Mental wellness, Earth-spiritual practice,  Ecosexuality, Poetry.

Sue Westwind writes from America’s prairie woodlands.

Dear fellow monk in the woods,

The subject line of this email reads, simply, or deceptively: “A thought.” In truth I can’t decide if it’s a thought or a vision begging to have words.

I wonder what qualifies as an actual vision though. I woke up knowing some Sue-shaped version of truth that I burned to tell you. It’s not the first time this one demanded the stage. An insight that I forever grasp then lose, but each time a whopper. (Oh no, the whiff of certainty: you hate that. But I have to stand by what I saw this time.)

When does a sudden understanding cross the line from wake the eff up! into a “vision?” You and I are acquainted with a certain person, manipulative and so addicted to the Win he will hurt anyone—who also attests that he “has visions.” He is a Christian. Does this mean a vision is only valid stamped if a nameable religion encompasses the visionary? Then count me out, for my God/dess never offers revelation based on ownership of my soul, never demands a tithe of adulation for putting in a word here and there. Regardless of origin, these might be words that you may not want  to hear.

Not all is lost if you reject this, because as it’s been said a million times: whatever we find uncomfortable in another person contains a truth about ourselves. I am That. A good reason I should stop this soliloquy and simply work on myself? Even when the thing bleats its obvious universality. And simplicity. And necessity.

How is it that minds constantly lose the indisputably higher ground—by selfishly grasping for a better moment to inhabit than Now? My “vision,” if it is that has been well worn in the hands of others who truly manage to hold higher ground. For example.

I wish that the teacher who engages you, the honored Buddhist monk Thich Nat Hanh, talked as much about love as he does peace. Like the Dalai Lama who needed to be tutored on Westerners lack of self-esteem I bet he never grew up with the boatload of shame that we do in the West. Shame is the wrench in the works, and today there are few cultures who escape. But if you let what I’m going for in a minute here really touch you, if only once you let it wash in, you might find a place to rest between the frustrations, major trials, and hissy fits of your gargantuan task: overthrowing addiction.

I woke up thinking about how you have said more than once you’ll never rely on anyone because what if you might sorely need them someday—and what if they’re not there? It struck me that what you are proposing, to never have to find that someone’s not there for you—hence you never rely on anyone, is an infantile frustration met by an adult MacGyver hack. The word is descriptive, not pejorative: an infant’s expectation is unconditional love—the one thing they deserve the most—and we never criticize them for that. But now that we’re all grown up . . .

We have to let others let us down. Maybe even to use our adult words in order to knock again and say, hey, can you be there for me, did you hear me, did you mean to shut the door or did I get that wrong? Maybe even to accept that our chosen listener is imperfect, depleted, disillusioned, can’t hear let alone respond. But will everyone be the same disappointing, rejecting, empty bowl? Once bitten twice shy and then we re-make the world with Fear because even illusion—or worse, stagnation—is so damn safe.

The only unconditional love we’ll ever feel again, say the true believers, is God’s. I accept this in principle and it’s the reason I go into the trees and praise water, but I am often too fear-full (shame-locked) to embody it when the door hits me on the way back into the houses of human contact.

My worry for you, for me, for us all, is that we will wear ourselves out with fear, a fear in the end that is of being too imperfect to deserve love. Wear ourselves out by trying, trying, trying to prove it isn’t so, but at the same time, stuck in the certainty that no one can deliver the goods.

I recently rode a wave about discipline inspired by the Tarot card known as The Chariot (card number VII in the Major Arcana). The results were disastrous. I went too far. I thought I could focus my will to protect someone but it wasn’t my place. I had my doubts about doing it, but because I was so careful not to put one ounce of negativity toward the harm-doers into it the effort, I believed my will would triumph. Instead, police were seen leaving the supposedly protected yet incredibly vulnerable one’s house. I went into hyper-fear mode: the Chariot crashed. We just cannot foresee the unforeseen, but even so I wonder how often does the force of will backfire?

I’m reminded of an old friend’s story about what occurred in the aftermath of a murder. Her husband, who peacefully smoked a lot of weed, was prescribed an off-label drug for an unrelated but persistent ailment he’d developed. He proceeded to undergo huge personality changes and to the entire community’s horror, killed a young man. The drug was put on trial with much expert testimony, and the jury was hung. But previously, with her spouse in jail awaiting his momentous court date, my friend tried to contact God for benediction upon the whole terrifying matter while naked in the shower, arms upraised in supplication. She froze. I think her aunt found her, immovable, the water a frigid onslaught. It was deemed she needed to go away for a while. She wrote to me: “there were two things I dreaded and never thought would happen. One, a mouse ran up my pant leg. Two, I went crazy.”

How many times have we thought we’re going crazy and unsuccessfully tried to apply force against a feared future? Love or some other word for it—a word that has to include oneself—is the antidote but can’t get its work done without gentleness and surrender. Thich Nat Hanh did speak of these things and embodied them.

No more running, then stabs at fixing, then trying some more, chasing that nebulous thing, Perfection,  a trek which is so vague and unattainable as to cover up what really needs to happen—the nitty grit of coming to terms with a fear-filled childhood and the adult one has become.

Right now, your will is steely and your confidence strong. My vision is a wish that gentleness and surrender be added to your list of strategies. This is so hard because you drank to block out negative thoughts about yourself. The edict to man-up and don’t look back is also pervasive. I get it, but have heroic efforts alone ever been able to grant a final release from the Bad Guy story?

Here’s the thing about addiction, which I know from my own struggles, and you’ve heard me reprise it often enough. No one can make you do anything. You reject the 12 Steps, after heartily embracing the first one: you admitted you were powerless over alcohol. Brave, that was! You are on your way, and your need to appear strong is a fine fake-it-till-you-make-it for now.

But I wanted you to know I hold firm to this hard place: I need to not obsess on your progress, I need to get back on my own Sue-path. However . . . just one more thing?

I ask that you stop hiding in your man cave and hang out with someone, anyone, who wants to help you during this whirlwind of trials. “Support” makes reverberating sense to me. But in coming to know an alcoholic as well as I do you, I know what it’s like to lose every single thing you thought you had with the person. I must ask myself, once again, to release my focus on whatever it is you choose to do.

I went back into my journal writings from summer to be reminded how much I’d given up on thoughts about your drinking because I’d accepted a facsimile of peace as a bridge to compassion. I doubted you’d ever change and I was moving on—on the inside. When you surprised me with the news that you’d quit, what a great teaching it was: everything changes, even us. Thank you—more for the surprise than for the quitting, which wasn’t for anyone else and never should be.

So, midst admiration for the cold-turkey leap you took, I’m navigating “what next and how not to become invested.” What it’s like to stand by someone so humanly changeable and in that sense not knowable.

I do want to learn more about non-attachment, the Buddha’s strength that deflated his demons. As always, the practice re-opens the wildlands of my own growth-possibilities, and that gate unlocked with a vision or with surprise does promise more solid moments of joy—you know, for doing things like making snow angels on the ground. And at my age too!

Be well and remember to rest, and dammit, to play,


Making a snow angel by T. McL.

Handcuffed to glass Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash
Viewer and fence Photo by Brandon Cormier on Unsplash
Woman at lake Photo by iam_os on Unsplash

Sue Westwind

Writer interested in the earthspiritual and eco-erotic, who seeks to learn and share ways we can solve our mental health crisis through alternatives to medication that heal mind, body, and spirit.


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