The Pretender

The Pretender, paper collage, 2021

This post is formatted to reflect an original journal entry.


I awake this morning reminded of Alan Watts. My mind’s been unsettled since I published Butterfly Effect. Agitated in the way one often is when on the verge of completing a very important thought. The world inside is the same as the world outside. Watts is right. Almost like a Möbius strip. Of course, I understood his meaning when I first read The Book about a year ago. But to grasp it on the level of experience is another matter. That’s what’s important to me. (It seems the older I get, that’s the only kind of knowledge I’m interested in—that which I can incorporate, that which I can live.) 

This is what I was building up to in Butterfly Effect. I sip my coffee and listen to Crosby, Stills & Nash. Ask myself what I meant when I wrote “Be kind to the little ones. Because we, too, are the little ones.” This statement has more meaning than I intended. I hear a chickadee calling outside my office window. It sounds like a mischievous laugh. The world inside is the same as the world outside. And the wild creatures—all the little ones—are as my own shadow reflected back to me.

Yes. This is what I mean to say, what I was saying in Butterfly Effect without realizing it. I quickly recap my experience: I have altered my relationship with myself—become someone I want to help and take better care of—by healing my relationship with nature. By learning about and/or taking care of those I call the “little ones”: birds, butterflies, the spiders who might terrify you as they used to terrify me, snakes, or the gray squirrels who are constantly trying to raid my bird feeders. The critters we often ignore, even fail to see entirely. Think of as being “part of the scenery.” They are as my own shadow reflected back to me. 

What I mean by this: I treat myself only as well as I treat the smallest, most seemingly insignificant creatures. I am reminded of a Bible passage:

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:40

To restate my beliefs in similar language: as you do to the least of all creatures, so you do unto yourself. Yep. That’s it. If I attempt to dominate them, if I approach them with fear, if I do them harm because it brings me some kind of sick pleasure, then I also do these things to myself. I may not realize it. I may believe it is completely normal and healthy to, say, hit a bird or a squirrel with my car and think, “It was in MY way! And after all, it’s just a bird…

My thinking: if you truly feel that way about the bird, then in some way, on some level, in your own life, you are treating yourself with the same callous indifference. I ask myself immediately: what about the way we treat other people, say, the “least” of our brothers and sisters? Is that not a better indicator of what’s happening inside of us? Not necessarily. Too many other factors involved. Offhand, I can think of at least a dozen reasons why someone might engage in charity work, for example, or donate to the poor, none of which is an actual measure of character.

The “little ones,” or the least of all creatures, are like the lowest common denominator. How we treat them is who we are when no one is looking (or as close to it as we can ever observe in another person—or in ourselves). I believe that. If you really want to see how you treat yourself, observe your reactions to the small creatures. And if you want to improve your relationship with yourself, one way to do so is by healing your relationship with them. Learn how to appreciate them, help without interfering, refuse the impulse to dominate. And above all else, don’t be cruel just because you might be afraid. We do not treat ourselves any better than we treat the least of all creatures. 

Could I be wrong? Sure. But, my experience tells me I’m not. Because this is exactly what I did. And it worked. I take another sip of coffee. George Harrison is playing, and the birds have fallen quiet. I think Alan Watts would agree.

5 thoughts on “The Pretender

  1. This entry is really fantastic…so much I will think about throughout the day. This idea of how we treat the “least” of our living world and how that is an outpouring of how we treat ourselves is brilliant. And Matthew 25:40 challenges us to reach for the little ones, not for recognition, but because doing so is actually taking care of our own fragile existence. Self care is perhaps ultimately caring for those “insignificant” ones around us. As you have said so perfectly, aren’t we all the “little ones” in the end?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. When I wrote this post, I wasn’t sure how many people would connect with my ideas. And I am delighted you did and that we share similar experiences regarding the “caring for others, no matter how insignificant” aspect of self-care. It was really a revelation for me to discover that my gardening and birding hobbies (which I began only out of curiosity and enjoyment) had seemed to create a kind of internal transformation, that spending time caring for and learning about the creatures in my backyard had somehow turned me into someone I wanted to help and care for in much the same way. And it’s true, I don’t think any of us is better than the way we treat the small creatures, those who are really defenseless against us and who often depend upon a bit of our help and our acting responsibly in order to survive. Don’t we depend on ourselves in much the same way, after all? Thank you, as always, for the wonderful feedback. I always enjoy these discussions with you, my friend.


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