not to be born
that Power knows
not to swarm
that Might fears
to be beyond reach
that Someone sees
Last week, I wrote about the dangers of name-calling: how a moment’s letting off steam can seem justified at the time, but it actually reduces our safety and effectiveness.
This week, I found myself delightfully reminded that like all human behaviours, name-calling is serving a beautiful need. Hey, ironically, “name-calling” is itself a name. Another layer of awareness.
It’s not the name-calling itself that’s inherently dangerous – it’s the decisions we make or the harm done as a result of those names. Yes, I am thinking of Trump again … people being detained at airports or having their migration halted, for no other reason than they “look like danger” in the eyes of Someone with power to act. I’m sure you can call to mind easily times when people have made assumptions about you or people you care about which made life more difficult, if not painful.
And yet, names can also help us by providing safety and ease and efficiency and clarity.
Poets to the rescue … again
Imagine a world without nouns. Not just more difficult in many ways … but less joyful too.
It was poetry that reminded me of this. Yep, Mary Oliver again. Last night, her words connected with the string of replies to Robert Okaji’s poem, Wasp. The morning before I read Robert’s poem, I’d found myself surrounded by gleaming-blue buzzing wings on a walking track. My mind exlaimed “wasps” – probably my body tensed a split second before that at some primal level. And adrenalin urged me to get out of there fast.
Naturally, I didn’t stand there searching the internet on my phone to check whether these were indeed wasps. Just like seeing a fin when I’m swimming in the ocean, my body’s wisdom was to assume physical danger (“shark!”) – and whisk me away. In the case the fin, once I’m on the safety of the shore I might see that it was actually dolphin … or in the case of the alleged wasps, I might get home to learn they are a benign and endangered species. But in that moment, research was a luxury I didn’t have. Get to safety, then check my facts!
Today, I walked back and tried to take a photo. I felt nervous, although reasonably safe at a distance. On the ground, nearby, was a body of one of the creatures I’d thought of as wasps. I took a photo. I pondered whether I could repurpose it in some way – carry it home to draw. It seemed sacred. And also scary. If that was indeed a sting at the end of its body, what venom might remain? Impossible to distinguish between reverence and deference … I settled for snapping a blurry photo on my phone. And let a poem and picture flow.
“This sharpest desire”
I still feel no deep drive to name this creature. That said, I’m delighted to appreciate why you might want to look it up. And I’d love to hear what you know about its species name and its part in natural ecosystems.
The quote on my journal page is from Mary Oliver’s poem. It helped me appreciate the beautiful needs that can be met when we mindfully give a name to a thing — when we are conscious that we name something in an attempt to make life more wonderful.
… I bought it home
out of the uncombed morning and consulted
among my books. I do not know
what to call this sharpest desire
to discover a name,
but there it us, suddenly, clearly
illustrated on the page, offering my heart
moment of happiness …
Sometimes I dream
that everything in the world is here, in my room,
in a great closet, names and orderly …
‘Something’ (extract), Mary Oliver
These bodies swarming around the tree are not inherently ‘wasp’ or ‘scary’. Those are names my mind gave them to help me avoid the pain of being stung. If my kids were with me, I imagine that adrenalin would have been further heightened as there’d be my needs for protecting them too.
Or, in situations where we feel no danger, such as Mary Oliver’s walk along the beach, finding the name for something in nature can meet other needs. For example: naming seemed to connect her with transcendence, order … and to joyful creativity that contributes to others too through the words of her poem. The egg case at served one purpose in nature – meeting the needs of the whelk, an ocean shell where young are gestated. Now, Mary Oliver had repurposed that egg case in a way that felt like a higher calling. She connected with and and expressed the wonder of being able to research, learn, order, create.
The safety to value all needs
These swarming blue bodies have reminded me of the mindset that I love to cultivate. I used to believe that some needs are not acceptable – safety, or reassurance or to matter. Which is why I’ve loved learning nonviolent communication and then actively practicing it wherever I can remember.
Needs themselves are simply life: why resist? We give them names to help us try to access them – such as “safety” or “reassurance”. In fact those names are not the needs themselves. I experience the needs as a quality we have within us and flowing between all life, beyond words.
Why not see all needs as naturally and curiously and respectfully as the gleaming as the wings of these creatures … and of life itself in its might and mystery?
As if to illustrate this point, when I put my journal down to take a photo, our kitty plonked himself right on it. Needing attention? To be seen and heard? Affection? Play perhaps?
In my experience, we associate some needs as being something to quash or be wary or embarrassed about. We might have been mocked for our early attempts to meet those needs as children, or experienced the harm of needs being meet in a way that hurt us or others. But it wasn’t the needs themselves. It was the way they were met. We don’t have to attack in fear … we can make life more wonderful by cultivating care and creativity and curiousity about life, including about the names we give and are given.
I’m not proposing that we never remove creatures that are a danger to ourselves or our children. I’m certainly not saying that we keep ourselves in harms way. Quite the opposite. I’m celebrating that our bodies responses are seeking wellbeing for us, which includes the happiness of those around me. Free of shame and self-censure, we can cultivate our skills of awareness and choice: that the name I first give a creature or person or thing may increase suffering … or bring delight.
We are body. We are mind. Both work together to meet our needs in that split second when we think we see a wasp or any potential pain! Even then, in a moment of adrenalin – by growing our daily skills in compassion and creativity, I think we find we have more choices than we first imagined.