Patrick and I grew up with different backgrounds. He grew up playing on hundreds of acres of West Virginia mountains and I grew up (largely) in a landscaped middle class suburbia.
One of the big differences we encountered was in regards to pets. I didn’t have a lot of pets growing up and he had more than a person could count on two hands. There was even a horse. Who has a pet horse growing up anyways? Isn’t that every nine year old girl’s dream? ;)
It figures that at a certain point in our relationship, I decided I wanted to have pets, and he was vehemently opposed to having pets.
I’d seen a beautifully appointed 100 gallon tank of neons over at my friend Brad’s house. It had been huge, clean, and peaceful. I could see myself meditating for hours on a school of neons of my own, getting into the energy of fish, and using the tank as a simple way to destress after a day of work.
We all create different visions in our heads sometimes, but they’re not always based in reality. ;)
After much debate on the pet/no-pet issue (spanning several years) I got a small 10 gallon tank.
I immediately saw how many little doodads and accoutrements were required. I wasn’t just buying a tank, I was buying a stock supply of water cleaning chemicals, filters, backgrounds, gravel and fake plants to go with the fish and the tank.
A little nervously I brought the set-up home, learned about tank care, and learned what it meant to be a steward over something else’s life.
Sometimes a neon would get sick (they don’t live very long.). It would jerk through the water with quick stilted little movements while I frantically added fish healing chemicals to the water.
Sometimes they’d fade. Oh my god. Did the fish industry dye fish to brighter colors to make them more exciting to the standard consumer? It seemed, like so many other things, that neons might not be so naturally vibrant, they might be artificially colored just like a box of junk food cereal.
Sometimes the fish would have a poo string coming out of their fishy butts. Ewwww. I’d come home (valiantly sticking to my vision of a tranquil, perfect life with a tankful of fish) and notice a poo string swimming by behind some of the school.
Being a fish steward wasn’t as glamorous as I’d first thought, and it hadn’t transformed my life to a peaceful, tranquil, zen-like calm either. ;)
Then we had the great tank fail of 2003.
We were living in our rustic cabin in Arkansas in the middle of the woods and an ice storm hit. It was our first winter away from the safety of the thermostat dial on an apartment wall and we were still trying to get a feel for rustic cabin living.
All right, lesson learned. Sometimes when an ice storm comes, sometimes the power goes out. Understood.
Patrick and Sunny and I would be cold for a few days with no power. We’d be uncomfortable but we wouldn’t get frostbite.
The fish on the other hand….
My stewardship was taking a turn for the worse.
They needed a tropical water temperature with very little deviation and I suddenly found myself unable to provide it for them. Their little water heater ran on electric and the electricity wasn’t working.
I cried as my little fish got too chilly that night. Most of them died.
Shortly after that experience I decided to get rid of my tank. I approached some friends who ran an animal sanctuary and asked them if they would like to take on my few remaining fishies. They were delighted. I was delighted. And suddenly I found myself free of the heavy burden of caring for their fragile, delicate lives.
SIMPLE THINGS OFTEN AREN’T SIMPLE
I got that tank because I had an idealized view of reality in my head, where a small tank of fish would provide me with tranquility and serenity.
I’d made many other purchases in the past based on that same assumption (or hope).
The bonsai trees that Patrick and I had picked up at a roadside stand a few weeks before Christmas were in the same category. The more I looked into bonsai, the more I realized we needed to buy more accessories and tools. There was wire, different pot sizes, sprays, fertilizers, books and specialized dirt to buy. And in the meantime, visions of serenity were gone as I tried to pacifistically battle the aphids that had decided to move onto our two trees. Had they come that way, the aphids too small to be visible at first, or had the aphids somehow found a way inside our space, lured in by the delicious aroma of roadside bonsai trees?
Being a pacifist I struggled with questions many people would find ridiculous. Was it moral to kill the aphids? Was it moral for the aphids to kill my tree? Could I lure the aphids onto a piece of paper (and off my tree) and then escort them outside?
I wanted peace, calm… serenity.
But I couldn’t find it in a Target zen garden or a Home Depot Buddha statue.
I couldn’t find it in a specialty carved amber Quan Yin statue, or a lazer carved vogel wand either.
I couldn’t find it in church, whether it be Catholic, Lutheran, Buddhist, or Pagan.
It was elusive, this peace, this slow harmonizing of my soul, this calm knowing that I didn’t need to create change, to better anything, that I simply needed to let myself be for a bit, to sit, to stand, to breathe, to open my eyes and look, to shut my eyes and retreat, to smell, to feel.
A second ending, simply because I already wrote it. Normally I’d edit it out, but I thought it would be fun to share the extra rambles that normally accompany my behind the scenes post writing:
Our complete focus on ownership of things has caused us to amass so very much. I’m talking culturally, rather than specifically.
I didn’t need to bring the water energy to me. I didn’t need to create a false ecosystem of fish to have on hand for my viewing pleasure. It caused too much pain for those fish. The tropical fish industry is filled with death, all of it unnatural in it’s own way.
Not all ownership is bad. It’s not terrible to own things. But maybe as a culture it’s time for us to look at what we own and what we do and ask who or what is being affected by it.
If I eat a four-course meal at a fancy restaurant and watch lots of gourmet food hit the trash can, am I responsible, or is it the owner of the restaurant’s responsibility? Do the waitstaff bear any blame, standing witness to pounds upon pounds of the best food available hit the trash can day in and day out, 365 days a year… while others die sometimes from lack of food?
What about the customers, who frequent the place? Do they have a responsibility? Or the government? Should it step in and demand that private food wastes of a certain level of freshness be passed on to food pantries or homeless camps?
What is the answer?
I truly don’t know.
I don’t believe in regulation by governmental systems, and I’m convinced only loopholes would develop from the passing of such an absurd, unthought-out law.
I don’t believe in telling people what to do, and most people feel the same, so who’s going to say, “Hey Mr. Restaurant Owner, You should give that food to a homeless shelter.”
He’d say something like, “Insurance companies won’t allow it. Risk to the company and all. Food poisoning issues and all.”
It’s all too complex…. just like my ten gallon fish tank.
Sometimes the only thing to do is to simplify.
As a nation our lives are way too sped up. We have less free time away from work than most other cultures.
We have a lot of other problems too, but the problem of a busy lifestyle is one that we each have the power to tackle on our own.
And having power over anything is… a very powerful thing.
We have power over the speed of our own lives.
We can choose to slow down our lives, to simplify them.
No one can take that away from us.
We have power over our heart centers.
We know what feels right and what feels wrong for us.
We can choose to honor our hearts, and listen to it’s wisdom.
We have the power to connect or to not connect.
We can say, “Yes we want to be around this,” and, “No we don’t want to be around that.”
No one else owns that for us. We own it, individually.
We have the power to slow down our buying, thereby slowing down some of our monetary needs… thereby freeing up our time.
We have that power.
Simplicity comes from within.
It isn’t bought and there is no registered trademark symbol attached to it….
It is free of sales, advertising, marketing and promotions.
It is a place within us that is just human, simple, and fair.
*And that’s the second ending for the post folks. ;)
*Image is a photo taken by Patrick of a lily in bloom outside our tiny house.
p.s. A few videos if you have the time:
Marianne Williamson speaking at the Oakland Unitarian. This speech is powerful. It’s an hour long and well worth the time spent watching it. If you’re short on time I highlighted 25 minutes, 36 minutes and twenty seconds in, and 54 minutes in as three powerful moments in her talk.
Corey Ogilve is quickly becoming one of my favorite film-makers for the occupy movement. I would love to have his talent and dedication to framing a piece of work. Instead of posting all his videos here, it seems more appropriate to send you to his videos. Here’s a sampling.
Music and heart by Jay Semel. A beautiful compilation of photos, with Jay’s personal occupy message. Jay said, “Sometimes all that’s left to do, is to smile, stand up and sing.”
A smart old broad, an 84 year old woman actually, who isn’t afraid to get pepper sprayed in the face and speak eloquently on the subject of occupy the next day. Wisdom from the elders, right here. She’s got it going on:
A quick history of the beginning of the protests we see now, starting with Tunisia:
We can occupy our heart centers.
We can occupy our own life.
We can occupy our personal values.
We can smile, stand up… and sing our own heart songs.
This upcoming Friday is black friday.
The day the gods of consumerism open their doors and promise us deals like we’ve only dreamed before.
We wake up at four a.m., with our route planned out. Some of us camp out on the sidewalk the night before.
We wait for the opening bell and the starting gates to open, so we can rush into the church of our almighty lord the dollar, and trample our fellow brethren in the heat of our consumerist satori.
Are you going to do black friday? I’m sure as *?/!! not going to be participating.
Thanksgiving, to me, is a time to give grace, to honor the nobility of the turkey, who brings us the lesson of generosity. It is a time to reconnect with the earth and the people around me. It is a time for grace, honor, and compassion, for humbleness before the awe of the natural world around us, and that which brings it into being.
It is also a time where I share thoughts of hope and change, and dare to dream of a slightly better world.
I’m giving my personal message of change to the powers that be in the only way I know how, by not shopping.
I choose who and what I support.
I want to support people, friendliness, community, healthy foods, diversity of opinions, an openness to change, and a better today by actions done today.
I don’t want to support corporations and systems that are enslaving people worldwide with the concept of money, debt, poverty and ownership.
Money doesn’t exist.
Black friday is a new kind of day, and it has been for several years now.
The day after Thanksgiving is the official Buy Nothing Day.
The Buy Nothing Day holiday, was created by those fun-loving folks at adbusters, quite a few years back.
It’s a day where we, who like the holiday and want to participate, choose to simply not shop.
It leaves the playing field open for everything else. We can do thousands of other things that day, just not shop.
It’s fun. It’s low commitment, and it sticks them where it really hurts… in their pocket books.
What are your plans this black friday?
Will you be waking up to the hoards and masses looking for the best deal on the latest pieces of plastic crap… or will you be one of the adventurous ones who celebrates buy nothing day?
*And with that, the post is finally finis’ for real. ;)