Wisdom from the woods – A squirrel story

I was hiking in the Chuckanuts yesterday in search of peace and solitude, when I had an encounter with a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor, but I seem to miss the city ones, they are too subtle, whereas metaphors in the woods always appear clear and obvious to me.

I was walking from the top of Cleator road down a narrow trail covered in fresh dew and pine needles. The woods were perfectly still, with just enough forest noise to highlight the very low undertonal base decibel level. My life has been so hectic lately, I craved that silence and stillness. Half way down the trail, I stopped, closed my eyes and just listened. I could feel peace flowing in, muscles relax and worries melt, until some squirrel ran down from the tree next to me and started chirping loudly. He* was so upset that each chirp was accompanied by a full body spasm. The chirping wasn’t personal. The squirrel was just reacting instinctively to the perceived threat of an element he considered incongruous in his world.

Since I understood the reason for his hostility, I didn’t begrudge him the disturbing of my peace and quiet. But still, he was pretty annoying. If you have ever tried to shoo a squirrel away, you know that this only irritates them further, so I had to find another way. My own instinct told me to just keep on down the trail so as to not bother him.   I am the intruder in the woods after all. Wait. Am I? Who says that I have any less right than this squirrel to be on the trail right now? I am a creature of this world too. I am a creature of the woods too. Why am I judging the needs of a squirrel as more important than mine? Oh yeah, because I understand what is going on and can adapt, because I have the brains (and opposable thumbs), because a small gesture on my part could alleviate a lot of anguish for him.

My heart said that, even though I normally accommodate irate squirrels by moving further down the trail, there was a lesson here for me. This squirrel was giving me the opportunity to explore how to address the onslaught of judgment and fear related to my upcoming PCT hike with no consequence. Well, I suppose I could have pissed him off so much that he ran down at me with slashing fangs, but I felt pretty secure in my ability to defeat him if that were the case. Since I believe in Newton’s third law and I believe it applies to energy, my first attempt was to turn towards the squirrel and love him with all my heart. That’s it, just love him. I’m not resenting you for being a loud, obnoxious, furry creature. You are perfect as you are. I understand why you are upset. I have compassion for you. This was all said in my head, but I concentrated on projecting my love to him. Hypothesis: The squirrel will feel the love vibration and naturally quiet down and come to a place of peace. Data: The body-spasming chirping increased three-fold and the squirrel came down closer to me on the trail. Result: Staring at a squirrel, whether you send him love or not, really pisses him off. Conclusion: Either the experiment was flawed (i.e. I’m not skilled enough at projecting love to squirrels) or the hypothesis is busted.

If I couldn’t solve the issue by my actions, I figured I’d explore non-action next. When faced with an irate squirrel, would Gandhi have better luck than Newton? I returned to facing the woods and sought that place of peace in which I found myself prior to the squirrel’s arrival. It was not easy. He was VERY distracting. I slowly let the chirping become just a sound of the forest in my ears, concentrating on not attaching any more importance to it than to other forest noises despite its loudness and proximity. As soon as I managed that, the squirrel gave me one last expletive and ran off. Conclusion: either the experiment was flawed (i.e. the squirrel just got tired of me and my experiments) or I just hit upon a pearl of woodsy wisdom: Just let the chirpers chirp and follow your heart. 

7 days until departure. Enough philosophical nonsense for one day. I’ve got gear to pack!!

* I have arbitrarily assigned a gender to the squirrel because I was having trouble keeping my pronouns straight if I referred to him at “it”

 

——————————————————————–

Version 2: with editorial comments.
I prefer the one above, but the one below, with editorial comments in Italics, is how I originally wrote it, so for the sake of authenticity, here it is:

I was hiking in the Chuckanuts yesterday in search of peace and solitude, when I had an encounter with a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor, but I seem to miss the city ones, they are too subtle, whereas metaphors in the woods always appear clear and obvious to me.

I was walking from the top of Cleator road down a narrow trail covered in fresh dew and pine needles. The woods were perfectly still, with just enough forest noise to highlight the very low undertonal base decibel level. My life has been so hectic lately, I craved that silence and stillness. Half way down the trail, I stopped, closed my eyes and just listened. I could feel peace flowing in, muscles relax and worries melt, until some squirrel ran down from the tree next to me and started chirping loudly. He* was so upset that each chirp was accompanied by a full body spasm. The chirping wasn’t personal. The squirrel was just reacting instinctively to the perceived threat of an element he considered incongruous in his world.

When I first came back from India, I felt like the Golden Girl of the universe. I usually feel that way, but it was particularly strong right after I returned to Bellingham. Since then tough, I have been under an onslaught of judgement born of other people’s ego. The ego dwells in fear a lot, and I am incongruous in the world – not my world, I’m right on in my own world, but in some other people’s world. I cannot ever truly know how others perceive me, but the intensity of conversations I have had with friends and strangers lately lead me to believe that my choice of lifestyle can trigger the same instinct in humans as that of the squirrel in the woods. How dare you fall off society? Who are you to be so special that you don’t have to toil? Why aren’t you worried about what your job prospects, or lack thereof, will be when you return from this unreasonable excursion? Oh, you must be getting money from your ex-husband, nobody can just be free of the Man [I’m not, by the way, using any of Chuck’s money. Although he has said he would rescue me if I went broke, and I am grateful for the peace of mind, I have so far survived on my own savings augmented with frequent and unexpected gifts from the Universe, and I plan on continuing this way. Sorry, that is my ego feeling a need to rectify false perceptions, and I will let it for this one time]. In many instances, these “worries” about how I am not fitting in society come before those about my safety or well-being on the trail. 

Since I understood the reason for his hostility, I didn’t begrudge him the disturbing of my peace and quiet. But still, he was pretty annoying. If you have ever tried to shoo a squirrel away, you know that this only irritates them further, so I had to find another way. My own instinct told me to just keep on down the trail so as to not bother him.   I am the intruder in the woods after all. Wait. Am I? Who says that I have any less right than this squirrel to be on the trail right now? I am a creature of this world too. I am a creature of the woods too. Why am I judging the needs of a squirrel as more important than mine? Oh yeah, because I understand what is going on and can adapt, because I have the brains (and opposable thumbs), because a small gesture on my part could alleviate a lot of anguish for him.

This is the rule I follow unconsciously: whoever is least adaptable wins my time and energy. The problem is that I am more adaptable than the average bear (or squirrel). I can very easily accommodate other people’s needs because I am not usually too attached to my own. Lately, I have been called on for help or advice or as a listening ear for drama-venting a lot. I am honored that my friends turn to me for these. I turn to them when in need too. From an ego perspective, my choice is either to 1) forgo my busy and shrinking schedule to help a friend or 2) attend to Melissa first and feel like a selfish bitch. Egos need rules – moral code rules, social conduct rules, all sorts of rules. If an element breaks the rules, he/she is judged negatively. But if we accept that we are not the ego, that we are something greater than the ego just down here in the earth-school to come to our full self-awareness, then the rules don’t apply. Any experience is beneficial, even that of being a selfish bitch. Right? That doesn’t feel right either. Actually, it violates the law of abundance, which says that the energy you put out determines the energy you get back. Putting unpleasant energy out is unlikely to be beneficial. Newton’s third law: to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So the universe has rules too, and these are not dictated by society, they are intrinsic. If they are intrinsic, then the only way to access the book of universal law must be through our hearts. 

My heart said that, even though I normally accommodate irate squirrels by moving further down the trail, there was a lesson here for me. This squirrel was giving me the opportunity to explore how to address the onslaught of judgment and fear with which I am faced in town with no consequence. Well, I suppose I could have pissed him off so much that he ran down at me with slashing fangs, but I felt pretty secure in my ability to defeat him if that were the case. Since I believe in Newton’s third law and I believe it applies to energy, my first attempt was to turn towards the squirrel and love him with all my heart. That’s it, just love him. I’m not resenting you for being a loud, obnoxious, furry creature. You are perfect as you are. I understand why you are upset. I have compassion for you. This was all said in my head, but I concentrated on projecting my love to him. Hypothesis: The squirrel will feel the love vibration and naturally quiet down and come to a place of peace. Data: The body-spasming chirping increased three-fold and the squirrel came down closer to me on the trail. Result: Staring at a squirrel, whether you send him love or not, really pisses him off. Conclusion: Either the experiment was flawed (i.e. I’m not skilled enough at projecting love to squirrels) or the hypothesis is busted.

One of my yoga instructors in India (the handsome Scottish one), always said “where the mind goes, the energy flows”. But I don’t know what kind of energy receptors comes standard on squirrels. Do they even have chakras? So, if a creature is already having a spaz attack and I direct my energy to it, I am validating his spazzing, I am increasing it by feeding it my own energy. This will also need to be tested, of course. But assuming I’m right, when people feel personally offended that I am not living by society’s rules, even if the whole process is unconscious, if I try to address their fear by defending myself – no, I am not taking money from Chuck, no, I don’t care what job I will have after the trail, no, I don’t care if I am not “reasonable” – I am actually fueling the problem by giving it my energy. 

If I couldn’t solve the issue by my actions, I figured I’d explore non-action next. When faced with an irate squirrel, would Gandhi have better luck than Newton? I returned to facing the woods and sought that place of peace in which I found myself prior to the squirrel’s arrival. It was not easy. He was VERY distracting. I slowly let the chirping become just a sound of the forest in my ears, concentrating on not attaching any more importance to it than to other forest noises despite its loudness and proximity. As soon as I managed that, the squirrel gave me one last expletive and ran off. Conclusion: either the experiment was flawed (i.e. the squirrel just got tired of me and my experiments) or I just hit upon a pearl of woodsy wisdom: Just let the chirpers chirp and follow your heart. 

P.S: The encounter lasted probably less than 10 minutes. I am a little concerned suddenly that I might not have brought a big enough journal for the trail. I am going to be SURROUNDED by irate squirrels and other metaphorical creatures 24/7. I might have to become succinct – Hey, I resent that Hallelujah. 

7 days until departure. Enough philosophical nonsense for one day. I’ve got gear to pack!!

* I have arbitrarily assigned a gender to the squirrel because I was having trouble keeping my pronouns straight if I referred to him at “it”

 

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