I have this thing about wanting to do things “right”. I grew up with a strict father who had a clear sense of what he thought was right, and I was always trying to please him. I find myself feeling anxious about whether or not I’ve made the right decisions or acted in the best possible way or been “good” in every way I can. The more interactions I have, the more I have to feel anxious about. So, in a busy week, I feel more stress. Yesterday, I spent 7 hours making pea soup. It turned out fine, although I had to do some re-direction and repair in the middle (turns out that whole dried peas don’t cook the same way as split peas). Not a big deal, but I felt like I had “failed” to be super-efficient and triumphant in that endeavor. My relationship with my cooking contained some anxiety and thus drained energy from me rather than invigorating me. We have a relationship to everything on the planet, and this is living. Living can be a drain, or it can be energizing, or anywhere in between. It depends on whether you’re blocking energy or “surfing” on it. In other words, you can be at war with life, or you can be at peace with it. Our relationship with food is a good example of this. Did you know that the use of pesticides and herbicides came out of the technology of WWI? The chemicals that were developed for warfare were applied to food production. Agribusiness declared war on the earth in order to use its technology and generate a wartime economy. Conflict, manipulation, “strong-arming” the earth in order to wrestle food from it is a particular kind of relationship. Organic farming uses a more peaceful relationship to obtain food, working with nature and not against it.
I have been trained, in a way, to think that doing things in a prescribed “right” way is the least stressful. I have been a pretty compliant person. But this anxiety of compliance also produces stress. Is there another way? Yes. Being grounded and open. I’m never going to know the “right” way to do everything because there isn’t a right way. There are a million ways. And that’s okay. Steve and my sister share a birthday. They both have a way of reminding me that the way I am is wonderful, but it’s not the only way. They both play “devil’s advocate” and bring up something that I hadn’t thought about without saying I’m wrong. It took me some time to take this as a gift and not as a chastisement. I was used to taking everything short of complete praise as chastisement. I used to be somewhat afraid of both of these important people whom I love so much. They are challenging (and they are smarter than I am). I have a relationship with them that can be conflictual or peaceful depending on my posture of defensiveness or openness.
So, I’m still thinking about all my relationships to the residents of earth, from the dominant one I have with Steve (three year anniversary today of our very first date) to the invisible ones I have with the bacteria in my own body. My sister points out that “What are you feeling?” is perhaps a better question than “How are you feeling?” What am I feeling in these relationships? Am I feeling energized? Drained? Peaceful? Afraid? Stiff? Open? Anxious? Sad? Mad? Glad? Being open to what I’m feeling allows discussion and movement and flow and change.
Letting go of the anxiety of having “right” relationships and exploring what I feel is what I mean by being grounded and open. What surfaces in our relationships to other species when we do this? Here’s one thing that came to mind: the euthanizing of animals who have attacked humans. I have read several news articles lately about grizzly bear attacks, wild cat attacks and even a deer attack (a buck with antlers that inflicted some serious wounds) that ended with the report that these animals “had to be euthanized”. I always thought that euthanasia was “mercy killing”, like putting a wounded animal out of its misery. These stories don’t indicate that the animals were in misery, they were simply protecting territory or defending themselves from a perceived threat. It seems that they were killed as a punishment for attacking a human. Some of the articles mention that the possibility of rabies warrants “mercy”, but the animal is killed before any diagnosis of rabies is made. What is the feeling? Do these animals need to be punished because they’ve injured a human? Is this about anger and a preference for humans? Are we at war with animals? If we end up in the same place at the same time, is it kill or be killed because you are my enemy? Why shouldn’t an animal take out a human who has shot at it or who represents a food source in a depleted environment? Are we somehow exempt from being in that kind of relationship? Why? For that matter, are we supposed to be exempt from being on the “losing” side of a relationship with listeria bacteria? Are we “better” or “more valuable”? Why? (or why not?)
How much can we be open to in our relationships with the world?