Territorial Dispute

It was about 4:30 and I had just sat down at a table with a beer, after having washed off as much dirt as I could in the bathroom. There was still a ton of dirt in my boots, but that would have to wait until later. A few regulars sit at the bar having the usual conversation. They watched me until they knew I would keep a respectful distance, and then settled back to their business. I take a few deep breaths, letting the tensions of the day drain out of my body, and then a swig of beer to rinse out all the dust in my mouth. I find a place to settle my gaze without offending anyone and peacefully allow some time to pass unmolested.

A middle aged man walks into the place and sits at the bar, far away from the regulars who give him a quick glance before going back to their important business. It was as though they knew who he was, but considered him a part of a different clan. He orders a beer from the bartender and fidgets uncomfortably while he waits. Apparently, not a person who goes out alone often. The bartender brings his beer without making eye contact and quickly retreats back to the regulars. He takes a few swigs of beer and spends some time examining the bottle too closely. Not knowing what to do with his eyes, he looks around the place and double-takes as he sees me watching him. I give him a friendly nod and he smiles at the sense of familiarity. Happy for a distraction, he grabs his beer and makes his way over to my table.

He stops a few feet shy and stands awkwardly, “How’s it going? Surviving the summer alright?”

I measure my energy and cadence, being sure no to mirror his, “ I am well thanks. Summer could be worse, I suppose.”

“You from around here?”

“Me? No. I am something of a transient. Been here a few weeks, and I will be moving on soon. Yourself?”

“Yeah, I am from here. Work at the power plant. What do you do that keeps you moving?”

“Oh, I am just helping out a friend.” I let a pause fill some space, and then add, “I needed a little break.”

“Tell me about it.” He unconsciously takes the cue and sits down across from me.

There is nothing new in this for me. It is a simple function of energy flow and interaction. I just listen peacefully, play my role, and let it all run its course. It has taken me a long time to understand this game and accept it for what it is. Some people will see something broken, a car or something, and they will instinctively want to fix it. For me, it is emotional energy. If my environment goes out of whack I will instinctively want to open it up and bring balance to it. I really don’t care about the people specifically, to be honest, if they are strangers to me. It’s not that hate them, I am just indifferent.

My experience is that most people are like that, but they are too afraid to admit it. So they play all sorts of games to pretend, or maintain an appearance. They will donate a little money or post something on Facebook, or even show how much they care about animals… because somehow, that makes it alright to not care much about people who are not in their emotional ecosystem. It is all just a narcissistic sham.

Learning how to let go of the image of caring about people was a very hard lesson for me. Too many people out there will imprison a person like me in a cell of constant sorrow. Abusively using the idea of caring as a way to manipulate. The way out of that cell is to know that their sorrow and misery is alright, so long as the energy is flowing and balanced. If the energy is flowing and balanced, then their misery and suffering is of their own making. In my mind, it is exactly the same with the big bankers up in their top floor boardrooms looking down on all the protesters. They care less about the people than they do the flow of money. It is not that they hate the people… they are simply indifferent to them.

In the end we are all alike. We are all big bankers looking down at protesters. Just with a different perspective or interest. Bankers care about the flow of money, while others care about the flow of clean water, or access to education. As long as there is free and easy access to education, all is good. If people choose not to use it, or use it poorly… what can you do?

The new guy hardly settles into the seat before he goes into a story about how he and his wife are at loggerheads. He tells me the story in the vague, biased way that tries to get me to align with his dismissal of her behavior. Making it sound like it is something that all women do to make our lives miserable. He is looking for affirmation. I work to maintain my peaceful balance, keeping my eyes fixed on his face, and allow all of his energy to pass without saying a word.

It doesn’t take too long before he runs through his story and, without my adding to his energy, he falls silent and deflated. He looks at his beer and slowly worries the label off. I let the time pass, not entirely certain what to say, but I know enough to trust myself in the moment. It often seems like theater to me, with a script that writes itself as the scene plays out. Something occurs to me and I sit up to lean forward, which gets his attention. I let the moment stretch and then ask, “Have you ever heard of the four labors of life?”

He looks at me with discomfort and I quickly add, “Don’t worry, I am not going to try and sell you a Bible or anything. It is just what popped into my head just now.” He relaxed a bit and I continued, “There is a philosophy that, everyone who is alive is engage with at least one of the four labors.” I hold my left hand forward to count off my fingers;

  1. “Physical labor, which is physical labor.
  2. Intellectual Labor, which is the physical labor we do in our heads… like academics and such.
  3. Emotional Labor, is the work of building, maintaining and breaking down relationships.
  4. and Spiritual Labor, which is the work we do to get to know ourselves.” I laugh and add, “Again, don’t worry… spiritual labor has nothing to do with God. But, I will say, that anyone who does any spiritual labor will get to a point where they realize they are more than what they see in a mirror… and then they have to make a few choices in order to go any further.”

We both sit back and take a moment to enjoy the beer. But, the energy was flowing and my mind was connected, so there was no stopping it.

“Anyway, the significance of this is that, while we all have to do all of these labors at one time or another, in one form or another, we are all only natural and comfortable with one of them… the others tend to be a struggle. So, long story long, a person natural at physical labor will measure their self esteem by a sense of physical accomplishment; fixing the car or something. An intellectual person will measure their self esteem by what they learn and know, or intellectual accomplishment; like learning a new language. Emotional people measure themselves by their connections and sense of belonging. And, spiritual people measure themselves by their sense of balance and awareness of self.

“The way we tell which person is which, is by what they do when they are stressed. You look like an average guy, so I would guess that you go out into the garage and work on your car or something when you re stressed.”

“Close. I got a boat I like to work on.” He says uncomfortably.

“Nice boat?”

“Yeah.. I think so. Just a nineteen footer. Nothing special.”

“And, I would guess that your wife is an average woman, so when she gets stressed, she lights up the phone line or hops onto Facebook.”

Big sigh, “You got that right.”

“So, if you two are average people, you both get stressed out, and you just want to do something to get a sense of physical accomplishment, while she is constantly interrupting you, like a submarine sending out sonar pings over and over again, because she wants to feel connected.”

Let’s out a laugh, “Frustrating as hell is what it is.”

“I am sure. But, the question is, what is stressing you two out?”

He looks at his beer for a moment and takes a swig, then says, “It’s my daughter…. she is having a hard time in school.”

“Socially or academically?”

“Socially. She seems to have no confidence and so she doesn’t want to fit in anywhere.”

“So, I’m guessing that your solution is that she join a sports team to get a sense of physical accomplishment, while your wife’s solution is to keep her folded in her own overbearing social influence longer.”

Letting out a laugh and a sigh, “Yep.”

“That is the thing about the four labors. We all try to solve every problem in the way that we are natural. You know the old saying, every problem looks like a nail when the only solution you use is a hammer. Well, it could be that your daughter is not natural to physical or emotional labor. Perhaps she is intellectual, or spiritual.”

“The way she hates homework, I can safely say that she certainly is not intellectual. You said it is generally measured by what we do when we are stressed? Well, she does nothing.”

I let out a laugh, “There is no doing nothing. According to the philosophy, that is. To be alive is to be engaged with at least one labor.”

“So, what labor is sitting in her room and listening to music.”

“That, is most likely spiritual labor. Does she get along with your family and neighbors?”

“Oh, yeah.. she is fantastic. It is just at school she shrinks.”

“From my perspective, and this is just my story, that is because she cannot see herself in the new environment yet. Which is why she sits in her room. She is probably not even aware that she is trying to build an image of herself in her school.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, a physically inclined person only has to see what they have done to feel good about themselves. An intellectual person only has to know that they have learned. And an emotional person only has to feel their relationships. But, a spiritual person has to be able see themselves in order to feel good about themselves. Trust me, it is trickier than it sounds.”

Nodding, “Why is that?”

“Well, an emotional person only measures themselves by the people they feel connected to. A spiritual person measures themselves by their awareness of their self, which includes everyone in their environment; whether they like them or not. A spiritual person feels connected to everyone.” He looks at me funny. “Your daughter has to understand herself in a way that includes the people she doesn’t like or even knows. She sees a kid walking down the hall at school, and she is going to want to know how he fits into the whole system. All the other kids ignore and dismiss the kids they don’t care about… your daughter might not be able to do that.”

Dismissively, “So, she cares too much.”

“She is trying to care too much, because everyone around her tells her that she should. The average person only cares about ten people in the world. They might be concerned for a bunch more. But the rest, they only pretend to care, which is easy for them as they do not feel connected to any but the ten. What your daughter needs to learn is that her self awareness has nothing to do with caring about other people. It is only about understanding herself.” I take another swig of beer. “Listen, if you went home and saw a streak on the side of your boat, you would think about it until it drove you nuts and you would be out there buffing it out at midnight. No?”

“Yeah, I recon I would.”

“Uh huh. And if your wife thought that someone in the family was pissed at her she would worry about it until she spent half the night on the phone talking it out. Right?”

“Yep… that has happened.”

“So, if indeed your daughter is spiritually inclined, she has no choice. It is just how her brain is wired. She doesn’t have to care about other people… the need to see herself within the whole environment just gnaws at her.” I let out a sigh of my own frustration, “She has to learn how to read environments, just like anyone else, but from her perspective. It is always the same; quietly watch, listen, and read the situation, then engage when we are certain where we want to fit in. If you went over to a friends garage, you wouldn’t just start in on his boat, you would read the situation first and feel it out. If your wife went to a dinner party where she didn’t know anyone, she would probably swallow her tongue from insecurity. Same is true with your daughter, just in a different way. A far more complex way, since it is all ethereal and vast. The more experienced she gets, the quicker she will be able to read an environment and see herself in it.” The words came to my lips, I made the effort to hold them, but let go. “She only needs to find the confidence to look past her parents. Kids these days have no idea how full of shit their parents really are… and they suffer for it.” Looking off, I say absently, “The physical structure of our society has outgrown the emotional structure of our society.”

I let it sit for a moment as I see he is thinking. “To finish with this philosophy, just so it doesn’t stay half stuck in my head… there are four different kinds of ants in an ant colony. There is the mother ant, her harem, the soldiers, and the workers. Each ant is genetically delineated to play a specific role in the colony. All working together to ensure the survival of the colony. They have no choice; it is wired into their DNA. We humans are not genetically delineated to play a role, but I would argue that our brains are wired, when we are young and growing, in such a way as to bring balance to our community. So, when you daughter was born, your family lacked something that pressured her brain to wire itself to fill that role… by being a natural at spiritual labor.

“We are all hard wired to solves problems in a specific way, that when we work together, trust and support one another, everything gets taken care of in the manner that is best. But, when we stop trusting each other, when we start thinking that every problem should be solved only in the manner that makes sense to us, then things are neglected and serious problems begin to emerge. What does a physical laborer know about emotional structures? And what does an intellectual laborer know about self awareness? Sometimes it is best just to back off and let people work things out on their own.”

I Take another swig of beer and let that last of my energy release without anything attached to it.

He takes a long look at the little amount of beer he has left and says, “I don’t know… this all sounds like a crazy story, and I got to get going.” And then drains the rest of his beer.

I knock my almost empty bottle on the table twice with approval and say, “That is exactly how you should take it; just a crazy story you heard from a stranger you met in a bar.” He looks at me oddly, “I am just sharing a different perspective.”

The energy is gone and there is no reason anymore. He stands up and looks me in the eye. “I cannot lie, I can see why you are sitting alone. I didn’t expect to be lectured when I came over here.”

I smile and extend my hand to shake, “It is alright. Sometimes a person needs to defend their territory with more than just fists.” He gave me a puzzled look. “I didn’t want your mood, or your negative energy.”

He laughs and takes my hand, “Take care of yourself.”

“I will if you will.”

Picture – ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images