all at once. Now I see that its more like I’m a fish and its actually not very fun to pretend I like climbing trees.

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