The Cornered Cat
“Am I Paranoid?”

“Am I paranoid?”

The student stands on one foot, with one leg nervously twisted around the other, waiting to hear my verdict. Is she? Or isn’t she?

She’s just finished telling me how she likes to pay attention to the world around her, and how she always has a plan to cope if something goes wrong. In restaurants, she prefers to sit where she can see the door; while stopped at a red light while driving, she always keeps her eyes on the world outside her car; at home, she locks her doors before she relaxes and she has a clear plan for what she would do if an intruder broke in.

She’s not the only person who’s ever asked that question.

The question comes up from time to time — sometimes in my email box, sometimes on Facebook, sometimes in a class. And the worry behind it is real. It’s often sparked by judgemental attitudes from friends and family who don’t always understand what’s happening when a person begins her own journey into an armed lifestyle, a lifestyle that includes personal alertness.

Feeling judged by someone outside herself, a new traveler on this road often seeks absolution from someone outside herself. She needs to hear someone — someone outside her own head — tell her that she’s not alone, not an outcast, not a weirdo.

So I do.

“No, you’re not paranoid,” I say. “You’re prepared.”

It’s what’s on the inside that counts

But … the value and meaning of our awareness depends far more on who we are and how we see it, from inside, than it does on what our friends might think about what we’re doing. My opinion isn’t the one that matters, here. Neither is the opinion of anyone’s friends.

All that matters is what’s on the inside. How does the world look from where we live?

Ugly people often have ugly suspicions about what our awareness might mean, but we don’t have to live out those suspicions. If our friends sometimes think it’s ugly or scary for us to notice things or be prepared to cope with all that life has to offer, that doesn’t say a thing about us.

That’s just sad for them.

While we live, let us live!

Personally, I think a lifestyle of awareness isn’t about fear. Not in any way. It’s about being fully alive. It’s about smelling the roses, cherishing the daffodils, and never stepping on the bee that’s hiding in the clover. Being prepared to notice that bee and sidestep it isn’t about the bee. Avoiding that stinger is just a very useful side effect of noticing the bee in the first place.

A lifestyle of awareness lets us be fully present, fully alive, fully aware of every golden moment of every day.

Sure, some of us might always look around because we’re living in fear or because we truly believe there’s a bogeyman hiding behind every blade of grass. We might even do it because we’re a miserable person living in a horrible world.

But more likely, that’s not what’s going on at all. It certainly isn’t for me, and I hope it isn’t for you.

Joyful awareness

Once we get started on seeing the world around us as it really is, we do it for joy. We do it because we think people make the most fascinating show in the universe. We do it because we can no longer imagine living any other way.

When we commit ourselves to see what’s happening around us, something wonderful happens: we see what’s happening around us!

When our eyes are open and our senses alert, we see what people do near the door of a restaurant. We see the young mom admonishing her little ones as she shepherds them into the building (“Now remember, guys, inside voices only…”). We see the old man hold the door for his wife, and then pat his wife’s fanny when he thinks no one is looking as she passes through it. We see the nervous young guy swipe his hands on his pants before he comes inside to meet his date.

Those moments are pure gold, and nobody sees them except the people who watch for them.

That’s not all we see, though. We also see the group discussion happening just outside the door; apparently, they’re trying to decide whether to come inside or go somewhere else. We see the couple who were having a heated argument — in whispers! — before the hostess greeted them. We see the thoughtfully appraising look a single guy throws at the receptionist’s backside as she shows him to his table. Good, bad, or indifferent, we notice.

When we pay attention, we see and cherish the moments of joy that happen all around us every day of our lives, and we’re better prepared to avoid trouble because we’re more likely to see it coming.

We notice what’s happening outside our cars when we’re stuck in traffic. We see the young guy lip-syncing to the radio (and is that an air guitar?) as he rocks out behind the wheel in the car next to us. We notice the young couple holding hands as they wait to cross the street. We see businesspeople and shoppers and street hustlers and homeless people, too — and we might even see the too-casual loiterer who’s waiting to make a sale, or the streetwalker he’s looking after on the opposite corner. Hmmm…

We see.

What did you see?

Huh. Look at that. We just noticed that it’s not the best neighborhood we’re driving through. Better make sure those car doors are locked, and that there’s enough cushion in front of the front bumper so we can easily get the car moving should we need to get away. We’re not looking for trouble.

Sure, keeping your eyes open and your radar on makes you more likely to notice trouble before it starts — but it also helps you love life and live it to the full. We might see trouble, but we’re not looking for it or any of its relatives. We’re looking for joy.

When that’s where your mind and your heart is, who could possibly call you paranoid?

So… are you paranoid?

Is your world negative and ugly, frightening and scary, full of fears and dark thoughts and places you dare not send even your thoughts? Are there people and places you’re so afraid to see that you cannot even admit they exist?

Or is your world full of joy? Do you see and celebrate the world around you? Do you resolutely┬ánotice what’s happening, whatever is happening, without denying negative possibilities and without shutting your mind to the existence of bad events? Do you focus on the things that are right and good and true?

Are you happy to see everything good in this world, even while you prepare to avoid (or learn how to cope with) the rare spot of trouble?

Never apologize for really seeing what’s around you, good or bad or indifferent. So many people go through life with their eyes half-closed, and you have made the decision to wake up.

That’s a beautiful thing. Don’t ever let anyone shame you out of it.

One Response to “Am I Paranoid?”

  1. larryarnold says:

    Nailed it.

    Without evidence to the contrary,
    Paranoia: I am a target
    Alertness: It’s possible I’m a target
    Denial: I can’t be a target

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