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dog on Gunflint Trail

“There are stories of animals that have been bred in captivity experiencing the terror of the open door. It might seem counterintuitive, but captive animals often have the good sense to know their chances of survival in the wild are uncertain at best. The prospect of running away or flying off is simply too painful and frightening. So they stay put in the sanctuary of the cage… The instinct for liberty may be deeply ingrained, but we are all captive in someway to something… The cage of habit. The cage of ego. The cage of ambition. The cage of materialism. The line between freedom from fear and freedom from danger is not always easy to discern.” ~ Kyo Maclear, “Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation”

Last weekend, Steve and I and the dogs were at Gunflint Lodge for my 60th birthday escape. As we drove along Lake Superior towards our destination, the sky was cloudy and gray, as it had been for days. The wind whipped the expanse of blue Superior water into a white capped frenzy. Waves ran towards the shore where they struck against black rocks and the cliffside, sending fountains of white water spraying into the air. We passed by a couple spots where surfers, clad in wet suits and carrying surf boards headed towards this welcome gift of raucous water.

Lake Superior

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Dog looking out at Mississippi River

How does one get unstuck? You know, that kind of stuck where you can’t seem to carve out enough time (or what you believe is enough time) to do a decent job at something so you do nothing.

We’ve all seen the articles that tell us that we DO have enough time if something is REALLY important to us. Often what we say we value is not backed up by how we actually spend our time.

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walking dogs by Mississippi River

I used to try and vary the route I walked my dogs. Occasionally, I even drove to state parks that were hours away to spice things up. Then I noticed that I was the only one who found walking the same area boring. My dogs didn’t care.

Every time we headed out, it was as though it was the first time — new smells, new animals, new people. Moving with their noses pointing up in the air or dragging along the ground, they found a new scent story on every trip.

dogs sniffing the snow

I decided to try out an awareness exercise I read about in the book “The Not So Big Life,” by Sarah Susanka. I was to look, listen and smell, without putting a name to what my senses took in. Then do the same kind of observations, only attach the names to the sights and sounds and smells.

What I found is that without naming what I observed, I noticed colors and shapes and the contrast of light and shadow.  I heard sounds in volumes, directions, and characteristics such as high or low, percussive or long and flowing — I even heard the space between the sounds.

When I began to put names to things (crow, wind, footsteps), they became just another familiar word — letters that encompassed a group of assumptions.

It’s easier to think and talk with words that quickly define a thing. But was “easy” and “quick”what I wanted?

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