I contemplated going for a walk this morning – my usual walk at Skolfield Shores Preserve. The air is warm and fresh today. Summer trickles in through the window, which I’ve left ajar to enjoy a backdrop of bird songs. It was tempting to wander a familiar path before the day really got going, but I decided to stay home, which was also an opportunity to experience some quiet. No one’s home. It’s been wholly enjoyable to sit and consider what’s on my mind. Working through the laundry that’s piled up has been satisfying. Since I started my new job, I haven’t had one of these mornings. I sat for my two cups of tea. If I don’t drink a second infusion, I feel like I’m dishonoring the tea, wasting it. It’s been just me and Tulsi, my cat.
Tulsi pleaded to roam free outside this morning, as she has been since we moved here a few months ago. I’ve been denying her requests, apart from brief leash walks, because of the threat of rabid foxes in the neighborhood. I don’t want to vaccinate her – again – I align with the scientific view that we over-vaccinate animals; her immune system isn’t any more forgetful than ours. But I’ve decided to do it in a couple of weeks so that she is also protected from laws that require vaccination. Outside is where she feels most alive, and free. It breaks my heart to keep her cooped up for even a few months because I know how she feels. Among the trees is where I feel most alive, too. Free is how we should all feel, all of the time.
I have a scar on my chest from two open-heart operations. It runs from just below my collarbone to just past my ribs. I was born with a congenital defect. The two main arteries of my heart – the ones involved in sending oxygenated blood to the rest of my body – were switched. I was 8-days-old when the first surgery happened, and 9-years-old the second. Both happened on the same day – June 28th – in the same hospital, by the same surgeon. After the second surgery, I have a distinct memory of leaving my hospital bed for the first time on my own and wandering down the hall to see my mom, who I knew was in the room where family members of patients hung out. I walked hunched, with my shoulders curled in. My scar felt so fragile then, like I might break there. In one very real sense it very much was, and sometimes it still does feel this way. I walked over to my mom and she was so delighted to see me.
I’ve always struggled to feel physically comfortable in my body. I’m very sensitive to certain materials or clothing that feels even the slightest bit restrictive. I’ve been this way since I was a little girl. I wonder if it’s because of my experiences being confined to hospital beds, hooked up and plugged in. Until I started practicing yoga, I didn’t realize how much I was still protecting my scar. I’ve always loved back-bending or heart-opening classes. So many poses require me to stretch this area of my body that has, at times, literally felt like it could rip open.
Yoga also reminds me that I can be entirely two separate and distinct things at the same time. It’s taken me a long time to really stand up tall, shoulders broad, chest open, still fragile, but able to experience the world. I’m both scared and brave. Tulsi and I are alike in this way. It seems the best way to be both is to roam free.
When I left New York, my acupuncturist and long-time confidant and mentor of sorts, said to me: You become an adult when you start being exactly who you are. Excellent advice. I decided I had no other option but to be exactly who I am. Striving for anything else was exhausting and I wanted to finally become an adult. Suddenly, “adult” had a different ring to it, or feel. It felt tall, like trees, and strong, like their roots, and shoulders broad, chest open, ready to live in the world. Her guidance affirmed the direction I already hoped I was headed, which was, more accurately, non-direction. I decided in order to be the type of adult I suddenly, desperately, wanted to be, I needed to just not care about whether or not I became a professional, or did anything impressive or age-appropriate or expected. I realized I truly was content with how I liked to spend my time. I didn’t need anything else to feel purpose or happiness. This was a type of freedom. Luckily, it’s stuck.
For a long time, and I’ve written about this before, so forgive me, but I carried a lot of grief related to thinking that I had failed at reaching my potential. It was obvious to me at the time that I had made all the wrong choices, which had left me valueless and unemployable. It felt like grief because I thought I had lost myself, become nothing. Society manipulates us into believing really fucked up things, such as net worth and employability make a person a person, which is absurd and entirely false. I succumbed to the brainwashing even though I definitely knew better. This grief is not the same grief as losing a person. I’ve been close to that grief. It’s razor-sharp and thick, like wet cement, and breathless and heavy, like a ton of something really heavy, and a seam unraveling, and numbness and also hyper-sensitivity, like when your skin hurts all over. It’s also intense love, like the most love anyone could ever feel and certainly more than you ever thought was possible. It’s a lot of very similar and very different things entirely at once. I just say this because I want to be clear that I’m not speaking of that grief. Sadness has many, many different shapes. I also mention this because I think it’s very, very important talk about grief, all the many kinds of it.
When I accepted this new job, even though it seemed like a good call, would potentially be a fine situation, and in some cases interesting, and even an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives, there was a feeling of loss again. These mornings when the house is quiet and the bird songs are bright and traffic noise hums distantly, I’m free. When I sit in a quiet place and I can hear the sound of the wind blowing through the white pines, that really pleasant whisper-like sound, I’m free. Practicing the enlivening process of thinking and writing, and thinking and writing, is solitude, and it’s freeing. Work just takes time away from these moments of freedom. I’ve realized this grief feeling I experience is maybe, more accurately, a struggle to feel consistently free.
Rarely does “work” as we know it in our society, even the best-intentioned work, feel like true contribution. In the spirit of progress and a dreamy, glutinous way of life, which has always been propaganda for pooling wealth for a smaller group of people, we’ve neglected the importance of solitude and small, focused, egalitarian, and cooperative communal life. As a result, no one is free. Some, a smaller group of people, are freer, but only artificially, and so long as capitalism can keep itself going. Even those with the highest net worth won’t be able to out-run the climate disaster taking place. We’ll have sacrificed human lives, species, coastal waters, river banks for something completely fake – dollar bills and account balances.
I think our work as humans is, and has always been, to feel free within ourselves and to make sure everyone else is free, too. That’s why it’s important to vote for climate leaders, for the liberation of black lives, for clean soil, for free access to abortion and reproductive support, and the list goes on. When I feel restricted, hooked up and plugged in, to my phone, to the slippery, illusory slope of financial anxiety, to material inconsequential things like if I forgot to return an e-mail, I remember this sloka from the Bhagavad Gita. This is Krishna (God) speaking to Arjuna (his friend, a warrior, who represents us in the world):
Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. (2.12)
This sloka in Sanskrit is meant to be chanted. It has a cadence, and within the cadence of this prayer, I often find peace. It reminds me of my freedom, of all our inherent freedom. Me and you and all of us are whole and untouchable, and will always exist, no matter what is happening around us or to us. This is not to say we shouldn’t care about what goes on around us; we most certainly should. But at the end of the day, we return home to this: there’s an eternal aspect of who we are, that is ultimately true, which is we’ve always been, and will always be, free. We’re so far from nothing, regardless of how we spend our days. Maybe your faith system says something very different. But I think there’s still something worth absorbing here that speaks to how we should be living with and among each other now.