My recent sojourn with shepherds, goats, and sheep in the stunning Apennines mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella of Abruzzo left me musing about what I had learned about myself while communing with the flock.

On the day of the journey, we had arrived early morning at Nunzio Marcelli’s La Porta dei Parchi agriturismo, a good forty-five minutes before the trek up the mountains was to commence. I wandered around the property, first stopping to observe the goats being milked (an upcoming post). The shepherd dogs were lounging about, getting their last respite before a full day’s work, while staying faithfully close to their charges, who were safely contained in pens. It was then that I captured the photo featured in this post and this singular, arresting face of a sheep. Only later, when I was doing my editing, did I realize the reason the image resonated with me so much…

I saw myself in the face of that sheep.

You’re probably laughing, and saying to yourself “Jed Smith surely has gone around the bend.” But, hear me out. For me, this image is packed with symbolism and metaphors. I’ve been becoming more readily aware of the confines of my mind, and all too often I have found myself looking out from the safety of such a protected space – looking out warily at a world that I don’t completely trust. Recent world events are testing my resolve to break free of the tendency to stay within the confining safety of my mind and its flock of thoughts. The feeling that “nothing makes sense” is at an all-time high for me, and I suspect I am in the company of countless others who are grappling with the same dread that the world if falling apart.

So, do I hunker down and try to stay safe? Do I refrain from participation in the world and in life while doing so? No, that is no longer a choice. I can’t stay penned in by a life of conditioning and fear that too easily has kept me paralyzed in fight or flight mode. Perhaps, the current unsettledness in the world is an opportunity to face the fearful stories my mind is telling me, to see them for the lies that they are, and to thrive nonetheless.

I’m beginning not to trust the chatter in my head.

This is both freeing and scary as all get-out. If I can’t believe the conditioning and thoughts in my head, and if I don’t trust what most of the media is recklessly throwing at me, who and what do I trust? “Good question!” proclaims the mind, followed by “You’d better have a solid answer.” This is how the mind once again ensnares me, and I climb right back into the hamster wheel of thinking. Trying to think my way to safety is an impossible task. Period. Full stop.

Truth speaks a language that most of us are not trained to hear.

I believe that the language of truth is spoken in silence, and through allowing the river of life to lead us through the different twists and turns of unpredictable everyday life. I believe, if we let the river take us, in spite of our fears, and in spite of our judgments and interpretation as to what it all means, truth will reveal itself.

For me, truth resides outside the pen of mental safety and the machinations of thinking and obsessing. I will hold onto the metaphor of heading up the mountain into vast open spaces while taking comfort that I am never alone. Life, like a loving shepherd, surely will take care of me, and fierce, protective dogs will fight off wolves and other dangers.

It is the choice I must make, for I know I no longer can take the well-worn paths of my past.

In closing, I leave you with this excerpt from a book that my dear Momma Liz loved, and one she taught me to love as well.

“And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.
For self is a sea boundless and measureless.” – On Self-Knowledge, The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

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