“Yesterday I got a call from the outside world,
but I said no in thunder.
I was a dog on a short chain,
and now there is no chain.”
Jim Harrison, Montana poet
I was hiking on the Skyline Loop Trail at Mount Rainier. It could not have been more beautiful. Mount Rainer is, after all, Wildflower Heaven, and I felt as though I had ascended into this beautiful Eden.
A voice broke the peaceful silence in my mind, and it seemed to be unnecessarily vociferous. LOL, ok, I chose that big word over boisterous because I felt like it fit the situation better. You could say that this person was being blatantly clamorous or obstreperous – insistently loud so as to compel attention.
I turned around expecting to see an entire tour bus of people in columns of two facing a “mountain” of a figure. But no, coming up on my left was a young couple in their twenties with one guy, my own short stature, leading them along.
Now this guy was decked out! He had all the bright and shiny band new gear that you would need for a trek up to the mountain top. Right?
Sombriolet Sun Hat ($42), Smartwool Neck Gaiter ($30), Silver Ridge Long Sleeve Shirt ($55), Sahara Rollup Cargo Pants ($60), Firefall Insulated Jacket ($285), Timberland Hiking Boots ($113 – on sale). On one of the straps on his Gregory Baltoro Backpack ($330), he sported a Benchman 945BK-1 Mini Osborne G10 Knife ($175), that had obviously not been unsheathed except to graze longingly onto the Butterfly logo.
Of course I didn’t check, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he was wearing Icebreaker Boxer Briefs ($45) and a pair of Merino Baselayer Long Underwear ($85).
This guy was a walking, talking, $1,220 dressed REI manikin. I half expected to see some Sherpas transporting a miniature city on their backs to set up base camp to prepare to summit Rainier at its stunning 14,410 feet.
Now of course, I’m being a bit sarcastic and I really don’t want to poke too much fun at this guy, but it was clear that he was trying to create a persona. An Identity. An image. A hologram of himself as the great adventurer. Wilderness survival guy. And he needed that identity as he was selling himself for guided tours on the trails around Rainier. Not that you needed a guide on this particular trail; perhaps on one of the other more difficult ones.
The guide’s eyes and mine locked for an instant, and he turned away abruptly as my mind read the pages of his. My ragtag, well-worn and torn clothing and gear, hat, bandana, and daypack included, probably totaled up to about $130 bucks. The most expensive item being the 100% organic cotton underwear I had on. 😊
But I’ll wager that I could build a shelter and get a fire going faster than wilderness-man could.
And looking deeper into the idea of “image,” was this tour-guide just a bought and paid for accessory, a cardboard cutout trope his group of two wanted to have in tow? To incorporate into their own alter egos? Or maybe they simply didn’t know anything about hiking and felt that they really needed a guide?
All just conjuncture on my part. Who knows?
But this story is not intended to be about egos, chest thumping, bragging, or bantering. It’s not about hiking at Rainer (which will be in a future story).
It’s about how we choose to define ourselves.
We often cling to identities we fabricate in our minds, and then we try to live up to that portrayal. Lights, camera, action! Spin up that theme song! Maybe we will successfully assimilate that costume or maybe we won’t, but that is the guise we believe we are projecting – outside and in.
And our personal identities can change and shift over time. Perhaps with the blinking of an eye if we so choose.
Over the years, I’ve known some who wrap their career titles into their names, their image, and their very Souls. Some who have tried to fill a likeness that was simply beyond their skill mastery at that moment in time. Or far worse, they adopt a persona that binds them. Entraps them. Imprisons them. Like a Lion in a cage. Pacing back and forth.
If we do this, we become Shackled! Tied to that identity.
I’ve said many times in my writings that words do matter, and they are extremely powerful. I remember talking to a work colleague of mine and her saying how people who have been subjected to violent crime and lived would rather be referred to as “Survivors,” not “Victims.” The same with people who win the battle with cancer. They are Survivors.
Now you can see the mindset here I’m talking about. A positive one versus a negative one. So, let’s look at some pairing of words.
Obedient or Disobedient?
Happy or Unhappy?
Sane or Crazy?
Light or Heavy?
Dark or Light?
Enlightened or Ignorant?
Afraid or Brave?
Capable or Incapable?
Winner or Loser?
Once one of these words is applied, and such a dissimulation is adopted, then the person becomes bound by the definition of the word(s) creating that image.
That’s how powerful words are.
Once that state of mind becomes incorporated into the person’s identity, their personal history, it is manifested in its entirety as their image. Their Being. The magic spell has been cast.
And that can include physical and psychological attributes.
An example is having a chronic disease. Are you going to surrender to the disease and adopt all of its believed limitations once you have a diagnosis? Or are you going to be the person who fights the disease at every turn? Defies any limitations? One who proves the doctors are wrong?
The distinction is important, because, in this instance, you can lose yourself to the disease. You can actually make yourself more ill. You can limit yourself unnecessarily. You can cease to live and, instead, only exist.
Believe it or not, the response one takes to the self-image they’ve appropriated is a choice.
Now I can tell you that once people begin identifying themselves in these manners, they often want all with the same espoused label to become part of their club. Speak only their lingo. Stay within the lines on those paint-by-number kits.
And never decide to switch from green to red.
They don’t want you to be different, or healthy, or pain-free, or just plain free, because that would invalidate their adopted image that came bundled with all of those limitations harbored under those magic words. If they’ve become trapped, they want you to be trapped too. In that same cage.
If you exhibit any behaviors outside of the defined borders, then you cannot possibly be part of their group.
I’ve experienced this recently in a support group I joined, where several members were outlining their litmus test for the parameters of their diseases. Apparently, if you didn’t pass their test, you were not authentically ill, and you must be a “troll” trying to disguise your way into the group in order to disrupt it somehow. If you were healthy in any certain degree, you were to be envied, or maybe even feared. But certainly despised and discredited.
You, for sure, weren’t one of “them.”
It seems to me that some of this group’s members felt persecuted or felt like outcasts, but their actions and beliefs were becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were the ones doing the exclusion and they wished to wrap themselves in the flag of persecution. And this us-versus-them mentality does become a tight bond for some. (See Disclaimers Below).
They can create a competitiveness to sink to the bottom instead of rising to the top.
Now if you do get trapped, how do you break free? Does it take the force of an F-5 tornado? An Earthquake that is off the chart on the Richter Scale? Are tragic emotional or physical circumstances needed to set yourself free?
Well, speaking for myself only, there have been several major events in my life that forced me to face my fears, cast off self-imposed limitations, and reinvent myself. Shed skins and adopt a new identity. Not totally reborn, but assimilating new knowledge, traits, and skills. And acquiring new wisdom.
Following those “wake up” events, I pushed myself to the limits of my physical and mental capacity, stared death in the face, and hiked my way home.
I became a “Survivor.”
Is it necessary to take every experience to the limit, to the edge of death, to the brink of barely surviving, to feel like you’re taking your last breath, in order to feel resurrected again?
Perhaps. Perhaps not.
I did, and I’m glad I did. I don’t want to become Pigeonholed. Pedantic. Bromidic. Prosaic. A monochrome picture.
I’m not a one-trick pony.
So think about it: Are you going to choose to be Disabled, or Able? Imprisoned or Free? Join the walking dead . . . the Phantoms?
I say live.
Cast off those shackles and take it to the limit!
“I did not want to live out my life in the strenuous effort to hold a ghost world together. It was plain as the stars that time herself moved in grand tidal sweeps rather than the tick-tocks we suffocate within, and that I must reshape myself to fully inhabit the earth rather than dawdle in the sump of my foibles.”
Copyright: All my words and pics are copyrighted and cannot be used in any manner without express permission of the author – Me
Photos: The feature photo is a field of beautiful Lupines. Next we have an Avalanche Lily, with me taking the picture looking from the ground up. A Wildflower Selfie. Fun stuff. And finally, Mount Rainier from the “Sunrise” region of the Park. It was hard to get a clear shot with the clouds that day, but not too bad. 🙂
Disclaimers: First off, in this post I’m speaking in generalities that are obviously not going to apply to every person or every situation.
Next, When I speak about identities and illness, I’m not trying to invalidate the effects any disease can cause. Many diseases have very devastating effects, and people aren’t choosing illnesses at random to have an affliction. What I am saying is that we have the power, at least to a limited extent, to choose how we react to those circumstances.
Also, there are legal ramifications for some based upon whether or not they have a “disability” and are “disabled.” I am in no way saying it is improper to adopt such a term when it comes to medical treatment or available social services. I am saying we do not need to disable ourselves further in our responses to illnesses.
And finally, I have to say, I could be totally wrong about my interpretations here as my mind is prone to error, just like everyone else’s. 🙂