Tag Archives: balance

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing

As an oral storyteller, I’m committed to gathering old tales from all over the world and retelling them because they contain blueprints for life. Each story is a teacher, a small piece of code, a seed, a fragment of wisdom, a snippet of DNA. Stories speak to us about who we are, who we have been and who we might yet be. They speak in the voices of place, people, history and culture.

Photo by Alan Chen on Unsplash

Story does not exist without storytellers. Literacy is not necessary, as long as people remain connected enough to pass story on orally. A culture which unravels and frays in its ability to form healthy connections and bonds and at the same time stifles the acquisition and sharing of knowledge is in grave danger of losing stories, and when old stories are lost much of the collective wisdom of our ancestors is lost with them. We become crippled and impoverished. We lose our way in the world and we have to spend time and energy reinventing wheels we learned how to make hundreds of years ago.

As a storyteller, then, I come to you this fine spring week when the snow is ebbing in Maine, leaving behind rich, greasy mud, with the old story of the wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Every old story is in fact many stories. A piece of oral tradition is like a many-limbed tree. As it grows and matures it branches out over and over. Every teller who passes on the tale adds or takes away a piece of it, reshaping it according to the teller’s context in history and place. Still, the skeleton of the story remains recognizable, because the bones contain the wisdom, the old truth, the regenerative pieces that are reanimated over and over by those of us who share them.

The essential truth contained in the idiom “a wolf in sheep’s clothing” is evident to any investigator, because it has appeared in so many times and places. According to my research, the first time it appeared was in the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, as a warning against false prophets. The sermon goes on to suggest that actions speak louder than words. Thereafter, the phrase was repeated in other Christian religious writing and from there entered into European vernacular. A Latin proverb arose: “Under a sheep’s skin often hides a wolfish mind.”

A 12th century Greek wrote a fable about a wolf who changed his appearance in order to get access to ample food. He put on a sheepskin and mingled with a flock of sheep, fooling the shepherd. The disguised wolf was shut up with the sheep for the night. The shepherd decided he wanted mutton for his supper, so he took his knife and killed the deceitful wolf, mistaking it for a sheep. Here is a branch in the story tree. The Gospel reference warns against deceitful teachers. The Greek fable warns that evil-doing carries a penalty. The bones of the story — the consequences of a wolf disguising itself as a sheep — are the same. The story is now two-dimensional. Such a pretence is dangerous for both wolf and sheep.

Another iteration occurs three centuries later in the writing of a 15th century Italian professor. A wolf dresses himself in a sheepskin and every day kills one of the flock. The shepherd catches on and hangs the wolf, still wearing the sheepskin, from a tree. When the other shepherds ask why he hung a sheep in a tree, the shepherd replies that the skin was of a sheep, but the actions were of a wolf. There it is again: Actions speak louder than words.

Aesop wrote two fables having to do with wolves gaining the trust of a shepherd and killing sheep, but the wolf is undisguised in these cases. Even so, the common theme is clear. A wolf is a wolf, and cannot be trusted with the sheep.

In the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Italian, French and English writers adopted versions similar to the early 15th century Italian tale, in which the wolf pretends he is not a threat to the sheep.

Most of us know the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, whose origins can be traced back to 10th century European folk and fairy tales. In the familiar modern version, a wolf disguises itself as Red Riding Hood’s grandmother and the innocent too-sweet maiden is fooled and subsequently eaten.

My favorite story of wolves and, in this case, goats, comes from my own childhood, the tale of the wolf and the seven kids (young goats). The mother goat must leave the house and warns her seven children about the wily wolf who might try to gobble them up. She says they will recognize her by her sweet voice and white feet, and they mustn’t open the door to anyone else. I was mightily amused by the wolf’s machinations in trying to fool the kids: Swallowing honey to make his rough voice sweet, whitening his black feet with flour. Of course, he does fool the kids and they are eaten, but, much like Little Red Riding Hood, the kids are saved from the wolf’s stomach in the end.

As an adult, this tale doesn’t seem nearly so amusing.

Lastly, modern zoology makes use of the term “aggressive mimicry,” which describes a method of deception by an animal so it appears to either predator or prey as something else.

I’m deeply troubled by what I see going on around me in the world. It appears as though many millions of people are no longer able to discern the difference between wolves and sheep, and this is creating dire consequences for all life on Planet Earth.

How did this happen? Why did this happen? When did this happen? How are we producing college graduates who don’t recognize wolves in sheep’s clothing? What kind of a so-called educational system, public or private, produces such myopia? For two thousand years we’ve understood the dangers of failing to clearly see the difference between sheep and wolves. Such a failure of judgement is bad for the wolves as well as the sheep. Tracing this old tale through time (when most of the world’s population was largely illiterate and uneducated), clearly shows us this is a learned skill. Little Red Riding Hood, the seven kids and several confused shepherds, all innocent, naive and inexperienced, had to learn to recognize a wolf when they saw one, or starve or be eaten. Critical thinking is not an innate skill. Parents, teachers and leaders must actively teach it.

Photo by Michael LaRosa on Unsplash

Here is a wolf. It’s an apex predator; intelligent, flexible and canny. The wolf is evolved to survive and pass on its DNA. It’s not confused about what it eats or the meaning of its life. Its job is to do whatever is necessary to survive and successfully reproduce. As a predator, wolves are an essential part of the complex system we call life. A healthy population of wolves benefits both the land and prey animals.

Photo by Jamie Morris on Unsplash

Here is a sheep. It’s an herbivore, a prey animal. It’s evolved to produce milk, meat and wool, survive and pass on its DNA. It eats grass. It too is an essential part of the web of predator (including humans), prey and plants. Its presence, properly managed, benefits the land and predators.

One can certainly throw a wolfskin over a sheep and say it’s a wolf, but that doesn’t make it so. Now we have a sheep in the throes of a nervous breakdown, but the animal is still a sheep. It still needs to eat grass. We cannot change a sheep into a wolf.

Likewise, a wolf wearing a sheepskin does not begin to crop grass. Wolves eat meat, no matter what kind of a skin they’re wearing. A simple shepherd might be fooled by a single glance in the dusk if the disguised wolf mills among the sheep, but five minutes of observation will quickly reveal the truth. Sheep do not tear out one another’s throats. A wolf cannot be changed into a sheep.

The wolves of the world, those who prey on others, naturally have a large inventory of successful speeches and manipulations. They study their prey and learn quickly how to take advantage of it. They are everywhere, in politics, religious organizations, schools and cults. They’re athletic coaches and businessmen, people of influence and power. They disguise themselves and mingle freely with their prey and pick them off, one by one.

In the natural world, an overpopulation of wolves eventually runs out of prey animals. At that point, the wolf population goes down dramatically while prey animal populations recover. Nature seeks a balance of life, and if we create endless flocks of fat, stupid, blindfolded sheep, the grass will run out, wolves will increase, and slaughter will commence as the sheep begin to starve for want of food.

That’s a lot of destroyed land, dead sheep, fat and happy wolves and then, in the next generation, a lot of young wolves starving to death and, (one hopes) a few smarter and wiser sheep and shepherds.

People say we’re a superior species to wolves and sheep. I don’t see much evidence of that recently. We can’t seem to remember what we once knew well. We teach our children how to press buttons and look at a screen and pass a standardized state test, but they can’t tell a wolf from a sheep, and neither can we. The wolves are not confused, but the sheep are milling around aimlessly like … well, like sheep, ripe and ready for slaughter. We’ve allowed ourselves to be brainwashed into believing our true nature is expressed by appearance, words and socioeconomics. Actions don’t count, and neither does DNA. Off we skip to the slaughterhouse, following honey-tongued wolves dusted with flour, who praise us for our compassion, compliance, inclusivity and political correctness while they drool at the prospect of all that food. Meanwhile, our planet degrades so that no one else is properly fed and natural checks and balances are destroyed. Even the noncompliant, troublemaking sheep who manage to escape slaughter will starve. So will the wolves, eventually, after they’ve devoured everyone else.

Maybe then the complex system of life can begin to heal. I hope so.

In the meantime, I’ll be separating the wolves from the sheep and telling stories.

My daily crime.

All content on this site ©2018
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Abundance or Scarcity?

Last week, I explored the meaning and experience of anxiety. In doing so, I realized that all my anxiety has a common root in scarcity, which gave me the subject for this week’s blog. Scarcity and abundance. What could be more perfect for Thanksgiving week?

Scarcity, according to a quick internet search, is “the state of being in short supply; especially want of provisions for the support of life; unlimited wants in a world of limited resources.”

In spite of the fact that I come from a middle-class background, I’ve always lived with the bony specter of scarcity. As a child, I constantly feared there wasn’t enough, even though there was enough. We always had a home, and food, and clothing. The house was full of books and music. We had pets. We had cars. We even took vacations, a thing I was certainly never able to do with my own children. Still, I was always afraid we’d run out of money. The worst thing I could imagine was not being able to afford to feed and care for the animals! I was continually waiting for it all to disappear.

My insecurity around physical resource was not the biggest anxiety producer. What really ensnared me was emotional scarcity. It never seemed to me there was enough love, or patience, or joy. There wasn’t enough time, enough energy, enough hope. My feeling of emotional hunger led me to conclude that the problem was me. I was greedy and selfish. I wanted too much.

Most painful of all was my belief that I wasn’t enough. Not smart enough, not strong enough, not quick enough, not wise enough, not loving enough, not adult enough. I could see no cure for my inadequacies, no hope that I could ever be fixed, and, employing the heartbreaking logic of children, my conclusion was I didn’t deserve anything but scarcity.

Unsurprisingly, my experience since I formed that belief has been of scarcity on every level.

It’s important to note that in some significant ways this frame of scarcity has been useful. I don’t have “unlimited wants,” for example. In fact, I’ll rarely admit to wanting anything at all, which is a problem on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve never enjoyed shopping. I’m a reluctant consumer. I don’t long for gems or cruises, fine wines, luxury cars or elegant homes.

Living with restricted financial resource has taught me a lot about the limited power of money. What I value and want most, as well as what I most want to contribute, can’t be bought or sold. I’ve also learned unfulfilled wanting and longing can be lived with.

On the other hand, living from a position of scarcity has not only kept my anxiety fat and happy, it’s impoverished my courage, my ability to love, and my self-confidence. My belief in scarcity has sucked away a lot of my power.

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

What about abundance? Abundance is “a very large quantity of something; plentifulness of the good things of life; prosperity.”

When I started thinking about anxiety in the last couple of weeks, I began to notice its presence or absence during activities of my daily life. For example, when I deal with household needs and wants, bills, the grocery list, and think about jobs, I feel anxious. When I’m out walking, gathering cones, cutting greens for holiday wreaths, collecting the beautiful little Sensitive fern pods for crafting, I feel no anxiety and have no experience of scarcity. The fields, the woods, the river, the trees, the fall bracken and naked branches and twigs all speak to me of plenty, and plenty, and plenty again. Abundance is everywhere. There is enough. I am enough.

I wrote last week about my suspicion that my anxiety is a bad habit as much as anything. I wasn’t consciously choosing to haul around such a dreadful burden, but dredging it up from my subconscious into the daylight, specifically defining it and shining a light on it allowed me to realize I don’t have to allow anxiety to run me. I can choose to disengage with it.

What if the frames of abundance and scarcity are also choices? What if I decide scarcity is no longer a useful label for my experience or self-definition, and I choose instead to believe in enough, or even in more than enough? Imagine it. Enough resources. Enough water and silence and time. An abundance of arms strong enough to hold me through the deepest hours of the night. A river of tenderness. A roomful of dancers. A strong, resourceful, wise, creative self.

Photo by Roderico Y. Díaz on Unsplash

Abundance is everywhere I look this morning, in the glowing wood stove, in the cartons of eggs stacked in the refrigerator, in boxes of wreaths I’m loading into the car to take to my friend’s farm store. Abundance is in writing these words, and when I glance from them I see, out the window, the infinite beauty of the November landscape.

It’s also true that we’re nearly out of bacon, and I know there are other items on the current grocery list. We’re heading into winter and haven’t been able to fix the leaky roof, but I suppose one could say there’s more roof than hole, so that’s a good thing!

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Isn’t it really all just a cosmic balance? We can’t possibly take in everything at once in life, so we narrow our focus, and invariably find what we’re looking for. Changing our focus changes what we see. Perhaps abundance has always been hand-in-hand with scarcity and I’ve just never looked beyond what I knew and expected. How can these two concepts be separated? They make each other possible.

My anxiety is currently sulking and on a starvation diet. Scarcity is what it thrives on, but I’m kind of bored with that tired old goblin. I’m enjoying my new focus and filter of abundance. I like the way it makes me feel. It doesn’t make all the challenges go away, but it certainly balances them with a peaceful, satisfied feeling of enough, and I’m grateful.

It’s Thanksgiving Day as I post this. I wish everyone the abundance of the season in food, loved ones and joy.

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Wellspring of Love

A few weeks ago I wrote about romance and in that blog I confessed that at this point in my life I’m not sure what love actually is. A strange admission from a reasonably intelligent, well-educated, middle-aged broad with two marriages and two children in her history.

Writing that post enabled me to clearly separate romance from love; though I suppose love might include a little romance from time to time. I’m convinced that romance is not synonymous with love, however. I began to make a mental list of what love is not, as I often approach things from the back door first. Love is not a synonym for:

  • Romance
  • Sex
  • Slavery
  • Control
  • Possession
  • Obsession
  • A suicide pact
  • Abuse
  • Fear
  • Duty
  • Obligation
  • Enabling
  • Obedience

All right. So what is love? My Randall House Collegiate Dictionary says it’s “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for a person” or “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection.” This definition doesn’t satisfy me at all. My rewrite is that love is a feeling of warm, tender connection and deep affection. I don’t think love is always passionate and I don’t like the word attachment. If anything, love implies to me an attitude of nonattachment.

But what about unrequited love? What about failed love or withdrawn love or love as a weapon or a tool? What about the inability to accept love, or feeling unloved though being told we are? What about those who make us feel our love is ugly, twisted, shameful or inadequate?

I’m always playing with words in my head. This week it’s “What is love?” and “What is a crone? and “What are the differences between compassion, empathy and sympathy?” I lie down with those inquiries and wake up with them. I turn them over while I shower, cook bacon, wash dishes, take my morning walk, practice Tai Chi and drive to town. I’m constantly scribbling notes.

I gave a neighbor a lift this morning and asked him to talk to me about compassion, sympathy and empathy. Poor man. He didn’t know what to make of me.

Yesterday, during my frosty morning walk, I dove into a stand of staghorn sumac below the barn and went to visit the spring. This is a daylight spring that comes out of the hill on which the barn and house stand. A long time ago, someone dug a well there, and at one time a pump and tank were installed, along with a system of black plastic outdoor lines to carry water to and from the barn, the garden, and down through the woods to, presumably, crops in the fields below. All the equipment is many decades old now, fallen over and covered with leaves and moss. The well is protected by a round cement cap, much too heavy for me to lift alone (drat!).

Spring 10/2017

This spot is hidden in a thick tangle of vine, briar and trees. We rarely go in there, though it’s in close proximity to the barn.

It’s fall and it’s been dry, but the drainage where the spring emerges is clearly marked by rocks and moss. The ground underfoot felt soft, and when I brushed away the leaves I found moist earth. A yard or two below that is mud, and then a trickle of water and then, at the bottom of the hill, a quiet film of water, barely moving, reflecting the tree-laced sky. Right now It’s full of apples dropped from a wild apple tree that grows alongside it.

As I slipped and slid, tripping over vines and getting scratched by hawthorn and raspberry bushes, feeling the velvety moss coating the rocks and stepping cautiously on rotting wood, it occurred to me that love is like this spring.

I’ve always thought of love as an action verb, something I do to another in exchange for receiving the same. I thought I knew what I meant when I used the word, though I was never challenged to define it exactly. For me it’s been a catch-all term, synonymous with dozens of other, more specific actions: Want, need, desire, honor, trust, respect, care about, listen to, defend, make excuses for, enable, protect, support, believe in, etc., etc.

But what if love is just being? What if it has no object, but just is?

Spring 10/2017

This little spring is absolutely true to itself. Water drains off the hillside above us and carves a path through the earth and rock until it emerges and runs down the surface at the foot of the hill. We pay no attention to it whatsoever. It’s reliable, predictable and faithful, but not because anyone is looking. Its unobtrusive, quiet presence has created a lush pocket of life, a complex system of plants, fungi, animals and insects, but ten yards away on the open hillside it’s invisible.

What if I make a choice to allow my feeling of love to run through my life in the same way the spring runs through and over the ground? What if I carry within me a wellspring, a hidden cleft, moist, fertile, filled with life, rich in sensuality, simply because it’s an expression of self? If others find their way to it, sit a while, bathe, drink, and allow it to nourish and refresh them, they’re welcome. If others can’t see it, or don’t value it, or dislike the perfume of rotting wood and leaves or the feel of plush moss under their bare foot, it’s nothing to do with me. Not everyone chooses to make their way through raspberry and hawthorn bushes, after all.

What if I don’t need anything in return because I’m giving nothing away? Perhaps the act of love can be a simple state of being, not a totality, not a hurricane of passion and lust, not a romantic fairytale, not a prison and torture chamber, but a spring, a waterway, a shining thread that I can share without depletion. Can I allow it to seep quietly up through the roots of my experience, even if no one else ever finds it, wants it, returns it or deems it acceptable?

Our spring is part of a landscape of field and forest, river, pond and stream, rocky hillside and bog. The landscape contains many forms and embraces many systems of life. Birth and death happen on this land. Disease, erosion and flood happen on this land. Prey and predators carry out their sacred dance of balance here. Blood, bone, fur, feather, antler, musk, urine and feces are all here.

I, too, am a complex system of history, memory, belief, thought and feeling. I do not feel love for everyone and everything. My experience of love is that it’s a wild thing; it seeps up where it will and trickles away without warning, taking no account of rules and expectations. I can’t command it and I don’t choose to hold it back. My love doesn’t need anyone’s reception, appreciation, validation or praise.

Love is. I reserve the right to love as I will. I am the keeper of my own wellspring.

I love. My daily crime.

Spring 10/2017

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted