Memories of the 60’s

My friend Kathie from chosenperspectives published a YouTube video today that really moved me.  I thought I would share it with you.

(If the video doesn’t come up you can find it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-0NvkuPHZI)

I felt some sadness as I listened to the song, because these last eight years have shown how much work we still have to do in regards to racial relations.  At the same time, I know the words are as true now as they were when it was recorded.

In another post published today, Kathie also shared personal memories of what she was doing during the Civil Rights period and on the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated.  Check out her post at In Honor of Dr. King.  I think you will be glad you did.

There Is No “Other”

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In the mid 90’s, I read a book that really spoke to me. It was called “The Balkan Express: Fragments from the Other Side of the War” by Slavenka Drakulic. She is a respected journalist and commentator from Croatia. The publication contained a series of essays about the effect the Serbo-Croatian war had on her colleagues and fellow countrymen.

The portion of the book that I remember to this day is her essay “High Heeled Shoes.” In it she described her growing awareness that she had turned citizens of her country, even close friends, into “others.”

First, she saw that instead of seeing refugees as people who had escaped slaughter by the Serbians, she had started stereotyping them. “They are just sitting smoking, doing nothing. Waiting. Waiting for what? For us to feed them. They could work, there are plenty of jobs around, houses to be repaired or working the land.” She heard a woman on a train say “This city stinks of refugees” at a time when there were refugees sitting beside her.

As she continued to examine her own attitudes, she saw that she had reduced individuals to the category of “they” and from there to “second-class citizen” or “non-citizen.” She realized when we do this, they soon become “not-me” or “not-us.” We may feel some sense of responsibility for them, but it is the type of responsibility that we feel towards beggars.  “The feeling of human solidarity turns into an issue of my personal ethics.” We help only if we want to.

As her reflection continued, she wondered :

Perhaps what I am also witnessing is a mechanism of self-defence as if there were a limit to how much brutality, pain or suffering one is able to take on board and feel responsible for. Over and above this, we are often confronted with more less abstract entities, numbers, groups, categories of people, facts– but not names, not faces. To deal with pain on such a scale is in a way much easier than to deal with individuals. With a person you know you have to do something, act, give food, shelter, money, take care. On the other hand, one person could certainly not be expected to take care of a whole mass of people. For them, there has to be someone else: the state, a church, the Red Cross, Caritas, an institution.

and

Out of opportunism and fear we are all becoming collaborators or accomplices in the perpetuation of war. For by closing our eyes, by continuing our shopping, by working our land, by pretending that nothing is happening, by thinking it is not our problem, we are betraying those “others” – and I don’t know if there is a way out of it. What we fail to realize is that by such divisions we deceive ourselves too, exposing ourselves to the same possibility of becoming the “others” in a different situation.

I still resonate with everything Slavenka Drakulic said in that essay. I know I put panhandlers in the “other” category. When I see someone whom I think might be about to ask me for money, a whole litany of judgments erupt within me. While I’ve worked on this issue, it is not gone. While I don’t believe I have the same negative judgments about the victims of war and the natural disasters that are occurring with increasing frequency in the world, I believe I am still seeing them as “others.”

I need to confront my judgments, help more, and remember to think of people as individuals who like me have needs and wants. I need to remind myself that we belong to the same human family. They are a part of me; we are one. No, I can’t fix all of the problems in the world, but I can do more than I am doing and it can be from a place of love, caring and inclusion rather than from some “better than thou” place within myself.

As I was completing this post, I remembered a part of a guided imagery meditation from “Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood.” by Wayne Muller. I will leave you with his words.

Observe how birth, suffering, illness and death touch each one of us who lives on the earth. This is the pain we all share, in which we all partake, the pain of being human that touches our common bodies, hearts and minds. You may say to yourself as each image arises. “I am your other self.”

Embrace each image with forgiveness, mercy and love, touching the pain your heart, touching all the beings who suffer with your heart. This is the inheritance of the family of creation. This is your family.

Feel the depth of connection to all beings as you allow the pain to be the doorway into community with your greater family. Feel the truth of that belonging. Gradually return to the awareness of your breath as it naturally flows in and out of your body; feel your body as a tiny cell in the larger body we all share.

 

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
May all beings in the world be happy.

 

Written for Challenge for Growth Prompts: Looking for the Good in Others.

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #5 (Maryland and New Jersey)

The night we left South Carolina, we stopped in Virginia. We asked a man if he knew of any place where we could find shelter if it rained (we sleep on the ground in sleeping bags). He told us we could sleep on the front porch of his house. Then he changed his mind and said if it rained, we could sleep in the camper he had in front of his house. Still later he told us we could stay in the camper regardless of whether or not it rained. So we lived in luxury that night. I had left South Carolina filled with anger towards white people. His kindness began to restore my faith in people with white skin.

The next day we drove north of Richmond and stopped at a truck stop. Mimi and Lara were leaving us at that point so we all took showers and then Brenda and I helped them get ready to go. They found a ride to Boston with some truck drivers. Once in Boston they would find other means to get back to Seattle.

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Mimi leaving

Brenda and I then drove on to Easton, Maryland. We had no trouble finding a job or a place to stay. The farm labor office wanted to make sure that we realized all of the workers in the camp were black but offered no objection to our staying there.

The camp was not as nice as the one in South Carolina. It consisted of 54 houses that were each divided into three rooms. The only thing that separated the rooms were sheets of plasterboard; plasterboard that had big holes in it. A family lived in each room. Our room had two beds, a light that wouldn’t turn off and some shelves. That’s all.

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Our home

There were showers in the camp, but no way to turn them on. Several houses down there was a water spigot.

We fixed up our room by buying some flannel to put on our beds and using plastic to cover the shelves and holes in the wall.

The first morning we picked cucumbers and earned $6. What cucumbers do to the hands is something else. They create a yellow-green-brown stain that doesn’t come off. I liked this picking better than any other we’d done. I was sure glad we were picking something other than fuzzy, itchy peaches.   If it got hot we’d be in trouble though because there was no shade in the cucumber fields.

I had sworn I would never work in a cannery again but that resolve didn’t last. Since picking vegetables wouldn’t provide enough income for us, we had to also work in a corn cannery. We worked one day separating good corn from bad, several days on a machine that stripped the husks off the cobs and several more putting the cobs into machines that took the kernels off. We worked 7 pm to 1 am.

The corn cannery paid once a week, on Friday. Since we didn’t know if there would be a lot of drinking in the camp on payday, we thought Friday night would be a good night to go to Baltimore. Once there, we went to an outdoor Peter, Paul and Mary concert!

The people in the camp were very nice. Many of the men offered to “keep us company” but no one was obnoxious about it and they took “No” for an answer. It seemed inconceivable to them that we could spend a summer, or even a night, without a man, but once our answer got around no one bothered us.

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Our new friends

The corn cannery was really different than the peach cannery. Here we could work whenever we wanted to and they hired anyone who showed up for work. We were even allowed to take frequent breaks. The product they put out seem a lot better quality too. I had fun working at the cutter. I found I could put 110 ears in the machine per minute, but that was only when the machine didn’t get clogged. I was able to remove the clog myself, most of the time.

We worked in the fields for six days. Most of that time we picked tomatoes. I calculated our pay to be:

Regular tomatoes: 92 tomatoes= 1 basket= 18 cents

Pear tomatoes: 260 tomatoes= 1 basket= 20 cents

On our best day, we picked 65 baskets of tomatoes, together. Our combined total for that day was $12.35, or $6.18 each.

We wouldn’t have minded staying in that camp all summer. It was our most stable situation and the people were fun to be with.

We found that even in those poor conditions, we had everything necessary to be happy. It was amazing, considering that there were no showers, how clean the people were and how clean and well-dressed they kept their children. In this camp, the children went to school every day.

After two weeks we were ready to take off again. We received $140 cash for our work. That sure looked like a lot of money to us. Most of it was from the cannery work. $140/ 2 people= $70 each. Since that was for two weeks, we had each earned $35 a week for picking vegetables and working in the cannery combined.

After leaving Maryland, we drove to Ocean City, New Jersey and went to a coffee house called the Purple Dragon. A team from University Presbyterian Church in Seattle wase working there. They were all friends of Brenda’s. Were they ever surprised to see us! We stayed with them for two days.

We then drove to Middletown, New Jersey to be with lifelong friends of my family. I really enjoyed spending time with them. We talked a lot about my parents’ lives when they were young. It helped me to understand many things about them.

We had no luck finding for work in New Jersey. This had once all been farm country, but by 1970 it had all been developed. The few farms that were left were very small.

In the South we had encountered racial discrimination. In New Jersey, we faced gender discrimination. No one was willing to hire “girls.”

One day, we drove to New York City. We visited the Phoenix House (a drug rehabilitation program), Harlem, and the Downstate Medical Center midwifery program. We were pleased, and surprised, that we never got lost!

After leaving New York City, we headed for our next stop, Pennsylvania!

 

(The next post in this series will be published on Friday January 1.)

To read the previous posts in this series go to:

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series Intro)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1  (Seattle to Florida)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #3 (Working in Georgia)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #4 (Working in South Carolina)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #4 (Working in South Carolina)

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After leaving Fort Valley, Georgia we drove to Greenville, South Carolina, but found no job there. We then drove about ten miles north and started asking people if they knew of any migrant camps. The first farmer we were directed to said his was an all-black camp and he wasn’t about to mix races; but, he gave us another name.

We followed his advice and went to the business he suggested. The owner was quite amused by us and willingly gave us a job. In fact, he let us work two hours that very afternoon.

The job issue was settled, but where would we stay? There were two crews; one black and one white. The white crew was comprised of single men. Mr. Robinson said we couldn’t stay with them, and we agreed with his decision. We had seen that the black camp had families, so we asked to stay there. He said we “wouldn’t last fifteen minutes in that camp.” I asked how that could be since there were so many children. The owner looked perplexed and told us that there were no children there. Then he thought for a moment and said, “Oh you mean the ‘n…..s’.” To him black children didn’t even qualify as “children.”  I was outraged but knew it wasn’t safe to express my feelings and thoughts.

His solution to the lodging issue was to give us a cattle truck to sleep in. One night of that and we swore we’d never do it again, and meant it. The next day, we picked peaches for the whole day and earned $3.75 each. We knew we would have to wait at the packing shed for about two hours to get paid, so we decided to walk to the black camp to check it out for ourselves.

When we entered the camp, we talked to some of the people who were gathered. They had a bus, so we asked if we could sleep in it. They introduced us to Leroy, the black crew boss. He said it would be fine for us to stay in their bus.  Later he told us they would be willing to set up beds in their kitchen for us.

With some hesitation, we decided to stay in the camp. The job paid so little, there didn’t seem any point to worrying about being fired when the owner found out we had disobeyed him. We had another reason for concern, however. We had been told before that the white people wouldn’t bother us for the things we did, but that they might take it out on the black workers. We talked to Leroy about our concern. He said our actions would not cause them any trouble, so we moved in.

We made dinner and then everyone wanted Brenda to play the guitar so we could sing. We sat on the car with the kids and sang for hours.

Singing with kids

 

We went to bed about 10 pm and then the night began. The black crew’s kitchen was in the same building that the white crew lived in. What separated the two rooms was a partial wall with a bit of screening above that. The white men were drinking and pretty soon were quite drunk. There was a lot of daring and betting going on and it really scared us. “They want to see what a migrant camp is like? Let’s show them what a migrant camp is like.” We had a few visitors that night, but were able to get them to leave by talking fast and shaming them. Luckily for us, they were mostly talkers, and a few of them were on our side. By 2:00 am they had given up. We slept for a while and then picked fruit the next day, earning $4 apiece.

We stopped at 1 pm and then drove to the post office in Greenville. Our checks from Ft. Valley were there. We were able to cash them by finding a minister who was willing to co-sign for us.

To prevent a repeat of the previous night, we had arranged with Leroy’s wife to lock the kitchen door from the outside and keep the key. Since we had received our checks, we planned to leave the next day.

The whites treated the blacks worse here than any place we’d been. As I mentioned, there was a white crew and a black crew. They were not allowed to mix with each other in the fields. The black workers got paid even less than we did, even though they had much more experience. The white crew had access to toilets, the black crew and their families used outhouses. The white men kept the black men up all night forcing them to do whatever they wanted. Black women were taken and used at the whim of white men. It was really ugly.

[Note: As I typed this story from the scrapbook, I was really struck with the difference in the content of the sentences in the last paragraph and Leroy’s assurance that there would no problems coming their way due to us staying in the camp. If I’m remembering right, the black men in this camp kept their distance from us, i.e. they did not interact with us. I don’t think it would have been safe for them to even speak with us. My guess is that Leroy, as crew boss, had privileges that the other men didn’t have.]

We sang again that night. This time we sang a lot of spirituals and folk songs and the people from the camp sang with us. We were having a good time; a little girl was brushing my hair. Then at 11 pm we heard a voice, turned around, and found three policemen standing behind us. One said, “We have orders from Mr. Robinson to get you off of his land.” I couldn’t believe it. We talked with them for a while but got nowhere.

I was upset, mad, furious, angry and not too happy. We couldn’t understand why Mr. Robinson hadn’t said anything to us when he saw us during the day, or why he had waited until 11 o’clock at night to throw us out. The people were as upset as we were. Leroy was there with shaving lotion all over his face and a razor in his hand. We said a lot of sad goodbyes and then left. As we were driving away, we asked the police if we could go the packing shed and talk to the owner if he was still there. (The shed was only two minutes away.) They were okay with us doing that.

Packing Shed
Packing Shed

When we arrived at the shed, we discovered that four of the crew members, three black and one white, were already there. The two crews had signed on for the whole season, but they were telling the owner that if he kicked us out at that time at night, by morning his camp would be empty. We were so surprised!

We talked to Mr. Robinson also. It was clear he didn’t believe it was safe for us to stay in the camp and he wouldn’t allow us to do so. We told him we were responsible for whatever happened and we felt perfectly safe. Since his crews had threatened to leave, he was under considerable pressure and finally gave in; he would let us stay until morning.

The policemen drove away. It would have been interesting to hear their thoughts about what had transpired that night.

The four of us and the representatives from the two crews triumphantly returned to the camp. It was obvious the people enjoyed us as much as we enjoyed them. We sure appreciated that they had intervened on our behalf. We sang for a while longer and then went to bed.

We had no further problems that night. The white men were noisy again, but they didn’t say a word about us.  The next morning we departed the camp, and before long left South Carolina behind.

 

(The next post in this series will be published on Friday December 25.)

To read the previous posts go to:

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series Intro)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1  (Seattle to Florida)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)
1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #3 (Working in Georgia)

What a Difference Attitude Can Make!

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Soon after I arrived in Amritapuri, I had the foolish thought that this might be the year that I don’t have any experiences to share. I say foolish because I don’t believe there ever was any remote possibility that could happen.

My first week was full of challenges. In hindsight, I see that I was receiving endless opportunities to choose between two possible attitudes. For example:

  • I could lament that I left my good thongs in Seattle, or instead choose to be grateful that I had felt drawn to pick up and pack a cheap pair of thongs that, for the last two years, had been lying on the floor of an empty room where I work.
  • I could suffer about the fact that my internet stick was not where I believed I had left it last January or instead choose to do what it took to get another one.
  • I could berate myself for not remembering that I needed to bring a water filter or instead choose to look for creative ways to solve the problem.
  • I could bemoan that the seva (volunteer work) I look forward to most in Amritapuri (separating worms from the fertilizer they produce) was no longer an option or instead choose to appreciate that I would have more time to support the development of the Christmas play.
  • I could obsess about the seemingly endless internet and phone problems I was experiencing or instead choose to see those problems as opportunities to practice equanimity while doing what needed to be done to solve them, one step at a time.

I will describe three other examples in more detail:

1) The evening of December 2, I was about to go to my room when someone walked up to me and asked if I would be willing to hand Amma prasad (the candy she gives devotees after she hugs them). That is one of my favorite sevas so I eagerly accepted the invitation and joined the prasad line. As I reached the front of the line and took the position next to Amma, a western man came for his hug. He started speaking to her in beginner’s level Malayalam. Amma and he were having a great time laughing about his speaking attempt.  Afterwards, he handed Amma three malas (prayer bead necklaces). He wanted Amma to put them on him. Once she did that, he pulled out another handful of malas made from a different substance and asked her to put those on him too. He went through that sequence two more times. The last set was a handful of about 15 rosewood malas. It was a rather bizarre scene, especially since he was now wearing around 30 malas. I imagined he had plans to give them away to friends at home but having her put them on him was a rather bizarre change from normal practice of simply asking Amma to bless the malas he would be giving as gifts. Amma and he were laughing and so was everyone who was witnessing the incident. To me it seemed like “no accident” that I was present for that entire encounter.

I had not been able to sleep for more than two or three hours at a time since I arrived in India on November 28, so was hopeful that night would be different. You can imagine how upset I was when, after 2 ½ hours of sleep, there was a huge ruckus between nearby dogs. Once I wake up, sleep is over for the night. How long could I live like this? I had to get some sleep! Would the dogs start barking again? Would they continue to be a problem throughout my stay? It didn’t even occur to me that they hadn’t barked during the previous nights and dogs had never been a problem in the past. I was too sleepy and too lost in fear of the future to think clearly.

It did occur to me that I had been in bliss when I went to bed and now felt like I was in hell. I realized it was a good example of how quickly our minds can change our reality. While I struggled with the fear for the rest of the night, I found it immensely helpful to recall my experience of witnessing the interaction between Amma and the man with the malas. As I smiled with the memory, I let go of some of my tension. What a gift that prasad experience had been for me.  So in a situation like this, I could choose to stay in the fear, or consciously focus on a time when I was happy, reminding myself that this current challenge will pass.

2) With the ongoing lack of sleep, it soon became obvious I was developing a cold. On the afternoon of December 4, I felt strongly pulled into sleep and I slept almost continually for the next 36 hours, getting up only for meals and for meeting bathroom needs. I realized I could focus on how many things I was missing out on while I was sleeping or could instead choose to be grateful that:

  • as I moved in and out of sleep when Amma was leading bhajans (devotional songs) that night, I heard small portions of them from my room.  Each bhajan segment I became aware of was a favorite of mine.  I wasn’t sure whether I was really hearing the songs or if I was dreaming I was hearing them. Regardless of whether it was a dream or reality, I could choose to believe that experience was a gift from Amma to me.
  • during the short time I went downstairs for dinner on Dec. 5, Swami Pranavamrita sang Kalam Kanalu and a Swami Ayyappa song. I have a special history with both of those songs so I could choose to take them as yet another gift to me.
  • since I have been sleeping around the clock the swelling in my feet has gone away.  Perhaps the jet lag will also be gone when this illness has run its course!  I can choose to believe that my sickness has multiple purposes and they are all good ones.

3) I have felt pulled to learn Tai Chi for several years but the pull was not strong enough for me to take action. Before I left Seattle, I knew that this was the year for me to start, so I enrolled in the classes as soon as I arrived in Amritapuri. One lesson was all I needed to take to know that it was so right for me. The process quickly brought my mind and body into a meditative stillness. I could tell some part of me recognized the moves and knew what to do. I could berate myself for taking this long to begin, or I could choose to remember that my life will unfold in its own time and acknowledge that now must be the perfect time for me to start Tai Chi.

 

All in all, during the eight days I have been at the ashram, I think I have done a pretty good job of choosing to not make myself miserable by taking on negative attitudes and instead consciously choosing positive ones.  The time I was least successful in that endeavor was the night the dogs woke me up.  All of these events have reminded me that I can choose my attitude towards the lessons, challenges, and tests that come my way, and that my attitude will make a  significant difference in my experience.

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer (Series)

Migrant worker- me!

One of the most important times of my life was the summer I spent doing migrant farm labor across the United States. It is a treasured experience, one that contributed significantly to making me the person I am today.

During fall of 2015, I was looking through the scrapbook I put together  after that summer. It occurred to me that I could share the whole story of that journey, primarily using the words I wrote in 1970.

Below you will find the links to each post in the series.

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #1 (From Seattle to Florida)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #2 (Atlanta International Pop Festival)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #3 (Working in Georgia)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #4 (Working in South Carolina)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #5 (Maryland and New Jersey)

1970: My Summer as a Migrant Farm Laborer #6 Series End (Pennsylvania and Washington State)

I hope you enjoy the series.

 

Be Careful What You Wish For

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

In the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a period of several years when I had a series of mystical experiences. Even though they may have been frightening at times, they were also fascinating and exciting. A whole new world was opening up for me, one that was very different from my normal logical left brain way of being in the world.

Back then, I would frequently enter spontaneous trance states, i.e. altered states of consciousness. I remember once sensing that part of me was at a party, one that the rest of me wasn’t allowed to go to. At the time, I believed that the pain of leaving that “party” would have been so tremendous that my not being allowed to go there completely was my unconscious mind’s way of protecting me from having to feel so much grief. Continue reading “Be Careful What You Wish For”

Watch, Wait, and Wonder

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Photo Credit: Steve Shattuck

Some of you may remember that towards the end of last month, a swarm of tiny black ants formed on the sidewalk in front of my garden.  I, of course, didn’t know how many there were but in my shock it looked like millions! I didn’t want to kill them but I also didn’t want that many ants, and potentially more, in my garden. I also didn’t want anyone to accidentally stand in them. After pondering the dilemma for a short time, I decided to wash them away with water from a hose. That solution worked and the ants never came back.

When I wrote about that event in Discrimination Opportunity, a blogging friend responded that he understood black ants to be harmless.  In pondering his words, I realized that I had moved to action very quickly.  I had been stung by red ants in the past after I unwittingly stood on or near their hills. Even one bite from a red ant can be very painful, and being bit by a large number of them is something I will never forget. Did that memory cause me to act too fast?

As I continued to reflect on my action, I realized that a child would be terrified if that many ants were crawling on them, even if they weren’t being stung.  I concluded that my washing the ants away was a reasonable response, but I wasn’t sure that I was right.

Prior to that event, I had seen a few big black ants in my living room.  After the incident with the tiny ants in the garden, more of those big ants showed up, both inside and outside of the house.  Two ant events in a short period of time made me wonder what was going on.

When I become conscious of an animal, bird or other living being repetitively showing up in my life, I sometimes look to see what that creature symbolizes in Native American traditions.  I googled “native american medicine ant” and found Dr. Loretta Standley’s website.  She says this about ant medicine:

When Ant Medicine grabs your attention it is asking you to cooperate with your tribe (co-workers, family, projects, etc.,) in unity and patience. Ants are resolute and unwearied little creatures. Although they are tiny, they are indeed mighty. They have a strong skeleton on the “outside” of their body (exoskeleton) with specialized muscles that give them their strength. Ants can carry 30 times their weight, which would be equal to a 150 lb. person carrying a bulldozer on their back at 19,500 lbs.

The typical way to stop ant medicine is to literally stomp on it or fumigate it. If an ant is stomped on, it will emit pheromones that will draw more ants to the area. In short, ant medicine is unstoppable, tireless, patient and unified.

Ant’s message is about working non-stop toward your goals and forging ahead for the Good of the whole. Are you working on a project that benefits a larger audience? Have you been ignoring your tribe? Ant medicine cooperates with the tribe in harmony and wisdom toward a common goal, knowing that patience will be rewarded. Have you been cooperating with yourself on your own personal projects?

I was intrigued. Just the day before, I had met with two colleagues to clear up some long standing issues between us and was going to do the same with another friend the next day.  I thought the “ant medicine” perspective was valuable and would ponder the questions Dr. Standley put forth.  Now that I had this information would the ants go away?

Nope!  If anything, the number of ants increased.  I did more research and discovered the ants were carpenter ants.  Everything I read indicated that I would probably have to call a professional pest control company to keep them from damaging my house.  While there were still not that many ants, over the next few days their numbers continued to increase.  Their favorite location seemed to be on my front porch.

I decided to take the time to observe them and see where they came from, where they were going and what they were doing.  As I watched, I noticed that there were some small holes, or perhaps just indentations, in the caulking near the front door.  The ants went to those holes over and over again.  Even though the ants never went inside of them, it seemed like the holes were getting bigger.  Maybe the ants were breaking down the caulking.  They also went to a place next to the bottom corners of the door where some wires, probably old wires from broadband television hook ups, were located.

The following day there were even more ants on the porch.  Anytime I left the door open even for a minute, the ants tried to get into the house.  I decided I couldn’t continue doing this so called pest control.  I made an appointment for them to do an assessment the following week.

I remembered hearing that spreading cinnamon powder could repel ants.  It hadn’t worked very well in India when I tried it there, but I didn’t want to kill these ants unless it was absolutely necessary, so I spread some cinnamon in front of the door and in the areas where the wires were located.  The number of ants decreased immediately but some still made their way through the cinnamon.

The next morning, I looked outside to see what was happening.  There were three dead ants on the porch.  Two were by themselves; the third was being pulled away by a live ant.  The dead ant had a little different coloring than the rest of the ants. When I had looked up carpenter ants on the internet, I had noticed that the queen ant had different coloring than the workers so I wondered if the one being pulled away was a queen. I questioned whether a queen would be on the porch with a worker, but it seemed like a possible explanation as to why the black ant was trying to carry her away.

The live ant spent the whole day trying to drag the dead one from the porch.  He seemed disoriented so I believed that he was probably also under the influence of the cinnamon.

I had thought the cinnamon would repel the ants, not kill them.  My heart felt heavy as I watched his efforts.  As I felt my feelings, I was struck by how much I have changed.  I was raised in an era when we killed bugs, flies, spiders, and beetles, with swatters and insect spray, and here I was mourning the death of three ants and feeling compassion for the one who was taking such care to move the dead one.

I watched that process throughout the day, and noticed that no other ants ever came onto the porch.  It has been almost two weeks since all of this happened and I have only seen two or three carpenter ants in or outside of my house during that time. They appear to be gone.

But my story doesn’t end there.  There are two more related events!

During one of the psychotherapy groups I led the first week in June, an ant walked through the room. One of my clients immediately smashed it.  As I thought about his action during the following week, I realized it was a good teaching opportunity.  In the next group, I asked him if I could do a regression piece with him (a role play where he acted as if he was an eight year old and I was a healthy parent).  He said yes so I talked to his eight year old about ants and what he thought should happen to them if they were in the house. We also talked about spiders. After we discussed his belief that they should be killed, I asked if he wanted to try something different.  He was interested.  I offered him the opportunity to be in charge of catching and releasing all bugs, spiders, and ants that might wander into the group room.  He liked that idea and accepted the challenge.  This past week an ant came into the room and he had his first experience of catching an ant and taking it outside!

The second incident occurred yesterday, the day I started writing this post. That morning, a friend phoned and said she wanted to talk to me about the morality of killing carpenter ants!  Her situation was very different than mine in that there were a huge number of ants involved, but the timing amazed me. How interconnected we all are as we learn what we need to learn on our life journeys.

Am I done with the ant lesson?  I don’t know; only time will tell. What I do know is that I have gained much from these occurrences. I see that I had an opportunity to:

  • Be thoughtful before taking an action that effects one of Mother Nature’s creatures.
  • Feel compassion for a creature as small as an ant.
  • Consider ways of thinking that are outside my normal experience, e.g. the Native American perspective.
  • Hear feedback and reflect on it.
  • Not criticize myself when I took action not knowing for sure what was right.
  • Learn from a previous experience, e.g. the ant swarm event prepared me for the carpenter ants
  • Share my experience with others, e.g. talking with my friend and to those who read this post.
  • Teach a new way to respect nature to a regressed 8 year old.
  • Be reminded that if I take my time, the answers will come.
  • See how all beings are interconnected.
  • Reflect on how much my attitudes towards live creatures have changed throughout my lifetime.

I feel very grateful for all I have experienced and learned as the result of this ant “lesson.”

Discrimination Opportunity?

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Last week in Attitude is the Key, I shared that I am attempting to be thankful for the moles in my yard by taking the attitude that they are providing free aeration services.  Two or three days ago, I had another chance to work on attitude… and discrimination.

When I arrived home that day, I noticed that there was a small mound of dirt on the top of one section of my new brick-lined planting beds.  There was also some dirt on the sidewalk in front of that section. I was puzzled. Had children been playing in the garden?  I walked over to the dirt expecting to brush it back into the bed, but was horrified to discover that it wasn’t dirt… it was millions (or so it seemed) of ants!  The video below is only five seconds long, but it gives you a glimpse of what I saw.

Moles I can live with, but what was I going to do about this?  I don’t like to kill anything but I couldn’t leave the ants there.  In India, if a trail of ants enter my room, I use a few drops of water on the wall or floor to divert them. There was no way a little bit of water was going to work in this situation; there were too many ants and no trails.  And if a child, or anyone else, walked into this area they could be hurt.  I knew I needed to do something about it, right away.

I thought for a few minutes and decided I did not want to use poison; I would wash them away with a water hose.  I sprayed water along the brick wall several times and then checked the area repeatedly that day and the next.  I don’t know how many ants I killed and how many just moved on.  Regardless, I feel relieved that the ants are gone.

Where did those ants come from?  There was nothing that I know of in the dirt that should have drawn them there; it was as if they manifested out of nowhere.  I like to see life as a series of lessons and tests, sent to help me learn something.  This seemed like one of those lessons. I believe I used discrimination and took appropriate action.  I hope I learned what I was supposed to learn.

 

The Development of Trust (Acrostic)

Day 3’s assignment for Writing 201: Poetry is to write a poem about trust, using the form of an acrostic.

  • An acrostic is any poem in which the first (or last) letters of each line combine to spell out a word or a phrase, or follow the order of the alphabet.

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Here is the result of my effort!

Blind faith does not the basis for true trust make,

Experience after experience is what it will take.

Seeing- hearing, being-doing,

Time, effort and discrimination are a must.

Intuition’s a factor, but inner silence may lead to “knowing” robust.

Let go of the need for perfection, that’s not the aim;

Live, learn, let go, and allow the other to do the same.

*****

The act of writing this poem was an experience in and of itself.  I focused on letting go and letting the words emerge rather than trying to force them.  When I came to close to finishing it, I was bothered by a couple of lines and wondered if they would be misunderstood.  My eyes were then drawn to the line “Let go of the need for perfection, that’s not the aim.”  I reminded myself this is my third poem.  No one else will expect perfection from me, and I shouldn’t expect it from myself.

Over the next hour or so I tweaked a couple of words.  Soon thereafter, I realized the entire poem could be seen as a message to me.  I will learn to trust in my ability to write poetry as I continue to write poems!

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