Thursday, July 12, 2007

On Being an Animal

As a human being, I am an animal too. And so are you.

This summer I am feeling moved not to travel much. While my main plan had been to get back into my academic writing, I'm having a really hard time with that. I think I am just profoundly tired. Plus, my support system has been seriously diminished over the past year: from the ending of my music group, to the departure of two people in my life who have been really important mentors and guides.

After my busy year and these important losses, I'm now mostly focused on trying to reestablish a basic discipline of taking good care of myself. No one else can do that for me anyway. More and more I realize that this is a deep and fundamental animal responsibility we each have. It is exactly for ourselves, but not selfish. We are not just our own private property. We matter to others in the world. And so if we don't take good care of ourselves, we can bring considerable grief into others' lives, because they can do little to restore health and well-being if we are not ourselves cooperating.

I have come to realize this in myself, but I also see it from another perspective in my relationships with others. Those who are good at taking care of themselves are happy and healthy and their lives are in balance, which means that they have lots of energy to attend to others as well.

As philosopher Immanuel Kant points out, we have a basic duty to be happy, so that we are not so distracted by our unhappiness that we fail to attend to our other moral duties!

The key marker for my own self care is exercise. Happily, I am running again. This is a very good sign. This year, I will place this as one of my highest priorities. No matter how busy my life gets, I will try to regard this as essential as eating and sleeping and going to Meeting! (Hold me too this, my faithful readers!)

So I've made the radical decision not to worry about how "productive" my summer is. I'm going to live my days as aimlessly as I need to. I'll attend to anything urgent that crosses my desk. But other than that, I'll just do what I feel moved to do from moment to moment. I haven't had a real vacation as such in a long time. I hereby declare the rest of this summer to be the first really extended vacation I have ever in my whole life let myself have.

I feel open and in a data-gathering mode. What gives me life? I want to experience the world in a new way. I want to let the world fill me with healing and renewing energy. I want to pay full attention to everyone I see, but refrain from agreeing to anything that establishes a controlling dynamic in our relationships. I refuse to expect anyone to do anything for me in particular; and I refuse to agree to anything that means that others expect something of me.

(I must emphasize that this is purely temporary. When the academic year begins again, I will have no choice but to enter back into that complex network of relationships dominated by controlling dynamics going in both directions.)

But for now, I just want to be a wild animal, quiet and shy, alert and tuned mostly into the pure present moment. I want to eat and sleep and run in the woods. I want to watch beautiful sunsets and let them work their magic on my soul.

The summer, after all, is beautiful. The sun. The breezes. The freedom to walk straight outside without the fanfare of coats and hats and scarves and gloves and complicated shoes slipping on icy walks. This is the time store up health and hope.

The other things I care about will come to fruition in their own good time. Let me finally honor the wisdom of the structure of the academic year. Let me finally trust in the natural rhythms of life and nature.


  1. Extraordinary! I was planning to write a post in defense of pacifism that was to be entitled "On being an animal"! I am still going to write it, but in the meantime, I love this post and its ironic PS.

    BTW, hello from Indianapolis, and thanks for your prayers.

  2. Johan,

    Sorry for leaping ahead with a post title you had been planning to use for a different posting! How amazing, actually!


  3. Have you found another form of exercise in the absence of running? until you heal from your surgery?

    I find that when one part of my life is going well, I want to work extra hard on all of them. It is hard to just focus on the part that is flowing at the moment, without wanting everything to go just as fast. Then I get into too many things and the whole system bogs down.

  4. Robin,

    I have been trying to go for long walks almost every day. I do look forward to picking up the running again, but dread how hard it is going to be again at first. But I overcome this dread/disappointment by reminding myself that the point is not to compare myself now with what I could do in the past. The point is to push myself just to wherever that optimal level of exertion happens to be on any given day that puts me back on the path to fitness and makes me feel energized the rest of the day! As long as I find that every day, I know that I am immediately deriving the full benefits of exercise, and I can feel assured that I am back on the path to better fitness.

    I very much appreciate your encouragement not to feel that I have to fix everything about my life all at once, but attend well to what is flowing at the moment. Yes, this is what I need to do. I sense that doing so will set the positive new developments securely into place, and once they are secure, then I can turn my attention to other dimensions of my life and will be now in a stronger place, and so will be more likely to be able to deal well with those other issues.

    Patience and trust are key.

    Thanks for writing!