Tag Archives: money

A Recipe For Courage

I ran into a great question a few weeks ago: “What gives you courage?” I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Courage, the ability to do something frightening or having strength in spite of pain or grief, is not the absence of fear. If we have no fear we have no need of courage.

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Fear, in my experience, is multifaceted. My most private fears are about my own wholeness and worth. Then, there’s the fear of external forces, like a coward with a gun in the supermarket; the judgement or criticism of a loved one; or a personal loss, injury or illness.

Yet another kind of fear is one I suspect many of us feel right now, a sort of ill-defined psychic shadow, a general feeling of insecurity about the state of our world and the future. I try not to give it too much attention, but it’s always there, like a thin cloud between me and the sun. I know the only place I have power is right here, right now, in this moment, and I’m glad I’m typing at the keyboard rather than staring out the window and wondering what tragedy or catastrophe will be brought to my attention next and where it will all end.

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Is that a kind of courage, staying intentional in the moment and managing our own power?

Perhaps.

So, what keeps us going in times like these, in spite of our fear?

Oddly, the first thing I thought of was a poem I read as a teenager. All these years I’ve kept it and thought about the wagon wheel that did not break, the faithful dog, the innocent child. I’ve long forgotten where I came across it and I don’t know who wrote it.

Journal Note Long Ago

Crossing the wilderness or the sea I take with me nobody
who is afraid nor do I want with me the memory of a man
or woman who is afraid.

I am afraid enough myself now—there are shadows and ghosts
enough now—in the meshes of my corpuscles—and so I must
not ask others to go.

I keep the memory of a dog who was never afraid, a wagon
whose wheels lasted, a child who had not lived long enough
to know the meaning of the words Yesterday and Tomorrow.

The second thing that comes to mind about the source of my own courage also seems peculiar, but on second thought it might be a way of talking about faith. If and when I am able to identify The Right Thing To Do in any circumstance, fear ceases to have any power over me. I certainly feel it, and sometimes it seems I’ll be ground into oblivion by it, but as long as I’ve breath and a pulse I will do what I believe is right, come what may.

This is a trait fanatics and zealots of every stripe share with me, a fact which makes me pause and shudder. There is a difference, though, between a suicide bomber or the aforesaid coward with a gun and me. I don’t pretend to know what’s right for others, only myself. I’m not interested in having power over other people, forcing my ideology on those around me or taking out my frustrations on others.

My sense of The Right Thing To Do always involves my integrity and intuition, and is not weakened by the judgements and criticisms of those around me. My integrity and intuition are my own. Only I can maintain them. Without them, I am nothing.

When people talk about faith, I generally think of religion, which can be a staunch support for courage as well as a powerful motivator. However, most religions I’m familiar with require submission to a so-called higher authority, either human and/or sacred text (the author of which is frequently unclear and the original of which was written in a language and context I’m unfamiliar with). Many good people build their lives on a bedrock of religious faith and are sustained by it. That is not my way. I will not sacrifice my personal power to an external authority.

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Information and learning give me courage. Literacy and curiosity are gateways to understanding, compassion and revelation. The beauty and complexity of our world and our universe, the remarkable experience of being human, the persistence of life, the perspective of history, the indomitable creativity of the human spirit—all these inspire me and give me courage.

My study and practice of minimalism has given me courage. The more objects and distractions I peel away from my space, time and energy, the stronger and more peaceful I become. Serenity, it turns out, has everything to do with living with less stuff, needing less money and concentrating on the undistracted and undiluted abundance of each moment. I don’t need nearly as much as I thought I did. Peace, joy, clarity and courage immediately flower in the space freed from stuff. I have what I need. I am what I need.

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And that brings me to the last big ingredient in my particular recipe for courage. Learning to know, love and trust myself has given me courage. Part of this has to do with the gifts of aging. I’ve done a lot, seen a lot, made a lot of mistakes and collected a lot of scars. Every day I learn a little more and heal a little more. I have allowed my experience in life to expand my compassion, empathy, intuition, wisdom and ability to love. I’m a resilient, adaptable survivor, and I know, no matter what happens, I’ll do my best to my last breath.

A poem. The Right Thing To Do. Information and learning. Minimalism. Self-regard. Mix well.

Courage.

My daily crime.

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Futility

I just made a note in my daily abbreviated journal that reads: “Don’t think. Just do it!” Yesterday was a day off, and I spent it feeling futile because of what I experience as financial limitations in every direction.

Interestingly, and hilariously, if I could only look at it from that angle, this day of futility was perfectly illustrated by a tiny wasp.

In this house we rescue most insects and put them back outside, even knowing they’re probably back in the house before we are. This is especially true for pollinators, and we believe this particular species of wasp is solitary and does help with pollination. The problem is that I have severe reactions to most insect venom, and a sting means a course of steroids and weeks of pain, swelling and itching.

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When I saw the wasp in my upstairs attic space, my partner came up and caught it and released it outside. Twenty minutes later, a tiny wasp buzzed by me, making for the window I sit next to as I write. We caught it and released it. Twenty minutes later … you get the picture.

I got a roll of duct tape and started putting tape around the window air conditioner unit I’m using, as well as around every widening gap and crack in the old window trim, and tears in the screen.

In spite of my efforts, every twenty minutes or so a single wasp came from the direction of the window with the AC unit in it and headed toward the other window. Was it the same determined wasp, or a different one? Impossible to tell. It was certainly the same species.

I found and taped a gap in the ceiling where the chimney from the wood stove below my workspace rises through the attic. After the next flyby, I noticed a wide gap between the bottom of an exterior wall and the floor. We thought maybe there was a nest in the wall (this has happened in the past with yellow jackets in that place). My partner found an old piece of trim in the barn and we blocked that gap.

A few minutes later, another little wasp appeared.

It was surreal. It was maddening. Given the day I was having inside my head, it was bitterly funny.

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It went on all day, as I spun my wheels and tried to get back on track and do some good writing, some submissions, draft this post—anything creatively productive. After the first three times, I caught the damn things (thing) myself. We released them (it) in different locations, thinking that might make a difference. I even tried shutting them (it) between the window and screen, at which point they (it) disappeared, either finding their (its) way out through the many gaps in the screen or coming back into the attic through cracks in the window frame.

You’re probably asking why we didn’t just kill them (it). When a stinging social insect is killed, it often releases a pheromone alerting the colony to defend itself. We were pretty sure this little creature was solitary, as we only saw one at a time, but if there is a nest in the wall and we killed the wasp inside the room, we didn’t want the whole colony boiling into my workspace.

Aside from that, we the people will not survive if we continue to wipe out all the pollinators.

It’s easy to take a life. I routinely smear mosquitoes and black flies with great glee, and we never meet a tick without taking its head off or drowning it in soapy water. I’m also not a fan of fleas, another ubiquitous little bloodsucker here in Maine that lives in the grass but is more than happy to relocate into the house via shoes, socks, pant legs and pets. We cherish our bat colony and our bug-eating birds, as well as the dragonflies and other creatures that help keep the insect population down.

That being said, these small stinging insects are not aggressive, nor are they looking for blood. They don’t carry disease, as far as we know. They do pollinate and many species help clean up rotting tissue and offal. I don’t hold my sensitivity to their venom against them, and they sting as self-defense, not for fun, the way a yellow jacket will. It just didn’t seem necessary to kill them. It.

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As the day ended, so did the flybys. I never did get going creatively. Some days are like that. I did some cleaning, some laundry, some reading, and went through an exercise routine. I thought about futility. I wondered what mysterious instinct was guiding those little wasps, or the one. How were they, or was it, getting in, and why did this seem like such a good place to be? Why the persistent action that took them (it) from the freedom of the summer world to buzz fruitlessly in an attic against a pane of glass?

Further, why do I myself so often feel sunk in futility? How do I step off into that mental morass, and how do I pull myself out of it? Dealing with the wasp(s) all day made visible the fruitlessness I occasionally feel internally. Hearing and seeing a wasp. Catching it with a plastic cup and a piece of cardboard. Going down the stairs and outside. Releasing it. Coming back up the stairs. Rinse and repeat every 20 minutes. There was something seductive about the inevitable futility of it all. Or do I mean the futile inevitability?

It seems to me I’m just as ineffective at times as that (or those) determined little insect(s), and just as mindlessly driven.

This morning I started by writing myself that note: “Don’t think. Just do it!” About twenty minutes into my submission process, a little wasp buzzed by me. I opened the window for it and trapped it between the closed window and the screen. Refusing to be distracted, I continued working. About twenty minutes later, a wasp flew by me, buzzed around the window for a couple of minutes, and then headed back towards the window with the AC in it. I stayed in my chair and went on working.

Sometime later I came to the surface, got up, and looked for the wasp(s). No sign of one, either trapped in the window or in the room. I have met my daily goal for submissions. It is not a day of futility. I hope the wasp(s) are on to better things as well. I still have no idea how they’re coming in. Or getting out.

Exploring futility. My daily crime.

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Resource

This summer is about resource. I’ve never picked a one-word summer intention before, but today I realize it’s been thrust upon me, willy-nilly. The Summer of Resource.

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I’ve been working with the idea of minimalism, which forces one to take stock of resource in the wide sense. What is resource? Oxford online dictionary defines resource as “a stock or supply of … assets that can be drawn on by a person … in order to function effectively.”

When I think about resource, it’s a jigsaw puzzle, and like a jigsaw puzzle, every piece counts if one wants to end up with the whole picture. When I hear the word “assets,” money is the first thing that comes to mind. Then there are external natural resources, which are also closely tied to money and more finite every minute.

In a capitalist economy, that’s as far as most people explore resource. What’s the bottom financial line? What’s the cost versus benefit projection? What’s the tax picture? How expensive is firewood, oil, electricity and food? What is the interest rate? How affordable is housing?

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Sadly, this is a short-sighted and nonsustainable view of resource. It’s also incomplete, because it doesn’t include the intangibles that can’t be quantified in terms of monetary value, and so become invisible. These include space, time, creativity, soulfulness, heartfulness, love and compassion. Also, more subtly, faith, patience, playfulness, innocence and integrity, some of which qualities are targets of active contempt in this culture.

How do we quantify the resource of a life, any kind of a life?

Pick a closet in your house. Open the door. What’s the square footage of that space resource? What’s in the closet? Any item you don’t want and/or don’t use is not a resource. It’s just junk clogging up you space. “It’s mine,” “I’ve had it all my life,” “I paid a lot of money for this,” “my favorite aunt gave it to me” and “some day I might need that” are not indicators of resource. A resource helps us function effectively, remember? Any item we don’t use but hang onto anyway isn’t helping us function effectively. Our shoe collection, baseball card collection or belly button lint collection might temporarily give us pleasure, bolster our self-esteem, distract us or even be a financial investment (probably not the belly button lint, but remember Pet Rocks?), but our collections frequently cost money to acquire and demand space, time and management. They own us as much as we own them.

Even money, inappropriately managed, becomes an ineffective resource.

We are constantly assaulted by sophisticated marketing persuading us to buy products that will make our lives better. Most of us know intellectually we’re being manipulated, but the lure is irresistible. We’re so hungry for love, for healthy relationships, for comfort, for distraction, for beauty. It’s an empty promise, though. We buy, but we’re still hungry, so we buy more, like the good little brainwashed consumers we’ve become.

Many folks here in Maine harvest wood off their land in exchange for financial resource. Some harvest sustainably, but most clear cut. People sell what resource they can in order to stay afloat financially. I understand. I’ve done it, too. That destroyed forest, however, is–was–a natural resource of unimaginable complexity on a finite and increasingly depleted planet. Systems scientists are only now beginning to glimpse the intricate interconnections between life on Earth–all life on Earth, not just human life.

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Life is resource.

Clear cutting a few acres of wood might help us face the immediate necessity to buy firewood this summer and heating oil over the winter. We can quantify those costs. We can’t quantify what the loss of those few acres are in terms of healthy land, water, air, and the innumerable forms of life that were destroyed with the trees. We don’t know exactly how the destruction of a few acres here in central Maine contributes to cumulative global breakdown and change, because we’re not aware of all the complexities of our dynamic living global system. It’s too big to think about, too far away. Many of us are simply trying to survive for another day or week or month in the long spaces between paychecks. We’re far too overwhelmed and desperate to try to grapple with the whole picture. After all, if we can’t get through today there is no tomorrow.

What will the last tree be worth in dollars? In possibility? In beauty?

I can’t think about resource without thinking about sustainability. Working 60-hour weeks might provide comfortable financial resource, but it’s not sustainable. Using up money, time, space, patience, and even things like hope faster than we create or save them means we’ll run out, and when we run out of resource our lives stop functioning effectively–fast. Then we’re forced to shape a new life, whether we’re prepared to or not.

Renewable resources need time to renew. Few of us feel as though we have enough time, and what time we do have is sucked up in earning money, dealing with the consequences of how we manage it, and relationships. It’s possible to set aside time for self-care and creativity, but it requires discipline and boundaries. It’s possible to grow food and harvest natural resources sustainably, but not as long as we value money over all other resource and our population continues to be in overshoot.

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Like everyone else, I have needs and limited resource available to help meet them, but if my life is too cluttered, noisy and/or busy, I lose track of both my needs and my resource. I forget that I’m more than my ability to pay the bills, more than the numbers in my bank accounts. The practice of minimizing helps me remember to appreciate and protect all my resource, and make clear choices about sustaining and strengthening what I have so it supports who I am.

Minimalism encourages a kind of inside-out thinking. Not “I need a bigger house,” but “I need less stuff in this house.” Not “I need more money,” but “I want to spend less money.” Not “I need more time,” but “I want to do less with the time I have.”

Less, not more. The goal is to have what we need, but not more than we need.

What investments will truly increase my resource, financial, emotional, creative and intellectual? Only I can say. I’m the only expert on my own needs. I’m the only one who can identify the unrecognized or poorly managed resource in my life and implement different choices. No advertisement, expert, tweet, social media post or self-help book knows more about me than I do myself, and none can make choices for me. It’s all on me.

Rats.

It will be an interesting summer. I’m letting go of objects, some in exchange for money. I’m liquidating a financial asset to pay debts and invest in my ability to spend less. I’m investing time, energy, faith and hope in my creative work.

I think about effective living all the time. What, exactly, do I need to have and do to live effectively, and what do I have and do that are not helping me achieve that goal? What does “effective” mean to me? What does my particular expression of being require to thrive? What are my total resources, and how renewable or sustainable are they? How can they best be invested in order to create more?

The Summer of Resource. My daily crime.

Photo by Diana Măceşanu on Unsplash