Juniper & Crow
The essence of Life and Spirit is found in this eclectic land of stone and heat, thorn and spiral. Stories are contained in the watercolors of bone-dry canyons and dusty horizons... These words are a love letter for the vastness of wild land, the mercurial nature of desert creatures and the holy presence of Life transcending constraint.
20 Simple Acts of Self-Liberation
I wrote this article to encourage us, as pagans, wiccans, polytheists, earth lovers, weirdoes, wanderers, and alternative folk to move beyond the sterile concepts of acceptance and equality. For many, being wholly accepted by the mass-produced mainstream becomes our goal. But why? Perhaps being equal to means being complacent to and abiding of habits and norms that are destroying species, lands, waterways, air quality, indigenous communities, traditions, and languages. Rather than hope to acquire the status of affluence and static commonality, sometimes we do greater service to our spirit by moving from comfort to challenging the perimeters of a “normal” existence.
From a young age, we are encouraged to play by the rules, to stay on the sidewalk, to conform. There is always a stranger lurking behind the schoolyard or a story about a girl that went missing and never was returned safely to her home. Coupled with bizarre tales of potential threats, there are real threats that children live with – more likely in the supposed safety of their own homes. Child sexual/physical/emotional abuse, bullying, and exploitation are very real boogeymen. Although the statistics vary, roughly more than 25% of us have been subjected to these atrocities, reinforced by fear-mongering media, corrupt and negligent criminal justice systems, and the glorification of violence. Given these grim realities, it isn’t surprising that anxiety and depression are the defining mental health maladies of our culture. It’s also no wonder why it’s easy to fall in line and accept, baffled by where one might even begin.
So many of us walk through our lives in a fog of learned choicelessness. Many – once they reach a certain age – simply stop questioning why it is they do things and in very specific patterns and habitual frameworks, retaining belief systems perhaps handed down rather than developed. Creative problem solving and radical, empowered choice have been replaced by dutiful acceptance of a hierarchy that “cares” for us – tells us how to live, what to eat, what to consume, what to believe. A cardinal rule of control is the cultivation of the complicit. It is vital that we believe that we are choosing; that is the essential ingredient of cultural obedience.
While I am a bit of a social misfit and off-grid wanderer, I am not advocating for anarchy. Some social structuring and laws do make sense and promote health and certain protections that allow for an easier existence than that of basic subsistence. We have a natural predilection for forming bonds and communities. There are of course compromises we make in building community. Obvious gains are made through the formation of societies, but there becomes a point at which the tyrannical pendulum of the all swings into the favor of the small majority who control the channels of expression, belief, and lifestyle.
Generally speaking, most of us have to hit a significant wall or face utter devastation to find our way back to truth. The transformation of the iconoclast – the shape shifters who challenge systems and create new paradigms – those eccentric heretics and woods dwellers who protect the plants and creatures of their forest homes – the outlaw poets and painters who broaden the scope of reality, of perception – these are the individuals who have found the path again and have reclaimed Life. Sometimes we are shaped by our childhood: whether we were free to run throughout the hills and woods, or forced indoors, where we created myths of dragons and warriors in the urban street nightscapes. Ultimately, we remain dreamers. We have the ability to walk through life with a resiliency not often seen or respected among the adults that hold reign.
For those of us seeking a new way, more true to self and less imposing on others, finding the support and encouragement to begin (or reclaim) is oftentimes the most arduous first step. During my personal quest for something else, undefined and raw, friends and peers who felt my deviation both immature and irresponsible frequently dissuaded me. To be an adult, after all, is to put aside the foolish spirited curiosity and independent streak. By participating in a material- and power- driven system, we often face our deepest values and ethics juxtaposed against the desire for comfort, convenience, and protection – however illusory that may be. Many of us even risk the loss of relationships when we begin to question our path. While we have fought to have our spiritual expressions and personal lifestyles accepted, we have also forgotten what our ultimate goal happens to be. Equal to the status quo? Equal as long as we remain faithful consumers?
So where will we go? Those of us who seek something a little less prescribed… those of us who shun artificial value systems and mass-produced lifestyles?
It seems we are mired in new age improvements and radical fixes, either of self or the world around us. And I am the first to gladly and boldly support activism in times of threat to self, others, one’s place, or the defenseless. If you have that inner prompting, I do not need to instruct you on cultivating a warrior’s heart. But I do believe a reasonable first step is in practicing dismantling our own habits and luxuries.
We first look to break the mold with some personal monkey wrenching or disengagement! My own path finding has included profound calls to action in the forest – other times, cries on the shoulders of friends – but I always forgot to leave room for personal transformation and simply learning to let go of my tight grip on definition. Life is miraculously sensual, utterly nourishing, and poetic. Our levels of self-awareness depend on humor, disaster, and trial and error. This said, I gift you with 20 ways to switch it up, to strip down, to realize the real truth that is in being an animal: a curious, sexual, silly, ambitious, strong, complex animal.
20 Liberating Tasks for the Terminally Comfortable
1. WALK. Learn to use your body for mobility. Ditch the car for a week… at least. Walk. Bike. Run. Skip. Get yourself smelly on public transit. Just avoid your own car and being alone in it.
2. TALK TO PLANTS AND ANIMALS. Everywhere. Greet weeds, birds, and insects on your way to the office. Tell them thanks. Sing them songs. Get to know their properties, propensities, and regions and seasons.
3. DITCH YOUR DAY JOB. Quit, play hooky or take unpaid leave for a short period of time. Figure it out. What will you be called to do in those otherwise blocked 40 + hours? Maybe you will find you can live on less, fewer hours or perhaps want to do something different with your time.
4. LIGHTEN UP. Carry your underwear in your purse or gym bag. Better: let it poke out of your bag when you are fishing for gum or change and let other people wonder. Go barefoot in town. Decorate your suit with neon. Go by an alias. Do something intentionally strange or silly, whatever that happens to be to you.
5. GO AU NATUREL. Take a break from cosmetics and synthetic products – including nail polish and dyes, gel and hairspray. It’s harder than your think. We use a lot of chemically composed products in our shower, on our skin, in our hair, in the air, etc..
6. ROAM STRANGE. Travel solo. Go somewhere entirely foreign to you on your own. It could be as simple as a day trip, or a major move for those who are bolder. Get comfortable with unknown people, places, and views. Squat on public lands – hop trains. Learn how to land on your feet with the infinite precision of a cat.
7. LE PEW. Explore your odor. Have you ever gone without a bath for a week or two? Try it. What do you smell like? What natural scents do you exude that smell curiously pleasant versus “Oh good lord, open a window.” The additional benefit is that you will reduce your water consumption in the process, so while you’re at it, do fewer loads of laundry, learn to harvest water, and use grey water for plants and trees.
8. ADOPT. Foster a special animal – a rescue. Adopt a child. Adopt a mission. Find your instinct for nurturing someone who needs you more than you need him or her. Sometimes just opening up your door and home to the presence of another widens the channels of compassion. Not everything in life is planned, or happens in a way we would prefer. Get down with your preferences in love and community and evaluate where you have been selfish or hung up on perfection.
9. ACCENTUATE THE FLAWS. Rather than frantically trying to heal everything, sometimes it is healthy to simply celebrate the pain, sickness, and scars. The beloved flaws may not ever be healed. Not everyone heals from certain diseases, but some manage to live thoughtfully and uniquely in tandem with them.
10. STAY HOME. Pick a place to get to know. It could be a favorite city park or a 100,000-acre wilderness. Practice getting intimate with that place. What are the species that abound there? How has the terrain been destroyed, manipulated or rehabilitated? How have floods or droughts impacted it? What invasive species thrive? What threats are there, and likewise, what protections are intact?
11. GROW IT. There are several vegetables and herbs that are forgiving for the novice gardener. Dig into your background and get to know the soil composition. Amend ground soil with compost and mulch, or use raised beds or containers. Enjoy the satisfaction of eating veggies from your garden. BONUS: can your crop for winter.
12. FREE: THE OTHER FAVORITE FOUR-LETTER WORD. Sign up for your local Freecycle or similar group and pass on useable unwanted items. Dumpster dive or sidewalk shop on garbage collection days. I have gotten some of the coolest pieces of furniture this way. When possible, start a free box in your town.
13. QUESTION YOUR BELIEFS. Were they given to you? Have they changed over the years, and if so, in response to what? How do your beliefs and values impact others or the planet? Explore varying opinions and divergent thoughts. Balance these with your own and look for discrepancies or judgments.
14. QUESTION AGAIN what you know about health and healing. We often listen obediently to our doctor rather than inquire about alternative treatment options and pathways to prevention and cure. Explore the foods you eat, native plants, herbalism, energy work, strength training, dance or anything else you feel drawn to as a means of whole-person wellness.
15. CULTIVATE A GENEROUS HEART. Help someone. Listen. There are many deserving nonprofits to support out there, but there’s also something deeply gratifying about reaching out to someone randomly or lending an anonymous hand.
16. ACCLIMATE. Are you the first to kick on the air conditioning or furnace at the slightest bit of discomfort? I live in the desert and in the summer I see people run from one a/c environment to another. I was so sick of feeling controlled by my aversion to heat, I tried adjusting to the natural weather patterns, using fans, trees, plants, and humidity to cool down in the summer and layering and extra blankets to stay warm in the winter. If you’re a camper, this will be easy. Turn off the heat or air conditioning for a while and allow your body to feel the actual climate.
17. TELL STORIES. Some of us use music, paint or photography. Some sing. Whatever medium you choose, tell stories about your life, someone else’s life, fact or fiction. Make them funny or heartbreaking. Tell your kids about their ancestors or about an imagined king in Finland. Gather your friends and neighbors and create a monthly activity based on the art of storytelling.
18. F* SHIT UP. When did we become so fearful of making a mistake? The best lessons can be gleaned by bold and impassioned acts. Try new things. Learn as much as you can. Go for that which seems irresponsible or impossible or plain crazy.
19. REMEMBER RITUAL. However or wherever or whatever your religious or spiritual expression, daily rituals to honor our life, the lives of those who grace us with their gifts and lessons, and the beauty of the wild earth is paramount to developing a sense of roots, self, and community.
20. REVERE THE SMALL. So much in life upholds the loudest, sexiest, and most ornate. Notice moss. Appreciate daily gestures. Enjoy chores. Spend time with friends without a cell or watch. Name stars. Watch ants or the grackles that pick through grass blades. Write a letter to your great aunt or sit in the sun with a book. Most importantly, notice. There’s so much life in the tiniest of moments. I, personally, can think of nothing more sacred than sitting in the crook of a tree, giving thanks for its life and my own.
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