Aspen's Essays

Essays by Aspen Bernath-Plaisted

What Do You Think About Blond?


Dirty blond, lucky blond, dumb blond, oh, if only I were blond. What do you think about when you hear the word or see a blond? Perhaps you do not think anything at all. It’s certainly possible, even easy, to go through life and not even give it a thought. Easy enough for me because I never needed to project all of my hopes and dreams of someday actually having a life, all onto one little blond girl seen on a picture postcard.

There’s a lot of talk these days about taking the time to remember and acknowledge the feeling of gratitude for something in our lives. Therapist, including myself, encourage clients to keep gratitude diaries, to make daily affirmations reflecting gratitude, and to remember to focus our attention on that which is positive and beneficial in our lives. We do that so that we can learn to be happier and to find more peace in life, and gratitude is truly healing. These practices are all well and good, and very definitely necessary. Yet, it is still so easy to take many things for granted. For instance, how many people would you suppose remember to be grateful for having the ability and the freedom to walk along a lakeshore and to make sand castles? That is exactly what the little blond girl on the postcard was doing. She was also enjoying her right to enjoy this time of her life as a child. More significantly, she was experiencing being a little girl child who was allowed to have such a lovely day at the beach.

That postcard was sent to the storyteller who was on the Moth Story Hour, Dori Samadzai Bonner, who is now a grown woman and a writer. As a child she lived in Afghanistan, where she was born, and she was sent that postcard from an aunt now living in America. Dori was 10 years old and living under a Russian occupation.
That little blond instantly became a beacon of hope and the promise of possibilities to the little girl across the world who didn’t know that such a life could exist. Our storyteller’s life had been miserably oppressive and it was on the way towards getting worse. At that time, her brother was allowed to play and have a life, while after school all she could do was cook and clean, and any other things deemed to be done by or to the girls in her society. She and the other girls in her situation did not wear the expression of freedom and joy on their faces as had the little girl, now an icon, on the postcard.

Things were beginning to get desperate in her village. With saddened hearts her parents devised a plan to smuggle her and her brother out of the country. They paid a stranger sent by an organization that took care of such matters. The stranger, after stealing money from the little girl then ultimately abandoned them at the airport. Eventually another stranger appeared, found the children who had been there for hours and had felt very uncertain about their fate. Thankfully, this man did in deed complete his job, and several months later he was able to successfully deliver them to their destination.

In her teens, our brave and bold storyteller did actually arrive in her much dreamed about America. That was almost the end of her very moving story that I have captured here in a nutshell, except for this. It’s what she said at the very end of her story that reminded me of so much. She spoke about how when she arrived she so wanted to “thank America for giving her a sanctuary and a home”. For so many years her life’s breath had come from that little girl on the postcard that had given her the ability to dream. To our storyteller that little girl represented a life that was free.

Why am I re-telling her story? It comes back to gratitude. I have never indulged very much in patriotism or nationalism, which I believe are what give rise to war and the desire to divide and conquer. I would rather embrace and love. I believe that we are all connected and part of a great whole, and that we are all worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s not that I do not love our country because I truly do. Yet, at the same time, when it comes to love, I believe in and strive for a world that has no boundaries. It is strange and paradoxical to be raised in the United States of America. In some ways we have it all. We are called a democracy. These days sometimes that does not seem as evident as we would like, and yet we were raised to believe in what a democratic society can do, and that very belief created within each of us, whether we recognize or not, a standard to rise to. A standard that says we have the right to have a voice, the right to protest an injustice, the right to expect equality, respect, truth and we have the right to expect our government to truly represent “ we the people”. Necessarily, we even have the duty to point out when we, as a nation, have fallen short. That very right and the need to identify and be critical of such failings can also steal the gift of gratitude. It is important to remain clear and true to that which remains positive. Those of us in this nation, who have full bellies, are safe, and not just struggling to survive, have been given the ability and the responsibility to stand up for a better world. In doing so our thinking can become very black and white. We are angry with our government for saying that we are one thing and often acting very differently. We are angry because we have a standard that lives under our skin that is not being met. However, at the same time we are free to stand up because we do have a democracy, deeply faulted as it may be. Most times we can safely gather together in groups, write articles, talk openly in public about our concerns, and we can continue to grow towards that standard for creating a better world. I am deeply grateful for that.
As a little girl I delighted in playing on the beach, dipping my feet in the water, and yes, I was free to dream. Sometimes it takes a good storyteller to reflect a different perspective based on her vastly different circumstances that is sufficient to remind us that nothing is black and white.
My entire perspective has not changed. I still prefer and hope for a world that is not so defined by its borders. As always I will continue to love my neighbors, as well as those I have not met who reside across the globe. I will continue to keep up my standard for loving and respecting all life, and caring for those who are in need. It is crucial that we do not give up our standard for a better world for all to enjoy, and necessary for well being to experience gratitude. Ultimately, I am dearly grateful to America for taking in our storyteller and giving her a chance to create a life. I can also say, “thank-you America”.

Posted by: Aspen Comment

Spirt and Bone


First I must make it perfectly clear. I am not a paleontologist, anthropologist, archeologist, theologian, or a scholar. Nor am I an advocate of disrupting the earth by digging into her body only to disturb the resting-place of ancient bones. While I am aware that valuable information can be gathered from such activities I do have grave misgivings about them and feel that we must be very careful and respectful at all times. This disclaimer serves to illustrate the surprise, not quite epiphany that I experienced recently as I watched a National Geographic Special.

My watching of this special happened simply by the flipping of the channels as my husband and I hoped to relax and watch something for a little while before going to bed. Generally we are not very hopeful of finding anything on our very few channels, we do not have cable or any paid for television, so our quick flip was not expected to offer any favors. Coming upon a nature or science special of any kind on PBS is always enticing so, of course, we gave it fair viewing.

I wish I could say that while watching the show I did experience an epiphany, but that simply would not be a true and accurate report. An epiphany could be defined as an insight or clarity, a new and deeper understanding of something not previously known, or perhaps a joyful and spiritual moment of relationship with a higher body of wisdom. The experience of an epiphany could be illustrated by a comical cartoon picture of a light bulb suddenly lighting up to signify a new and more complete level of awareness. A more dignified description might even refer to it as a prophetic moment. However said, that was not my experience at all. Instead, what I felt was a deep, moving, unyielding, and not quite formed question. A nagging to be quenched question that was known somewhere within me but just out of reach. While it was not clear enough to actually grasp, it remained present enough so as to not be shaken off and easily forgotten. In essence, a great field of innocent wondering lingered, esoteric in nature and creating a sense of deep anticipation about a new level of heightened understanding coming to the surface. Consequently, I was prompted to write this account in hopes of finding more clarity. I wanted a clear question to show itself with a meaningful response to decipher that would ultimately take me further along on my spiritual journey. I have found that putting pen to paper, while entering a relaxed state to facilitate a sincere and open heart, would generally reward me with the esoteric insights that tend to enrich life. That is precisely what I am anticipating now!

A brief summary of the TV special that caught my attention amounts to the recent discovery and uncovering of the burial grounds for an unknown ancient people. Beyond this concise and surface description was the very striking manner in which the bodies had been arranged at the time of burial, and the reaction to this by the individuals who had found them and bore witness to this. What stayed with me was the abundance of love and thought that went into these burials. This was particularly evident at one grave in which a mother and her three children were so tenderly arranged to hold each other as they journeyed beyond this life. A variety of items, also found at the grave, were placed ceremonially around their remains. Equally tender was the gentle approach taken by each person involved in the “awakening” of this site as they continued with their work. Gingerly, with great trepidation, respect, and compassion, the scientists and technicians alike were visibly moved and deeply touched by the scene of those lost people who had been so clearly loved, honored, and missed. This was a population with no apparent weapons and an ample supply of love and sophistication.

As I witnessed the power of this scene and how it effected all of those involved in that dig I felt as though something sacred was occurring. At this point, I am hoping that eyes are not rolling as my readers think to themselves that I am getting carried away and perhaps even inventing the significance of this event. After all, it was just a digging up of old bones. However that was not my experience. I became a witness and participant in the viewing. What I felt was precisely that it was not just a show about a “dig” for artifacts. That might be how it began but somewhere along the line there was a shift to something far more grand. It was not merely a dig that could result in insights about ancient people that might help to inform us, the current Homosapiens, about our circumstances now on earth. More remarkable, it manifested an energy and created an emotional and spiritual relationship between modern humans and the remains of what we call the past. This happened not as an obvious conclusion that one might expect after a day of routine fossil hunting, but more through the insidious nature of that which is ethereal , as love and spirit, that slowly permeates one’s heart and psyche before one even realizes that this alchemy has occurred. As smoke might rise from a once dormant volcano where it first simmered long before it was known, so too the spirits had risen from “dead” bones to be felt, even if not known. That was my experience felt at a level beyond the intellect. Instead, it was a mysteriously woven connection between the infinite parts of myself and the infinite nature of all that is. Ancient bones were revealed and touched the eternal core of all whom encountered that moment.

It appears to me that the great separation of that which is termed “life” and that determined to be “death” became less clarified and harder to define. Can one’s heart and soul be so affected simply by studying the arrangement of dead bones from long ago? Is something dead only because we, in our collective decisiveness, cannot understand its life qualities? Many indigenous societies believe that there is a spirit living in all things. It is easy for many people to consider the possibility of trees and plants possibly possessing a spirit, however, I ask you now to consider what some native people participating in a sweat lodge ceremony refer to as “the rock people”. Do we rely solely on our current scientific notions of what qualifies as life, such as; breath, motion, and growth (I am certain I knew this better once in some biology class), even as our perimeters of knowledge are based on a very short span of time? In our brief lifetimes, can we really define the existence of that which remains hundreds and even thousands of years longer than ourselves? Perhaps the lone rock is as the mountain, moving and growing. Then what of our bones, drained of blood and life support as they are, do they remain connected to the human spirit or eternal life force enough so as to evoke empathy, love, and compassion from those who come to view them? Finally, I must ask are not the essences of love, compassion, and empathy eternal components of a force that cannot be seen, known, or comprehended and yet deeply felt in the joining of spirit and bone?

The feeling that had merged within my soul has now emerged in the language of words. The sought after and lingering question appeared and unveiled itself to be multiple questions. The answers of which can be found waiting in each of our hearts, and yes in fact, an epiphany did initiate this journey. Not an epiphany in the form of a light bulb suddenly illuminating, but in a lovely flow of insurgent awareness that invaded the illusion of separateness and demanded immediate awareness, expansion, and exploration.

Posted by: Aspen Comment

Chewed Up, Spit Out, and Hoping To Fly


So, the truth is often very trite and simple. For example, the expression, “no one promised you a rose garden”, pretty much says it all. After all, in at least some manner of speaking, humans have already lost Eden. At least they think they have but perhaps many have just lost the ability to recognize it. In either case, for all practical purposes, the effect is the same.

There are some that have retained the ability, on a usable level, to recognize the Eden that earth offers. I can be found in that group and have found that sometimes this can feel like a double-edged sword. Knowing the “truth” that life is glorious, brilliant, and loving, and that the existence of earth and all of her inhabitants is breathtaking and impossible to comprehend, can also prepare a bed for deep innocence and some times painful vulnerability. Feeling the juices of a relationship that is majestic and infinite, fluid and tangible, like the way it feels at twilight or after it rains, can fill one with an extraordinary amount of joy and deep belief in the potential for paradise on earth. All at once an intrinsic optimism occurs side by side to it’s nemesis, namely the insidious development of expectations about what life on earth should look like, with standards that even the gods might not meet. It appears that such exalted standards cannot be met, thereby requiring the emergence of inner turmoil to arrive and begin complicating one’s promising vision of life. It is then that we encounter the truly ironic conundrum of life. The punch line being that paradise on earth, or something close to that, is possible and only achievable by maintaining the vision of such standards while not being devoured by them. If that sounds like a demanding order to you I will admit that sometimes the order feels quite tall to me too.

Here’s the thing. Yesterday I was bit by a bat! No, really, I am not joking. I was happily outside and barefooted carrying on with my gardening like it was any other Memorial Day weekend when I felt the bite and thought it was a garter snake. I don’t live in rattlesnake country anymore so I knew that I was not in danger. I spun around only to find a bat laying in the grass and looking up at me. It was early in the afternoon, the sun was shining, and somehow this bat was not hanging upside down and fast asleep, as it should have been. That presented a misfortune for both of us. I ended up in the ER receiving my first 4 injections and the bat ended up in a container. I was deeply saddened at the prospect of having to take this poor bat to the health department for evaluation and insisted that we punch air holes in its prison. I didn’t want it to suffocate in the process of waiting for its demise. I was quite tortured about being responsible for another’s dramatic circumstances and quickly becoming obsessed with its quality of life prior to it’s death. I was also feeling the effects of those injections and was exhausted. I tend to respond poorly to many medical treatments. My cohort in this story lived another day and a half and is now in the lab. There are many cultures that honor the teachings that we as humans can receive from the rest of the animal kingdom. Some believe that if you are bit by an animal and survive that you will then receive their “medicine”. I believe this and I already know and honor this bat medicine. Some say the bat is about the soul’s journey and transformation. Some refer to the bat as the symbol for re-birth and renewal. It is also suggested to be necessary to die the “shaman’s death” so that parts of ourselves that are no longer a benefit can die and be transformed. I have thanked this little being and I am committed to using its medicine in a positive way.

It’s not just that, not just my encounter with a bat that continues to evoke both change and turmoil. I could name many things. I am still recovering from Lyme Disease. I experienced my tick encounter back in 2004 so it has been ten years. There are residual effects that in some way have injured my spirit and my brain. It can be hard to think and learn new things at times. That’s not so bad. There are times I would rather unlearn some of the things steadfastly and so easily engrained. What’s worse, much worse, is when I can’t feel my regular level of joy or my highly enthusiastic spirit. That’s when I feel at a loss. Others usually cannot notice this change and perhaps they might even welcome less enthusiasm from me. For some people I imagine that less can still be more. However, once knowing more within myself it can be hard to settle for less.

This is not meant to be about my personal trials and tribulations for the purpose of whining or receiving comments of regret. These personal stories are about normal and understandable occurrences in life of which we all have our fair share. They are sometimes hard to take and can be jarring, but they are comprehendible. They are within the realm of what makes sense in nature and in a mortal world. They are not insults or perversions to our human spirit. They are simply a part of life. There can be illness and losses in paradise, and lyme parasites. And yes, there are bats.

Paradise is not so strict as to disallow personal strife or illness, but paradise does insist upon honesty, love, integrity, honor, truth, dignity, hope, and all of those values of which every life form should expect to be, to give, and to receive. These standards are not too high, they are vital and necessary to a sustainable and life enhancing world. That is what this is really about. I am expressing what can happen to an optimistic spirit that is dually naïve and empathic, and expects that the progression of the human spirit should prevail. Wouldn’t that be the true selected evolution for our species? It is about a person who sees great inconsistencies, hypocrisies, injustice, cruelties, and greed, a dishonoring of life, and a lust for power. I can imagine that there are many people who feel like they have been chewed up and spit out by such a world. Yet, I also see a world that has not lost hope even as so many around them have sold their souls and seemingly have lost their vision of love. I do not know what those sellers and abusers of souls get in return that could seem so valuable.

I do know this. I choose to continue to hope to fly. That is what the bat has given me. This is my medicine that does not allow one to be unchanging or clinging and bound only to the ground. To be a bat one must hope to fly where there are no limits and only infinite possibilities for love to thrive. I understand now that bat has always been with me and I am thankful!

Posted by: Aspen Comment