Wednesday, November 8, 2017

In This Moment

For over a year now, before this blog began, I’ve been thinking about making a radical break from my current way of life. I have set deadlines to leave my job and done things that I and people surrounding me, say, 5 years ago, would frown upon. I don’t mean bad things. I’m talking about eating hit-by-car animals, diving into dumpsters, spending significant time on manual labor activities like processing acorns, showering far less frequently than I used to, not using anything but water to wash my hair, and hunting with a longbow. As I ponder, “what’s next?,” I recognize how hard it is for me to live the life I ultimately want in the city. Restrictions and rules and the cost of living and the lack of access to healthy ecosystems prevent it. By the same token, I realize that my dear friends and my means of survival are here for the time being. Regardless of what happens in the future, I am profoundly satisfied with who I am in this moment and with the drastic changes I have made over the past couple of years in how I spend my time and who I spend it with.

When I came back to my current job from a 6-month assignment elsewhere, a kind co-worker decorated my cubicle with “Welcome Back Matt” written in vegetable font. After about a month, I was sufficiently welcomed back and thinking about what to do with the letters. My cube neighbor suggested writing “Become Matt,” and there it still sits. To me, this reminder symbolizes what’s going on: I’m becoming who I am, not who I’ve always thought I should be. I’m fairly certain that striving to be who I thought I should be has caused most of the misery throughout my life, and I’d guess the same happens for a great number of people.

I know that I’m becoming myself because I'm seeing substantial change in the things I do and am capable of doing with other people and with my ecosystem. The mental, emotional, and physical preparation in various areas of my life is starting to coalesce. I feel better than I ever have. One symbol of this coalescence was my first shot on a deer in Seneca Creek State Park a couple weeks ago. Nearly 2 years of training, having previously never picked up a bow or thought about getting near wild animals, has brought me to the point where time of day, geography, wind direction, entry into a hunting area, knowledge of deer behavior, archery skill, trying and failing, mentoring from others, and personal research are all syncing up. I now feel confident that I can hunt successfully, at close range, with simple tools. Of course, I still need to do it. In this particular case, my arrow sailed an inch or so above the buck’s back, but it was exactly where it needed to be in the horizontal direction. I saw him again this weekend, along with several other deer.

Bow, arrow, plants, lichen, shooting lane

Perhaps the most important change I've seen is in the level of comfort and ease with which I approach myself and others. As cliche as it sounds, as I’ve let my truest self shine, new opportunities have opened up. New people have come into my life, as I have been nothing but genuine. To be sure, people have also left. On the mornings when I wake up and don’t have to go to my job, I am simply ready for the day. I’m excited to change the water in my acorn buckets, try a new recipe with some wild food I gathered, take a walk with my arrows, meet a new friend. I’ve changed the story I tell myself and others; gone are the days where I’d refer to the things I think and do as “crazy.” I used to dismiss many of the thoughts I had out of hand, and now I’m doing the things I was only then thinking about! I attribute much of this change to how I tell my story, to myself and others. I certainly could not have done this without the support of close friends and family. Just recently, I visited a couple of intentional communities in Loiusa, Virginia. They were wonderful places where people are trying to live in more grounded, authentic, sane ways. There is an ever-quieting voice in my head that says, “You did what? You’re not seriously considering joining one of those!” I’m getting pretty good at shutting that voice up. In my story, it’s perfectly reasonable and healthy to explore all ecologically responsible ways of living.

After years of learning and hesitating, wild foods are becoming a substantial portion of my diet. Acorn, deer meat, and nettles are now featured prominently. I’m seeing berries, hickory nuts, black walnuts, and large quantities of mushroom on the horizon as important foods. I’ve moved past the realm of identification and novelty, and am now starting to develop a relationship with these beings. This is where true connection develops, when food nourishes not only my body but everything else that makes me a whole person. There are many relationships that I need to cultivate, as I’ve ignored too many for too long. A lifetime's worth of work!

Acorn chili

I’m confronting old dreams and patterns that no longer serve me. I’m getting rid of material things that might have some sentimental or potential future value but are weighing me down. The shedding of stuff is a wonderful and freeing process. I've had a beautiful drum set for about 12 years that has seen several stages with various bands. It is a serious load to carry around, and I’ve played maybe 4 times in the past 2 years. When I was younger, I had dreams that the drums would be a major part of my life, that I might achieve some level of fame. The decision to sell my drum set is just the manifestation of a choice that I made years ago to put my time into other things. I’ve grieved the loss of this hobby, and I acknowledge that it is sometimes just fun to play, but keeping this large set is not enriching my life right now. Once these pieces of wood and metal go, most other things will go easily and I’ll be able to live lighter.

And so, I am happy with who I am in this moment. To be in such a state is a beautiful thing. However, the moment will pass and I will continue to explore, learn and grow. My goal is clear: to live in a community of people integrated as much as possible within an ecosystem. Though I don’t yet know exactly what is possible, I wake up every day starting with that end in mind, and that brings me peace. I get discouraged when I feel my progress is not fast enough, when I lament the life I have spent not learning the skills to keep me alive outside of civilization. These alternating cycles of peace and unrest are essential in my life. Both have value in their time and place, contributing acceptance and action respectively.

The sun behind the fog

Will I make a clean break from a civilized way of life, go off and see where I end up? Maybe I will, or maybe my next move will be less drastic. I will stay open to taking risks, consider my relationships and what I might be taking for granted, and follow my intuition. My intuition has not failed me since I’ve started down this path, and my confidence in living without many of the trappings of modern civilization has greatly increased. There are many ways to get to where I want to be. The ride is likely to be anything but smooth, and I’m just restless enough to keep pushing my limits!