The Whale Whisperer

“I’m here to answer questions,” said the young woman wearing a Naturalist shirt. She is tall, slender, pale, long dark hair pulled back under a brimmed cap, her eyes large, dark, gentle Though the day is overcast, she seems poised for action, as if expecting brilliant sunlight, or a pod of orcas, to break through at any moment.

“Are they out there?” I asked, scanning the calm surface of Haro Strait, the habitat for J, K, and L pods just off coast of San Juan Island.

Her eyes wandered to the rippling kelp beds. “We’ve lost 17 orcas in the last 5 years. You probably know about J50, the young one they keep giving medicine to, and that poor mom who carried her dead calf with her for so long. She finally let  go… “ Her voice was clam, professional, laced with a gentle mourning.

“Why are they dying?”

“Food source. They’re picky. The kind of salmon they like are being fished out, or dying because of the warming ocean. Dams are making it harder for the salmon to reach the sea.”

Her cell phone beeped. “I’m here,” she said. “Right. I’ll report siting. I promise” She chuckled and hung up.

“So you’re confident they are out there?”

She sighed, sizing me up: would I be open to what she was about to tell me?

I smiled. “What is it?”

Her eyes returned to the sea. “Look, I think of myself as a pretty scientific person. But, with what I’ve seen lately, I’ starting to finally listen to people who talk about whales having, you know, extra-sensory perception.”

“Really?”

“Like, last week, I was out by the lighthouse and I could see a pod way out there, and I knew from the data report that one of them I had, well, communicated with, was swimming out there with the pod.”

“Communicated with?”
“Yeah. So, I got this weird feeling that one of the whales was waiting for me. It’s hard to describe. So, I shouted ‘Galineau! ‘ And, way out there, so far away he couldn’t have heard me, this one whale broke off from the pod and went under. The rest swam out to sea, and I waited, and then I thought ‘Well, that’s that,’ and I reached down to get my pack, and I glanced in the water, and there was a face staring up at me! I walked to water’s edge, and Galineau came up as close to me as he could possibly could!”

“You’re here!” I said, and he raised his dorsal fin and slapped the water!

I laughed, and kept talking, and he slapped and turned his head so his eye could see me real well, almost like he was taking a picture of me in his mind. It went on like this as long as I kept talking. Then, when I stopped, he went under and went out to sea.”

“That’s really amazing.” I said, aware of a slight skepticism in the back of my mind, but she spoke with such sincerity, and astonishment, as anyone with a scientific mind would describe something that seemed inexplicable.

“It keeps happening!” she said, her large dark eyes growing wider.  “Last week I was down at Lime Kiln, you know, where they come real close to the rocks, and I couldn’t see them, and couldn’t see them, and then I hollered out, ‘Ok, Solstice! Ok, Vega! I’ve got to leave at 8:30, boys. Hoped to catch you! Maybe next time!’ “

“Again, nothing. I gathered my stuff up, checked my phone, and then, I glanced out and here come two dorsal fins, heading right toward me. Vega! Solstice!  They came so close I thought they would beach themselves in the low tide!  I looked at my watch. 8:29! I kept talking and shouting their names, and we stayed there together, just the 3 of us, for what seemed like a long time. Then I said, “I really have to go.” And they went under and swam away.”

“You’re an orca whisperer,” I said reverently.

She laughed. “That’s what my mom says. Orcas, their brains are a lot bigger than ours, and I’m starting to believe that they couldn’t have been just cuing off the sound of my voice; they were too far away, and I can’t make my voice heard like one of their own, even if I dived under and shouted through the water. It was something else, like there’s an emotional, spiritual connection between us. Sounds woo woo, doesn’t it?
“Sounds like you’re describing your own experience. How can you deny what you’ve observed and lived?”

She shrugged, suddenly a bit embarrassed for having told me the story.

What’s your name?” I asked.

“Ariel. Like the mermaid.”

“Perfect!”

We laughed warmly. She turned away and we looked out at the calm waters. I knew she wouldn’t call out to Galineau, Vega, or Solstice while I was still there, and I wanted to honor her private relationship with the whales, so I shook her hand and thanked her, and took my leave.

As I walked up the hill, I felt hopeful, for the future of the whales. Not so much because so many people are working so hard to save them, but because of the orca’s special genius for communicating with a human, by “extra sensory” or spiritual perception. If only we could learn to do this, to connect across what often seems to be impossible boundaries, species to species, human beings to one another.

THE BOUNTY OF SPIRIT IN SPRING

Does it happen every year, this disconnection to myself in the dark days of winter? Sages tell us it should be the opposite: a deepening into spiritual practice as the days grow shorter, the night calling us to enfold ourselves into a quieter, less distracted state.

For me, this year has been a winter of increasing disconnection from spirit, from soul, arguably at the very time I need it the most. Why? Because of the angst of the world, the turbulence in our democracy, the illness of friends, my own aging body….

A perfect storm of  concerns that seems to have led me to neglect my inner landscape in favor of time-honored distractions, ie, consuming too much dark chocolate (“it’s good for me”), buying too many books (“Oh, this one has a more optimistic view of the future”), too many movies, even as I recoil from the parade of violence and despair so many portray.

What have I been searching for?

Whatever it is, I have been behaving as if it is out there.

            And I know better. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the Holy Grail, the Kingdom of God, all are to be found within. I have been guilty of a spiritual amnesia. Weary, perhaps, of this lofty stuff, settling for small consumptions, stemming from a culturally-sanctioned concept of the human appetite.

But now, happily, I have come to realize I am hungry for something else, something I know in my bones, for the body, the mind, the soul are truly One.

How do I get so far astray? Oh, I can follow the breadcrumbs backwards, to complaining about the winter weather so that I neglected to my walking meditation (“it’s cold and rainy”); boredom with vegetables, craving sugar (“I need more energy to keep going”); checking my phone too often, and all the rest.

I am very good at nourishing others, at joining with my clients in an exploration of how they conceive of caring for themselves, but this winter I starved myself in spirit, in favor of what Ronna Kabatznick in The Zen of Eating calls “the numinous muffin”. And I didn’t even know it. .

So as I read about renewable energy and wonder about the future of the planet, can I turn to my own need for renewable, sustainable energy of the soul?

What does this look like this morning, as I watch a Beewick’s wren run along the fence beneath the brilliant yellow blossoms of the forsythia?

It looks like gratitude, for the spring, for the emerging of new life.

It looks like acceptance, that in spite of my aging body and all its new needs, I am still vital, and have a lot of energy to sit with people, share ideas, and listen. Stephen Hawkings said, when asked about his life with ALS, “In my mind, I am free.” Wonderful role-modeling for all of us as we watch our bodies change with the biology of time.

It looks like discernment: turning off the violent movies, and limiting consumption of  political news. I don’t want to isolate myself from the world, but I have been too fascinated with this Winter of Trumpian Discontent. I need to heed the advice of a dear friend who recently told me, “don’t turn it on”. I  do want to stay connected enough to be aware of what petitions to sign, what causes to support, and what to say when I call my Congresswoman, but I’m definitely starting to limit my intake of the madness.

Renewable energy of the soul also looks like changing my perspective on consumption: smelling the rapture of the Mr. Chocolate store without going in to raid the samples. Stir-frying those vegetables, and remembering the farmer who grew them, the soil of the Earth that nourished them. Not buying another flowered blouse in a vain attempt to feel the blooming of my soul by wearing blossoms on my body!

Energy of the soul also looks like joy. Finding it in every exchange in life: the funny waddle of a toddler in front of me at the bookstore; a text from my granddaughter; stopping to take in the brilliant pink of the cherry blossoms along the trail, and taking that moment to listen to the peace and blessed silence within my own self.

Where do you find sustainable, renewable, joy of the soul, in the bounty of the outer, and inner spring?

POWER AND LOVE IN THE ERA OF TRUMP

Jung, wrote,  “Where love reigns, there is no will to power, and where the will to power is paramount, love is lacking. The one is but the shadow of the other.” (Collected Works, vol. 7, par 8)

I invite you to sit with this for a moment. Can you think of a time when you were motivated by the will to power? Even a very subtle behavior. I know I can, certainly going back to adolescence, and even last week. I stormed out of the Starbucks, practically mowing down a person who was trying to sweep up, because I was hungry and I was late.  Take a moment to remember…What feelings emerge?. … Now, its opposite, the desire for love—and here we could ask, “What is love?’ How related to the desire for approval or to fill in the cracks of self-doubt. Think of an example in your own life. I know I have floodgates on this one…

Introspection is essential as we struggle to position ourselves in the daily chaos of our time. In a recent interview on line at chironpublications.com, Jungian analyst Murray Stein quoted the words of Winston Churchill from World War II: “Keep Calm and Carry On” Dr. Stein went on to say, “The psychological reality is that racism, to pick just one of the negative items embodied by Trump will never be effectively dealt with unless we all recognize its existence in ourselves individually and collectively. That’s our ‘Inner Trump’.”

Of course, the young man I mowed down in the Starbucks was African-American. I didn’t even realize it until I was in the car and on the road. I felt awful.

I agree with Dr. Stein that we must look inward. Notice and own when we exercise the will to power, or inappropriately act to gain love, or approval, to compensate for an inadequate connection to ourselves.

At the end of his interview Dr. Stein reflects on the difference, the split in substance and perception, between Barack Obama and Donald Trump. With what I imagine was a catch in his voice, Dr. Stein said, “Personally, I feel that America does not deserve a president as balanced, brilliant, and perspicacious (showing mental discernment, clear sighted – I looked it up) as Obama. He is a Nobel Prize winner for a reason. If there were an anti-Nobel Prize, Trump would be the top candidate for it. What comes after this? Will it be a swing to the opposite of Trump, which would perpetuate the split in the collective, or will it be a “third” , as Jung writes about the resolution of opposites? I’m afraid that the nation’s fate hangs on this question. Without a uniting Third, the split will deepen and could destroy us as a nation.”

With the tragedy in Las Vegas, this theme has been echoed in the media. In his column reprinted from the New York Times in the October 9th edition of the Seattle Times, David Brooks writes, “Guns are a proxy for larger issues. The real reason the gun rights side is winning is postindustrialization. It is an issue of values and identity. Today, people in agricultural and industrial America feel that their way of life is being threatened by postindustrial society.  Owning a gun has become an identity marker for freedom, self-reliance and the ability to control your own destiny. Today we need a grand synthesis that can move us beyond the current divide.”

Unity of Opposites. The “Third”. The Grand Synthesis.  The Reign of the Madness of Trumpism has certainly pulled the duct tape off our eyes, ignited our anger, and unleashed our grief. But out of this, I’m asking if we can we use this heightened state of being to shepherd the Will to Power—in ourselves and those around us— through an alchemical tunnel to become the Power of Insight, Action, and Unity, with Love as its guiding principle?

A tall order? I agree. But essential, at this crossroads in the development of the human psyche on our fragile, beautiful earth.

To help us hold these concepts I turn to Andrew Harvey, author and spiritual “investigator”, his essay on the Black Madonna. He first encountered Her in Ann Baring’s book, The Myth of the Goddess. Some time later, Dr. Harvey did a pilgrimage to Chartres cathedral. He writes, “I worshiped for the first time with the fullness of my being the Black Madonna in the ‘Virgin of the Pillar’. I came to understand very deep things about Her….Her agony, power, and extreme vibrant, violent purity of compassion could be revealed to me.”

I am struck by his choice of words, “Vibrant, violent purity of compassion.”

I recently saw a photograph that I believe captures this vibrant, violent purity in a modern day Black Madonna. Taken in the Congo by Seattle Jungian analyst Eberhard Riedal, it is titled simply “Remembering”.  Her gentle features and composure belie her brutal history of rape by warring tribal soldiers, at 13 and throughout her adolescence.

The Black Madonna is our blessed Goddess of Paradox. Like Kali, the ancient Hindu goddess, some of you have seen pictures or statues of her – 4 arms in constant motion. She holds the tension of opposites of Creation and Destruction, In The Dark Goddess and the Transformation of Consciousness, Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson write, “At first Kali comes across as the devouring mother – swords and a human head in her hand – a closer look, however, reveals a great halo around her head, attesting to her need to be understood not only as a devourer, but also as a transformer.”

I have colleagues who refer to our modern era, with the destruction of climate, the deconstruction of so much in our lives, as the Kali Yurga – a cycle of destructiveness, out of which a new creative energy will emerge. Woodman and Dickson write that Kali is very threatening to the patriarchy, because she holds the unity of creation/ destruction as one reality.  Patriarchs are deeply invested in a black and white view of the world. They must be Right—everyone else Wrong. Kali and the Black Madonna hold this “Third” reality, that black and white are One.

Andrew Harvey believes that this cycle of destruction will lead us to awaking to a time of divine power. This is the “wisdom of the dark night” known well to great mystics like of Rumi and Teresa of Avila. Out of this destruction will come a new consciousness of our divine nature through the birth canal of apocalyptic energy.

Harvey writes, “We have a natural need to recognize The Mournful Face of God”—Eberhard’s Madonna of the Congo – It is only when the Dark Feminine is not recognized that She is tormented, though us. When denied, She disappears from our conscious life only to become an unconscious, unquenchable, and destructive drive to disavow all suffering , at all costs…”

Let this sink in… When we deny the Dark Feminine, push her aside in our own denial and need for distraction, She becomes a destructive drive, within us, and in the world, the anima mundi. Seen from this perspective, we have an influence on the Kali Yurga. I think this is good news. A part of our identity, our self- determination. I invite you to take a moment. If you choose close your eyes. Breathe. Place an image in your mind of a conflict in your life, a tension of opposites begging to be unified; the Grand Synthesis or the Third. What are some feelings, some hopes, some fears, that accompany this image. I will imagine my Libertarian brother.

With my brother, I realize how I often used my will to power to convince him he is Wrong/ I am Right. What folly. As Tali Sharot notes in her book, The Influential Mind when you present people with evidence that goes against their deeply held beliefs, the evidence doesn’t sway them. If anything they become more adamant about their position. So, with my brother, without denying the differences, I transform my Will to Power, into the power of a loving choice: in political discussion I listen and don’t lecture, respecting his values, and we always have our mutual love of art, theater, and beauty, and there we find our Third.

Andrew Harvey offers another powerful essay, Mystical Activism. I have distilled the major points:

First, How We Got Here. What Harvey calls The Seven Heads of the Beast of Total Destruction :

  1. Population explosion
  2. Environmental degradation
  3. Growth of fundamentalism (We often think of this as occurring in the Middle East, but, for example, the Evangelical Christian brother of my brother-in-law is on a rampage in protest of their gay marriage. He has ordered everyone in the family to shun his brother and mine, declaring, “I will be unfaithful to God if I ever talk to my brother again.”
  4. Selling of weapons of mass destruction
  5. Alienation from Nature
  6. Media – especially reality tv, fake news, not telling the truth of all of the above
  7. Hectic, busy life of anxiety, no calm to perceive divine reality.

Next Harvey postulates The Seven Stages of the Birth of Humanity – down the birth canal past all of the devastation above.

  1. Awareness of the 7 aspects of destruction
  2. Technology to transform the world
  3. Media, internet grassroots
  4. Great mystical texts of the world’s great religions—meditation, seeking our own inner transformation
  5. Return of the divine feminine, the “bride of God” being brought back in all of her joy and splendor and fury and majestic tenderness
  6. God’s love working through the activists motivated by love: Gandhi, MLK, Nelson Mandela, Malala, etc.
  7. God as Mother, protecting us.

Harvey believes it is not sufficient to have just mystical awareness OR activism, but to be effective in the world today, we must combine the two in MYSTICAL ACTIVISIM. For this, he offers the following powerful guidelines:

  1. Commit to a spiritual practice that “irrigates you with holy intensity. By marrying sacred practices of peace and passion, (love and power) the masculine and feminine androgyny is born.”
  2. Keep steady awareness of our divine and deathless identity. We must all go on a profound journey, not just to read about divine identity, but to steadily be in touch with the indestructible soul that is our immortal reality.
  3. Know that evil is real.
  4. Allow yourself to feel anger and outrage and not hold yourself down from the power of anger.
  5. “Right Action” (a Buddhist term) You must learn to give up the fruits of your action to the divine. No private agenda, or pouting if you don’t get your way. (put your Ego aside). You are like a feather floating on the breath of God, a pen held in the hand of God, Gandhi said, “If you are standing in the Self, nothing can defeat you, not even endless defeat”.
  6. Ferocity –( the true power of the Self, motivated by great love of life, humanity, eternity) Satyagraha, the soul force.
  7. None of us can do it alone.

Recently a wise woman told me, “Self care is the most radical form of Social Activism”. So true. We must all hold this in our minds and hearts. And as we care for ourselves, how do we “reach across the aisle , to our neighbors and families, transforming our Will to Power into the Power of Compassionate Choice, uniting Power and Love into a vibrant Whole?

Resources:

  1. Marion Woodman/ Elinor Dickson, DANCING IN THE FLAMES: THE DARK GODDESS AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF CONSCIOUSNESS
  2. ON THE BLACK MADONNA, Interview with Andrew Harvey, THE MOONLIT PATH: REFLECTIONS ON THE DARK FEMININE, Fred Gustavson (ed) (Berwich ME: Nicholas Hays ) 2005
  3. MYSTICAL ACTIVISM, by Andrew Harvey, HEALING THE HEART OF THE WORLD, Dawson Church (ed)( Santa Rosa: Elite books) 2005
  4. TWO ESSAYS ON ANALYTICAL PSYCHOLOGY, C.G Jung,  clinical example of when the shadow of Power and Love at work in the psyche.
  5. THE MYTH OF THE GODDESS, by Ann Baring. Andrew Harvey’s introduction to the Black Madonna was through this book.
  6. DREAM OF THE COSMOS by Ann Baring. Her breathtaking view of our multi-dimensional existence.
  7. THE DANGEROUS CASE OF DONALD TRUMP, ed. Bandy Lee, essays by 27 psychiatrist and therapists on the duty to warn re: diagnosing Donald Trump, whose mental illness poses a danger to America and the world.  Also, a You Tube interview with Dr. Lee on MSNBC with Lawrence O’Donnel.
  8. Naomi Klein’s NO IS NOT ENOUGH: RESISTING TRUMP’S SHOCK POLITICS AND WINNING THE WORLD WE NEED
  9. 9. Arlie Russel Hochschild’s STRANGERS IN THEIR OWN LAND: ANGER AND MOURNING ON THE AMERICAN RIGHT. (A progressive Berkley journalist and author who goes into the heart of Trump country trying to understand and empathize with his supporters)
  10. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s WE WERE EIGHT YEARS IN POWER: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY.
  11. Tali Sharot’s THE INFLUENTIAL MIND
  12. Muhammad Yunus’s A WORLD OF 3 ZEROES: The New Economics of Zero Poverty, Zero Unemployment, Zero Carbon Emissions (a book by a visionary leader in Bangladesh who has pioneered a method of poor people creating their own businesses. 97 % of them are women. Dr. Yunus sees this as a model for a world in which Capitalism has run its course.)

NEW GROWTH FROM DAMAGED SOIL

This week I got my first tattoo, an almond blossom bough: white flowers, coral-red center—

“Look at this picture online,” said Roni Falgout, legendary artist I had waited months to work with, “The center of the blossom has some yellow in it too, even streaks of green—“

“Beautiful, “ I said, “You’re the artist.”

Yes, and, she emphasized, this was about me. Every aspect had to be precisely what I wanted: color, form, positioning of the design in relation to the scar from my left breast mastectomy.  I felt proud to join a growing legion of women who find beauty, value, and self worth in celebrating their bodies as they are, rather than opting for artificial implants that conform to a cultural and often male-centric image of female beauty. Not to demonize women who choose reconstruction. It is a powerful choice for many women. Not for me.

“New growth from damaged soil,” I told Roni at our first consultation. I had clipped a bough from the pear tree in my back yard and photographed it on my left breast. “Like this, only with almond blossoms,” I had said.

“Why almond?”

“It means Hope and Awakening.”  It is also a symbol from my play, On the Doorstep of the Castle, signifying feminine freedom to claim your unique value and destiny.

This all sounds very fine and lofty, but when the day came to actually ink the tattoo, I was terrified. I was knocked out for the mastectomy surgery—I would be wide awake for this one!

“It will really hurt,” said my oldest daughter, who sports three tattoos.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this,” said my husband, who has no tattoos, “It will be excruciating.”

My youngest daughter, bereft of tattoos, simply looked at me out of the corner of her eyes and whistled.

Roni also looked at me out of the corner of her eyes, but she smiled, “It’s 90% mental. You’ll be fine.”

And I was. It hurt, but like one continuous bee sting. I soon abandoned my meditative coping strategy and started sharing stories with Roni. We laughed so much I was afraid all my giggling body would disrupt the tattoo. It didn’t.

At one point it suddenly hurt a lot more, like the pen was going all the way through my body.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Right over the scar. You ok?”

“Yeah—“ I whispered, “I can do this…” I slowed my breath, picturing the color she was putting on the leaves. Earlier she had asked if I wanted to go with lime green, “Or, I can do this darker, antique-y, avocado color—“

“Roni, I’m already an antique.”

“Lime green, then,” she chuckled.

It was all over in an hour and a half. Since then I’ve been learning about aftercare for a new tattoo, and I feel a simple joy each morning when I look in the mirror: that such a beautiful, permanent thing could emerge from a part of me that was permanently taken away…..

A final surprise: I feel connected to every blossom I see. I pick up a leaf in the park and feel as if I’m holding a part of myself in my hand.  I have always loved nature, but now, I am no longer a passive observer. I am nature.

It has also shifted my experience of grief and loss. Those whom I love, who have passed back into the mystery of nature,  now feel in me, as never before. And my own mortality is not frightening. The leaf in my hand is not separate from the lime- colored leaf on my left breast. All one substance, in the palm of the divine.

A RIGHT AND HEALTHY LOVE

“No gifts,” said the bride, “But if you have some words of wisdom…..

Wisdom? About that? Something so complex and compelling thousand books, have been written about it. I couldn’t possibly measure up. Why couldn’t I just buy them some dinner plates?

Refusing to give in to my “less than” self, I gave it some thought. Whatever wisdom I have comes from my own experience, not the pundits of the self-help world, valuable though much of their work may be. I’ve been with my husband for 38 years.  It took us awhile to find each other, or more precisely, to be mature enough to know a good thing when it came along. We both entered into the relationship with some wounds of the heart and good ideas about what we didn’t want, and right from the beginning this one felt “different”. I could be myself, didn’t feel I was going to offend him or make a mess of things. Most of our core values lined up, from our love of nature, to our relaxed attitude about putting away the dishes.  A few weeks in, he said with a smile of gratitude, “You don’t talk in the morning,”

Also, he didn’t seem to have assumptions about what was my role, as the “woman”. He pitched in naturally, whether picking up a heavy grocery sack, or flipping the crepes, or saying our one common morning phrase, “Coffee?”

This wasn’t always seamless. The assumption-maker in all of us runs deep. As baby boomers we grew up in households where men were breadwinners,  women, housewives. This seemed to roll out in subtle, unconscious ways through the years, and our ability to confront pre-conceived ideas, and communicate them to each other, has been the critical “cleansing” agent across time.

Time and again I discovered I got frustrated or angry when I had expectations that were not about seeing—and accepting– my husband for who he really is.  And the source? Inevitably about me not seeing —or accepting– myself, with all my limitations and strengths. It has been a long journey for me to claim and assert my worth, and at each step along this path, the relationship has become more healthy. Recently I have used the phrase, “Separate, Together” Like two trees close to one another in the forest, with roots that go deep and intertwine, but stem from a separate source.

If you are fortunate enough to know yourself and your partner over many years, you get to see them expand their identity, learn new things, and deepen their awareness. This may be the best-kept secret about long term relationships. The person you marry becomes someone else over time, and the dialog between you can nourish this transformation. Nothing is predictable, or as boring as following some culture-bound notion of “activities” one should take up at any given age or stage. The ability to embrace the unexpected, and support your mutual identity formation is perhaps the greatest creative opportunity offered to human beings. Does this cause tension? Frequently. Frustration? Usually. Compromise? Surely. Bring you closer? You bet.

Paradoxically, all this growth filters through the years into a lightness of being. Delight in the simple things: the thrum of the hummingbird on our fuchsia, sharing the first pea pods from the garden, watching for bats to come out as clouds cross the full moon on a summer’s night.

And let’s not neglect humor. In the most stressful times, especially of transition or loss, we often find ourselves awake in the middle of the night, laughing until we cry, finding the absurd in the things we cannot change, from aging, to world politics.

And, for us, physical contact is a touchstone that only seems to increase with time. The most subtle moments become a sustaining thread: my hand on his shoulder in the morning, his hand guiding mine to plant seeds in the garden;  both of us, standing perfectly still in the kitchen door, my arm touching his, as we watch the hummingbird come so close, it takes our breath away.

A Perfect World

Last weekend I attended the yearly Forum conference of the Northwest Alliance for Psychoanalytic Study. One breakout session was called, “What Happens to the Alchemist?’, facilitated by Sandra Christiensen, ARNP, Tanya Ruckstuhl, LICSW, and Gillian Vik LMHC. We participated in writing and art exercises exploring the response to collective trauma.

Tanya asked us to write a description of our perfect world. I had no idea my response would be so emotional. I had tears in my eyes as I wrote the following:

“In childhood the possibilities were limitless. Spirit reigned. Companions were filled with laughter and mischief.

I would have a world now that feels that way. A democracy that is real; social justice the primary value. Wealth used in service of this primary value, including imagination, art, nature, the new words carved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, She, Venus, our MS Liberty, welcoming not only our huddled masses yearning to be free, but our artists, our lovers of life.

Greed will be boring in my brave new world, banished to frogs who want more mantises in the night.

Humans will want light and community, with each other.

He would weep, I know this somehow, Carl Gustave Jung, holding a candle in the last year of his life. He saw a very dark vision for humanity—in a dream or a day vision.

Do I believe him? I have a granddaughter. She seeks joy. A future. Inside I flip back and forth, from despair to denial, “Oh even Trump can’t be so bad…”

Joy, where are you?”

The next part of our writing assignment was to take what we could from our Perfect World description and bring it into our lives now.

I wrote:

“Continue to make art, to love, to give. Call Pramilla (our representative in the US Congress) more often to tell her she’s doing a great job.

See, feel the beauty of the earth. See, feel, the gratitude for the wealth of my life: my family, friends, the amazing people in my psychotherapy practice, the Daphne blooming in the garden.”

Many of us in the workshop read our writing aloud, both The Perfect World, and the Alchemical distillation of it into the now. We left talking among ourselves, sharing what flowers we were planting in our gardens, what marches we were going to attend. There was a lightness, and, yes, a joy.

The ancient Alchemists practiced in secret, attempting with their art to transform lead into gold. We can take their example and strive each day to transform our worry, our grief as we witness so much trauma in the news, into the experience of the now. There we can find the gold of activism, and the resplendent wonder of nature in Spring.

2017: VIRGIN FOREST OF THE SOUL

I don’t know about you, but lately, I feel caught in a stream of polarities, like a bug caught in two spider webs. On the world stage, our politics emerge in black and white, either/or versions of reality: climate change is a hoax/ California is so committed to climate change they will negotiate on their own with other nations…the Russians are our allies/ We will enter a new arms race and beat the hell out of them…. Women are objects of powerful male’s desires/Women are powerful, valuable beings who can win the popular vote for president of the United States.

How do we find a place to live sanely in such a split apart world?

One way to understand it is to look at the psychology of patriarchy. Dominance is powered by the righteous beliefs of the ruling oligarchy: one side must be Right, the other horribly Wrong.

However, there is an ancient wisdom that runs on a very different fuel, a wisdom expressed in many cultures and mythologies. In their seminal work, Dancing in the Flames: the Dark Goddess and the Transformation of Consciousness, Marion Woodman and Elinor Dickson write of the ancient Indian goddess, Kali. Possessing four arms, she holds tools of destruction in each hand:  a saber, a man’s head, a bowl of blood, a spear. Yet her head is surrounded by a halo, attesting to her role as the Goddess of Light: she who transforms destruction into creation. Kali is not about black and white, either/or. She is one body, one consciousness: both/and.

This view of reality is corroborated by quantum physics (matter is at once a particle and a wave) and chaos theory (unity emerging from the chaos of the natural world). Yet it holds little weight with those who can ignore science, much less understand the subtle interactions of the human mind and soul.  The reality of paradox  is threatening to those who would dominate through a winner-take-all view of the world.

What can we do?  We who observe this but feel powerless to change it?  We can protest. We can give to empowering organizations. But, also, this vision of Kali can be brought much closer to home, into the everyday, sacred moments of our own lives.

Kali invites us to embrace the wisdom of paradox, of both/and. It also opens us to a new interpretation of loss. If death and birth emanate from one source,  our own lives a molecule of meaning on a path through this life cycle, we can come to experience loss, not only as inevitable, but as unsentimental, as necessary. Death makes way for birth and re-birth, in the physical world, and in the human heart.

In the final week of my father’s life, his baby sister, my Aunt Doris, came to the hospital from her home many miles away. I had not seen her since childhood. In my father’s final ten days, we spent every waking hour together. We discovered each other anew, adult to adult. She had a deep spiritual belief balanced by her cool, scientific mind. We went on to nourish our close relationship over the next thirty years.

My father’s death was devastating to me, a loss I grieve to this day. But the vivid dreams his death inspired, and the desperate curiosity it awakened in my young mind, led me to graduate school in psychology, and to my profession as a psychotherapist. My father’s death was, in a very real sense, the birth of my soul.

It also brought Aunt Doris into my life.

Fast forward thirty years, to a hot Arizona summer in 2012, when I visited her, after she had suffered a stroke. I recently discovered this piece I wrote at that time, the last I would spend with her before Alzheimer’s consumed her once so luminous mind:

Her eyes, one more open than the other, dominate the bones of her face.

“It’s you,” she whispers. “You’re here.”

I kiss her cheek. Tell her how beautiful she is;  stroke her soft white hair.

She touches my gray strands with effort. “You are so young.”

I laugh.

Her slender form is like leaves resting on the ground.

“I have thoughts I cannot finish,” she says.

I nod.

“I was always so—-“

“Independent,” I finish.

“Always. Where is the future?” she asks.

I say, “Be here now.”

Her chin shakes, “I still know you—“

“Yes, “ I touch the soft skin beneath her eyes.

“You’ve always been one of my favorite people, “ she says.

“You’re the mother I never had,” I whisper.

She pulls herself to stand, with great effort. I slide the walker into her hands.

“Thank you,” she says. “I keep —“

“Forgetting to use it,” I finish.

“I’m losing it,” she says.

 “It’s okay,” I say, knowing it is. Knowing it is not.

She died a year later. Her death foreshadowed the struggle in me to accept my own aging body, and embrace my identity as a crone. As defined by Woodman and Dickson the crone is the wise woman who is whole unto herself. She may need to depend on others to open a heavy door for her, or pull her up out of the lava rocks along the beach, but her mind and soul are simultaneously embracing new energy, depth, and imagination. A virgin forest coming alive, even as the leaves shrivel and will ultimately fall.

I sometimes hear Doris’s voice in my mind, dispensing her home-grown humor and wise counsel. At other times, I whisper to her as I go for a walk, or stand  in line at the grocery store. It makes me happy to see her in my mind, to imagine her response as I share some new revelation about how to live on this earth with four arms. “You have to balance all the paradoxes, “ I say, putting the soy milk on the conveyor belt, “Like Kali, dancing with all the losses, welcoming the new growth…”.

Going into 2017, I believe the best way to co-exist with the patriarchy is to fully embody all the passions of a creative life: our both/and, seeing in every death, the opportunity for something new to be born.

How have you experienced this in your own life? What birth, however subtle, has come from a death, however necessary?

SEARCHING FOR A DEEPER UNITY

Projection: the attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or desires to someone or something. –The American College Dictionary. Houghton Mifflin. 2000

            We all do it. Seeing in someone, most specifically a powerful public figure, what we deeply long for in order to complete the drive in our psyche for wholeness.

It is unconscious. Instantaneous. I know I did it when Obama became our first African American president. I stared at the New Yorker cover of his lean, handsome face in a white George Washington wig. I felt a flood of adoration. Barack Hussein Obama was a flawless god-like figure: the projection of a young part of myself who longs for justice and goodness in a complex world of darkness, light, and every shade of grey.

Projection allows us to bypass, rationalize and justify all the evidence that defaces our object of adoration. If you watch the mechanisms of your mind, you can feel this in action.: a sort of mental hiccough, a veil coming across your brain, literally blocking out rational incoming thought.   Never has this phenomenon been more wildly at play than in our recent presidential election.

How do we make meaning of this? How do we find a common ground that transcends–but does not deny–the huge schism in Americans’ values and perceptions?

Carl Jung wrote of the Shadow. Not only our “dark side” but the part of us that is unknown, that lives in the yet-to-be-discovered corners of our psyche. Shadow is typically unconscious, until something –or someone – challenges our view of ourselves, frightens us, or emerges as our enemy.

If we add the Shadow into the projection stew of the last 18 months, we see a field day for both idealized and shadow projections onto both presidential candidates.  Yes, of course, the economics, the anger of displaced workers, the social justice issues, women’s rights, and so on figure into this. That is the rational side. I am suggesting that the snake slithering beneath the carpet of our rational discourse, is our unconscious projections.  If we are searching for meaning and a path to unity, we need to rip up the carpet and welcome the snake to the table.

What does this look like?

We can tune in to the activity of our own minds.  Say we see a woman on tv in a pink shirt that reads, “Women for Trump”.  Does our projection-mind immediately flash: “Boy, she must be really stupid.” Or “I’ll bet she is a housewife with no mind of her own.” Or, “What did he pay her to put on that shirt?”

The truth is, we have no idea who that woman is, or what her motives are. By projecting our own shadow onto her, it becomes our bad, not hers.

Can we catch ourselves? Can we stop it.? Just stop it. Then, if we are interested in our own personal growth, we might ask, “What shadow longing in me made me project that stuff into her?” – Maybe we have a secret longing to trust a man that much. Maybe we are conflicted in our own hearts about who we support and who we voted for, and this women in pink represents certainty……Maybe our mother always wanted us to be a strong independent woman and never let us wear pink?  Maybe we have un-met dependency needs from childhood, and imagine that the woman in pink can depend on others? The possibilities are endless. Only an inquiry into our own personal history, conscience, and emotions can guide us.

I was moved to tears when I watched Hilary Clinton’s concession speech. I don’t know how she did it. So much pain in those sleepless eyes. And yet she rose to her moment in history, even to the point of asking all of us to support President-elect Trump, to see him with an open mind and “give him a chance to lead.”

What a gift she gave to our nation. Can we take this further, into our homes and communities? Can we see the unity of being in all of us?  Can we realize that we have a strong common ground in longing for our candidates to fulfill our deepest hopes, and heal our deepest wounds? Likewise, that we all demonize and project fear into the persona of leadership that threatens our deepest need for wholeness.

Can we honor this unity of our common psychological nature, and use this election to come to know ourselves, to know and honor our neighbor, and to open our minds, following the shining example of our first woman presidential candidate, Hilary Rodham Clinton? I invite you to join me in making a commitment to do this, even as I honor the duel reality of fightimg with a new fierceness for the values that Hilary represented to so many of us: equal justice for all, the rights of women, and the power of the feminine to lead us into a brave new world.

HEALING OUR RELATIONSHIP TO CONSUMPTION

Here we are: October 31. Halloween. I don’t know about you, but in my childhood it was all about how much candy I could rake in that night. Oh, sure, the pumpkin carving was fun, but my mom never made nutrient-rich pumpkin soup. And we never ate the apples we bobbed for. It was all about the object of desire: Sugar.

            In recent years there has been a growing awareness of how unhealthy it is to consume abundant quantities of sugar but these messages are trumped by a long-standing cultural mandate that if you don’t join in during the holidays and eat that big slice of Aunt Mary’s cream pie, you are being selfish and rude.

As the specter of the holidays looms, I have begun to frame it in a new way: How do I cultivate a different relationship with consumption?  Not just of food and spirits, but gifts or clothing or anything that vibrates with the lure of desire.  In  her book, The Zen of Eating, psychologist Ronna Kabotznik refers to the “numinous muffin”, numinous being the experience of divine love. So often our objects of desire take on this quality — I must have it, and when I get it, “I” will shiver with pleasure, and be transported from my ordinary, often anxious or depleted state, into an altered state of being.

The genesis of this very human behavior goes very deep, often into a childhood where the candy at Halloween, or the sweet cakes at Christmas were the only respite from the lack of “treats” in the emotional life of the family. In the case of an extreme like anorexia, children deny consumption, rather than join in the feast, in the hopes of gaining some sense of control in a chaotic family.

To alter our relationship with consumption, the first question is: “What am I really hungry for?” Instead of embarking on the holidays by saying, “What do I get to eat at this party?”, ask, “What if it is not about giving myself permission to indulge, but about opening myself to a new reality of possibilities?”

I spoke to someone recently who has given up wine, once a pleasure so desired that she organizing all of her time to optimize her ability to drink. Her consumption was not on a level where anyone would call her an alcoholic, but she realized this was part of the problem. She blended in with the cultural norm. It took a personal crisis for her to wake up to the true nature of her relationship to wine. She sought help, and now, 3 months alcohol-free, she reports experiencing life in a new way.

“The leaves on the trees seem more vibrant. I notice the pain and beauty in every moment. I cry at the footage of the siege of Aleppo. I laugh with the checker at the store and we share a moment of simple joy looking at the baby in line behind me…..I am examining my relationships, friendships, and life goals with new eyes. I’m not embarrassed to say ‘No thank you,’ when offered a glass of wine, or a cookie (I discovered that when I gave up wine, I didn’t want any form of sugar!) And the world looks different, because I feel so differently about myself.

Changing, and sustaining our relationship to consumption is a life long journey for most of us. At the dawn of the holiday season, I invite you to embrace the real spirit of the holidays, by discovering what your soul truly desires.

THE ALCHEMY OF CHANGE

Can you feel it? Take a moment. Wherever you are, breathe. If you can, step out your front door, or look out the window. A leaf falling off a tree? It is early days, the warmth of summer still teasing us with brilliant sun. But you can feel it, the change–autumn opening her palate of crimson, purple, and gold, calling us to enter a new world, not only the one of color and cool nights, but a new dimension deep within our souls.

Have you ever dreamed you are in a strange house? One you don’t recognize from waking life? There is a haunting quality to it, as you walk across an unfamiliar space in dream time; open a door that leads to a staircase, onto a roof garden, a tree with ripe golden fruit; beyond, you can smell the ocean, feel the mist of salt water on your nose.

Change is our only constant experience. Buddhists teach that everything in the universe is in a consistent state of transition: the sea, the sky, our bodies. Only the center of the soul, the subtle mind, is unchanging. Philosophers of ancient Greece wrote of the world in “flux”, and in China, Lao Tsu wrote of the Tao, “the way” of consciousness through never ending change.

It can be frightening. Many people say, “I hate change!”. Often this fear comes from childhood. If changes came hard and fast when you are little, it can culminate in a feeling that you have no control over your environment, your destiny, your body, your mind. And so often, we don’t. Working through this fear is a hallmark of psychological maturity, what Jung called “Individuation”.  Finding a place inside of us that sees the inevitable changes of life with open eyes, while holding a hand over our hearts, seat of the subtle mind, as eternal as a smooth stone at the bottom of a clear lake.

“How do I find this place?”– I hear this question often, and at times of my own fear and despair, I ask it myself. I wish it were easy. I wish it were the case that once you feel the reality of the eternal part of yourself, this connection remains firm and unchanging. But we are all humans, flawed and afraid. This connection must be renewed, again and again.

I look to luminaries like the Dali Lama or Pema Chodron. Surely they have it all figured out. But, in truth, both of them are quite open about the hard work of maintaining their connection to the divine. I once heard the Dali Lama laugh at his own tendency to inflate his ego. “Sometimes I wake up in the morning, and I think, ‘I am the Dali Lama!!’” He laughed and laughed, confessing with his great humor that we must work hard every day to step away from our silly selves and summon the humility to know the divine.  Pema Chodron has confessed that even after decades of meditating, she struggles to calm her mind and keep it from wandering off to the day’s grocery list.

We all need to find ever-changing, creative ways to connect with the eternal  inside of us, and in the world. Yesterday, I saw one huge maple leaf float off a tree. I touched the wrinkles around my eyes, reflected on yet another birthday coming up. I took a deep breath. We cannot change the progress of time, or the aging of the body. But we can look bravely at the world, feel compassion for those around us.

And listen to our dreams. Recently I had a series of many dreams of wandering in unfamiliar places, following people I don’t know, searching for something with no purpose. Then, one night, I dreamed of a woman who took me into a field beneath the full moon. She reached into the earth and held up a large slate-grey stone, as big as a coffee table. I woke in tears, feeling that she—my inner divine—was saying, “Stop all of this nonsense: see the substance of your very being.”

Dreams are a gift of the unbidden, but I believe they are nourished by our conscious efforts in waking life to connect with the subtle mind. There are many paths: meditation, song, prayer, dance, painting, long walks, a moment in line at the grocery store when we take a breath and bring our attention inward…..Our divine soul, is there, waiting patiently for us to tap Her on the shoulder and say, “I am here.”