Why It's More Important to Pet Your Dog
Than Fight for Freedom

By Claire Wolfe

Exclusive to Sierra Times
Published 09. 12. 02 at 15:06 Sierra Times

Far up the ridge west of Hardyville lies the Hermitage on the Hill. It's here I've taken up residence. I'm cleaning the cobwebs out of an old cabin -- and out of life.

The cabin is smaller than most people's living rooms but it faces a vista of the entire universe. Gazing out over the valley, life appears remarkably different than it does down in the chattering cafes and dusty streets of my little mid-nowhere town.

Those Hardyville folks -- though I love 'em and bless 'em -- make too darned much noise, even when they're talking about freedom. The whole world makes too darned much noise, with its TV and its traffic and its shopping, telephones, offices, politics, and frantic pleasures. My own brain was making too darned much noise. And all that noise gets in the way.

But gets in the way of what? Now that's the tricky part. Because if you want to hear what's behind the noise (and some few of us still do) you can't even tell what's there or whether it's worth knowing until you shut most of the noise out. And shutting it out of your own brain in the last and most important step.

If I were Eastern, I might say you've got to be able to hear the sound of one hand clapping. Or something like that. But I'm Western to the core. So when I sat down and faced the silence and listened, really listened to the messages in the wind without any preconceived notion of what I was there, here's what I heard:

Pet your dog.

Now, I have three dogs, going on four. So dog petting could take up a major slice of life around here. And frankly, that would be fine with the critters -- and with me. I'd rather pet the dogs than face this flickering cathode-ray tube and the latest deadline. But it's not a full-time job, even if (in the dogs' opinions) it should be. So I listened some more and here's what I heard:

Pick the blackberries.

So I picked and canned and jellied and jammed and syruped and froze until the berries remaining on the vines were hard, dry berry mummies, good for nothing but compost.

And then I listened some more (while desktop deadlines screamed and shouted, unheard). And I heard silence.

And it was more profound than anything I've ever heard in my life.

The world was filled with nothingness and awe.

But what's all this in aid of?

Get with the action, Wolfe, some readers are grousing. Tell us how to get free -- how to get fake ID or monkeywrench a database or drive a politician crazy. What is all this navel-gazing blather? Where's the woman who wrote 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution? Surely not one of those 101 items was "sit on your butt and do nothing"?

Well, maybe it should have been. Sit on your butt and do nothing is pretty good advice and I wish I'd thought of it.

I can't credit the person who finally got me to "get" it. Her presence is hidden and secret. An even more mysterious Presence is ultimately responsible for the message. (Don't go getting conspiracy-theorytorial on me; I'm not talking about unseen earthly powers; I'm talking about God.)

But one of the other people who did "get" it and taught it in a down-to-earth way was the famous old labor organizer, Saul Alinsky. He said that every activist leader should spend some time in jail. He said (I'm paraphrasing here) that if you don't spend time in centering and synthesizing, then all your actions will be random and ultimately ineffective. The truly great leaders, from Jesus to Gandhi to Malcolm X, either spent time in prison or in some other form of harsh seclusion from the world before they found the core of their greatness.

This is Truth. It should be announced with trumpets.

In the freedom movement, each one of us must be a leader. We're short on leaders of the follow-me-I'm-charismatic or follow-me-I-have-a-plan kind. And frankly, that's as it should be. Those sorts of leaders nearly always march you right straight into the Valley of Trouble.

But we can't lead ourselves if we don't have a deep inner vision of where we're going -- us personally, as well as what we want our world to be like. And most of us don't have that.

We hurl ourselves at this issue or that (and who could deny that these issues are Urgent?). We fling our votes, dollars, energies, intellect, and time. And win or lose (and losing is usually the case), there's always another issue -- another piece of ghastly legislation, regulation, or policy -- waiting for us to be flung at.

We're like characters in an arcade game, getting killed and getting to our feet again, fighting and getting killed all over again the next time some kid (in our case, some politician or interest-group leader) pops in a quarter.

And this is true even when we take our fight into the unconventional territories I've touted in the past. Sure, it's fine to screw up a database and thwart government control freaks by using six social security numbers and 17 variations on your given name. It's great to store foods, resist taxes, paste up Simon Jester stickers, do un-papered swapping of guns, or whatever.

But without the inner vision, it's all random action. Only with a deep, deep level of commitment that comes from knowing our own hearts and knowing what's behind our own hearts is it ever gonna get us anywhere serious.

We say we value freedom. Some of us say we'd give our lives for it. But would we live our lives for it? Would we even take the time to find out what freedom really, really means to us, way down deep, way, way back beyond the noise of the daily world, way, way, way in the silence of our hearts?

Would we ever do that so that we could then live freedom from our core -- focusing on essentials, on the big picture, the overall pattern, and putting all the daily crap in its lesser place?

The evidence says no. We're too busy doing other things to find out what freedom really is to us. We're too busy making excuses about why we have to do all these other things before we can be free, how we can't take certain risks because they're just ... well, too risky. Basically, we're just too busy rushing along through our days, doing the things that are really important to us. The fact that we're doing, doing, doing shows that we value the daily junk more than we value what we say we value.

We think we can get freedom through action only. It's the American Way. The American Way has its virtues. But if we don't just stop, shut up, pet the dog, pick the berries, and sit, sit, sit and listen to the universe that lies hidden in our own hearts, and do it all really profoundly, with meaning, then we'll never achieve freedom.

Because we'll never even know what it is.