Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Coyotes and Bears and Ladders, Oh My

When I moved to Whistler last summer I worried about my cat, Stan.  With snowy winters, he wouldn’t be able to go out year ‘round like he’d done when we were living at the coast.  How would I acclimatize him to indoor living?      

Sometimes these things have a way of working themselves out.
One sunny but crisp fall day, Stan goes out into the ravine behind our house.  After about an hour I call to him like I normally do; he doesn't do our usual call-and-response.  No big deal - he might be hunting, I think.  An hour later I call again - nothing.  That's odd.  
I walk into the ravine.  After twenty minutes, I see a coyote running out of the ravine and I chase it.  Now I am looking for a cat body.  But I find nothing.  No fur, no blood.  And Stan would be easy to spot - his tuxedo jacket stands out against any natural background.  I walk in increasingly larger concentric circles around where I spotted the coyote.  Two hours of calling and walking.  More calling.  Then, crying.  
Finally, I go to where I often see Stan - near the pond - and for no apparent reason I look up.  Stan's high up in a tree.  I call to him.  His eyes are giant yellow discs.  He makes no noise.  His legs are shaking.  His tail is the size of his entire body.  I call and try to coax him to come down.  
He is walking around and around the tree because the branches are all at the same level REALLY HIGH UP and he hasn’t figured out that he’d going to have to take a leap of faith to work his way down.  So he keeps going 'round and 'round.  Occasionally he freezes, then looks off to the left.  I ask, what is it, Stan?  And he keeps freezing and looking off to the left and it’s distracting him from the task at hand so I tell him I’m going to check it out.  
I march off in the direction he was looking and I stop when I see, not twenty meters away, a black bear lying in a hollow tree stump.  I back my way over to Stan and continue to coax him down - quietly now - and it’s become a bit more urgent, but he's not coming down because he's SMART.  So I fall into this rhythm of calling to Stan to come down and then running over to where I can see if the bear is still lying down and then running back to call to Stan.  
After about fifteen minutes of napping (probably made less restful by all the whisper-calling and scurrying nearby), the bear rises and moves off up the ravine, silent and graceful despite its size.    
Which is great, but I still have a cat up a tree going around and around.  It's then I hear someone unfold a ladder somewhere nearby because, in my hyper-vigilant state, my hearing is bionic.  I walk up the ravine to find this ladder.  In another area of our development, there are two young men painting a patio.  I say I want to borrow their ladder.  They say it's their only way down.  I say I’ll only be a minute.  
I take the ladder which turns out to be a heavy, telescoping ladder which keeps folding and unfolding.  The quickest way down to Stan’s tree is a 60-foot-high semi-terraced rock wall, so I start to drag the ladder down the rock wall but first I need to get it through a narrow part between the wall and a metal fence.  The ladder makes a TERRIBLE scraping sound as I jam it through, and I yell to the young men (who can hear all this but can’t see anything because of the angle): ladder's fine, ladder’s okay!  I am almost at the bottom of the rock wall and getting closer to Stan’s tree and the ladder unfolds one more time making an ungodly sound and then I hear what could only be a cat... clawing-sliding his way down a tree.  

I drop the ladder and run over to the tree.  Yep, Stan's down.  Safely, I assume.  And now I need to get the ladder back UP the rock wall.  I do, though it almost kills me.  I set the ladder up again below the patio for the young men and one of them says, did you get your cat down?  And I say, uhm.. in a manner of speaking.  

So I get some banana bread out of the freezer and give it to the two young men and they say thanks and then I find Stan.  And the interesting thing is that he hasn't really wanted to go out since then.   

Stan's X-ray

Friday, 2 March 2012

Be Your Own Best Friend: See Yourself Whole

Recently a friend of mine - let's call her Barbara because that is her real name - got into an argument with her partner as he was leaving for work.  At one point her partner said there wouldn't be any problems in the relationship if Barbara didn't start them; she was the source of all of their problems.

Now normally Barbara would become inflamed and then race up her ladder of inference and stand at the top of that ladder like King Kong, grasping a very small woman dressed in tatters (though in this case it would be a medium-sized man in business attire).  But she's been reading this book called "Working with the Law: 11 Truth Principles for Successful Living" by Raymond Holliwell.  And while there are many things that caught her eye in this book the one that got activated at that very moment is the Law of Least Resistance: when you encounter an obstacle, flow around it.

So, when Barbara heard she was the source of all of their problems, instead of engaging and defending (e.g. I am NOT!  You cause problems too, you know!) she said: "if that really is true for you, then: 1. this sounds like a terrible relationship for you, being with someone who causes problems that you can do nothing about, and, 2. you must be Jesus Christ."

Granted, her emotions may have gotten the better of her with that second point.  BUT, what's great about her response is that the two of them didn't fall into their usual pattern - they didn't escalate.  And, after a brief (surprised) silence her partner said, "I have to go to work."  Barbara pictured him strapping on a cross as he headed out the door, but instead he just got in the car and backed down the driveway like always.

Her partner gone, Barbara replayed the conversation over (and over) (and over).  She started lining up clever come-backs like: "I'm not the source of all of our problems, YOU are."  Then she started thinking about how he never takes responsibility for his role in disagreements.  Furthermore, she thought, his therapist doesn't seem to be helping him with this... his therapist probably doesn't take responsibility either... probably blames everything on his partner... how convenient.  I know Barbara, and this went on for longer than she'd want to own up to.

While putting the finger puppets away, it occurred to Barbara that it didn't matter if her partner thought that she was the source of all of their problems because it's untrue, mainly because it's impossible; in any relationship both people contribute.  So why did it get traction?  Turns out that while she knows it's technically impossible that she causes all of their problems, often she feels like such a big mess that she wonders if they wouldn't have so many issues if she just got herself together.  On some level she believed it.  It's then she realized she needed to change how she feels about herself and how she presents herself in relationships.

So how does Barbara present herself in relationships?  She is willing to talk about her issues and her process.  Great!  Sort of.  But it's lop-sided: it looks like only Barbara has issues.  And with all the focus on her and her issues, there's no opportunity for her partner to look at his issues (not that he minds this).  Plus, he can feel good about supporting her in working through her issues.  Great!  And a problem.  It shows each person as only half of what s/he is: Barbara is not all issues and problems and her partner is not all rainbows and puppies - each is a mix of both.

This was a turning point for Barbara - a new way of looking at herself, her partner, and her relationship.  And she took comfort knowing that new beliefs make way for new behaviours.    

Barbara's a close friend; so close, in fact, that some people have said it's almost as though we're the same person.  So I've decided I'd like to take a page out of Barbara's book and see myself more clearly too.