Love, Beauty, and Soul are Dirty Words

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Pondering:

My dog ponders why he gets dried treats while humans get chocolate truffles, not to mention lobster chowder and mushroom pastries. Still he loves us, especially the grandchildren, and is mature enough not to make sneak attacks for nibbles off the counter.

My 7-year-old granddaughter ponders if she has remembered everyone she wants to give gifts, not allowing herself any excuses for her age. Her body twitches in anticipation of giving her gifts, each with a note saying she loves you.

My 9-year-old grandson ponders the structure of the US Congress and the electoral college and asks if there is an exact correlation between the number of representatives a state has and the number of its electoral representatives, or if it is only approximate. He loves his nation and feels we and it are in danger.

I ponder why I have more anxiety cooking for guests than I had facing angry men with guns in foreign nations.

I ponder free will, the nature of the conscience, the nature of consciousness, if forgiveness has any real meaning, if there is a separate entity we conveniently call “soul” or if that is a blend of our psychology, memory, ethics, longings – like custom paint mixtures with a drop of cerulean blue, some spring green, a tad of gingko leaf green, and a dollop of blood red until you get what feels like the essence of what you are looking for.

I ponder why I love more as I age, how to prevent wrinkles, how much exercise is really necessary, the nutrient value of mushroom powders, what happens to your cells when you have no sexual partner, the size of the universe, and will I have a self-awareness that can self-identify as “me” after I die?

My therapist ponders if she should be pragmatic with me or abstract, usually choosing pragmatic since I handle abstractions better than daily life – usually, not always.

Like my grandson, and every adult I know, I ponder if the T-word (I cannot say his name, which is pragmatic for the state of my psyche) is ushering in – with his band of humorless martinets – the end of the world, the end of the world as we know it, or not so many changes after all.

I do not need to ponder if he is sane.

Love, beauty, and soul:

What I ponder most is love. I read that writers are told not to use the words “soul” or “beauty.” But I know beauty when I see it and I know soul when I feel it. If not using those words has any value other than to get us to further differentiate into details and nuances, I don’t know what it is. We should speak of beauty and soul all the time, delve into their mysteries and their healing powers.

Beauty and soul, like love, cover a lot of territory and are true, and are not afraid to get dirty.

The White Helmets rescuing Syrians from under tens of tons of concrete rubble are beautiful and dirty and work out of love.

Polar bears on melting snow and ice are beautiful and heartbreaking and trying to save their cubs.

Parents carrying children a day’s journey to hospitals across barren earth are weary with grieving for their beloved and desperately ill babies.

Love and beauty and soul mingle with the blood, shit, and gurgling of those who die by guns, drones, bombs, and diseases. They loved and they were loved.

Hearts and minds off course:

We love children and polar bears being rescued, but something has gone wrong. We are not fully alive if we do not recognize those who died. We bind up and choke our souls when we do not mourn unnecessary death with outrage.

Lincoln Financial is one sponsor of The PBS News Hour. Their ad begins with “feel good” photos and a reassuring male voice telling us “You can care for many, but you can only love a precious few.” It then shows photos of loving moments limited to two or three family members.

When a widely broadcast ad tells us we can only love a precious few, when a script like that gets through the advertising department and the corporate higher ups, we have crossed into dangerous territory, a land where the T-word and his racism, bigotry, hatred, threats, and walls are elected – if not by the majority, still legally – to lead our country. Children like my grandson know and feel the poison for what it is, poison.

Feeling the love:

As I age, I witness my love expanding, seemingly on its own. Do I love the T-word’s cabinet appointees? No, but I don’t exactly hate them either. “Abhor” is a more accurate word.

I’ve become one of those women who has become gaga with love. This is not an abstraction, it is my reality. I touch it and feel it, even if I cannot explain it.

Do not tell me I can love only a precious few! That is bunk, a lie. It is wrong, it is the opposite of what I do and most people do. We love widely and deeply, and would love even more if we understood it as the natural and healthy way of living – if we had more courage, more encouragement, more faith in ourselves.

Love, beauty, and living aligned with your soul is as pragmatic as it can get. It is the only way we will survive.

 

The Narcissistic Personality: trouble in River City

This blog is not about what to do now. The answers to that are organize, unite, protect each other, and use every aspect of our judicial system to fight against incorporating hatred into the laws of our government and the mores of our social structures. This blog is about understanding the nature of Donald Trump’s mind and not being naïve. He is a dangerous man who does not know what is happening in the real world because he experiences only the world he has created for himself as a classic narcissist living in a world where hate is legitimate, lies are normal conversations, and he is entitled to delude people from the golden chairs in his tower and spew petty twitter rants from his bed. 

Operating principles of a narcissist:

1) Narcissists don’t care about you because you don’t exist to them as a real human.

2) The world they construct in their heads is the only world they perceive.

3) They experience themselves at the center of this artificial world.

4) They are often charismatic because their belief in themselves at the center of their world has a spillover effect on others, i.e. they believe they are great, and this can be seductive.

5) This spillover effect reinforces their sense of superiority and entitlement to whatever they wish. This is manifest often in a sense of ownership of people of the opposite sex.

6) Because their world is small and of their making, they are freed of any obligations towards integrity, honesty, consistency, compassion, or keeping of contracts and promises. Truth is irrelevant in this world where they are, essentially, the only inhabitant. Pathological lying is their language because they can change the contents of their private world from one moment to the next, eliminate this, add that. They don’t fully compute that real people in an “outside” world keep track of their inconsistencies and don’t like obfuscation, denials, and trickery.

7) Rage, duplicity, aggression, and divisiveness are their most common tools against people who confront them. They willingly send their minions after such people.

8) To mock, expose, or criticize them provokes an immediate response because, at all costs, they dare not give up their image of themselves as a superior being in a fantasy world. The spillage that could come from examining themselves in the mirror could be horrific to them—and most have lost the ability to enter the scouring world of truth, in any case. They cannot conceive that their thin-skinned responses are petty, absurd, and reek of being a third-grade spoilsport on the playground.

9) Narcissism is one of the most difficult of the delusional psychological diseases to treat because narcissism has for the most part served them well. Narcissists are successful in our contemporary world, which tells you something about our contemporary world.

Commentary on narcissists:

My experience with narcissistic humans could take up pages, but this is not about an ex-husband or former employee, or screaming in the shower for so long that my dog went outside to get sleep. It is about narcissists and what to expect of them.

That is, do not expect Donald Trump to become a rational human being. He will make his decisions based on his belief of that moment of what he thinks is best for him as ruler of his fiefdom. He does not have a rational, reality-based capacity for thought or decision.

Our President-Elect is a dangerous man who knew how to con and use nearly 50% of the people who voted in this election. He played on their fears, insecurities, prejudices, assumptions, lack of truthful and complete information, the financial inequities that affect their daily lives, and their feeling they are looked down upon by coastal “elites” and pushed aside in favor of minorities and people who are “other” than them.

He lied over and over and over and over—and a gullible (and, in some cases, biased) media gave him free press and allowed his lies to go out unchecked and unchallenged. He was perceived as a clownish bully rather than an unstable threat who could become our president. The media has a lot to answer for.

His spewings encouraged and justified violence in the minds of people who are now committing hate crimes across the U.S. This is not an illusion, it is happening, and it is happening not only to minorities but to white women I know.

And the people who voted for him for financial reasons will discover soon enough that he was never for them. They will be left further behind if his plans to lower taxes for the wealthy, limit social security and the Affordable Care Act, and deregulate the banks go into effect.

This is not even touching on the massive issues of climate change and global terrorism, or our relationship with Putin who is an even better con artist than Trump, or the setbacks and prejudices against women and their rights, or foreign relationships, or the global economy.

There it is, and it is not pretty, and it is not safe.

Still, I believe in America because I believe in Americans. I believe we will survive and we can rise. With intent and actions, we can unite across the divides to strengthen the middle of the bell curve, to reclaim the heart of who we are. We will protect each other and work together.

If our President and the Republican congress cannot serve us well, then we will have to create the Renaissance ourselves. We can do this by calling on our civil sector, our entrepreneurs, our artists, our visionaries, our lawyers for justice, our local governments and businesses, our diverse and wondrous citizens, and each other. We will not abandon the principles of this nation to a man who thinks we are his gullible throngs.

I believe this is possible with every cell in my body IF we remember at all moments that our President-Elect is incapable of self-control, rational decisions, or altruistic motives. This government must be under our watch, not his. We live in the real world and we are responsible for its care, our care, and the care of each other.

 

Stop with the Liberal Guilt

We liberals are not the shrinks for the world. We are not to blame for everything that happens bad in the world, and we are not guilty just because we still believe in mutual good and harmony between people.

Raised on a farm in Iowa in the 1940’s, 50’s, and early 60’s, I learned that pigs don’t sweat, there’s always an odd number of rows of kernels around a corn cob, spring winds come in from the west, and few things are so beautiful as black loam turning over behind a plow as crows swoop down to feast on exposed earthworms.

I also learned that a streak of insecurity runs through the people. I can speak to this because, at base, these are my people. Never mind my life experience, when I die the visions in my head will not be of Paris or New York or Washington. They will be of fireflies under skies that never stop, whether of the blueness of the day or the stars of the night.

Yet I had to leave, and planned to do so by the time I was eight years old. By the time I was a freshman in high school my choices were to be a missionary in an exotic place or to be in a city wearing black off-the-shoulder sheath dresses in fancy restaurants. There was no room for anything in-between. Ultimately the second alternative won, more or less, combined with working for women around the globe, connecting them for peace and mutual good.

I am, by any account, both in the 1% and a far-left liberal. This makes me suspect on both accounts for most of the people in the “fly over” states. I have become the presumed stereotype of what I was told were the “snotty Easterners who think they are better than we are.”

While I have never heard an Easterner say they felt superior to the people in the heartland, I sure did hear the people of the heartland say it was what Easterners believe. I heard it over and over. I was fed it at the kitchen table nearly as regularly as I ate boiled potatoes.

The Midwestern stereotype of an Eastern elite is not a pretty thing, nor is it accurate. It is the product of insecurity that leads to a sense of humiliation and then to resentment.

Ask me what the vote was about, and I will tell you it is the product of many things, including fear of, and isolation from, diverse people. I will also add that many voted for Trump in order to shove it in the faces of what they perceive as the Eastern “elite.” This impulse was for many so strong that it blocked out the realization that Trump is not their friend in any way, shape, or form. It blocked out the understanding that it was Clinton who was set to go with the programs and policies that would help them the most. It was their response to the belief they were being ignored compared with other socio-groups. It was their feeling they were forgotten and humiliated. Vote for Trump! Let the chips fall where they may.

Does this mean I have no sympathy? Not at all. My heart hurts. These are people who overwhelmingly believe in good, who rally together for each other, who work long hard hours, and who have seen their share of the (apple) pie decline.

Still, we liberals were taken by surprise at the level of their vehemence and anger – and at our sense that they didn’t know their friends from their enemies, and our sense that they didn’t realize it has been the Republicans who have blocked what can help them.

As liberals, we tend to blame ourselves. THAT is an actual characteristic of Eastern liberals. We believe we are somehow to blame, that we didn’t do enough, that we ignored people who were hurting. We believe we have the ability to make everything well and good. We do not. We are only humans, individuals who get some things right and some things wrong.

Peace building and care-taking and changes in society are messy complex processes with no easy answers, no single answers, and we liberals are not the shrinks for the world. We  are not to blame for everything that happens bad in the world, and we are not guilty because we still believe in mutual good and harmony between people.

An hour ago I held the sister of my son-in-law. She holds a high position in the agency that created and maintained the Affordable Care Act. After putting on her “big girl britches” this week for her staff, she can finally cry. “Twenty million people got insurance. We saved lives. We saved countless lives. We will always have that. They can’t take that away from us.”

I worked for the War on Poverty under President Johnson. When the Republicans came in under Nixon, they immediately set about to dismantle the agency as much as they could. They destroyed all the photographs (and negatives) of poverty and programs that I had had taken by professional photographers across the US. They wiped away the proof of need among our people.

It can feel like an upside-down world, where good intentions are lambasted, where the complexities of making change are not understood, where science and facts are not respected, where our planet and our lives are in danger because of people’s unwillingness to recognize the truth of climate change, where women are considered lesser mammals, where some people consider themselves better than others, where minorities are not safe, and where hate is considered bravery.

This is not a time for liberals to feel guilty that we didn’t do enough. It is the time to recognize that we cannot ever do enough, but that we must do what we can; and we cannot do that best if we are weakened by feelings of guilt. We must strategize and move forward, keeping the faith, and acting in the service of justice, equality, integrity, and inclusiveness. We must put on our “big girl britches” and do the work ahead.

MIA: my tears

Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.

I no longer cry. It is not a blessing. It is, I believe, a kind of malady of my psyche. Instead of crying at yet another body blow–the slaughter of friends and lovers celebrating in a bar in Orlando, the drowning of families and children in the Mediterranean Sea, or the smug entrenched immorality of Congresspeople voting against gun control, or any other routine daily cataclysm–I stand and absorb, let it hit the soft organs beneath my ribs, my heart, lungs, and stomach.

The cows from my Iowa childhood did that. They stood in cold pelting rain, heads down, absorbing the blows, even of sleet and hail. They gathered in a circle, heads in the center, and waited it out.

I am the elephant mother that lost her baby. I am not the baby that lost her mother. That is panic, confusion, bafflement, devastation. I am the mother who knows she may have another baby, who knows what dying is, who knows the cycle of birth, being, dying, and who knows the importance of continuing even through grief.

It worries me that I cannot cry. Rationally, I know crying is natural and a relief, a cleansing of priorities, a showing to yourself of what matters to you if you did not already know.

Because I do not cry does not mean I don’t feel. It means that if I begin, I do not know when the sobbing will end. Grief could knock the feet out from underneath me, deplete me, break my heart. It could take weeks to recover.

I am not alone in this. Perhaps you and I are the same. I believe many of us are the same, feeling pain but losing faith in the value of crying yet again, or afraid to start. Crying is the other side of the wall. We paint our walls, put murals on them, fresco them, wallpaper them, pretend they are solid and that we are safe on the pretty side.

Perhaps like you, I fear crying could leave me vulnerable. Blurry-eyed and exposed, could I protect myself or others from continuing harm? Am I not counted on to rise to the occasion? Get the others out? Be a pillar during chaos? Signal a colleague I’m with them when they are frightened or when they are brave. Be the sanctuary?

Why doesn’t President Obama have these fears? He stands there, truly exposed. A mensch with tears on his cheeks. I stare at him and my definition of bravery changes right then and there. I understand I have a weakness, not that of crying but that of not crying.

Yet, I cannot.

That is not completely true. Tears stung my eyes three times in the last year, each when I thought of women I know, or do not know, who are truly suffering and I can do nothing to help. A Syrian friend made three attempts to cross the Mediterranean to Greece before she made it and then she walked most of the rest of the way to Amsterdam to make a future for her teenage daughters who will follow. A mother in Orlando spoke of her beloved son among the dead. A Palestinian student (on video) was shot until dead in Israel because she had a knife and was as dangerous as a butterfly.

Yes, it is for the women my eyes sting. I don’t know all the reasons why but it contains the element that I know how to help these women, how to hold them, how to stand up to their oppressors, how to listen to them and sometimes give them words for their pain. This is not hubris, it is the knowing of how I work in crises and of my experience of more than a decade with women around the world. I could help them if I were there, but I am not. I cannot hold them, I cannot make the world change enough for them soon enough.

I did help earlier with women in Palestine, Afghanistan, Burundi, Turkey, Argentina, Bosnia, Israel, and more. I let them cry and reveal horrors and find their way back to plans and hope. I absorbed their body blows and did not cry then because they needed me not to cry. They needed me as a witness.

Now I need to witness flowers, and friends, and poetry, and fortitude, kindness, and joy. I need my grandchildren’s laughter, jokes, and questions. I need to know good people come together and nudge each other to act upon their goodness. I need us. I NEED US. I need to cry at beauty if I cannot at hate and violence.

I need to cry in gratefulness that you exist, and I write all of this for you so we become more aware of if we cry or not, and how that affects us, our actions, perceptions, attitudes, and happiness.

I may cry now. Or next week. Or perhaps the next.

Trump: our snake charmer

. . . he is pathological and has succumbed to the hate and rage born from his sense of inferiority and his deepest knowledge that he is a fraud and cheat. I believe his dark side is in control. He would be the last to know.

I have not written a blog in some time because I am focused, as a woman of a certain age, on writing a memoir. It takes up almost all of the space in the Puzzling Things Out part of my mind. Yet life continues around me, annoyingly so, and it has been disturbing.

None of us can pretend when we see evil and ignorance gathering that it doesn’t affect us, cause us to fear, to be amazed such things are happening. How many people are saying, “I never expected this in my lifetime”?

Pundits are having their say, and in the process reveal their wisdom or their calculations on how to be provocative and increase their media face time and their audiences. Some of these pundits, and many of my friends on Facebook, are far better writers than I am. Perhaps not in depth, but in words and information. It is intimidating.

Yet, my forte is how things work inside of humans on the personal level, so I venture out because it is time. My audience is small, and mostly liberal, and mostly with advanced degrees. If you are not in these categories, I welcome you and ask you to stay with me.

Let’s get to it. We are watching an uber-narcissistic con-man call up the snakes inside people. He sings them songs that mesmerize them, that tell them it is okay—natural, brave, and right—to hate and it is good to be violent against those you hate. He has vast circles of adoration that increase daily and allow him to feel he is a demi-god, answerable to no one and not to truth. He has his followers and that is enough truth for him.

I do not believe he is a carnival barker who takes cynical pleasure in toying with naïve people or scaring them with horror houses. I believe he is pathological and has succumbed to the hate and rage born from his sense of inferiority and his deepest knowledge that he is a fraud and cheat. I believe his dark side is in control. He would be the last to know.

Think about it. This is a man with the goofiest hair in the world and he doesn’t seem to realize it. This is delusion.

I’m not yet comparing him to Hitler, but I can’t help but think of that mustache that stayed on throughout the Holocaust.

Of course, the real issue is not a singular madman, but that he has watered and fed the possibilities in humankind to rise and hate en masse. How did so many of us as a people become susceptible to a snake charmer?

The mixed blessing of democracy is that it allows the worst to come out in people as well as the best. Pandering to fear-filled conservatives, Bible-belt prejudices, censoring of scientific truth, gun-toting urban cowboys and cowgirls, and xenophobia in order to get votes has come home to roost.

We have a large portion of the population who are educated by television reality shows and violence and Fox news.

We have a large portion of the population who gain their sense of power by open carry.

We have a large portion of the population who do not travel, learn other languages, study other religions, or read books.

We have a large portion of the population who are under-employed or trying to survive on a shameful minimum wage.

We have a large portion of the population who feel humiliated, correctly or incorrectly, by most of you who will read this.

We have a large portion of the population who are ready to believe someone selling them snake oil, someone even paying enough attention to them to sell them snake oil.

Is it too late to change this? Of course not, because it cannot be. Those of us with more influence need to spend more time caring and acting for mutual good and less time lamenting and accusing others of not being so brilliant as we are, tra la.

This is the time to acknowledge these people, to look into root causes, to expose Donald Trump for the malicious opportunist he is. This is the time to reach across our neighborhoods and our country, to invest dramatically in education and truth in media, to bring everyone into a democracy that is fair and equal, and to broaden lives and opportunities.

It is not only the right thing to do but we need to immune our democracy not only against people like Donald Trump but against people like Ted Cruz. He is even more scary because evil has solidified inside him. In Trump it still whirls like nauseous gases.

These people drink their own Kool-Aid. It is a concoction that makes them pompous, manipulative, power hungry, delusional, and dangerous, especially to those so looking for someone to help them that they cannot discern when they are being duped, when they are considered only to be a power base for personal power.

If we as a democratic people do not support and provide comprehensive education, financial opportunities, truth and depth in media, and exposure to other cultures, those of us who receive the least will continue to be susceptible to the people who would harm them the most.

Is it not a prerequisite of democracy that we care for all of our citizens out of common decency and mutual respect? Democracy is a responsibility. If we privileged do not come out of our comfort zone to help those with few comforts, we will have reneged on that responsibility.

 

Coming Out as a Mystic, or why I’m against all organized religions

My frustration with organized religions runs parallel to my pull to the transcendental. Religions attempt to codify what cannot be grasped by ordinary consciousness. These attempts come from the human longing to return into the energy that creates them, to reunite with “home,” to meld into love. We do this not only through organized religion but in our thirst for “soul mates” and meaningful relationships, our quest for resonance within the arts, our love of nature and sports, and our desire to tend others and do good in the world.

Yet, it is within organized religions where humans tend to go a little, or a lot, berserk, i.e., authoritarian, commanding, judging, ranting, “know it all,” harmful, and willing to kill others.

Within relationships, art, sports, nature, or doing good we allow variations, we don’t tell others what relationships they should choose (unless there is an overlap with religion) or what art they should buy, books they must read, or songs they can or cannot sing. Sports would fall apart if people didn’t back different teams, and we know good in the world has many aspects.

But in religion, we are willing to humiliate and attack others to stake our claim to the one true god. Systems of religion become inflexible, and then often corrupt, because they have too much power in the mysteries of greatest importance – how did we get here and how do we live in order to obtain the best option when we die?

People are terrified, we are desperate to know we are not going to disappear at the end of our lives. We want reassurances and protectors, and for them we will cling to our beliefs without questioning.

That is, since we cannot know in the conventional ways – using our brain and senses – where we come from and where we are going, we invent religions with doctrines and creeds to fill the gap between what we can know and what actually is, and we fight to maintain the status quo of our own beliefs.

It is not that there is no universal energy around, through, and in us. Everything is made of energy. It is just that we can only consciously absorb a certain amount of information about that energy at a time. It is as though energy is a polyglot and our brains have only learned the first three letters of any given language.

This polyglot of energy overloading our circuits leads to different experiences, often called religious, when our meager minds run the energy through filters that transform it into the spiritual experiences we expect in our chosen religion.

I am an expert on this. I have been knocked to the floor by a hit behind my knees in a small Christian church and rolled around speaking in tongues (which is a lovely language, by the way, with a seeming syntax though I don’t know what I was saying); awakened from a laser of light that penetrated everything including me to find myself levitating a foot above my bed (and then I fell); been visited in a waking dream by a Hindu guru I had never seen or heard of who told me he was my guru (turns out he had died over a decade earlier and was – is? – one of the powerhouse gurus of India); spoken extensively in mudras, the Hindi hand language (though again I didn’t know what I was saying but others did and translated for me), and given up my local consciousness to enter the pulsing heart of love that pumps through everything that exists (an experience so profound I could not speak of it for months and then only with tears of joy).

Those are just a few of the experiences I’ve had, though it is more that the experiences had me.

I also healed minor injuries and illnesses like headaches, muscle ache, and small burns for friends. I had a fireball explode in mid-air between myself and an elderly Austrian Jewish philosopher across the room, and I’ve sincerely answered questions of people who, it turned out, had not yet said them aloud even though I had heard them crystal clearly.

Now, all of the above are experiences. They are not beyond experiences. They existed in the world of time and space and physicality. Not only did they exist in the realm of time and space and physicality but they could all have been amenable to various organized religions.

The point is, if I ONLY had experiences within Christianity or Hindu or another religion, I likely would believe that to be the true religion. After all, look at the amazing thing that happened within that framework. I would have been so stunned and overwhelmed – believe me I am leaving out a great deal – that I would not have been able to conceive that the experiences were going through humanly-conceived filters inside me of what to expect. I would have believed I was on the inside of what was true.

As it was, I had so many experiences in so many religions that I automatically parse religions for what is of value and what is not. I see how they were constructed and reinforced over millennia, and gained their own energies that are mixtures of both good and bad. Bottom line: love is good. Everything else is negligible, placebo, or crap.

Two things I take as real – the Here Now of physical reality within time and space (a place of definitions) and the What Is that is beyond time, space, and physicality (a place of no definition). If there is something in-between, it seems to be a juicy cocktail of potential possibilities that are, strictly speaking, not provable. I rather like many of them and, wow!, have I experienced them but they could all be by-products of the encompassing collective unconscious processing fantasies agreed upon by humans that are valid only so long as you are in human form. The human mind, individually and collectively, has amazing powers so long as it is alive. I’m not sure that power continues after death. That is, I am a mystic who is skeptical of everything between the Here Now and the What Is beyond time and space.

What I know is the What Is (the place of no definition) is real, more real than the Here Now. I’ve been there twice – though of course language at this point has no meaning because there was no “me” there, only knowledge of everything, and it was home. It is painful to speak of because even attempting to define it is a kind of travesty, a belittling, a hacking at.

In the meantime, you and I live here where my heart breaks – and yours, too, I know – when we harm each other because we do not understand we are on a planet infinitesimally small where we must love each other and tend each other in order to survive as a species.

We each will return “home” to beyond time and space. Whether we return again as the same capsule of energy or a different one or not at all, I do not know. It hardly matters.

What matters is that if we claim our religion is the good one, and true, and others are bad, and false, we have made a foolish mistake. It may feel like psychological safety but it is very dangerous and very wrong. God would not approve. (That was a joke.)

 

CUBA: Art & Soul

The beating pulse of artistic creativity permeates everything in Cuba. I am not talking about souvenir art like papier-mâché 1950’s cars in chartreuse, red, and royal blue to be used as desktop ornaments, or Cuban flags or Che t-shirts. I am talking of art that transcends the bounds of the ordinary to reveal the extraordinary, art that draws back the veil.

A US citizen can still only enter Cuba from the US with a US-vetted educational group. My group was mainly Jungian analysts. I am not a Jungian analyst though I have my visions, and was as excited as the Jungians about the symbolism and archetypes of Cuban Christianity that overlay the African religions.

Sightings of Jamaya (Ee-mai-YA; also spelled Jamalla), the Cuban personification of the archetype of the Black Madonna, goddess of land and sea, led to ripples of excitement in our group. Her flowing robes, her golden aura, her white baby.

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It rained every day except one, but even on the rainy days we went singly, in duos, threes and fours, or as a group to museums, galleries, churches, restaurants, and concerts, or strolled through old Havana, Cienfuegos, or Trinidad. We struggled to grasp the dichotomy to our Western minds—Jungian or not—between the vibrancy of the art, colors, tastes, and sounds with the dilapidated buildings, meager goods, and government repression.

I became obsessed with the question: Is creativity expressed most radiantly by indomitable people under duress? Perhaps because it is the carrier of life itself?

Even the most “transcending” art I saw, including of Jamaya, was infused with humanity, with human emotions, gestures, and instincts—humans merging with animals, Jesus sitting on a chair after the Crucifixion looking very worried.christ for blog
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Sometime a wry sense of humor, or not, speaks to the current political situation. In the center courtyard of the magnificent National Museum of Fine Art in Havana is a sculpture that is a masterpiece of ambiguity. A rusted iron smoke stack rises as a steeple out of a small Monopoly-style church. Sitting at the top is Christ on a cloud, seemingly all of smoke. As my Jungian analyst friend Jean Shinoda Bolen said, “Holy smoke!”Jesus on smoke stack.

Yet, is it a write-off of religion as nothing but smoke? Or an embracing of the Christ spirit as generated by believers? Or something else?

Christianity has come back in force in Cuba, but remains vaguely frowned upon by some. Is this sculpture debunking religion or showing the tenacity of belief in something beyond the tangible, perhaps even manifesting something beyond the tangible? We went to a church service. The place was rocking.

We were told that Cubans have freedom of speech (and, thus, of artistic expression) but they don’t have freedom after speech. That is, for the most part you can say what you feel and think, though it might need to be somewhat camouflaged, but you cannot ask others to join you in a movement and you cannot do active protest. This demarcation holds social protest in place, supported by years of masterful maneuvering by Fidel that makes most Cubans feel grateful to him and the on-going government for what they receive, including full free health care, an excellent free education up through doctoral degrees, and government institutions that support advanced art education in painting, sculpture, dance, and music.

The poverty line has been lifted way above where it was before the revolution and the people seem happy, though income discrepancies are rampant. Hotel workers, through tips, earn more than medical doctors. (Cuban joke: A man tells a stranger he is a bellboy. His wife clarifies, “He has delusions of grandeur. He’s really a doctor.”)

To continue: housing is, by and large, very decrepit, and luxury goods are not available. There are no large grocery stores, or, it seems, large stores of any kind.
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There are many car repair service stations, but you have the feeling every Cuban male has learned how to repair cars with tin cans and wire. The cars themselves are works of art.

Our hotel had a grand marble lobby and wonderful restaurants. Still, the light fell out of the ceiling of my bathroom and crashed in the sink, my coffeemaker didn’t work, and my curtains were missing a third of their hooks, and the apartment elevators were so slow I used the stairs from the fifth floor. We rejoiced with the general manager—a woman—the day the embargo on parts from the US was lifted so the elevators, and hopefully many other things, could be properly repaired. That said, the hotel spaces were filled with the best art—beautiful, creative, whimsical, celebratory, exquisitely painted—I have ever seen in a hotel anywhere.

Perhaps this containment of artists in a stratum of life where they can express themselves fully only through their art is like a greenhouse. The art is required to burst fully open, ignoring deprivations, expressing the world of beauty and so much more precisely because it does not have access to what is beyond the greenhouse. Then again, it could just be that Cuba is warm and sunny.

Surely it is the “warm and sunny” that has fueled the exuberant music that has supported Cubans throughout their history, but what blew me away was the choir Cantores De Cienfuegos directed by Honey Moreira. choir for blog, bestWe had a private concert with this a cappella chorus of angels!

They have won international contests, which seems beside the point when you are lifted in their embrace. (You can hear them on YouTube to get an approximation of this extraordinary experience of musicianship.) 

The last day we ate at a privately-owned restaurant that had three large prominently displayed paintings of Fidel Castro. On first look, even second look, they seemed simply to be photo-realistic paintings. Yet something was “off.”

Fidel tongue copyLooking closer at the profile view, I saw behind the straggly moustache that Fidel’s tongue appeared to be sticking out like that of a silly yapper. Perhaps it was that he has a strange lower lip. Perhaps the artist was leaving the question open?hands for blog fidel to crowd.

 

 

 

 

 

In the study of his hands, I realized his left hand is in his sleeve as though he has a trick up there and the thumb of his left hand has traces of red, like blood, on it. But then again, his right fingers have the same red. What to make of that? Nothing or something?

In the final painting the viewer sees Castro’s back with his arms raised before a crowd. His left hand points further to the left. He is exhorting his audience, which the viewer sees as faceless blobs as, the artist seems to be saying, Fidel saw them also.

Is this an artist “speaking” his truth?

Our group is gravely concerned about what will happen when the international hotels and luxury stores arrive, when Americans arrive by the tens of thousands, when ceiling lights no longer crash into the sink, curtains hang right, and new cars arrive.

I’m not sure the Cubans will know what hit them. How will their exuberant humanity hold against the onslaught? What will save Cuba from becoming Miami?

Perhaps there will be help from Yamaya who protects land and sea or Jesus who rises out of the ashes, but I suspect it will be up to the Cubans to save themselves and protect their humanity through their warmth, ingenuity, and creativity. For this, they do have one more god to help them, Elegua the Trickster, a direct import from Africa.

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Elegua is a child, either male or female. Here she is in the all-white dress of the Santeria sect of Christianity, sitting in the entry room of a small temple to Jamalla nestled between shops in Trinidad de Cuba.

Elegua should not be confused with childishness. She is powerful and uses wiles to make things right. I place my bets on her ingenuity. I place my bets on Cubans. I place my bets on art. It matters. Cuba is a triumph of creativity and humanity over circumstances. We have much to learn from her.

Cosby & company: my drug rape

Forty some years ago we were still in the era of sexual liberation pre-HIV. I was a strong confident woman just turned 30, capable of handling myself and the situation around me.

I met the man – whose name I have repressed or simply forgotten, or I would tell you – in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art a month earlier. We talked about Richard Diebenkorn. The next day we sat on Telegraph Hill overlooking the city and getting to know each other. There was no physical contact.

I mentioned I would be in NYC in a few weeks checking out photographers to be guest presenters at a master’s panel I was organizing for the Smithsonian Museum Adult Education program. He invited me to visit him at his apartment – he lived in NYC – and even to stay if I wished. What could possibly go wrong?

My day with prominent photographers took longer than I expected so by the time I was dropped off by cab at his address it was dark. The first thing I noticed was that the street was not what I expected – dark, unkempt, no traffic.

His apartment was in the basement of the building, and he had multiple locks on the door. I instinctively reviewed if anyone knew where I was and realized only a couple people had a vague idea.

Nothing felt right but there was no leaving, no running into the street. I was slightly comforted by his collection of Inuit art.

I sat opposite him with my feet pointing at him, legs crossed, on the round cocktail table between us. I kept the conversation impersonal and refused a glass of wine. I had not anticipated that he would put a drug in the delicious fish stew he made.

To this day I do not know what the drug was. I remember exactly what I remember and I know there were things I never knew. I remember in the course of a minute losing control over my body. I could not move. I could not talk. I could feel horror.

I do not know how the cocktail table was moved or how I became naked on the sofa bed. I remember being raped.

My first words while still under him, “What was that?” meaning the drug. He answered, meaning the sex, “It’s what bodies do.” I said nothing more. Neither did he.

I forced myself to stay awake the entire night, rigid, in terror, while he slept. I felt he could suffocate me if he woke and I were asleep. It seemed likely.

At the first light I stirred, testing my body and hoping he would wake. I would need the door unlocked. He did. I dressed in silence. He let me out in silence. There were still no taxis. I walked for blocks.

Much of the next day is lost. I sat next to Richard Avedon at a conference at MoMA on photography. I went to the bathroom stall and the black and white checkered tile on the floor started moving and re-aligning itself. I was still drugged.

I got on a train home to DC with a bladder in full seizure. Mysteriously, two hours later as I was begging some caring god somewhere for relief the seizures stopped.

Not mysteriously, I never once considered pressing charges. It was to be put behind me, though the memory of the terror has a place in my cells.

Besides I was an adult, I went to his apartment willingly. I had simply made a colossal miscalculation. My instincts had failed me.

There was no way to win in a court. No way. I had no bruise marks. It would be his word against mine.

I knew that. The women raped by Bill Cosby knew that when it happened to them.

If you are looking for a moral to this story, or a word of warning or of advise, I have none except rape of anyone – women, men, children – is the act of cowards meant to control and demean – even split the souls – of those they rape.

I was lucky – a strong woman in a western culture who got out. But there is no statute of limitations on harm done. Writing of this now, I feel the fear, the horror of being incapacitated, the violation of my body and psyche.

Please help vulnerable people find safety, shelter, and acceptance – and justice. Please do not be a wiseass about women, or anyone, filing for suit years after a rape. Repeat: there is no statute of limitations on the harm of being raped or otherwise brutalized.

Rapists are criminals.

 

Strange Gods and Manifest Destiny

Several years ago a woman served me apple pie from a recipe of her cousins in Chicago, the descendants of her great-aunts and great-uncles who fled to America after yet one more Russian pogrom. She left more recently, only a decade or so ago. She is a Jewish settler on the West Bank. She explained to me that the land around us was all part of Greater Israel promised by God to the Jews. She returned home to a place she had never been.

As she spoke, my mind and senses disassociated from each other. The sweet smells and tastes, the kindness, and her patient sincerity in explaining this God-given truth, did not fit for me with the root meanings of her words, i.e. this land is a Jewish right that trumps the legitimacy of the non-Jews who have lived here for hundreds and hundreds of years, so we are reclaiming it.

She wished no harm to the Palestinians. In fact, she wanted to join them in one state. They could even fly their own flag if they wished, though they wouldn’t be allowed to vote, of course, or run structures that would govern their lives. When she saw my perplexity, she added, “At least not at first.” That is, they would be disenfranchised second-class citizens on their own land, which would be called “Israel.” That the land had been called “Palestine” for two thousand years had no substantive meaning to her. “If you read the Torah you would know . . .” she said, that Greater Israel extended even into Jordan and Lebanon.

Manifest Destiny is a dangerous concept built on myths of entitlement.

In the name of Manifest Destiny, northern Europeans decimated the native populations in North America, and the Spaniards and Portuguese did the same in South America. Pox in blankets. Death marches. Death as slaves in gold mines. Betrayals. Confinement on barren lands. Outright slaughter. Separation of children from parents for indoctrination. But, of course, the white man is superior. We are entitled to be savages.

Combine Manifest Destiny with self-serving human distortion of the teachings of a group’s chosen god and you have apologias for mass brutality. We live in this world now. The fanatical fringes of the Abrahamic religions – Islam, Christianity, Judaism – grant themselves free rein to murder and oppress because they have created their god in their image, with their prejudices, greed, and lust for power.

God, whatever It may be, has nothing to do with war, hate, and land-grabbing. If such a sentient Lording-Over-Us Being exists, there is no way He/She/It could have created a world in which love exists so bountifully while also advocating slaughter – or poverty, prejudice, hate, or dispossession.

To be plain, Israel was promised to no one. America – neither south nor north – was promised to no one. The counties Germany claimed during WWII were not part of an Aryan right. The nations Russia claims under Putin are not an inherent part of a greater Russia. Neither India nor Pakistan have a heaven-endowed right to Kashmir. China does not have a Manifest Destiny to claim Tibet. The clashing interests and claims in some nations in the Middle East and Africa have no justification from any god.

It is a myth. It is all human invention. Whatever Source created and propels an expanding cosmos of more than 10 trillion galaxies – a number used but generally considered a gross underestimation – is not interested in real estate apportioning on earth.

The woman who served me fresh apple pie did so while a guard with a gun sat 8’ away because the law of the settlement required a guard when “outsiders” visited. She saw nothing wrong with her perception that the West Bank was Jewish property. She did not make the connection that the reason a guard was necessary was because her belief might not be heaven blessed. To her it was the highest perception possible. God-given, and, Lord knows, God is above secular rule.

When we create God in our image with our prejudices, our demands to be recognized as superior, and our lusts for control and ownership, we create a petty god. We create excuses not to share, have compassion, or love. The belief that we are an elevated people chosen to follow the dictates of a god we ourselves created tramples “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Syrians are slaughtered, refugees fleeing horrors from their home nations are turned away from other nations, fanatics behead people who don’t follow their beliefs, barrel bombs are dropped on civilians, and gun killings in the US explode in numbers – and are justified.

Living in a commune four decades ago I was taught that if I believed I was God, I was correct because we all are made of whatever God is, but if I believed only I was God, I had gone insane.

I believe this principle expands to: If you believe only you and people like you have the inside track with the Source – call It whatever you care to – that created us, then you are on a path towards harming others, harming the earth itself, justifying your damage, and never coming into full awareness of love, sweetness, and wonder. It is more than a waste, it is a self-imposed cage of insanity.

 

 

Song of Miracles: being here is enough

We each have a song that is our own and that needs protecting from the clang and falseness of the world. When the noise is too loud we cannot hear our own melody, our violins, triangle, bassoon, our cello providing the soul-filled bass.

Many of us idealize the pastoral life, the convent, the walk in the woods – places where we can not only hear ourselves think but can hear our own song, consciously or not. We are refreshed and returned to our inner harmonies through the quiet of meditation.

Some people’s songs are strong enough to hold their own against the roar of the crowd. They even change the melody of the collective. We trust these songs. They inspire us, enlighten and lift us up to actions. They reveal underlying truths of inclusion and caring.

Yet, other people have songs that are also powerful but call us towards prejudice, harm, and power. I don’t believe these are true inner harmonies. They are sirens that cajole us to fear and lure us to greed and exclusion.

Discerning the difference between the song and the siren is harder for some of us than others. It is, perhaps for all of us, the most important struggle of our lives. It determines how we experience life and what we create. It forms our morals, ethics, and beliefs.

Do we recognize truth from fantasy? Generosity from greed? Joy from self-aggrandizement? Love from power?

My own song is delicate these days, a thing of lutes, flutes, and countertenors – a circumstance of physical and emotional issues.

I rest, see new doctors, take new medicines, and contemplate limits. If I listen, I hear my melody again.

Such times make us re-evaluate our history, our friends, our priorities, how kind we are, what we expect of life, if we are doing what we are meant to do, if we care and love adequately.

They make us examine our long-held beliefs, whether of God or personal strength, and prompt us to divest of anything that may be false. I have a ferocious need to strip down to what is, to shed what I may wish, hope, and fantasize. I want to touch rock.

In the process of losing much, some long-held beliefs remain. These include:

Black loam is the stuff of life. Ask any crow diving for worms behind a plow.

Betrayal and abandonment may on rare occasion be necessary, but they are always sins. Whether or not there is a God.

Education should be free as a right of all humans. Brains require the light of knowledge.

People with perfect color-pitch exist just as do people with perfect tone-pitch. And these people suffer when colors clash as much as people with perfect tone-pitch suffer when something is off-key.  

Parking angels exist. But you must believe and must say “thank you.”

No god exists that cares if you believe in Him, Her, It, The. It only matters to you.

Nothing can be explained. Though some things can be known.

Forgiveness requires that you ask less of others than you do of yourself. Annoying, but there it is. No choice.

Everything is energy. From thoughts to stones.

People who died a couple generations back are pretty much forgotten. You are fodder to the future.

There is value in doing good even though you will be forgotten. Love really is the way, the truth, and the light.

Each person is many people. Talk to other’s best selves.

Universal love has great power. But crazy fundamentalists often operate on a different frequency.

Prejudice relies on being willing to lie to yourself. As do a lot of lesser things.

Life is a larger miracle than any God we imagine.

That’s my bottom line: life is a larger miracle than any God we imagine.

Sensing there is a miracle somewhere, we construct an exterior God that watches from someplace else – a God small enough to contain inside our imaginations when the truth is that existence itself is the miracle. This is it. This is the rock that lives.

I want to relish what is right here right now, no fantasies, no compromises, beyond comprehension. I celebrate that perhaps the most I can know of what is beyond me is the song inside me. Ah, yes, where does that come from?