Monday, October 8, 2018

A House of Divided Parts

Fallen-in house in fall 2015, along Winding Hill Rd, Northwood
CC Jean Stimmell

I just ran across a passage by Freud about how words were originally magic, and still to this day, retain much of their magical power; he gives this as an example: “By words one person can make another blissfully happy or drive him [or her] to despair.”⁠1

How can any of us deny the truth of his statement after just being dragged through the hair-pulling, heart-wrenching spectacle of the Kavanaugh confirmation process.

Buddhists remind us that Objectivity is an illusion. But that fact, by itself, does not doom us to polarization and chaos. In fact, our nation, as the very name indicates –The United States of America – has had great success in coming together to find common ground. 

A common thread of our 241 year-old history is that enough of our leaders, along with us as citizens..  have had the ability to see the big picture  and, despite the hot blood of our partisanship, understand the viewpoint of those on the other side and, as a result, come together with a passable, compromise solution that promotes our general welfare.

However, the few times in our past when we lost this ability, like the run-up to the Civil War; the resulting polarization and tribalism lead to us fight the bloodiest war in our history – sadly, against each other.

No doubt, the extreme tribalism of today, the blind anger and distrust, if left to fester into a whole body infection will lead to another such crisis: Abraham Lincoln stated the truth: “A house divided against itself, cannot stand.”

Sometimes in dire times, we need to think outside the box.  Perhaps, Internal Family Systems (IFS), a new model of psychotherapy, can shed light on our current tribal behavior. 

Richard Schwartz, who formulated IFS, understood, as a family therapist, that individuals in troubled families were often trapped in unconscious patterns of behavior that caused conflict. 

He soon discovered that just as a family has individual members with different roles so does the individual  psyche have different parts that could be seen as sub-personalities. In fact, we have a multitude of such parts, including some unwanted, perhaps pushed away, parts that are aggressive and sexual.

He found that most troubled individuals have wounded parts steeped in painful emotions such as anger, shame, fear, and remorse. These sub-personalities are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self, a concept that describes the  whole, caring person who is at the center of each of us.

In a nutshell, we are all born with an innate, core Self that is clear, confident, and compassionate with an unspoken spiritual component that resonates with all religious traditions. However, our core self can be over-run by irrational parts, such as those mentioned above.

To my way of thinking, IFS sheds light on our current national polarization and tribal behavior on two different levels:

On the individual level, many of us are being dominated by our sub-personalities of fear, anger, and hate, which are consuming us. These irrational parts have overridden our Self which is at a higher level, the only one capable of clearly and compassionately seeing the whole picture. 

Therapy, whether with a professional or self-directed, consists of first learning to recognize the limited, irrational nature of these exiled parts and then helping them develop a positive role with the framework of the larger, overarching Self.

On the societal level, I guess it’s up to us voters. 

Luckily, over the course of our nation’s history, we have generally chosen well, electing leaders who have at least made an effort to govern from their higher Self: adhering to age-old ethical and moral principles, having  compassion for the a weak among us, and seeking to expand the common ground that unites us into a single people. 

Unfortunately, we are not blessed by higher Self leadership today. Quite the opposite. We now have a president who, rather than seeking to unite us, relishes in dividing us further, in a naked ploy to increase his  power. And we have a craven Republican majority in cahoots with him: Spreading doomsday stories of angst, hate, and retribution in an attempt to overpower our higher faculties, in a bid to seduce us into their Hobbesian, dog-eat-dog world.

Let’s not let it happen. 

In the words of Michelle Obama, “When they go low, we go high.”


1 Freud, 1915-1917, Vol. 15, p.17

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

A Pretty Picture?

Salem MA Harbor  CC Jean Stimmell: 9/21/18

Psychedelic ecstasy
delusions of grandeur
consumer-driven fantasy

A witch’s brew of
swirling pollution
in Salem Harbor

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Radical Thesis

I have been working on a series of photographs I call Metaphors for our Times.Here are two of my digital images with brief descriptions. followed by an explanation of what they represent to me.

Here’s an image of a skull I found at the dump with an artificial flower stuck in its eye. I photographed it in the snow, while shining light into its flowering eye socket. I call it “Dark Night of the Soul Transformation.”

 The image above is a 6-foot weed, pulled from the edge of my garden. It reminds me of Giacometti’s haunting later works, depicting tall, emaciated bodies, evoking the suffering of WWII and horrors of the Holocaust. Each spring, since the dawn of time, this dead weed has resurrected itself into new life, an eternal return. 
But for how much longer?

Many are turned off by my images, finding them too bleak. Yet I see hope in them and in the future of humankind, despite living in these apocalyptic times. Part of the reason why is because I consider myself a hope merchant, by inclination and by trade.

I am a psychotherapist, who has been successful, in no small part, because I have always had faith and trust in my patients, believing in my heart that every one of them, at some point, no matter how dire the circumstances, will turn the corner, unload some of their burdens, morph more into their higher selves, and move forward lighter and freer.

And I’ve seldom been disappointed.

On the collective level of society, I also have hope despite looming Armageddon events like the rising risk of nuclear annihilation and catastrophic climate change. But I don’t pretend to be Pollyanna. What I see as hope may strike most people as dismal and hopeless Yet it’s difficult to promise that a flawless rose garden can grow from our present toxic waste dump of greed and valueless sludge.

The problem, up to this point in time, is simple: we humans have not suffered enough to change our ways, By the time we have seen the light, it is likely our advanced” civilization will be burned to a crisp like ponderosa pines in California’s ever more frequent, forest fires or washed away like the imminent fate of folks living in low-lying. Polynesian Island states.

But sooner or later, it will have to happen: we will come to our senses, even if civilization, as we know it, is gone –­ burned, radiated, starved, and abstracted to death – and, the few of us who are left, will live in small, scattered tribes inhabiting what is left of Mother Earth. 

That may not sound like hope to most people but it does to me because at least we survived to continue our long-term, romance with Planet Earth. We escaped the worst by not going extinct or turning into a race of mindless, Amazon robots. Most important, we learned how to live simply and sustainably in concert with all our fellow sentient beings – or at least those who survived. 

In other words, after suffering through an interminable dark night of the soul, we were able to walk away from Twitter, Facebook, and Uber driverless cars to start living once again as indigenous people have always lived, present in what is really real: our bodies, nature and a deeply rooted sense of place.

My feelings about indigenous people coincide with what Jason Farago wrote about Giacometti’s haunting sculptures:

“Funny that existentialism doesn’t seem such a downer anymore: When all of us are trailed by inescapable terabytes of data, we can almost envy Giacometti’s slender bronze wraiths: stripped to the bone but still human, stripped of their names but still free.”[i]


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Metaphors for what I feel

With nuclear annihilation ever more probable
 under the unhinged reign of Tyranus Trump 

And climate change like cancer unchecked, 
relentlessly eating away Earth’s bounty

words fail me…

Instead I submit two photos
metaphors for what I feel 

Abandoned bikes in China looking like vast blossoming tulip fields.
Photographer, Mathias Guillin, took this photo with his drone

A Tikuna mask designed by Jean-Baptiste Debret
during the French Artistic Mission (1816-31)
(missing and probably destroyed in the
recent fire at Brazil National Museum)

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Beware of the Blood Moon!

The Blood Moon 1
Most of us missed the dramatic lunar eclipse last Friday  – or “blood moon” as it has come to be known. And those of us who did see it on TV, probably viewed it as a trendy event to chat about on social media.  

But be forewarned!  Since ancient times, the blood moon has been associated with danger, “a rip in the fabric of order.”[2]

Astronomer, Ed Krupp who has studied folklore about the cosmos, found cultures all around the world believe that a red moon eclipse signifies a carnivorous creature devouring a celestial body.

Today it is warning us about a carnivorous creature devouring our own planet. And that creature is us: Humans, who have abused and tortured Mother Earth to the point of no return – but yet still claim no limits on what we may do. 

In response, the gods of the universe are giving us what we deserve – along with, unfortunately, all the other innocent beings who dwell on our little blue planet– by raining down "fire and fury” in the form of raging forest fires, hurricanes, floods, and Donald J. Trump.

I don’t see this is as a declaration of Armageddon, but a final warning shot, beseeching us to change course before it is too late.

The fundamental question we have to come to terms with is: Do we accept limits on our behavior as an essential part of the natural order, or not?

The fight in its present form has been going on since Earth Day celebrations began in the 1970s. On one side we have the conservationists, ethicists, scientists, and traditional conservatives who say we must accept limits as a fundamental aspect of who we are and as a recognition of where we stand in the grand scheme of things.  

On the other side, we have the fossil fuel industry and libertarians who scream that we must have the freedom to do whatever we want.

Unfortunately, our old Earth Day ethic has been consistently losing ground under the onslaught of big money propaganda. Until 2016, that is, when we hit rock bottom.

It was then we elected a man-child as our president who is all impulse with no boundaries, who thinks climate change is a hoax and wants to double down on fossil fuels, particularly the dirtiest of the lot: coal.

At almost 73, I have come to embrace limits, not as confinement but as spiritual liberation, as I learn how to give up the need for control in order to live harmoniously as a tiny cog in the infinitely majestic, interwoven mystery of life. 

Trump, who is my age, has gone the other way, reveling in defying any limits on himself or our country, which he is piloting like an obstreperous, bumper-car driver consumed with road rage.

“On the contrary,” as Wendell Berry has reflected,” our human and earthly limits, properly understood, are not confinements but rather inducements to formal elaboration and elegance, to fullness of relationship and meaning.”[3]

How much better to see the imposition of limits, not as a drawback but as an inducement to the development of fullness in all our relationships.

This sentiment was perfectly expressed by the Dartmouth professor, Donella Meadows, who wrote the best selling book Limits to Growth; she was also on the Board of Contributors for the Concord Monitor, at the same time I was:

“The ideas of limit, sustainability, sufficiency, equity, and efficiency are not barriers, not obstacles, not threats. They are guides to a new world. Sustainability, not better weapons or struggles for power or material accumulation, is the ultimate challenge to the energy and creativity of the human race.”[4]

In memory of Ms. Meadows, one of the most influential environmental thinkers of the twentieth century, may we recognize this recent blood moon eclipse for what it portends: A final wakeup call we can’t afford to sleep through. 


[1]Photograph of the
 blood moon from,+public+domain&client
[3]Faustian Economics: Hell hath no limits by Wendell Berry for May 2008 Harpers Magazine.
[4]Beyond the Limits: Confronting Global Collapse: envisioning a Sustainable future by Donella Meadows, Dennis Meadows, Jorgen Rangers. Chelsea Green Publishing Co.: White River Junction, Vermont  ©1992

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Ecological Specter

 Deer #1, a drawing on yupo paper © Kathy Hanson

Kathy’s Deer

This same phantom visits both of us,
though we live in different towns.

I am haunted by her appearance,
her plaintive and anguished look.

To me, she is a living guilt trip 
for our rape of Mother Earth:

Like the Virgin Mary coming back
to remind us what we did to Jesus.