Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mabel, a Thought Leader

     Most of us don't think of chickens as having thoughts, let alone the "progressive and innovative" viewpoints associated, by definition, with "thought leaders."  But in her troupe of chickens, Mabel stands out as a hen with tantalizing new ideas.
     Mabel isn't at the top of the pecking order, nor are most thought leaders in the human realm.  Thought leaders are too unusual to be accepted as committee chairs or politicians.  They go their own way, zigzagging from norms, even acting with outright hostility to the status quo--until their ideas become, with insidious regularity, the status quo.  They don't pander to the masses, or garner recognition, or even appreciate fame, if it should fall into their lives, as it does with insufferable frequency.  Fame is an annoyance, because it brings with it a multitude of distractions:  phone calls, mail, TV appearances, speaking engagements, and other time-wasting activities that rob a chicken of the call to creative thinking.
     Mabel--like Einstein, Hawking and Bill Gates, whose strange shocks of hair and rumpled clothing haven't make them paragons of haute couture--doesn't concern herself with appearances.  She is by far the least pretty of the twelve hens in my coop, exhibiting broken feathers, mottled wings, a blunt comb, and a beak that looks like a decayed incisor.  She's too busy exploring the local habitat to squander time grooming.
     "Who cares?" she might answer, with impatience, were a news reporter to question her about her slatternly countenance.  "If they don't like it, they can find someone else to follow around."  As though her very admirers were bothersome, with their clucking and trilling, and their chasing behind her, stepping on her feet, every time she routs out a new thing.
     She's one of the first out of the coop, when I open the gate each afternoon, and she doesn't run along with Crystal to the manure pile, but scratches and kicks up dirt in the most unlikely places.  The other chickens get confused by her frenetic activity, because they're inclined to go in the opposite direction, with the crowd--but then, there's Mabel! and what's she got going?  
     Mabel may rush to the fence line in pursuit of something no one else hears--and what do you know?  It's a katydid, at this time of year!  Tick-tick-tick-tick, she says, as though taunting the others, who haven't tasted a katydid since last spring.  They catch a glimpse of it--just enough to wish it were theirs--but Mabel's got the chomp-gulp-swallow sequence down, and the other poor hens are left wishing they had what she's got:  a knack for ferreting out the new.
     There's a vague suspicion that she creates the things she comes up with, like a sorceress with a bag of spells--but then, chickens aren't superstitious.  So, they rush with scientific zeal to repeat the experiment with the same tools, in the exact location;  they peck in the grass and briars to replicate the results, hoping for the same success, throwing dust on one another in the process.
     Meanwhile, Mabel has moved on, and may be scouting directly under my garden fork, waiting for the guillotine-drop and yank of the prongs to reveal, beneath a knot of sod, a family of squirming beetles.  Quick as an automatic staple-gun she pins them down, eight or ten in succession, using that discolored beak-incisor that is the subject of public ridicule, and dispatches them into her gullet before her panderers arrive.
     Sometimes she travels far afield where predators, hungry for a little chicken fat, could be lurking.  But Mabel isn't afraid.  She isn't appetizing--in fact, she's the last hen you'd cull for the stew-pot, if you were hard-up for dinner, because there'd be nothing but tendon and gristle under her taut skin, yielding a weak broth.  This is a consequence, I believe, of the high levels of cortisol coursing through Mabel's knuckle-sized heart, empowering muscle-fibers that spring to action with split-second, ATP-informed notice.  Cortisol is probably at the heart of creativity, which is a special kind of energy and fearlessness that gives thought-leaders like Mabel their edge.
     What does all of this have to do with me--or, for that matter, you?
     We are symbol-seeking organisms, in the animal-kingdom.  It's what sets us apart from all other living organisms.  Consequently, what we pay attention to, among the myriad stimuli in our surroundings, matters.  What we pay attention to gives us clues about the preoccupations of our psyches.  Our attention wanders to symbols, whether we recognize it or not.
     Most of what happens in our minds is below consciousness--some psychoanalysts estimate that eighty percent of what drives our decisions in waking life arises from the unconscious.  The unconscious, we know, is an objective reality--as real as faraway solar systems, or the deepest reaches of the oceans, which cannot be seen but are measured using indirect means, or by being inferred.  Because it is such a powerful determinant of our lives, it pays to have an amicable connection to one's unconscious, even though much of what it has to say may be unsavory, or unwelcome.
     One has only to rate the enjoyment level of our dreams to appreciate that the unconscious has things to say that we'd rather not hear:  the majority of remembered dreams are unpleasant, if not downright primitive, or nightmarish.  Dreams call our attention to information we want to ignore, but we do so at our own peril.  Unconscious contents that appear repeatedly in dreams, or as symbols in waking life, only to be shrugged off, finally make an appearance in the concrete events of our lives:  illnesses, accidents, ruptures in relationships, job lay-offs, environmental catastrophes, even death.
     Mabel represents symbolic content from my unconscious.  Her thought-leadership role among the chickens is a projection of my psyche onto something in the outer world, and a way of calling attention to the next phase of my life.  Such symbolic content achieves tangible reality by attaching itself to real-life objects or circumstances--this is how the unconscious speaks to us, aside from through dreams.  The unconscious is very old, and uses a language universal to humans:  instead of words, it uses symbols.  Mabel is a symbol of a feminine creative power, innovation, and insouciance.
     Mabel's appearance to my conscious mind, during this period of transition in my life, tells me that it's appropriate to go new places, and to trust a deep instinctual core to guide me.  I am instructed by my unconscious not to be daunted by what is new or perilous, or unconventional, nor should I be concerned with appearances.  I can devote my attention, like Mabel, to an inner world, a font of energy, the source of ideas from which may spring katydids and beetles, symbols--like the Egyptian scarab--of transformation.  (The scarab--or Scarabaeus sacer--is a beetle that emerges from a ball of dung, after it has been inseminated by a male of the species and rolled from west to east, like the sun at night.  It was a powerful symbol of death and rebirth in ancient Egypt, and appeared in New Kingdom royal tombs as the sun, which is swallowed each night and re-emerges the next day as Khepri, a new life.)
     Mabel is a thought leader.  She works alone and is more conscientious of her inner drives than outer expectations.  She represents as aspect of my inner world, which calls for recognition in consciousness. 
     "Thought leaders prove themselves through successful implementation of their ideas," says Wikipedia.  "Through effective communication and clarity of purpose, they effect change."  The change in question, for me, is internal.  I need to alter the conscious relationship I have to my inner world, and give it more credence, now that my role in the outer world, as a physician, has been set aside.
     What are the circumstances, or creatures, or news stories, however trivial by conventional standards, in your life that call to you, and stick in your memory?  These are clues to your inner world, which establishes the itinerary for your life, and deserves attention.    


  1. This is a well-written and thought-provoking post. I certainly hope we will soon be able to see a photograph of Mabel.

    I would add that in order to make contact with your inner world it is good to be attentive to the outer world, as Dr. Colasante is here, in discovering in Mabel a symbol of her inner life. In addition, I would say it is a good idea regularly to stop doing things, stop thinking, meditate, focus on your breathing, and let what is inside of rise to the surface. If you believe in God, cultivate inner silence so you can hear the 'small whispering voice' Elijah heard when he was on the mountain, in despair.

    1. Mabel's photo follows, although she didn't care to pose for it. She's a pragmatic bird, and probably wouldn't understand a parallel to Elijah, though it's an interesting one.

  2. This is a fascinating description of a chicken. As a chicken owner myself, I appreciate everything about this beautifully written post. I do believe that chickens have amazing personalities.I wish I could write so well about my beautiful chickens!
    Please write more! It is great!

  3. Other chicken posts include: "A Chicken with a Problem," "Who Stole My Eggs?" "Update on Stolen Eggs," "Pets," "Watching a Chicken Lay an Egg," The Hawks Are Circling," and "A Fun Thing I Did Today."