I decided to start re-reading these books, or at least, The Prophet, and The Tracker... as a way of helping me fall asleep at night. However, when I started reading The Tracker... I recalled not only how it impacted me originally, but how I have been further inspired by actually taking tracking and survival skills classes from Tom Brown, Jr. as part of my cross-country cycling preparations back in May of 2011. When I had the resources to do so, it was the first thing on my list that I Really Wanted to Do followed by riding my bicycle cross-country.
Given my history with my mother, given that most of my early life was consumed by Her story of “Us”, it has taken the rest of my life to try to figure out what My Story really is, what my deepest motivations truly are and how I can focus my attention on pursuing those motivations successfully.
I will admit to feeling some envy for talented children whose parents have no problem supporting their child’s natural motivations. Whenever I watch shows like “America’s Got Talent” or “So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation” I am awed by the level of ability some children are able to demonstrate in part because they were simply given the support they needed to embrace and express those talents early in their lives.
That just wasn’t the case for me. The first 20 years of my life were all about what my mother expected of me and what she needed me to be for her own ego-gratification/sense of self-worth. It was only after she was formally diagnosed and committed to a mental hospital that I was set free to figure out what My Life Purpose was supposed to be For Me, how best to learn and to give My gifts to the world.
I’ve literally been “all over the place” with that quest. Starting from Tennessee, I was on the road with the carnival for several months, lived in Montana, England, on the island of Kauai, and in Colorado where I joined the Navy. From there I went to Great Lakes, Illinois for boot camp, was stationed on an aircraft carrier for three years, home ported in Norfolk, Virginia and made two "med cruises" to places like Greece, Italy, and the Arab Emirates. Shore duty brought me to Maryland where I lived for a few more years before attending Tracker School in New Jersey and riding my bicycle cross-country.
As documented in this blog, that adventure took me first (by car) to Williamsburg, Virginia where Hurricane Irene gave me an opportunity to practice shelter building. From there I continued by car to Jacksonville, Florida. I actually started by cross-country cycling from Jacksonville Beach and continued through Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, and into Texas. Texas was also the venue for all of “Stage II”. In between I lived briefly in Santa Barbara, California and Millville, Pennsylvania, and after “Stage III”, Columbus, Georgia and now back “home” with my dad in Campbellsville, Kentucky.
Although I was trained as an Electronics Technician while in the Navy, I finished my Bachelor of Science in Social Science in 2010, a program I'd started 18 years earlier as a student at Tennessee Tech. However, I was so "beat up" being on my own, working full-time, going to school, and having to deal with a long string of dysfunctional living arrangements, including a brief marriage and divorce, that I did not have the motivation to pursue my formal education beyond that. Looking back, once again, Mom was the one who thought I’d be the next Margaret Mead or something, not me!
Mom also thought we’d be writing books together. Over the course of the last several years, besides writing this blog, I have made numerous attempts to write a book – philosophical, practical, autobiographical, etc. Most recently, I thought I would write a book focused on parenting as leadership incorporating the principles I learned from reading a book entitled, Extreme Ownership...by Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I don’t know so much about Leif, but I know Jocko is one of those people who knew what he wanted to do with his life as a child and got to do just that. This is something he refers to pretty often in his podcasts.
Rather than being encouraged by Jocko’s story, I found myself once again feeling frustrated by my own circumstances and wondering if I would ever be as motivated about anything as someone like Jocko. Although I may still give it some attention as a “back-up plan”, I have once again run into a lack of motivation and focus where my research for the parenting book is concerned. (I have learned a lot more about our brains though as illustrated here...)
However...I have been pretty focused of fishing lately! And feeding the birds and the squirrels and keeping the water baths clean and full. As I sit here typing, I’m looking out the basement windows as the yellow and black Swallow Tail Butterflies hover feeding on our deep purple and lavender butterfly bushes. The ground looks a little weedy, but that’s because I’ve left the Lamb's Quarters to grow so I could add it to my green smoothies. There’s also one sunflower that came up under the feeder on its own. Who knows what ate the top out as soon as it was blooming, but I’m hoping the secondary buds might make it to maturity.
There’s also the worm composter on the back porch. That’s been doing really well since I moved it from Georgia. It is an expression of my deeper motivation as a "constant composter" - never wanting to let anything go to waste, to allow things to progress through the "Life-Death-Life" cycle wherever possible. I was fishing with some of my home-grown red wigglers at a co-worker’s pond and managed to catch enough Bluegill for supper. Although I empathize with their suffering as I am cleaning the fish, I try to make quick work of it, and there’s a strong part of me that wants to know how to do this – to eat what I catch. I joked with my dad a little about it being pretty satisfying even though it is quite a bit of work first to catch the fish, then to clean it, then to cook it, and even to eat it while avoiding all the bones!
Of all the times that I was “trapped” inside the house with mom, some of my strongest memories are of the rare times when I was able to get out. One of the apartments where we lived in Radcliff, Kentucky sat on the edge of the woods. I spent many hours playing there, mostly alone. I remember the year there was a “plague” of little brown frogs that scattered ahead as I walked through the grass. I remember when I sat amongst the trees in the middle of winter, and watched the birds come to the feeder not five feet from me, including a covey of quails, all marching in line, one behind the other. I also remember a big blackberry patch in the middle of a field of red Kentucky clay. I picked a lot of blackberries that summer, and I think of it every time I pick blackberries now like I did on the property of the co-worker with the pond. I also remember a sink hole where I played in Brandenburg, Kentucky. That’s where I started catching snakes and lizards, much to the awe and chagrin of all of the boys in the neighborhood. (I "played" with another snake here at the house in Campbellsville, early this spring.)
I guess what I’m realizing is that I’ve always had this affinity for nature. Maybe it had something to do with growing up watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, or maybe it was the rare times I remember going camping with the whole family and fishing with my dad. Maybe it was because my dad brought turtles home to me from his truck trips rather than store-bought souvenirs.
Nevertheless, it was never something my mother ever encouraged me to pursue for a Living. Again, she had much grander plans for “us”. And so, instead of taking Environmental Studies or something that might have led to my becoming say a park ranger, I was taking courses “working towards a degree in anthropology”. Granted, a lot of those were “natural science” classes, but they were never meant to be the FOCUS of my education or my life...as far as my mother was concerned.
Now I find myself “over the hill” – but feeling I still have another Big Hill yet to climb, The Hill that is truly aligned with my deepest core, my values, my skills, my INTRINSIC motivations.
The other day I watched a brief TEDx video, How to Know Your Life Purpose in 5 Minutes. The speaker, Adam Leipzig, posed a series of questions: Who are you? What do you do? What are you qualified to teach others? Who do you do it for? What do they want or need? How do they change or transform as a result of what you give them?
I had a hard time answering those questions at first. However, if I were to become skilled enough myself to teach tracking and survival skills to others, I could answer those questions easily: What I learned from the experience of, for instance, learning to make fire from “scratch”, is that it is Very Empowering and Liberating. Although I may not be super-skilled yet, I learned enough during two weeks of classes at Tracker School to feel I could survive in the woods for an indefinite period of time if I had to. Consequently, no matter how bad things might get in the world, I know that I have the option to “run away” from it all. And because I have that confidence in my ability to run away, I am also free to choose to continue to be involved with this world as much as I want to.
As I was explaining to my dad over supper, I think part of the “madness” and violence in the world today is due to the fact that people feel trapped. They feel trapped in their jobs, their relationships, in their neighborhoods, in “society”. Some try to resolve these feelings of being trapped by “fighting their way out”. Unfortunately, this can lead to even worse incarceration. Others will “die trying” or intentionally take their own lives and who knows how many others' with them.
In the wild, if two bears confront each other over territory, they will posture and roar, but it seldom comes to violent conflict. That’s because either bear has the option to Run Away. I think part of the problem with modern humans is we have, for the most part, lost the option to literally Run Away. Instead we virtually run away by using drugs and alcohol, playing video games, or watching endless hours of "entertainment media". Few of us could survive for long outside the bounds of our homes, towns, and cities, let alone in any truly Wild part of this country. And so, for most people, the only option is to fight, or die - quickly or slowly.
How different might things be if more people could literally run away for a while, or at least know that they could? If they could go off into the woods and become more connected with the abundance of life and the natural world? Or connect with one of the most primal abilities of humans across millennia: to build a fire from nothing but the natural materials around them?
I know this may seem a bit morbid, but I have felt truly empowered by two distinct experiences in my life: the first was having the knowledge that I could kill myself if I wanted to, and the second was being able to build a fire from scratch, something I got to do during the first week of classes at Tom Brown, Jr’s Tracker School! (And although a photo of that first fire was taken by a fellow student, I was never able to get it from them. :/ )
Now, I don’t mind dealing with the challenges of day to day living that we all face. But I’m not carrying fears of the credit card companies, or the IRS, or some other government entity messing with my life, or forcing me to do something I really don’t want to do…because I know I can Run Away whenever I want or need to. (After more classes at Tom’s Tracker School I’ll just be that much More prepared to Run Away if I want or need to.) And I’ve known this for over five years now, and I’ve found it’s Good to Know! It allows me to be calmer deep down inside, where others might feel fearful and anxious.
So, should I choose to pursue tracking and survival training more intensively, to the point where I could become a teacher for others, then this is how they might be “transformed” by what I will have to give them: they will be liberated from their fears of entrapment. They will become free to run away whenever they choose, which means, they will also be free to stay, and to do whatever they can to figure out their own life purpose, the gifts they have to give to others, and the ways in which they can help transform the world into a better place for humans and non-humans to live.
I’ve had many motivations that have led me away from this. Motivations that I really had to see were not intrinsic but rather extrinsic and mostly stemming from my relationship with my mother. As I have learned from one of Gregory Careman’s neuroscience courses, "extrinsic motivations drain you of energy, intrinsic motivations give you energy". If wanting to become an expert in tracking and primitive survival skills is my deepest intrinsic motivation finally coming to the surface, then the energy will be there to carry me through in a way no other motivations have thus far.
From the beginning, this blog has been about my journey...ing. I've felt more and less sure of where that journey-ing would take me all along the way. Nevertheless, I continue to persevere and to try different paths as others have grown cold. I Have Learned A Lot along the way and I hope there has been some value here for those who have continued to follow me. No matter where my motivations have led at any given time in the outer world, what I have been most motivated to do is to live more and more deeply from my heart. That is where the inward journey has been taking me, deeper and deeper into my own heart. That is the "home work" that I feel is every individual's responsibility, something for which they must ultimately take "Extreme Ownership"!
So here's to that continuing journey...the skills we learn and the wisdom we gain along the way...and the tracks we leave behind for ourselves and others to follow!