A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Nature Up Close & At A Distance


I give the birds and squirrels and deer a little treat each day just after I wake up: sunflowers seeds, peanuts, corn and a few apples. Today was the first time the deer came out to greet me. From my front steps I threw the apples to them and they didn’t run away. One deer sort of danced around a little almost showing off his white behind, but not running away. So I stayed still for a while and watched them eat the apples. They are lovely animals, more graceful than the mule deer out west. Usually I watch them from my window. I noticed that there is one deer without a front leg that seems to manage to survive despite her handicap; she is accepted and therefore protected by the herd. It is amazing and reassuring to think there is a precedent in nature for taking care of the handicapped. It is also a tribute to the resilience of that particular deer that she is still relatively strong and healthy. May she live long and prosper.

The birds are not so happy that the deer have discovered my little oasis, more competition for them. Yesterday, as I put out the food mixture, the chickadees fly close by me to get to the food. Their favorite? The peanuts. These birds are so small, yet so brave. Perhaps their smallness adds to their agility which is why they are the only ones to have the courage to approach me. And there are so many of them this year. One after another comes towards me, almost landing on me. Some make their chicka-dee-dee-dee warning sound; always there is the gentle whir of their wings. These last couple of days there has been the added blessing of blue skies and sunshine and I had the thought that I should bring a chair outside to sit on after I put out the bird seed. I live in the country and yet, except for feeding some of the wildlife, I keep nature at a distance. This puzzles me because I feel a heightened awareness, a heightened sense of being alive when I’m out of doors, especially when the birds, squirrels, and deer are around.

I watched a PBS program that compared the intelligence of apes, primarily chimpanzees and bonobos, to the intelligence of children. It was fascinating to witness some of these apes understanding and responding to numbers and verbal language. It seemed so obvious to me that these animals are our relatives. One experiment, first with chimpanzees and then with four year old children, showed how our intelligence differs. A box was brought out and an adult human showed a chimp what she had to do in order to get a treat from the box: first take a stick and rub it here and put it in a hole there and then go to a different spot and pull out the treat. Well, this is what the chimp did. Cut to a room with an adult human and a child, same box and same procedure. The child did as the chimp had done following the procedure and then taking the treat. Next part of the experiment: a new box was brought out, but this box was made of clear plastic and the treat was clearly visible. The chimp cuts to the chase and goes right to the treat. When the clear box is brought out to the child, instead of doing as the chimp had done and going for the treat, he follows exactly the same procedure as in the first experiment and THEN takes the treat. The fact of the matter is that the procedure has nothing to do with getting the treat and yet the children follow the ritual because that is what an authority figure taught them to do. Who is smarter--the chimp or the child? And why do we slavishly follow what we’ve been taught without using our innate intelligence to solve obvious problems?

Why? Because we are taught as small children to be conformists. And once children are taught, they proceed to teach each other over and over again. Children are very quick to point out when another child is doing something “wrong”, that is, differently from the way they’ve been taught. The child who is individualistic will too often be ridiculed by the group as not doing things in the “right” way. This pattern of group think is the pervasive pattern in the world. And it has its uses, say, in people following traffic signs when walking or driving. If we didn’t follow some rules as individuals in a group, there would be no doubt accidents and fatalities. Learning rules and following them requires patience and a basic awareness. The problem arises when a new way is introduced or a new solution. Once we’ve learned something, there is a great resistance to changing the procedure, no matter how sensible the change is. In our culture conservatives want to stick with what has worked in the past and progressives want to introduce change and this creates one of many basic conflicts in society. The old versus the new. I think most of us are more conservative than we can freely admit. We follow what we’ve been taught and don’t question.

Well, I’m going to keep questioning... So why do I keep nature at a distance when I live in the country? After all I am an animal myself. But that’s another taboo idea. It’s ingrained into the human psyche that we are greater than the animals, that we’re somewhere between animals and angels. Are angels so divorced from nature too? For me, a chunk of my belief in the existence of a higher power goes right back to nature. God is on this planet and in the universe, in space and in the atmosphere, in the soil and in the trees, and in every living creature. But there are also contradictions in nature as in human life. Nature fosters life and robs life. There are natural miracles and natural disasters. And there is the food chain, predators and prey. Did God create that and if so, why? Humans are predators to other animals (including, of course, other humans) and yet, unlike the tiger or the shark, humans seem unique in their ability to torture. The tiger or shark is hungry, pure and simple, but the human does not have to be hungry in order to kill. In fact when humans kill other humans it has nothing to do with hunger.

This has little to do with feeding the wildlife outside my house or does it? The birds and squirrels and deer look at me with a great deal of caution, as they should, for I am a human and humans are unpredictable, generous and kind one day and out to kill another day. I, too, look at other human beings with a certain amount of caution, especially strangers near my home and even my neighbors. One of the reasons I don’t stay outside is because I’m nervous to be seen by my neighbors or people passing by in cars. But that is my own hang up really and I should get over it. I don’t think anyone who lives on my road wants to hurt me. It’s not that so much as I don’t want to interact with anyone. I don’t know what to say. But it’s different with the chickadees and the deer (or my cats indoors), I don’t have to say anything. I just have to be.


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