18 November

Frieda: A True Christmas Story

by Jon Katz
Frieda: A Christmas Story

When Frieda came into my life, she had to live in a barn across the street from the Bedlam Farm farmhouse. She went after all of the animals on the farm, and the sight of the dogs – especially Rose – sent her into a frenzy. It was tough on Maria to have to keep Frieda in a barn – we had a wood stove in there and  fed it through the wintry nights. I wanted to bring Frieda into the house, but neither Maria nor I believed it would happen. All year I worked on training her, giving her beef jerky, sitting with her, getting her to walk with me, trying calming training.

After six months, she allowed me to touch her and put a leash on her, but she would still lose control, go crazy around the dogs, snarling, lunging, barking. I was  stumped, discouraged at the prospect of getting her into the house by Christmas. It was to be my Christmas gift to Maria.

And then I had a dream. In the dream, I was walking in the Adirondack wilderness where Frieda had been abandoned and lived for several years. I had taken her there as part of my research into her life for the book on her I have just finished writing and in the dream, we returned there.

In the dream, I was walking in the woods, Frieda running through the forest alongside of me. I eventually came to a clearing, and I was startled to find Frieda waiting for me.”Frieda,” I said, “I don’t know what else to do, to try. I am stumped. What can I do to get through to you, to calm you down? I hoped you could be in the house with Maria by Christmas. But now, I don’t know…”

Frieda did not speak in the dream, but I heard a voice, clear and deep and distinct. It said, simply: “Trust me.”

And I woke up from the dream, trembling and shaken and I realized that this was the one thing I had not done. I had trained Frieda but I had not trusted her, had not given her the chance to succeed.

A few days later, on Christmas eve, Maria was at work at the home for the emotionally disturbed where she worked and I walked over to the barn and opened the door for Frieda. I put a leash on her – she grabbed my arm but did not tear it off – and I walked her across the street through the snow to the farmhouse. I opened the door and Rose, Izzy and Lenore were all standing stiffly on the other side of the door and I told them all to get back, which they did, and Frieda, the hair on her mane up, growling softly, walked into the room by a snarling Rose, a dog who never backed down – I held my breath and unleashed her – and she walked right past the other dogs and up to the wood stove, which was warm, and she lay down next to it and went to sleep. She had come home, I could see it and feel it. It was over. It would be all right.

The other dogs went to their usual places and lay down.

A few hours later, I heard the back door open and Maria came into the house and I heard the sweetest words: “Frieda, you’re in the house!” And I saw Frieda roll into Maria’s arms and the two of them just held close to one another for the longest time. It was the best Christmas gift I had ever given.

18 November

Self-Portrait: The Fearful Mind In The Hyper Nation

by Jon Katz
The Fear Machine

I have felt for some time now that I am living inside of a fear machine, one that is increasingly difficult to avoid or escape, but is increasingly important to learn how to avoid and escape. Everyone has their own definitions of the elements of the fear machine, some different from mine.

Every day, I am challenged to find my place living around this growing machine. You can live in the world or hide from the world and many days I’m not sure I wish to do either.

There is the political fear machine, the legal fear machine, the culture of warnings and dangers, the government regulation warning and fear machine, the Armageddon warning machine, the cultural Dystopian and literary machine,  the left-right anger and fear machine,  the medical fear machine, the weather fear machine, the media machine, the social media warning and engagement machine (more and more notifications warnings, alerts and messages), the text warning system, the corporate fear and warning machine, the banking and credit card fear and warning machine. The world of text codes, multiple passwords, cover-your-butt regulations and letters, security codes and questions (ok, so who was my best friend in the 3rd grade during the holiday season?), you can pay your bills and check your bank account online, 24/7, and all of the boundaries in your life will vanish. Expect your credit card bills at 7 a.m. Sunday, just as you are getting up to feed the donkeys. There are no days off in the Fear Machine, no breaks in the clouds, no holidays to be  respected.

And then, the biggest warning machine of them all, the growing realization across the spectrum that men are ruining the world, despoiling the environment, ravaging economies, waging war and genocide, awash in greed and violence. We are porous. Fear is a contagion.

A spiritual life depends on space, peace and perspective. Life in the Fear Machine sees all of these things as dangerous, antithetical to profit. See what the Corporate Nation has done to our simplest and purest national holiday – Thanksgiving – turning into a massive and often hysterical bargain hunt right in the middle of a holiday that was sacrosanct even a few years ago. Kids all across the country say Thanksgiving is about buying cool stuff cheap. Nothing is more important than fun. Bring sneakers, ID for hospitals and police, research your bargains, make lists, bring cells to call for help. Life in the hyper nation.

How does one function and go through life in the midst of all of these warnings, arguments?

Fight back.  Build boundaries. Turn off your Facebook alerts. Connect and share less. Run off and buy a farm. Meditate every morning. Brush a donkey once a day. Herd sheep with a border collie. Watch chickens peck for bugs. Take dogs for a walk. Avoid status alerts, nobody needs to know where I am.  Do not have a TV in the house. Avoid tests and pills if possible. Do not watch “the news.” Meditate every evening. Seek love, every day. Do not argue your life, or join in arguments about other people’s lives. Do not judge other people, give unsought advice, or tell other people how to live or what to do.  Avoid anger, in yourself, in the legions of angry children of the modern world. Avoid labels like left or right.

Refuse to believe that money brings security. Follow your heart. Be creative. Take photos. Write stories, light the creative spark.

Small tools, maybe, on a small scale. It’s not a battle but a search for survival.   It’s not about them. It’s about me.

18 November

A Gradual Awakening: Meditation And My Mind

by Jon Katz
Gradual Awakening

I am excited by the evolution in my meditations. I have a meditation coach, Pam White, a friend and an artist and a photographer and insight coach and a life-long student of meditation and she is teaching me how to go deeper, and how to use meditation to calm my mind, enhance my health and bring me so much closer to understanding who I am. This is awakening for me, and it is a long and gradual and never-ending process. Our culture and some religions emphasize the nature of revelation – in the movies we hug the shrink, burst into tears and see the truth – but for me, understanding comes in small steps, taken in a disciplined and focused way. I will not one day discover the Lord, but will find the light inside of me, one step at a time.

Pam is showing me how to use my breathing to focus my thoughts, and to bring me more deeply into meditation, where I see the runaway train that is my mind. I see fearful and angry and resentful thoughts whizzing past me, one boxcar full of another with old, toxic and rusty stuff. I see the way my mind works, see what comes up and how my neural system was so condition to fear and judgement and anger, the demon brothers of the subconscious. Seeing how this works helps me detach a bit from it, objectify it, distance myself from it. And I am replacing those cars with new ones, new ideas,

In recent weeks this meditation has been especially frightening and disturbing, like stirring up the sludge at the bottom of a pond, I think. There have been some awful moments seeing this fear disturbed and unleashed. And fear is arrogant, willful. It has always worked to shape my life, and it is not a quitter. But I am determined too, my life will not be lived in fear.

This week, I am feeling the positive impact of the new meditative tools Pam is giving me as well more strongly and clearly. I can’t change if I don’t understand myself and I have been working to do that for years, day and night, a journey from the awful abyss to pills and doctors to awakening and therapy to spirituality, spiritual counselors, reading, meditation and a search for understanding. In meditation, I come face to face with the fear, nose-to-nose, I have never been so close to it. I accept it, welcome it, even love it, it has been with me for so long. It is  moving away from me, and I am moving away from it. This is whee I am determined to go, this is my intention. I am so excited about my life and the opportunity I have to finally see the truth about myself, to let go of the way of thinking that nearly ruined my life, but will not get another crack at me.

Meditation has been a powerful journey for me, and I treasure it more and more ever day.

As a shrink told me five years ago, it can change your life. It is changing mine.

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