Human progress may unfold more obliquely than forward and back, but life is change. I suspect one of the reasons we have generations to discover who we are is because mortality is a key to our humanity. As David Bowie said, we can’t trace time.
Between fear and love, our greatest sins and most beautiful creations define us. We are so close, yet so far from our best – lost in the desert with God the angry Father, who is too busy putting his fingers in the dyke of our Abrahamic religions to teach us human kindness. The son of God made love the foundation of his message, with limited success and the caveat of a second coming, flaming sword in hand. That has certainly given man’s inhumanity some deep cover, and something to look forward to: a Day of Judgement, the End Times. Warrior cults are really death cults, despite their promise of resurrection.
Time to take another look at the Man in the Mirror
Michael Jackson 1988
After watching I am Not Your Negro and seeing the sneering, hate filled faces and the violence of white, American men, it’s easy to understand why James Baldwin lived abroad for so many years.
It wasn’t so much a matter of choosing France—it was a matter of getting out of America. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me in France but I knew what was going to happen to me in New York. If I had stayed there, I would have gone under, like my friend on the George Washington Bridge.
You say the city beat him to death. You mean that metaphorically.
Not so metaphorically. Looking for a place to live. Looking for a job. You begin to doubt your judgment, you begin to doubt everything. You become imprecise. And that’s when you’re beginning to go under. You’ve been beaten, and it’s been deliberate. The whole society has decided to make you nothing. And they don’t even know they’re doing it.
Yet we do not give up hope, despite our cruelty and our greed. It’s time to wake up and give our children a world built on peace, on respect and on kindness. Let the patriarchy go, make a place for all people and change is gonna come.
It’s been a long time coming. Since Europeans came to the New World (new to them) and started killing the indigenous people, our collective shadow has loomed large, often obscuring the idealism that created our republic. During and after the decimation of Native tribes, European Amerikans captured and enslaved Africans, who were then used, abused, bought and sold. Women were also subject to the rule of white men, the only persons deemed worthy of owning property, voting and governing. So, it’s not surprising that another white male will soon be installed as “the leader of the free world.”
Despite her qualifications, Hillary Clinton and untried Donald Trump polled as two of the most deeply disliked candidates in history. They were ripe for shadow projections from people angry about many different things. The voters picked the candidate who best reflected their anger, fear and aggression, one who capitalized on a willingness to ignore important precedents like releasing tax returns or refusing to disavow the Ku Klux Klan. PEOTUS did insist that these acts stop only after he was elected by pandering to white supremacists. And he still hasn’t released his taxes.
When we try to explain “wha happened,” it defies reason. Truth took a back seat to propaganda and there is no apparent end in sight. Propaganda targets the emotions, those racist dog whistles and fake news stories that were so successful in driving fearful, angry voters to the polls. They speak directly to the unconscious. We chose to repress guilt, shame, truth and let territoriality and greed light the way back to Amerika’s greatness again. Rather than facing our ourselves in the twisting labyrinth of our collective unconscious, we project our fear, anger and hatred onto each other, manifesting the collective shadow.
‘‘The shadow,’’ wrote Jung (1963), is a primordial part of our human inheritance, which, try as we might, can never be eluded. The pervasive Freudian defense mechanism known as projection is how most people deny their shadow, unconsciously casting it onto others so as to avoid confronting it in oneself. Such projection of the shadow is engaged in not only by individuals but groups, cults, religions, and entire countries, and commonly occurs during wars and other contentious conflicts in which the outsider, enemy or adversary is made a scapegoat, dehumanized, and demonized. Two World Wars and the current escalation of violence testify to the terrible truth of this collective phenomenon. Since the turn of the twenty-first century we are witnessing a menacing resurgence of epidemic demonization or collective psychosis in the seemingly inevitable violent global collision between radical Islam and Judeo-Christian or secular western culture, each side projecting its collective shadow and perceiving the other as evil incarnate. As it becomes harder to tamp down the strong emotions that remain unexpressed, autonomous complexes are created. These complexes can act independent of reason, morality and even self-preservation.”
This election was bought and sold by every trick of our collective shadow. Half of eligible voters stayed home and half of the remaining voters succumbed to our collective bias toward bipolar rule. Unconscious sheeple are easy pickings for the big bad wolves of Wall Street. Didn’t we just learn that lesson? Wake up already. The shadow demands our attention so we can become whole.
About that ray of hope. Thanks to the leadership of the water protectors at Standing Rock, American Indians confronted corporate Amerika and won. The world was watching, and many came to help. Then hundreds, thousands of war veterans marched to serve as human shields for those who stood up for the river. They were willing to shield the water protectors from the water cannons, the dog bites and the rubber bullets of the storm troopers, to protect the right of the people to resist incursion. These veterans then publicly acknowledged the genocide, the broken treaties, the brutality.
They apologized and were shown forgiveness. Our soldiers fought the shadow: the guilt, shame and horror and were forgiven by its victims. This is an act of consciousness, a light shining in the shadows that threaten to control us. Tears streamed from my eyes as I watched Wesley Clark Jr. name the violence we wrought on the Lakota Nation. As he kneeled before Chief Leonard Crow Dog, everyone was moved to tears. His radical act of bravery, of truth began a healing, “World Peace” as Leonard Crow Dog announced with his blessing. We are indebted to the indigenous people who should receive reparations from the government instead of more betrayals.
Owning the truth begins withdrawing the shadow projections, the blame and the shame and offers hope for beginning anew. The shadow is in and all around us. It thrives on ignorance, fear and rage, in violence and despair. Calling it out, naming it and beginning to make amends goes a long way in repairing the damage our denial perpetuates. These warriors and community activists will go to Flint, MI next, where poor people (largely African American) do not have potable water and the mayor is talking about not providing drinking water for his citizens who have suffered from lead pipe contamination for years. White Amerika must also acknowledge the horror perpetuated by slavery. It is time to make amends to our people who continue to suffer the sins of white entitlement, of privileging the few over the many. Only when we confront our ongoing immoral, opportunistic policies will the shadow begin to lose it’s power and be integrated into a mature, responsible society. It’s up to us, this battle is worth waging.
The phrase “clawing back” surfaced during the congressional hearings about Wells Fargo bank account manipulations. It refers to taking back a portion of the golden parachute entitled CEOs receive once they leave a company, trailing a raft of shady deals behind, made at their employees’ expense.
Clawing back because men have set the standards, defined the form, the value and their desire to possess beauty for centuries. In this “men’s world”, beauty is visually focused and sexualized. It’s about having your cake and eating it too. Beauty, defined as:
an object that portrays a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.
It’s the shiny skin, the package, but mostly the wrapper. We see it, we want it, we will have it.
From 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman:
Dominant culture directs men to access beauty through the other, in sexual union with women. Even inner beauty is largely portrayed as feminine. Those stereotypes are changing, but the current state of political discourse has shined a spotlight on men’s fears that electing a woman President will put the brakes on grabbing what you want. It’s a threat to beauty as a commodity, which is used and then discarded like any old wrapper. Their entitlement is waning and an increase in misogyny and violence against women reflects this resentment.
Beauty is different for women. Women are encouraged to embody beauty and have a more nuanced and relational visual representation, as portrayed in Romanian photographer Mihaela Noroc‘s Atlas of Beauty.
We come closer to being in rather than consuming beauty as:
the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else (as a personality in which high spiritual qualities are manifest).
In our current culture, beauty’s spiritual qualities are largely ignored, save the occasional nature scene or an emotionally tender moment that evokes the union of love and beauty. Again, the visual element predominates but the feelings sparked by love or awe bring us to the threshold of another kind of union, less tangible but powerfully moving. Being in beauty calls us to experience the connection we have to life in all its forms. Less object oriented and individualistic and more part of the greater whole. In a world that seems more fragmented and conflicted every day, wholeness seems out of reach. This has not always been so. This Navajo prayer reflects life rooted in wholeness and in beauty, a more sustainable approach:
Walking In Beauty (Blessing)
Today I will walk out, today everything unnecessary will leave me,
I will be as I was before, I will have a cool breeze over my body.
I will have a light body, I will be happy forever,
nothing will hinder me.
I walk with beauty before me. I walk with beauty behind me.
I walk with beauty below me. I walk with beauty above me.
I walk with beauty around me. My words will be beautiful.
In beauty all day long may I walk.
Through the returning seasons, may I walk.
On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.
With dew about my feet, may I walk.
With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.
My words will be beautiful.
How healing would this life in beauty be? I will follow the beautiful words of this blessing for a month and let my words tell the tale. May your words and your walk be beautiful as well.
Cheers- it’s Independence Day, 2016. So how do we want our freedom to ring? For a few, for the many, for me and you but not them? Truth – we’re in it together – people, other living beings, the earth, our known universe.
I’m remembering Dr. Martin Luther King today and the practice of non-violence in pursuit of freedom for the people of his beloved community. He speaks of both, below:
In a 1957 speech, Birth of A New Nation, Dr. King said, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community. The aftermath of nonviolence is redemption. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation. The aftermath of violence is emptiness and bitterness.” A year later, in his first book Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King reiterated the importance of nonviolence in attaining The Beloved Community. In other words, our ultimate goal is integration, which is genuine inter-group and inter-personal living. Only through nonviolence can this goal be attained, for the aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of the Beloved Community.
In his 1959 Sermon on Gandhi, Dr. King elaborated on the after-effects of choosing nonviolence over violence: “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.” In the same sermon, he contrasted violent versus nonviolent resistance to oppression. “The way of acquiescence leads to moral and spiritual suicide. The way of violence leads to bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But, the way of non-violence leads to redemption and the creation of the beloved community.”
The core value of the quest for Dr. King’s Beloved Community was agape love. Dr. King distinguished between three kinds of love: eros, “a sort of aesthetic or romantic love”; philia, “affection between friends” and agape, which he described as “understanding, redeeming goodwill for all,” an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless and creative”…”the love of God operating in the human heart.” He said that “Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people…It begins by loving others for their sakes” and “makes no distinction between a friend and enemy; it is directed toward both…Agape is love seeking to preserve and create community.”
It’s time to earn our freedom from denial and work together to create the beloved community. What’s stopping us? Whatever does not make us free.
When my heart aches, wondering if we can actually become humane beings, I am grateful for the blues.
Happy 87th Birthday Miss Lavelle White. We love you.
Last week I had the great good fortune to meet the Hon. J. Charles Jones, a civil rights legend living in the Biddleville neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina. Bordered by historically black Johnson C. Smith University, Biddleville struggles to keep its character while integrating young families seeking a perch close to downtown. My daughter and son-in-law are among them and were warmly welcomed by Mr. Jones on their first day in the neighborhood. Charles lives across the street, tending to koi ponds, both indoor and in his gardens and was one of the first people in Charlotte to install a solar energy system, which provides most of his energy needs. C-Span interviewed him in 2011 about his contribution to the civil rights movement, part of their Historic Charlotte series ( linked to the photo below).
When Mr. Jones welcomed me, he told me a little about his history with the movement, his marriage of 38 years and his love of the earth and of people. His storytelling style is poetry in motion, conducting the conversation with orchestral flair. My imagination was already piqued by his lush garden and the mysterious greenhouse structure than runs the length of his family home. Charles’ openness, spiritual presence and charm are a powerful reminder that there are many humane beings in the world and that a heart to heart connection will always bring a tear to my eye. He is a wonderful goodwill ambassador, helping to build Dr. King’s “beloved community,” with love. The Historic West End Partners, neighbors and the city of Charlotte are working together to mitigate some of the side effects of increasing property taxes and keep the character of this historically rich black neighborhood alive. Support of long-time residents is important to both old and new neighbors.
This week, Representative Charles Lewis, a Civil Rights icon, led the sit in to protest obstruction to gun control legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. The struggle for justice and equality is real, just as hard as it was in the 1960’s. When someone who has faced the blindness and the hatred of prejudice holds out his hand in friendship, it is both humbling and hopeful. The relentless media focus on hatred and violence undermines opportunities for trust and mutuality. It seems, lately, that we have taken several steps backward: in women’s rights, voting rights, civil rights, LGBT and labor rights. Perhaps there will come a time when we can move forward again, together. Charles Jones and John Lewis make me believe that time is now.
A summer saunter around Charlotte, Cornelius and Davidson, NC
It’s always nice to enjoy the trails along Barton Creek in January, when the weather is so very fine. Kids of all ages and their dogs swarm the greenbelt like happy bees with spring almost in the air, sun shining down like honey .
There were fewer people on the trail at the Blunn Creek Nature Preserve, an urban oasis in South Austin and one of several ancient volcanoes that dot the area from St. Edward’s University to Stacy Park in Travis Heights. My favorite oak, probably 500 years old, is queen of the forest and was too big to fit into my camera’s frame.
Art is never more obscure than when it invokes the language of the unconscious. Thankfully, we have guides – shamans who venture into the unknown and return, inviting us to join them . Avant garde artist Joan Miro is a shaman of symbolic art. I saw his “Experience of Seeing” exhibit at the McNay Museum in San Antonio and entered the realm of the body/mind in order to see it. Joan Miro acknowledges:
It is difficult for me to talk about my painting, since it is always born in a state of hallucination, brought on by some jolt or another – whether objective or subjective-which I am not in the least responsible for.
Art critic Waldemar George described it in 1929 “as the painting of a physical vacuousness that easily balances out its interior magic, with ties to cosmic sentiment and the intuition of mystery seen in the ancestors, like those who painted the caves of Altimara, whom he specifically mentions on one hand and to “congruent paintings, brought to life by strange homunculi and fantastical plants on the other. In this defining moment there came to be an encounter between the escape from speres and the attraction to the abyss.” Jacques Dupin elaborated, “There remains a space where things and beings can abide and encounter one another through a series of exchanges and metamorphoses, and this passing site is none other than the earth: neither sheltered from the risk from below, or the beckoning from above.”
Arthur Brown knows something of above and below, exhorting us to hold a vision in our heart, to face our fears and join him in the formless depths of Zim Zam Zim.
Miro’s paintings and found object sculptures beckon us to see space as a psychological landscape – to respond without preconception to what comes our way, as children do.
I will make my work emerge naturally, like the song of a bird or the music of Mozart, with no apparent effort, but thought out at length and worked out from within . . everything becomes strange, shifting, clear and confused at the same time. Forms give birth to other forms, constantly changing into something else.
Arthur Brown invites us with many of the same numinous symbols as Miro: the spirit bird of our imagination, woman, sex and the fire of fear, rage and ultimate annihilation. An existential burlesque that finally asks, “Who the fuck am I?” in this montage from his Strange Brew show in Austin (without his full band).
As we traipse from day to dreams, through all the stages of our lives and our imagination, it’s a good idea to keep a healthy dose of humor amidst the drama. So why do we even enter into the shape shifting realm of the unconscious?
Quoting Miro, ” As Kant said, it is the irruption of the infinite into the finite. A pebble, which is a finite and immobile object, suggests not only movement to me but movement that has no end. In my paintings, this translates into the spar-like forms that leap out of the frame, as though from a volcano.
That volcano is the fire of creation in the heart of Zim Zam Zim.
It’s been a few thousand years now that we’ve been worshiping at the altar of the Father God. The creator, who through an act of his will brought everything we know and all that we don’t into being. The One God to rule them all binds our Abrahamic religions like a cock ring, too small for pleasure, primed for pain. This beastly preoccupation with might and right leaves us awash in toxic masculinity, embroiled in never-ending wars both at home and abroad.
They say Neanderthals were the barbarians
So where are they now?
If this is the 21st Century
why does it feel
like the Wild West?
Wake up my brothers
before you drag your sisters down
into a cold, dark grave
Insisting on believing in a creator described only as He presents some pretty formidable challenges to our experience of life and reality. What to do about those pesky women? Eve, as we are told, was an afterthought, yanked from Adam’s sleeping form and apparently born to raise Cain. Puns aside, we all know she made trouble, right from the beginning. Martin Luther knew what to do about her:
“The rule remains with the husband, and the wife is compelled to obey him by God’s command. He rules the home and the state, wages war; defends his possessions, tills the soil, builds, plants, etc. The woman on the other hand Is like a nail driven Into the wall …so the wife should stay at home and look after the affairs of the household, as one who has been deprived of the ability of administering those affairs that are outside and that concern the state. She does not go beyond her most personal duties.”
We had God the Son for a time, preaching a gospel of kindness and peace. We saw where that got him and in these apocryphal times his word seems but a whisper. Maybe it’s the Antichrist’s fault. The Beast, evil personified and projected outward, because it’s not something that lurks within. Hitler gained a lot of power through the mass projections of the people of the Third Reich. While many of us don’t understand the rage that drove the German people to war, we need to recognize how our projections make it easier for us to be controlled. All because we can no sooner admit the beast than we can admit our divine nature. Sex and death drive the news. If we’re not looking at boobs we’re hearing about natural disasters, mayhem and murder. When women are not fully and fairly represented, neither is life. Nurturing professions are undervalued, teachers are unsupported and pornography and child abuse proliferates. True intimacy can only occur when love abides, between people and within each of us.
It’s time to withdraw our misguided projections and honor the divine and the animal aspects of our nature. We create the world we live in every day of our lives. Perhaps God is not so very distant, after all.
Whose eyes are these,
blinking the world into being?
From the ground, to the air
From the ocean and deep below
Whose eyes are those?
That dog, love shining in his eyes,
Grandma chasing her little girl
Street eyes, turned inside
Eyes, searching mine
to see a friend or a foe?
So many eyes, pouring
thoughts and feelings into each other
like pitchers of light
mingling laughter and tears
Streaming through the cosmos
There’s a soul of kindness inside
each and every pair.
Smile the next time you look
into someone’s eyes.
God will see you.
With the passing of a beloved pet it’s natural to reflect on all the ones who came before. Each had a special legacy, memories and moments that are touchstones in the lives we shared. Fiona, my cat who just departed after 16 years, gave me the gift of Catitude.
Catitude is attitude and gratitude, from a cat’s perspective. Catitude is knowing what you want and not being afraid to ask, or quietly persist if needed. It’s the freedom to be yourself and to know that when you purr, the world purrs with you. There is only one master of the universe and you are it, or at least you should be.
Sometimes this can lead to disenchantment, as the world fails to meet expectations. Fiona’s wishes were not always granted, but she did not fall into the kind of ennui Henri the Cat so aptly personifies. Research has shown that dogs evoke a kind of maternal bonding in their human companions. We treat them as adoring, often goofy children, the kind that love you no matter what. Cats, not so much.
While humans have designed 340 dog breeds, cats have remained truer to their original domesticated form, even with 70 recognized breeds found around the world. They formed a partnership of convenience with humans, replacing weasels, (who were too ornery) as efficient rodent assassins. Once they were deified in Egypt, our relationship changed forever.
Cat people tend to either love their “fur babies” or they enjoy the elegant and generally quieter companionship of their cat friends. Artists have a particular affinity for a well-designed feline. Fiona’s appealing form and her obvious happiness when I worked in my studio made her my muse, infusing the space with her aesthetic presence. The only other time she seemed as content was when she was sleeping, with an angelic smile that need not beg forgiveness for the day’s petty misdeeds.
Our relationship was complicated, which brings me to the gratitude side of Catitude. Some relationships are challenging. They impel us to find new responses to old aspects of ourselves that never seem to go away, even when we project them onto others. This mirroring tendency is one way cats have shown us how to withdraw our projections and release the stress of the day. Hanging out with your cat, letting your senses respond to the flow of the tall grass and waving tree branches swaying in the wind is healing. It releases the mind from fears of a world in turmoil and gives the soul space to breathe.
A love that’s not easy reminds us that other beings might wish we were somehow different. And that we can’t always be right, or wrong. It helps us see through another’s eyes and recognize their truth instead of disregarding an irritating point of view. Our compassion grows with the challenge of a dynamic relationship.
We learn the mystery of life and death with the loss of our dear ones; a part of our soul has left with them. My cats have taught me much of love, death and the circle of life.
We miss you, Fiona. Thanks for sharing your life and your death. May love carry you into the mystery and bring you home.