No doubt, you are aware that the world is a mess these days. From wars, to environmental catastrophe, to filthy politics, to gun violence, to domestic and animal abuse—you name it, we got it. I spend time pondering the why of our collective insanity, but not too much time, because pondering insanity is a waste of time. What I ponder more is how we might possibly get out of this madness and find some way back to collective health and more “humanness.” Because too many of us behave like jerks and nut balls instead of human beings, both on the public stage, and in our homes, as well.
These are a tiny assortment of the solutions I hear proposed to cure our ills: Energy independence, vote out the dopes and vote in the “good guys,” get rid of Obama, get rid of the Koch brothers, fully instigate carbon credit programs, raise/lower taxes on the rich/poor, buy an electric car, meditate, join Occupy, jail Occupy, implement permaculture everywhere right now.
I won’t weigh in on any of these solutions, but I will offer one of my own, which—in my subjective fashion—I believe is really the best of the lot, and elegant it its simplicity: Learn how to be a decent member of your own tribe of friends and family before you start looking outside for world-sized fixes.
And this brings me to the deer, the frog, and Steve Buscemi.
I am lucky to live close enough to town that a short walk through a few old neighborhoods and a quiet stand of set-aside forest brings me right to the door of my yoga studio. While walking home from there the other morning, lost in reverie in the beauty of the trees and flowering blackberry vines, a doe stepped daintily out from behind an old cedar tree and looked at me with soft eyes. She was just off the path, not ten feet from me. There she stayed, her gaze full on my face as I walked very slowly and respectfully past.
Later that day turning a corner onto a dirt road on the edge of town, I slammed on my brakes as a large doe leaped off an embankment and landed squarely in front of my hood. Just as quickly, she bounded straight up and off and vanished into the tall grasses. My heart galloped in my chest. I have not come that close to striking an animal in many years. It is not unusual to see deer in our area, but it is unusual to see them in the ways I did that day.
Next day, Carter, his son Johnny, our granddaughter Taylor, and I went off to spend a sunny afternoon on the river. It is shallow on the shores of the Washougal right now and the water is cool and perfect for wading. All the many river critters can be seen by anyone who is willing to take shoes off and put eyes close to the water: caddisfly larvae in colorful, handmade pebble tubes; tiny fish darting every which way; crawdads snapping their claws like castanets. Above the river, herons fly and osprey sing. Eyes up or down, anywhere you look is a treat on the river on these days.
While Carter threw balls in the river for Mazel Tov, Johnny, Taylor, and I carried plastic buckets and “explored.” I was deep in concentration, searching beneath river rocks for a crawdad to show my four-year-old granddaughter, when I tipped up a large, flat stone and gazed down at something entirely unexpected. “My,” I said to myself. “That stone looks just like a big frog.” Beneath the rippling, cool, clear waters, the image remained—like a large green frog all pulled into itself, its shape like rounded, smooth stone.
I have a recurring dream of such frogs—big ones, swimming in dark, clear ponds while I reach for them with excited hands. For an instant on the river that day I was jolted into that place. The water rippling around my ankles disappeared and I was, for a few timeless moments, in my dreamworld reaching deep for frogs the size of cats.
Then that sense of being jolted struck again, and I stood once more with the river stone still tipped up in my hand and the cold water swirling around my feet. I looked down into the water with eyes in the here and now: It was a frog. Not a stone. As large a bullfrog as I’ve seen up close. I set the overturned stone aside and reached slowly with both hands. The next instant, I was holding up a huge, semi-torpid bullfrog with flippers the size of cats’ paws. It blinked.
I walked to shore while my family crowded around me. “Whoa!” said my stepson Johnny. “That’s like, well, the picture-perfect frog! Like the kind of frog you see in the movies. Is it alive?”
“Can I hold it?” my granddaughter begged.
I gripped my prize tighter. “Nope,” I replied.
“Because, honey, this is the frog of my dreams, and it is too big for little hands. You can pet it, though,” I offered.
“Can’t I hold him for just a second?” begged Taylor-of-the-Eager-But-Clumsy-Child-Hands.
“Sorry sweetie. Grandma’s hanging onto this one.” (“This one,” I didn’t say, “is a magical mystery frog, and she was sent here from another world where I go to dream, and I’m not sharing. Not this one.”)
Bullfrogs are not native to Washington and are considered an invasive species, mostly because they eat or drive out all the native reptiles and amphibians. So I felt no guilt in bringing the magic frog home to my bucket pond where she could “invade” in harmless privacy. I put some large slugs on the pond rocks, and let “Ruby” leap into the depths. The guys wanted to name her Jeremiah, but I knew she was a “she” because she had such feminine eyes (her gender has since been confirmed by my biologist friend), and plus, she was my magical mystery frog and since I was the one who would be grubbing for slugs, fly maggots, and stink bugs to feed her, I would name her what I pleased.
That night I pondered the fantastical visitations from Deer and Frog. I keep my Medicine Cards book by Jamie Sams next to my bed at all times, and I looked up Frog first. In all the years I’ve owned this book, I can’t remember looking up Frog. How strange is that, given how smitten I am with them?
“If you were to look at where you are today, would you use any of the following words to describe your condition: tired, overloaded, harried, frustrated, guilty, itchy, nervous, at a loss, empty, or weakened?”
I sighed. Deeply. My husband has been sick with pneumonia for a couple of weeks now. More work than usual has been on my plate. Extra doctor visits, extra pharmacy runs, extra housework. Mostly, extra worry. Plus, we are preparing to attend Carter’s daughter’s wedding out of state. This is the first time since we moved to the Northwest that we have to find critter, house, and plant care for a week. Then, there has been my concern for my husband. Will he be well enough, strong enough to handle travel? Am I strong enough to juggle all this? Overloaded? Yes, I think so.
“Is someone draining your energy?” the book continues. “Are you allowing yourself to ride down the tubes with them?…At times, all of life’s activities can be overwhelming, and everyone occasionally needs a break. Contrary Frog can signal one of those moments, but can also portend a time of feeling waterlogged.”
When stressed, I am not my best self. I want to run and hide. I want to leap to another lily pad. I am easily wounded, my feelings quickly hurt. And I can easily go from feeling hurt to feeling hostile. I flipped the pages of the book impatiently and looked up Deer:
“Deer teaches us to use the power of gentleness to touch the hearts and minds of wounded beings who are trying to keep us from Sacred Mountain….If Deer has gently nudged its way into your cards today, you are being asked to find the gentleness of spirit that heals all wounds. … Apply gentleness to your present situation and become like the summer breeze: warm and caring.”
I closed the book with a shamed and humble heart. Frog says, don’t go down the drain of overwhelm and frustration. Deer says, to bypass the drain, step forward with a gentle, loving heart.
And that brings me to Steve Buscemi. I watched a video clip of this actor speaking with Buddhist Nun Ani Trime Lhamo. They were speaking about compassion, and the gracious nun says that it is easy to be kind and compassionate with people we know and people we love. Buscemi says, “It’s also easy to be awful to the ones you love, too. In fact, sometimes I find that’s the hardest time to be kind.” Then he goes on to talk about having anger, and Lhamo says that it’s okay to feel anger. But that doesn’t mean you act on it.
I can relate to Steve Buscemi, while I aspire to the wisdom of Ani Lhamo. Don’t we all? I have never thought of myself as being good at intimate relationships, or even friendships. Having moved around a lot for most of my adult life, I have left too many wonderful people behind and never followed up to try and nurture at least a long distance friendship. In intimate partnerships, I get discouraged, disappointed, and hurt very easily. I have often thought I am at my best when I am alone. This is the introvert and the creative aspect of my ego speaking. Creativity takes energy, and when you are not good at relationships, you let relationships sap your energy. Hence, no creative juices flow.
I get angry. I get hurt. I think hostile thoughts and then feel guilty about them. I rarely act out my anger or hurt. I just get quiet. I think there are a lot of people like me in the world of relationships: The silent, brooding ones who grow thick scars from the tiny verbal pinches mindlessly-thoughtlessly bestowed by others and by the World.
Then, when I’m on the edge of throwing my hands in the air and crawling up into a ball, or saying something curt and hurtful, Deer leaps in front of my car. Frog hunkers down in the river. And I’m struck dumb to think that Spirit would reach out to me—to insignificant, pissy me—with astonishing signs and portents, and care enough about me to say “Cleanse, child. Cleanse away the mud. And baptize yourself in the sweetness of Deer Medicine. Step forward, your heart dressed in nothing but kindness and gentleness. This is the way. This is always the way.”
Frog Medicine. Deer Medicine. Cleanse, refresh, and love. An elegantly simple way to heal self and World. I believe it is the only way that we will find our way. And, while simple, it is not an easy way. True love and compassion, what nun Ami Lhama defines as “true heartfelt giving,” come only after we let go of a lot of icky mental stuff and grimy, old baggage.
I see this in myself. I hold in my hands a pile of stinking mental garbage, and then Deer steps up next to me and requests that I put the garbage down, right now, in this instant. If I want to step forward in gentleness…well…I can’t do it when I’ve got a handful of filth. And I am asked to choose one or the other—the crud or the love. And I find that I have this choice in front of me many times in any given day. At the post office, at the grocery store, at home, on the phone. Someone hurts my feelings, and suddenly, I am less patient with the next person I meet. And so it goes.
Then of course, there is that dear one who is closest to my heart, who I so often treat the worst: Me. Yes, me.
I’ve read that every time you treat someone poorly, it takes five positive actions to reverse the painful effects of that one negative action. Impatience hurts. Sarcasm hurts. It hurts five times terrible. Trust and affection can be killed so easily, and they take such work to rebuild. This one-to-five lesson is a fine tool to apply to your tribe and close relationships. If you want to bark at your spouse or best friend, then get busy working on the five nice and caring things you are going to need to do to erase that bitter taste in your partner’s mouth and heart.
That Five-Kind-Deeds process sounds just about right to me. I would suggest that we all start such a program in our daily lives. If we did, I honestly believe the world could change overnight. Shower the people you know and love with five-times the kindness for every course, impatient tone; every unkind word or deed.
And then take it one giant step forward: Shower your sweet self with five-times the kindness for every harsh word you say to yourself, about yourself.
If we did this, just how much time would anybody have to plan wars or assaults? Perhaps if we all simply treated each other with five-times kindness, no one but sociopaths would stage misery in the world. Deer says that all monsters can be neutralized by gentleness. Even the monster inside each of us.
I can’t make other people be kinder, but I can work on this medicine inside myself. If I can be five-times kinder to those I get short-tempered with, and five-times kinder to myself. It is a beautiful way to start becoming—truly—”the ones we’ve been waiting for.”