all posts, community, mental health, miscellaneous, nature/the environment

the night school (part 1)

cold dark eerie environment
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I like finding free things to do online (21 days of yoga, weekly journal prompts, etc). I don’t always carry through with many of them, but I enjoy the challenge and the game of setting up something to do, and usually am drawn towards things that involved a lot of self reflection.

This particular project is called The Night School by Maia Toll. I am doing the “part-time” option, which means I will be focusing on the weekly writing prompts (because I don’t have the time or attention span to watch the discussion and ritual videos… I’m still not super into watching videos that require intense focus). But even so, just doing the weekly prompts includes readings from her book (see below) and some general context and discussion points. I look forward to seeing what comes of doing it for the “semester”.

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This week’s assignment was: What in the world feels alive to you and what feels lifeless? Why? Examine your preconceptions.

What feels alive to me? I think I define aliveness too literally, but the email also goes into detail about the energies of things which I find easier to relate to. When I was growing up in Maryland we lived near a small woods. The woods were cool because you couldn’t really get lost in them (it was fairly easy to run out into some neighborhood), but if you knew your way, you could walk through the woods to get all the way to the C&O canal without having to pass really anyone’s homes. I often went into these woods when I was annoyed or upset, or just when I wanted to bike/run through, and if it was getting later in the day and darkness started creeping in (as it always did in the woods before the neighbors since there were so many trees) I remember at some point I started talking to the woods asking for safe passage. I specifically would say the same phrase every time, in French, because I thought the language was older and thus more likely that the trees would know it. Now it’s also interesting because I never had the feeling that the woods were hostile or required me to ask for safe passage, but I always felt it deserved the respect of the question anyway, and that more likely the woods would protect me from something else. In other way, I never had anything bad or shady happen to me in the woods and I continue to visit it when I visit my parents.

Now living in the city where I do I have become much more anxious than I used to be. Part of it was working through my own neuroses of being a stay-at-home mom in a culture where that is very unusual (I am also a young mom in this particular city culture). But even as I work through that hurdle, I realize the city itself makes me anxious. It has such haphazard energy all the time. It is alway noisy during the day (July and September seem to be when all the road construction happens), but it’s also a tiny city that has narrow streets and crazy road patterns, and yet the same 1/4 mile strip of street will be shared with 3 separate road construction projects, 50+ cyclists who have to weave into car traffic to pass one another or to turn, pedestrians that no one can see due to parked cars, standing aside cross walks that have varying degrees of visibility (from electronically lit up to make shift single cones denoting the spot on the sidewalk where they should start to cross). The energy is impatient. People are constantly walking around, no smiles to spare (I often try to say hello to humans on principle and get a range of results). Though the speed isn’t always fast, the tempo varies abruptly as though the very act of having to engage with one another is a burden. And the chug of cars is never-ending. We have driven at all times and find that 3am to 8am is a pleasant time to drive on a weekend in the city. On a weekday, it’s more like 3am to 7am. The weather can be obnoxious, from sun beating down at all angles (it’s literally always directly in our faces when we drive in any direction in the morning) and the winds pick up strong enough to blow away our baby on account of the various wind tunnels created by lots of buildings and few trees. It feels chaotic and it often makes me agitated to encounter it. It took me a long time to realize that this pulse of energy existed and how it impacted me but over time it has become more clear.

Now that is not to say there aren’t pockets that are more peaceful. I keep finding some but the problem is they are hard to get too or fleeting in nature. For example, I jogged through the tree-part of the city to get to an open house for a toddler music class, and minus the fear of being late, the whole adventure was quite relaxing. It had the iconic early fall feel and the class was very cute. That kind of energy emitted a peace that I crave often, and as such, I’ll definitely be taking Fi back, but always by foot if possible.

Examining my preconceptions… well in a nutshell it would seem to follow the standard assumption of city = bad energy, and woods = good energy. But it could be argued that the reason I enjoyed my parents’ woods was because it was near enough to civilization that I never had to feel lost or in real danger. And it could be argued that there are cities that can exude a good time of peaceful energy, particularly ones that are not so jammed with traffic, have more explicit community, and dedicate more time to their green spaces equally across their land. And I know I personally wouldn’t enjoy living in a large woods all alone. I like people- or well, I like community. I think both extremes: alone in a large wood and emotionally alone in a dense city have the same energy to me, fearful. There is something I find primally terrifying about being alone. And not in a “I’ll have to do things for myself kind of way” but in a “no one will have your back if something goes wrong” kind of way. So resonant energies that feel good to me have to leak some kind of energy that feels communal. A crowded Boston T train doesn’t feel communal because everyone is looking out for themselves, usually annoyed to be on the train, and avoiding eye contact with one another, pretending they are alone while sandwiched like sardines. The idyllic memoirs of people traveling in European trains not so long ago had more of the communal feel, with older adults looking out for young children traveling alone, with space on trains to sit and eat, with an impetus to reach out and connect to your neighbor if for no other reason that to pass the time (and that was not unique to Europe, I just happened to have read a French memoir more recently).

Anyway, I’ll stop there for now. My brain has travelled off on to other things.

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