Sunday, December 9, 2018

An Ode to the Past

Jean Stimmell©2015
Resting peacefully in their cemetery on the family farm
now so overgrown with weeds and the march of time
that their lives seem almost mythic, like a fairy tale.

Who could imagine living such meaningful lives today:
of honest work within the arms of Mother Nature,
raising crops to eat and children to carry on,
without iPhones, Google, or social media?

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Bolt out of the Blue

Jean Stimmell©12/4/18

A bolt out of the blue at age 73

Walking by my cousin’s ancient fishing camp
my eyes lock on a bolt, much older than me,
sticking out of the railing leading to the pond.

This bolt is not merely a rusty headed
metal pin to fasten things together:
It is like a bolt from a cosmic crossbow,
a lightning bolt that strikes me
shocking me into dream trance. 

In dreams, a lightning bolt can foretell
the crack of a sudden and terrible event,
or a divine message honoring the chosen…

I wonder which it will be for me?

Friday, November 30, 2018

Mary Oliver's Leaf

Playing in the woods behind our house
CC Jean Stimmell: 9/2/15

What Can I Say
What can I say that I have not said before? 
So I'll say it again. 
The leaf has a song in it. 
Stone is the face of patience. 
Inside the river there is an unfinishable story 
and you are somewhere in it 
and it will never end until all ends.
Take your busy heart to the art museum and the 
chamber of commerce 
but take it also to the forest. 
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you 
were a child 
is singing still. 
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four, 
and the leaf is singing still.

~ poem by Mary Oliver ~
(From her book of poetry entitled “Swan")

Thursday, November 29, 2018

What Good are Books and Nature in the Age of Trump

Growing up, we played these woods, which we called  the "Green Forest"
CC Jean Stimmell: 2014
I have been in a blue funk. Last election’s rhetoric was too much for me: the outright lies, character assassinations, dog whistles, violent tirades.
More recently, like an overweight ostrich, the president stuck his head into another sand trap at Mar-a-Lago, stating, yet again, that climate change is a hoax, challenging 99% of scientists, along with the latest report from his own administration.
Then, of course, there is the chilling murder of Washington Post correspondent Jamai Khashoggi. The president continues to side with the Saudi prince perpetrator, thereby breaking every ideal of morality and common decency upon which our nation was built.
Until Trump was elected president, we only associated such mercenary and transactional behavior with gangsters like Al Capone: That swaggering ethic that says, I could kill somebody in the middle of a crowded street and not lose votes — or shoot homeless refugees seeking asylum from south of the border.
Trump’s world was closing in around me. I needed to find a way out!
My first strategy of recovery was to switch from the news, which is essentially “Trump all the Time,” to meditation and quiet walks in woods. Spurred by the grace of nature, I started reading “Thoreau and the Language of Trees” by Richard Higgins. I was quickly rewarded with this gem from John Muir: “Between any two pine trees, there is a door leading to a new way of life.”
I felt my spirit reviving! But not trusting myself to put encouraging words on the page after my recent doldrums, I decided to complete this essay by stringing together the words of others.
I was buoyed by how trees were Thoreau’s cheerful allies in his recurring struggles with melancholy — what we now call depression. To Thoreau, trees represent resilience and renewal:
“In the winter, I stop short in the path to admire how the trees grow up without forethought, regardless of the time and circumstances. They do not wait as man does, but now is the golden age of the sapling. . . . They express a naked confidence.” The human spirit needs such “stimulants of bright and cheering prospects.”
It dawned on me how, in like manner, trees have lifted my spirits, especially my relationships with special trees. Trees have been a fulcrum by which I could lever myself onto a higher plane by communicating with them through writing and photography.
I parlayed the comfort I received from Thoreau by starting a book by Theodore Richards, “Cosmology, Mysticism, and the Birth of a New Myth”: This book confirms what I have always believed: that we seldom make fundamental changes in our lives as a result of being nagged, threatened, or coerced. Instead we change when we become attracted to a more positive alternative vision.
The alternative reality that Richards is talking about corresponds to Thoreau’s vision of nature and my own inner yearnings:
“If we are to once again experience the cosmos as our womb, to participate meaningfully in the awesome event called the universe, then we must simply walk outside, pause, and look at the shining stars, or see a child being born, or listen to a tree’s rustling in the wind, and be amazed. Until we regain this capacity, no set of ideas can save us from ourselves.”
The conclusion I have reached from my sojourn back into nature and books, is that our only hope is to stay connected to what is really nourishing. It is the only way that we are going persevere in our slog through the polluted waters of today to reach the exciting new world, awaiting us on the other side.
I take stock in Arundhati Roy’s words: Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing — a world that celebrates our interconnectedness, and the realization that, at our deepest level, we are all one.
Don’t give up hope! I can hear her breathing, too. I read in the NYT last week that the Green party is now the second-most popular party in Germany, lagging behind the conservatives by only a few points, and already №1 among women.

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