Tag Archives: Societal Observations

Sounds of the Farm

The other night I awoke to the sounds of coyotes in my yard. I hear them every night in my neighbors’ yards, but had never heard them in mine. I assume this is because I don’t have any animals that they like to prey on.  Also due to not having to worry about them eating my property: I usually enjoy the sounds that they make. However, when it’s happening right out your window, it is pretty eerie. As I laid there listening, it sounded like it was actually just two that had become separated from the pack and were trying to get a read on where the pack was. There was a lot of call and response. I haven’t heard them in our yard again since, but it did get me to thinking about the sounds of the farm v. the sounds of the city.

In Uptown the nightly noises were cars, sirens, buses, motorcycles, people yelling in the streets or in the surrounding apartments/buildings, instruments of every type and skill-level blaring out from windows (including beginner trumpet. That was fun! Ugh.). Loud noise was constant there, and I was so accustomed to it that I didn’t really hear it anymore. When we first moved out to the farm the silence was a bit disconcerting. Then I began to notice that it’s not that there isn’t noise, it’s just that the noises aren’t generally as irritating as the sounds in the city: wind in the trees, our neighbors’ sheep bleating or cows lowing, coyotes, crickets, cicadas, birds, distant train whistles in the valley. There are, however, some notable exceptions to the generally peaceful sounds.

First up is gunshots. Everyone around us owns guns and they like target practice. That’s just a given and a truth about living in the country. There will be guns. Despite being generally scared of guns, I know that it’s not very smart of me to be without one myself out there. There are enough large predators in our area that, once we do have animals, a gun will be a necessary evil. I really can’t see myself ever enjoying them, though.

Next is the sound that I like to call “Mad Cow.” Because that’s exactly what it is. A city girl like me had no idea that cows make an insane screechy sound when they’re pissed off. It sounds a little bit like a donkey braying, but every bit as loud as one would imagine an 800 lb animal can be. The nearest cows are at least 5 acres away, but when they’re ticked it sounds like they’re standing in my yard.

This last one is an anomaly, but it’s kind of a funny one. Even though people don’t live on top of each other in the country, the flat landscape on the plateau ensures that sounds carry. It’s not unusual for us to hear music coming from our neighbors a mile away. One Sunday night I was getting ready for bed and, rather than the peaceful sounds of the country, an unwelcome throwback from Uptown began drifting in through my open windows. One of my neighbors was rocking out on his drumset. Like, crazy rapid-fire heavy metal drumming. It sounded like it was in my basement. I am a big music fan, but I have never been big on drum solos (particularly the ubiquitous 4 AM bongo jams that happen at music festivals).

I would have never imagined that I would have to deal with  the infamous “bongo-rage” on the farm, but I felt the flames of the rage rising. Entitled thoughts such as ” this is why I don’t live in Uptown!” and crazy scenarios, starting with me going over and yelling and ending with me calling the cops, went through my head (I was, afterall, trying to sleep. It was 11 on a Sunday! This was outrageous!). After stewing for awhile (this neighbor must have A LOT of energy. He hardcore drummed, non-stop, for about an hour!), I suddenly heard that the drumming was being punctuated by a different kind of percussion: the sounds of sheep bleating. That snapped me out of the rage in short order! Then I just had to laugh at the absurdity of a farm-animal-laced rock-out session. Which made me laugh at the absurdity of how intolerant I’ve become. I used to have to listen to much worse in my apartment. A little farmhouse rock shouldn’t get to me, and is a small, and sort of comical, price to pay for the usual tranquility.

 

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Editing for Greater Than

For the last 1 ½ years or so, one of my main spiritual/emotional quests has been tracing the trail of wanting to be cared about. I’ve been looking at how and why so many of the things I do and the choices I make are completely affected by this haunted feeling that if I don’t do certain things a certain way, nobody will care about me. I guess I have this deep inner fear of being judged “unlovable” based on an ever-shifting set of criteria. I know on level deeper than my mind that my fear is unfounded, so right now I feel like my main focus is to edit the criteria, to really look at all of the things that affect my level of happiness with my life.

The main set of criteria are created by the society I live in, and are a very strong template for what is and isn’t acceptable. I’m not talking about on a moral level. I’m talking on a very physically observable level. Judgment of worthiness in this society is based on material wealth, a particular form for physical beauty, and the acquisition of stuff. The main intangibles of importance are titles, images, brands, and to some very small extent, actual knowledge (I don’t think advanced degrees, wisdom, or experience buys that much cred anymore). Behavior, putting your money where your mouth is, is only important insofar as what your image can support. People can get away with all sorts of crimes if their image portrays them as not being a criminal. Integrity, showing yourself to be exactly as you are, is almost unheard of.

I think that most people, including myself, can’t have full integrity because they’re so confused by image, by our social template, at this point that they have a hard time knowing who they essentially are. We are so dogmatized in the church of stuff and image that many of us don’t even know we’re trapped. Those of us that know we’re trapped can remain in the unpleasant task of sorting dogma from reality for years, if not a lifetime, because the dogma is so all-pervasive in every aspect of our lives. We can easily become so wrapped up in one or a couple of the many socially-tangible angles (politics, religion, economics, pretty much any “ism”) that we fail to ever recognize that all of those things are just a different kind of trap.

Similarly, when we first begin to reject the dogma, I think that a lot of people (again, including myself) go into a kind of psycho-spiritual free-fall where they look for any available cliff to cling to. Often the cliffs we cling to are just another set of “isms,” but they are an “alternative” to the more mainstream “isms.”  The so-called “alternative lifestyles” (they are so ubiquitous now that the public can just refer to them that way and know that people will have a general idea of what is being discussed!) have their very own sets of criteria and dogma, and they can be even more confusing precisely because they offer an escape from the mainstream dogma. Ultimately, some of the tools we learn down these paths as we’re fumbling towards bliss can be helpful. But in the end most of these systems and templates of being just obscure the one key that each of us hold to our own individual happiness: Ourselves.

It’s very common in psychology and alternative spiritual paths to hear the phrase “you are enough” or “I am enough.” I have been thinking deeply about those phrases recently, thanks to conversations with friends and various things that pop up on the web. I think that those phrases are very powerful and real, but I want to make a final edit in this post: I think that they are easily misunderstood as simply “stop beating up on yourself.” I think that they do mean that, and that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up, but that they also mean that we are greater than all the criteria that the world puts on us. It means that I am an essence beyond any image I might feel the need to portray. It means that to find joy all I really need to do is strip away all the layers of bullshit and get back to the very core of who I am (spirit). I don’t need to add more things, more stuff, more practices, and more activities; if something doesn’t feel authentic for me, even if it is something I admire or know that others admire, I am free to reject it. And that, as far as I currently understand, is the way out of any spiritual trap (even if it takes a long time!).

Gratuitous Self-Pity

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find an embeddable clip of my favorite example of gratuitous self pity in a movie, so here’s a link to it!

Do you ever come out of a funk by just realizing how absurd you’re being? That happens to me pretty frequently. I by no means intend to invalidate clinical depression or any other mental illness – I know that these things are very real. In my case it is pretty atypical for my depression to get very bad for very long. There have been three times in my life thus far that doctors have advised me that antidepressants would help, and I have been able to decline the meds and deal with it behaviorally each time (though none of those times were super-fun. My depression tends to manifest as anxiety and/or compulsive behavior).

At this point in my life, the line between depression (feeling utter lack of motivation or hope, accompanied by obsessive thought and usually excess of some kind; whether it’s eating, drinking, smoking, whatever) and wallowing (feeling sorry for myself) is pretty clear. Usually I can avoid depression all-together if I stay on top of my game in terms of eating well and getting enough exercise. However, sometimes at the tail end of an episode of depression I will catch myself dragging it out by wallowing. Let’s face it: feeling sorry for yourself can feel pretty good. Wallowing in self-pity and blaming everything and everyone but yourself and thinking about how the-whole-world-is-against-you-and-you-can’t-help-it can be strangely comforting. It protects you from taking any responsibility for your life and from doing the work that you don’t feel like doing.

When I was just coming out of my most recent bout of depression in March, I had one of those “lightbulb” moments while I was talking with a friend. I had been relating some of my woes about my financial situation and feeling like a failure and blah, blah, blah; and there might have also been a little bit of “so and so doesn’t realize how good they have it.” Then, just as a charitable gesture, I said “but it’s all relative. One person’s terrible situation seems ridiculous to someone whose situation is terrible for real.” In that moment, it suddenly dawned on me what a jerk I was being whining about my student debt and my lack of a house or kids or other tangibles.  I said “Wow. I just realized that I pay $18 per month to not be fat (Weight Watchers), while a huge percentage of the world’s population is starving.” Um, yeah. I have nothing to feel sorry for myself about. Wallowing desisted. The depression was over.

I think that this is why it’s funny in movies, etc., when you see scenes of gratuitous self-pity. It’s funny because we all do it, and because deep down we all know we’re being ridiculous. We’re lucky to exist. We’re lucky for so many things just by being alive. We’re luckier still if we are not hungry, have access to medical services, water, etc. If we’re lucky enough to be watching a movie or reading a blog, we’re luckier than most of people on this planet.

 Ah perspective. Ain’t she a bitch and a blessing sometimes?

No Regrets?!

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with my cousin and she brought up how she hates it when people say they have “no regrets.” No regrets! We decided that people who really believe that are either a.) really shallow, and/or not self-aware enough to realize the consequences of decisions, b.) pathologically optimistic, or c.) super egotistical (ie., “everything I do turns out golden, regardless”). O.K., O.K., I get why people say “no regrets.” For some people it is a mantra, a kind of “seize the day” sort of thing, so they don’t end up on their deathbeds regretting too many things that they didn’t do.  For others it is to convince themselves that everything happens for a reason, and it all turns out for the best. And for others it is to convince themselves or justify to others that it is alright that they acted like a total shit, because everything turned out for the best.  In some circumstances it simply means that whatever the outcome of a specific situation is was worth the hell someone had to go through to get there. But do people really believe it when they say it?

Personally, I think that as a mantra the phrase is a set-up for disappointment. I understand that the point is to live life to its fullest, but why wouldn’t your mantra simply be “seize the day,” or “live every day like it’s your last,” or something? Even when things turn out well, you will probably regret at least some things.  As far as the “everything happens for a reason” argument: I guess I do believe in fate, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. BUT! I don’t believe that we don’t have a choice in how it affects us. So, if you go through hell, and the outcome is ultimately positive, that’s all fine and dandy. However, often times you could have chosen a path that wouldn’t have put you through hell, may have had a different outcome, but the outcome could still have been positive. If someone says it about a specific goal; well, I guess I can understand that, like, “I went through hell to stop smoking (or lose weight, or whatever it is), but I have no regrets.” Although I do think that in a lot of those situations the hell we go through is the hell we create for ourselves, so it is still a choice. Obviously I’m not going to bother refuting the whole thing about using that phrase to justify being an a-hole.  There is no excuse for being a jerk. Everyone acts like a jerk from time to time, but there is no goal that justifies it. Sorry.

For your entertainment, here is just a small sampling of things I regret (despite the fact that they had some positive outcomes):

  1. Starting to smoke. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! (However, I may have never met some of the people who are my best friends now!)
  2. Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college (With a couple exceptions from high school and being related, I would definitely not have met any of the people who are my best friends now!).
  3. Paying so much money to go to a private liberal-arts college. Again. (No particularly positive results thus far…well, I guess I know what the edge of sanity looks like now! And I did meet one person I’m still friends with. Otherwise, I’m not using my expensive MA at all!)
  4. Caring too much about what other people think of me. (Results: Eating Disorders. Lots of mental anguish. Lack of confidence. Fear of failure Etc.. But, I guess it could have saved me from doing lots of stupid things, too. I will never really know!)
  5. Having Credit Cards. Well, I guess I got to go on a couple of trips thanks to these. Too bad the most recent trip that I can attribute to a credit card happened 6 years ago! Also, my hubby and I put some stuff for our wedding on credit. I had a pretty kick-ass wedding day; so I’d say that was worthwhile. Otherwise, there is nothing that I have used credit for that has been particularly memorable or necessary.

And those are just things that I regret doing! I won’t even get started on things I regret not doing!

I guess there is one possible way that “no regrets” is meaningful to me: that regret is a waste of time and life. Whatever choices are in your past are already in your past. They’re done, so there’s no use thinking about them.   So, “no regrets” could just mean “The past is over. Live in the present.” I can get behind that. But I still think it would be more accurate to stick with the wisdom of the Beatles :“Let it be,” or just “let it go.”

What do you think of the phrase “no regrets”? What are your major regrets? Did they have some positive outcomes?