Tag Archives: identity

Essential Things

It’s the season of Christmas music. Like it or hate it, it seems to be inescapable just now. I’ve never understood why “My Favorite Things” is a Christmas song, but it always seems to be in the holiday music lineup, so the lyrics have been winding their way through my thoughts.

Photo by Ludde Lorentz on Unsplash

One of the things I love about life is how multilayered it is, and how, paradoxically, the activities that demand most of our time and energy are not necessarily the things that truly nourish us and make our lives worth living. We can look around us and identify a few of our favorite things on the surface of our lives. Several layers underneath the surface, however, is a different list, a list of what we’re rooted in. The loss of surface things is painful. The loss of what we’re rooted in is terminal.

I’ve come to appreciate the complex layers in life gradually. For a long time I was only aware of my shallow roots, and they were in other people. My possessions, my place and the people around me provided me with a sense of identity and I didn’t see myself as separate from them.

In fact, I didn’t see myself at all.

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens certainly enrich my life, but I’m not rooted in them. I don’t draw joy, passion, hope and my desire to engage with life from them.

Photo by Gabriel Jimenez on Unsplash

So, I’ve been asking myself for the last few days, what are my roots growing in? What lies in the layers beneath my favorite things and my stories, beliefs and identity? What makes life possible and beautiful?

The resulting list, not of favorite things but of essential things, seems very odd to me. It’s so odd and unexpected, in fact, that I’m wildly curious about how other people would answer these questions. Am I the only odd one, or does everyone have a strange little inventory of necessities in their deepest layers of experience? I was also surprised at how hard it was to excavate so deeply, far below my desire for seductive surface things I can buy. Making a wish list is easy. Making an external inventory of the stuff in our lives is also not difficult, though it may take some time. Descending deeply within ourselves, past our relationship to others, past our identity and past the things that fire or flood can take from us to scratch and sniff and burrow among our own roots, tasting the soil and filling ourselves with our own scent, is a journey through the dark without guide or companion into our own soul.

Photo by Riccardo Pelati on Unsplash

In that deep, internal place from which I draw faith, peace and love reside a memory and a dream. The memory is of a crippled orange cat who taught me everything I know about unconditional love, survival, surrender, courage and the gift of life. The dream is of my mother, young and carefree, leaping and running joyfully down a grassy hill under a blue sky toward a group of waiting horses, dogs and cats.

My roots must mingle with the roots of other lives, especially the patient trees, and always they reach for water in all its forms, as necessary to me as breathing.

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash

I cannot imagine living without stories. My childhood was spent in secret gardens, Oz, Narnia and on the river with Mole, Rat and ridiculous Mr. Toad. The greatest loss of things I can imagine is the loss of my library, but the influence and inspiration of all the stories I’ve read, told, written and even forgotten have shaped me in countless ways that can never be lost. I am never tired of watching, listening to and reading about the stories around me, mine, yours and theirs.

Stories are only one aspect of creativity, and creativity is perhaps the strongest support upon which my life rests. The power to make something out of nothing, the power to interpret a piece of life with music, words, dance, fiber, paint or any other material or medium, seems to me the most sacred power there is. The compulsion to make, not for money or fame, but as a love letter to life, animates and inspires me. The work of creativity is the greatest spiritual treasure we can give ourselves, one another and the world.

A dream that all will be well. A memory of a great love. Trees and water, stories and the joy of creation. These are the essential things without which I would not be. A strange assortment that doubtless makes a strangely shaped  soul, but I don’t mind. I know who I am, and I know what I need.

My daily crime.

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

Toxic Mimics and Other Deceits

I first heard about toxic mimics as I learned emotional intelligence. The term comes from radical environmentalist author and speaker Derrick Jensen. A toxic mimic is a destructive action, behavior or thing pretending to fill a primary human need. Rape is a toxic mimic for healthy, consensual sex. Sugar is a toxic mimic for food. Addiction is a toxic mimic for managing feelings. A job might be a toxic mimic for contribution. Pseudo self is a toxic mimic for authenticity. Some would argue that social media is a toxic mimic for connection.

I believe our modern culture here in the United States, at this moment, rests on an edifice of toxic mimics. People who create, design and sell toxic mimics have a simple agenda: Profit and power. We, the consumers and choice makers, the common people, if you will, happily hand over our power in exchange for the shiny; the new and improved; the seductive promise of success, wealth and love; and the popular. Toxic mimics give us the relief of distraction, instant gratification and the promise of an identity. They help us regulate our mood and feelings.

Toxic mimics have such power over us now that a majority of us (maybe) have voluntarily given management of our country to toxic mimics for human beings.

Photo by Patrick Brinksma on Unsplash

What are the strongest human motivators? Fear? Love? Hate? I could also make a case for denial, but that might be too inextricably bound up with fear to separate. Toxic mimics are deliberately designed and marketed to appeal to the things that drive us at our deepest levels. They are engineered to target our greatest vulnerabilities. They seek to hook us, permanently, helplessly and hopelessly, and they’re so powerful that many, many people are killed by them. Witness the power of nicotine, for example. Toxic mimics promise to fill our lives with everything we want and provide us an identity, but when we employ them we feel emptier than ever. Because we are conditioned to believe buying a product or service will make us feel better, we buy as much as we can as fast as we can, which necessitates a continuous stream of money, a resource that has become one of the most powerful Gods we’ve ever worshipped. Money, one might say, is a toxic mimic for God, or Gods, or whatever word you like to use to communicate the Divine.

The deepest irony in this situation is that we are the ones who perpetuate the power of toxic mimics. We willfully and intentionally participate. We create demand and gobble up supply. We continue to support advertising, algorithms and the handful of powerful companies who monitor our lives and mine us for information in order to sell us yet more toxic mimics. We applaud and admire what we call “progress”, “growth” and a healthy economy.

Photo by Ev on Unsplash

A healthy economy. Healthy for who, I wonder. Healthy for the global system? Healthy for those of us living paycheck to paycheck? Healthy for the children who are victims (yes, I mean victims) of anti-vaxxers? Healthy for people who have no financial resource and thus cannot participate in the latest technology? In a country filled with disbonded children and broken families; rising antibiotic-resistant organisms, including STDs; rising illnesses like typhus that are perfectly preventable with vaccination; astronomical housing costs that force employed professionals to live out of their cars; broken healthcare and public education systems and a population of obese, metabolically disordered, pharma-dependent, addicted, lonely, suicidal people, we have a so-called healthy economy.

Oh, good. I’m so proud to be an American.

It’s a lie. There’s nothing healthy about what’s happening now, but we’re so stupefied, so numbed, so habituated, that we no longer recognize lies when we hear them. We can’t afford to, because to recognize one means to recognize others, and if the whole thing is based on lies, we’re too afraid to know it. Much easier to cash the insurance check and rebuild, for the third or fourth time, in the same place than take responsibility for facing the effects, long predicted, of climate change.

Of course, insurance companies are not going to continue to subsidize climate change because that destroys their profits, so that might catch our attention — eventually.

In the meantime, we bend our heads over our handheld, shiny, talking, distracting and instantly gratifying techno-screens or settle down in front of our larger screens and surround sound systems and let the advertising and brainwashing wash over us. We call this life. Isn’t it grand? Isn’t it beautiful? Aren’t you happy?

A toxic mimic is a promise that never delivers. Sometimes we do it to ourselves. Sometimes we allow others to convince us of the necessity, morality and rightness of our toxic mimics. We’re told they will make us safe. They will make us successful. They will make us healthy and popular, beautiful and beloved. We’re told we have a perfect right to have what we want. We long to believe it. We buy, and then we don’t feel successful or beautiful, so we buy some more. We start giving away our power. We begin to hide our unhappiness. After all, toxic mimics are working for everybody else, aren’t they? Everyone on our favorite social media platform is doing just fine. We conclude there’s something wrong, broken and irredeemably ugly about us. It’s too shameful to admit or talk about. We take even more smiling selfies and post them.

Meanwhile, we elevate and empower not the humanitarians, the natural leaders, the ecologists, the visionary scientists, the emotionally intelligent, the critical thinkers and those who understand complexity and systems, but those who have wealth. Money, that amoral symbol made of paper and metal, is the God we’ve agreed is the most powerful and the most admirable. It’s not so, of course, but we make it so with our belief and our participation. We are driven by our fear of losing economically. We’re evidently prepared to follow the promise of economic power straight to Hell.

Fear is the most powerful hallmark of a toxic mimic. Fear of losing power. Fear of being wrong. Fear of consequences, justice and having to take responsibility. Fear of experiencing our feelings. Fear makes our lives, intellect and hearts smaller, not larger. Toxic mimics don’t meet our needs. They momentarily satisfy, perhaps, our cravings and addictions, our need for stimulation and gratification and our desire for distraction. Ultimately, however, toxic mimics dehumanize us, stop our critical thinking, retard our judgement, destroy our health, disable us from healthy connections and encourage us to hide our authenticity. Toxic mimics feed our rigidity, our ideology, our fear and paranoia, and actively attack our physical and mental health.

Are your needs being met? If you don’t know what your needs are, here’s a needs inventory to look at.

If that question made you cry, or your heart shouted “NO!”, make a list of all your makeup, your clothes, your car(s), your tech, your toys and the other stuff you recognize as part of your identity. Don’t forget your accounts, subscriptions and financial assets.

All that, and your needs are not being met?

Huh. Interesting, isn’t it?

Uncovering toxic mimics. My daily crime.

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

Descansos

Clarissa Pinkola Estes introduced me, years ago, to the idea of descansos in Women Who Run With the Wolves, one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Descansos is a Spanish word meaning resting places. A descanso might be a grave in an ordinary graveyard, but Estes suggests creating descansos as a spiritual practice; a method for letting go and/or acknowledging a loss; a place to put rage, fear and other feelings or destructive thoughts to rest so we don’t walk forward burdened by unresolved pain and experience.

We know grief has its own timetable. The Celts set aside a year and a day for the proper discharge of grief. Many other cultures have formal mourning periods and practices, during which people are not expected to fully participate in social responsibilities and activities. Many of us try to move away from the anguish of grief as quickly as possible, but there is no shortcut for the grieving process. Sooner or later, we must feel it and walk through it if we are to heal.

Photo by Madison Grooms on Unsplash

Loss is not just about the death of a loved one. As we journey through life we encounter many losses, including the loss of our innocence, which might take many forms; the loss of dreams; the loss of health; the loss of a job, a home, a relationship or some piece of identity that was integral to our lives. For all of these, we might make a descanso, a place where we have knelt and prayed, wept, planted flowers or a tree and marked with a cairn, a stone, a cross, or some other symbol that has meaning for us. A descanso is a quiet, private place apart from the rest of our lives, a place we can visit when autumn leaves begin to fall and the cooling air crisps with the scent of windfall apples, damp leaves and browning ferns. We pay homage to what has been, to that which we’ve blessed, released and laid to rest. We invite memory and take time to empty our cup of rage, pain or tears again.

I recently wrote about identity. This fall, it occurs to me to spread out all the pieces of my identity, past and present, try them on, one at a time, and notice how they feel. I will make descansos for those aspects of identity that no longer fit me or serve my intention going forward. I want an identity update; to replace the old versions with an identity compatible with my present life and experience, much like going through a clothes closet and culling.

In fact, that is a task I’m undertaking right now as well; going through my clothes. Perhaps that’s why I feel nostalgic and am thinking about descansos. Autumn awakens in me the desire to clean out and lighten up, literally and metaphorically. I discover my difficulty in letting go of clothing I haven’t worn in years and which no longer fits is about the memories of who I was and what I was doing while wearing it rather than the clothing itself.

Photo by eddie howell on Unsplash

Memories can be a heavy burden. Some are precious and we never want to lose them. Other memories haunt us and keep our wounds fresh and bleeding. The remedy for all those imprisoning beliefs, pieces of negative identity, unresolved feelings and painful memories is the practice of descansos, which is to say the practice of grieving and then moving on. That order is essential. We must grieve fully and willingly, and then move on. A graveyard is not a place to pitch a tent and live the rest of our lives. It’s a place to create, visit, honor, care for and meet ourselves when old parts and pieces of our lives enter our dreams and tug at our hearts.

Making descansos is a gentle practice. It is not denial, avoidance or rejection, but rather an open-armed welcome to all our experience, followed by honest assessment and choice-making. Like clothing, identity and memories wear out, no longer fit or become too uncomfortable and outdated to be useful. Making a resting place is an intentional practice, without violence, frenzy or horror. We are not tearing ourselves apart with self-hatred, but allowing change and growth, the same way the trees are beginning to let go of their leaves and a snake sheds its skin. The practice of descansos allows us to clean up, clean out, and create space for new growth and experience. It’s an opportunity to create a place of sacred memory so we do not have to stagger under a jumbled-up load of the past.

Creating descansos is uniquely individual. Some might draw a map of their life’s journey, marking descansos along the way. Artists might paint, make music, write, create, sculpt or dance. Others might seek out a sacred place in nature for ritual, prayer and making a grave or graves.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

When I make descansos, I think of putting a baby to bed in a dim nursery, bathed and fed, sleepy and smelling of milk, with a clean blanket and a stuffed toy. Perhaps our most brutal memories and experiences are the ones that need the tenderest descansos we can create. As we would nurture, reassure and protect an infant, we nurture, reassure and protect ourselves with the practice of descansos. We allow ourselves to suffer, release our suffering and move on, honoring the way our experience shapes and enriches us.

It’s autumn in central Maine, a good time to make new descansos and visit old ones. A good time to remember. A good time to walk under the trees and absorb the wisdom of cycles and seasons, growth and change, life and death.

A good time to allow ourselves to rest in peace.

My daily crime.

Photo by Autumn Mott on Unsplash

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