Prison is a State of Mind…



There is a national forest not far from where I live and where a variety of critters exist in harmony with nature’s demands. This morning, as I was exploring an area new to my daily walks, I came across a deer path. It appeared well worn and recently trodden, by the looks of the fresh tracks I found myself following. 

The narrow path through the pine trees and underbrush beckoned me to climbed higher and higher into the mountainous area, and I decided to grab a fist-thick fallen tree branch as “protection” should a mountain lion be disturbed by my intrusion into his territory. 


In a clearing not far ahead I saw them. The deer. There were five. Then a sixth one emerged from behind a massive pine tree. They were grazing on a patch of grass fed by a little stream. I took a seat on a tree stump and observed. One of the young bucks was just getting his antlers and another would be getting his soon. There were two little ones, barely eight months, I would suspect. What looked like a lovely young doe made the group almost picturesque.  As they grazed, it was almost as if they took turns, looking out for mountain lions and grabbing a few nibbles in an alternating, seemingly coordinated rhythm. 

The beauty of the scene was enhanced by the realization that they worked as a team, protecting one another and living out their respective roles within the hierarchy of the group. When the biggest and oldest male moved, the group followed. As they meandered a little further west of where I was positioned, I needed to relocate to keep my observation unobstructed by the brush. 

I got up and walked slowly toward these delicately grazing, peaceful inhabitants of the forest. I meant them no harm, to be sure, but they didn’t know that. As they saw me approaching, the leader glanced my way then simply lifted his head from the sweet grass and led the group further west, away from the potential threat I posed. That was as it should be, he was the protector. I am peaceful, but he didn’t know that and the young ones didn’t need to be taught that humans were peaceful; hunting season does exist in these mountains. The young ones needed to learn to avoid danger. 


What struck me was the elegance and simplicity with which the young buck avoided any possible danger. He just sensed danger and did something about it; he moved away. He didn’t look weak, he had no element cowardice, he was not backing down, he simply would not engage in danger of any kind.  In this power, in this ultimate sign of strength, he led his family safely from harm.

What would our lives be like if we were as skilled and intuitive as the young buck who was responsible for the lives of those who followed his lead? What would our prisons, our jails, our churches and our schools be like if we had the sense of the deer to  peacefully exist with others and simply avoid danger? 

He declared what was most important to him and to his role as protector.  Sure the grass on which they were grazing was sweet. And, in truth, he and his family were there first.  The national forest is his home, not mine. He was in the right. I was the intruder. I had no real business being in his backyard. After all, he stayed out of mine.


And yet, the young buck had no emotional attachment to how he felt things needed to be done or what was fair. Absent the inherently complicating aspect of emotion, the deer could act in a wise and protective manner, and he removed himself and his family from danger with no attachment to what he wanted or felt he deserved. .

I followed the group of deer until they disappeared over a series of hills I was not interested in conquering. My hike that day gave me cause to reflect upon the simple mind of the deer and the advanced manner in which they live, avoiding danger and gently grazing, not causing a ruckus or harming anything or anyone. They exist peacefully. 


WHAT IF we, as emotional and judgmental human beings, WHAT IF we were just a bit more like the deer in the national forest? What if we just avoided danger rather than using it to justify drama, sinking into the depths of negativity, or having to explain how we ended up in negative situations? For all the times we felt we needed to make things “right,” was our input really helpful? 

Today I realize, there is something profoundly evolved about the simple mind of the grazing deer in the forest who is wise enough to simply walk away. 


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