No Freedom From Consequences

I work in a small local hospital rehab facility. Maine has recently instituted a mandatory COVID vaccination requirement for all healthcare workers.

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Here in Maine, school districts are choosing whether or not to enforce masking and social distancing as in-person school begins.

As we go into Fall, these two issues are inescapable, not only here but across the country as businesses, organizations, and individuals make choices about dealing with COVID. Or not.

It’s an unpleasant atmosphere, rife with argument, outrage, broken relationships, blame, and contempt. I frequently drive home in tears, exhausted by the effort to remain calm and professional with our patrons, patients, and some staff members.

Much of the current conversation centers around the issue of freedom of choice, and those are conversations worth having. However, I’ve noticed a key part of that conversation is nearly always missing.

We are not free from the consequences of our choices and the choices of others.

We have never been and never will be free from the consequences of our choices and the choices of others.

Freedom of choice goes hand-in-hand with responsibility, and choices cannot be separated from their effects. Sometimes those effects are logical, and other times they’re unpredictable. Sometimes they’re obvious and immediate, sometimes subtle and long-term. Sometimes the right choice results in heartbreaking consequences, and sometimes the wrong choice doesn’t. None of us can fully foresee where our choices will lead us. Some people are paralyzed by this fact and resist choosing.

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Refusing to choose is also a choice, and it creates consequences.

This inescapable part of being human is something we all share and experience. Nothing can shield us from it, not power, not money, not beliefs, not government. Sooner or later, consequences catch up to us and play out.

We are not “losing” our freedom to choose. We’ve never had unlimited choice. We are experiencing the effects of our choices, just as we’ve always done. It’s a process beyond justice or injustice or good or bad. Consequences are often teachers and opportunities.

Choices and consequences are simply what life is. Everyone’s life. Every day.

Sometimes consequences are deadly and tragic, and we never have a chance to make a different choice. Sometimes we have lots of chances to choose again. Most of us are familiar with the I’ve-been-standing-at-this-crossroad-before kind of feeling.

Choices are linked together in our lives in an endless chain. We decide who to believe. We decide what to believe. We make choices reflecting our faith in someone or a source of information. Things happen. We discover our faith was misplaced, or we discover our faith was justified, or, possibly, both.

This is the human condition.

I believe most of us are making the best choices we can in life. Inevitably, we will experience consequences we didn’t expect and don’t want, and we’ll have to manage those as best we can. Sometimes we’ll need help and support to manage the effects of our choices.

At the end of the day, our power resides in making choices for ourselves and accepting the consequences. We can’t make choices for others, and nobody is making choices for others. Rules and mandates regarding the pandemic are going into place, joining countless other rules and mandates we’ve always lived with. As individuals, we will choose whether to resist or comply, and then deal with the consequences of that choice.

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Because the globe is so densely populated, our choices, and the effects arising from them, are bound to affect others. We can’t escape from interconnection. Even so, we can only choose for and manage ourselves. Hurling contempt at one another over the choices we make isn’t useful. It doesn’t provide resource, support, or respect. It makes unwanted consequences more difficult to experience and manage for all of us. It doesn’t persuade anyone to make the “right” choice.

It doesn’t change minds or save lives.

We are comparatively free in this country, but freedom is never absolute. None of us have unlimited choice, but all of us have some, and that means all of us will experience consequences generated by ourselves and others. Freedom does not erase the consequences of our choices.

Free. Managing consequences, just like you. My daily crime.

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Emergence

I am having a strange experience of becoming.

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Or perhaps not becoming, but emerging. I’m reminded of Michelangelo’s quote: “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

I’m emerging as someone I was always meant to be.

This emergence began (I know you’ll be shocked) with a book by Pete Walker titled Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving. In the pages of this book I found the self I’ve always known and the private experiences I’ve hidden out of guilt, fear, and shame.

I also found a map to a new person.

Although the catalyst was the book, which by its nature is intellectual, the process itself is almost entirely felt. I can’t think myself into a new sense of self and my life; I must feel my way.

This makes it hard to write about here.

As so often happens, a poem came along that perfectly describes what I feel in the subtle, intuitive, symbolic language of poetry rather than carefully crafted, concrete prose.

The Return by Leanne O’Sullivan

I walk through paw-prints
the frost has dug,
among the moist grasses,
my silver hair flowing
like a cat’s deep stretch.

This is my season.
Again and again I die
under the blossom of leaves
and count my lives
by the sapped rings of trees.

No one will know me,
none but the wood growth,
its hug of frost
its scent of moss
its naked shadow

and I, standing at the end
of an embered wood
where once a light passed through me
and passes again,

before I remember
how I appeared
or how I ended,
folding myself into my arms —

the seed,
the root,
the blossom,
the stone shining
with all my running juices.

From Cailleach: The Hag of Beara (Bloodaxe Books, 2009)

Emergence, I discover, is a kind of death, like the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly or moth. It’s a process of uncovering, of freeing something hidden inside, somehow familiar but never before seen. The soul and spirit I was meant to be was covered with a stony crust, originally formed for protection, but long ago becoming a prison. A crust of coping mechanisms and beliefs. A crust covering feelings too painful and overwhelming to acknowledge or face when first felt.

As I scrape away that crust, the feelings it covered swell into life, and they do not want my intellect or to be pinned down into a blog post.

They want to be felt.

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And, having been felt, they dissipate like incense smoke, leaving behind a coating of scented ash that scatters with a single breath and reveals someone I’ve never known or been before.

In the meantime, external life goes on around my internal experience. My car is in the shop. It’s a heavy work week. We are stifling in high humidity. I have just finished editing my second manuscript and am rolling up my sleeves to begin writing the third. I’m working on my new website.

As I live the days, I recognize triggers I wasn’t aware of before, triggers to old feelings and reactions, and I apply new tools, habits, compassion, and understanding to them. I’m grateful for the foundations I’ve already built of mindfulness, creativity, and emotional intelligence. I didn’t know they would become the foundations of a new self.

I am changing. I am emerging. I am learning and growing. I am wondering where I’m going.

Wherever I’m going, it’s better than where I’ve been.

Emerging. My daily crime.

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The Joy of Anticipation

I recently came across a Dutch word, ‘voorpret‘, in one of the minimalist blogs I follow. It means “joy or pleasure ahead or in anticipation of” an event.

I was charmed with it. I love language and the feeling described by this word has long been an important part of my life, a part I’ve been ashamed of, largely hidden, and never had a term for.

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Anticipating pleasure is fraught with the danger of disappointment. We learn that as children, and we keep on learning it. Our fantasies are often much cleaner, simpler, and more beautiful than real life, when it rains, people fight, someone gets sick or hurt, or events and dates get cancelled.

Many people eventually make an unconscious decision not to look forward to anything out of the bitterness of disappointed expectations and anticipation.

I’ve worked a great deal on releasing outcomes. The practice of ‘however it needs to be, it’s okay with me’, has served me well. I enjoy life more, I stay in my power and build resilience, and I’m able to navigate disappointment more comfortably and effectively.

Still, releasing outcomes doesn’t mean giving up on the pleasure I get out of looking forward to something. In fact, most of my pleasure is in the anticipation rather than in the event itself, or the memory of it. According to this article about voorpret, I’m not alone.

Some people, and I’ve lived with a couple of these, don’t plan. They don’t make dates. They talk about being spontaneous. They say they’ll “forget.” They don’t want to be pinned down or commit to something they might not feel like doing when the time comes. They don’t follow through with plans and they break dates. This hurts, as it conveys to me I’m much more eager to spend time with them than they are with me.

I’ve frequently felt I want too much when I’ve asked others to make dates with me. The idea of making dates and commitments is a boundary problem for people who want no limitations on their access to me. Other folks resent being “pinned down.” During my dating years I felt ashamed of the pleasure I took in looking forward having a meal and seeing a movie, as though I was being ridiculous and childish.

My response to my shame (long before I knew about minimalism), has been to conceal and simplify my pleasure in anticipation.

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When I began dancing, I learned to dance small. It’s easy to get carried away in the music, in the wordless, entirely physical expression of feelings, especially if our feelings are strong and pent up. Before we know it, we’re clumsy, out of breath, and have a stitch in our side. At that point, in order to stay with the dance and take care of ourselves, we must dance small , come back to our center, return to our breath, re-inhabit our body and reclaim our balance and movement.

The practice of voorpret, for me, is dancing small. It’s not about big, complicated, infrequent occasions in which the outcome is extremely important to me. It’s about life’s small, daily pleasures, the ones we can give to ourselves without anyone else’s permission or participation. We don’t need a lot of money. We don’t need time off work. We don’t need a suitcase, a new wardrobe, or a plane ticket.

Voorpret, for me, is looking forward to a cup of tea and a good book on the front porch in the morning sun.

It’s a ten-hour, noisy, stimulating, busy day at work and looking forward to my feather bed, cotton sheets, and cool, quiet attic where the night air and moonlight mingle on the slanting floor under the open windows.

It’s making a date with myself on my calendar for an early morning walk when the world is still half asleep, watching the night sky pale into dawn.

It’s a plan to take myself out to lunch after a haircut or dentist appointment.

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Small pleasures are everywhere in our lives, if we only look and give ourselves permission to experience them. We can offer ourselves these moments or hours every day like gifts. We can write them on our calendars or put them in our phones and look forward to them, fully enjoying and relishing our anticipation and lingering over them when they arrive. Spontaneous joyful moments arise, too, of course, unexpected moments of delight in which we can relax and rest for a moment.

Now more than ever we need to give ourselves stepping stones through and periods of respite inside the chaos and tension of the world. Many of us are suffering from ongoing stress and uncertainty about every aspect of our lives. Many of us feel overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. Voorpret can balance that out. We don’t need to wait. We can schedule a small, simple pleasure for ourselves today, write it down, and start looking forward to it.

Voorpret. My daily crime.

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