Saturday, July 22, 2017

Photographs more evocative than The Scream or Guernica

After a Syrian Air Force Strike, January 2013
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
This photograph is more evocative to me than The Scream by Edvard Munch or Guernica by Pablo Picasso. It breaks my heart, symbolizing to me how our modern world – due to greed and lack of empathy – is promoting rampant climate change and mushrooming war, creating mass extinctions and a living hell on earth. 

May the gods, wherever they are, have mercy on us.

Here is another iconic photograph of what living hell looks like from the Vietnam war, which I sadly served in.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Hanging by a Thread

Adam's Point: 4/23/17
CC Jean Stimmell
Dark reveries swirl through my head as I come out anesthesia, swimming in pain medication, after total knee replacement surgery. In rapid succession, like channel surfing, stream of consciousness segments dance across my mind.

Right now, I am reliving a waking vision, I first had many years ago, so real that I wrote about it at the time for the Monitor.

 I am standing on an ocean beach consumed with foreboding, watching the tide go out and out, exposing a rock-strewn bottom with fish flopping about in muddy puddles, all the way to the horizon. I didn’t know about the existence of Tsunamis, at that point in my life, but sensed something horrible was happening.

And, so it was. Soon, I hear a deafening roar and watch in horror as the tide reverses, sending a massive wave, several hundred feet tall, right toward me. The dream ends with my world going dark as I am swept away by the avenging tide.

Meanwhile, my hospital roommate, also recuperating from knee surgery, is having a terrible time, moaning and groaning, flopping about in his bed from Restless Leg Syndrome and frequently calling out to the nurses, who rush in with various pain meds that do no good.

Trying to escape, I switched on the TV only to be assaulted with a barrage of news stories about death and destruction. Two pieces stood out: a UN report estimating that there are 21 million refugees worldwide, 5 million from Syria alone. That’s bad enough. But, on top of that, there’s an additional 44 million displaced folks, who are exiles inside their own countries, trying to survive like the flopping fish in my Tsunami dream.

Millions of our disinherited brothers and sisters have been cast off their land, directly or indirectly, because of climate change; most of the rest are displaced by war, a pursuit in which the U.S. is undisputed world champion: Since WW II, we have engaged in an accelerating string of wars, getting drawn in ever deeper in conflicts around the world, wars we can never win.

Back in the 1950s, Dwight Eisenhower, WW II military hero who understood the human cost of war, warned us about this looming danger, a consequence of the accelerating influence of the military-industrial complex: ”Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

My feverish mind spun again, this time landing on something the Buddha said, 2700 years ago, acknowledging this same human dilemma:

I’ll tell you of the anxious dread
that made me to shake all over:
Seeing creatures flopping around,
like fishes in shallow water
so hostile to one another!
–Seeing this, I became afraid.

Then the Buddha goes on to offer a mind-blowing solution!

Seeing people locked in conflict
I became completely distraught…
…But then I discerned here a thorn
hard to see, lodged deep the heart
It is only when pierced by this thorn
that one runs in all directions.
So if that thorn is taken out –
one does not run, one does not sink...[1]

What the Buddha is saying so totally counter-intuitive, it blows my mind! Especially in our country where we worship the Second Amendment, We normally think of ourselves as safer when we are armed. But Buddha is saying the opposite; the taking up or arms is not something born of fear but what gives birth to fear.

In my untethered, chemically altered state, this is a revelation from on high: Rather than some pie-in-the-sky notion, it is the Rosetta Stone, the key to human survival in our postmodern world of escalating nuclear proliferation and accelerating climate change. 

And, yes, it can be done! Starting from the grassroots, from you and me pulling the thorns from our hearts.

Because we are all pierced by these thorns of unwholesome cravings and desire – greed, hate, delusion and their toxic emotional byproducts – we will have to learn to take them out by careful practice: careful practice being nice to each other.

It will take hard work: our habits and ingrained societal worldviews are difficult to change. But it can be done if we are motivated enough. People do it all the time: training for a marathon, learning to play the violin, beating an addiction.

The only difference here is that the goal is not just our individual welfare, but the fate of the earth.

[1]  These verses, translated by Andrew Olenski, are found in one of the oldest parts of the Pali Canon and, according to Olenski, “very likely express the Buddha’s own process of trepidation and discovery.”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Magic Tree

Great Bay Mother
CC Jean Stimmell: 6/17/17
Apparently there are now video games about digital magic trees. I prefer real ones like the one I seek solace under – and receive revelations fromin –  embraced in a mysterious world where water meets the land along the edge of Great Bay.

Compare the majesty and sacredness of Great Bay Mother with the video magic tree below.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Tao says we can learn from water

The Tao
Cascades at Franconia Notch, NH: 9/24/15
CC Jean Stimmell

The Taoist philosophy expressed in the Tao Te Ching points us toward what our essence is, beyond language and thought: natural patterns, rhythms of nature, wisdom related to the systemic nature of what is already here.

"Water seeks its own level; lowly and humble. It serves as it goes, as humans could; it returns again and again.  It is patient; it wears away the hard rocks. On the surface it is reflective, showing the ripple effect of any impact; dropping through space it cascades, and it runs underground secretly..."*

 * Notes on water and The Tao taken from Heaven's Fractal Net: Retrieving Lost Visions in the Humanities, Volume 1 By William Joseph Jackson

Monday, June 12, 2017

We Two Together: The Earth and Us

We Two Together: a sculpture by Michael Alfano,
currently on display at the Mill Brook Gallery
Photograph:: CC Jean Stimmell

We Two Together pulls at me, drawing me in deeper and deeper, a visual manifestation of recent thoughts and feelings. We Two Together is a sculpture by Michael Alfano, currently on exhibit overlooking a lush garden pond outside the Mill Brook Gallery and Sculpture Garden in Concord, NH. The sculpture depicts two lovers, joined as one, surrounded, in turn, by the greater whole of nature’s embrace.

We Two Together resonates with me in the same manner as an ecstasy poem I recently read by the Sufi poet, Rumi:

Your Love lifts my Soul from the body to the Sky
And you lift me up out of the two worlds.
I want your Sun to reach my raindrops,
So your heat can raise my Soul upward like a cloud.

It also triggered thoughts about a provoking piece by Paul Kingsnorth in the current issue of Orion Magazine1, suggesting we deal with climate change by awakening our sense of the sacred and practicing a new animism. His thoughts correspond with my own thinking.

I was converted to the notion that our Earth is a living, breathing organism since the 1960s, after first viewing that iconic photograph from space of our heavenly blue spaceship earth, and later read James Lovelock’s Gaia Hypothesis, which outlines how all of us as living beings interact with our inorganic surroundings to create a self-regulating system – a giant living organism – maintaining and perpetuating ideal conditions for life.

That notion still fills me with awe: it blows my socks off! To my way of thinking, indigenous folks around the world have been right all along: the Earth is a living being; She is our Mother.

I am engulfed in that same soaring sense of awe when I view We Two Together. Not surprisingly, I have diametrically opposing feelings for both our government officials and mainstream consumer society who laugh at the idea of a living earth and sadly, as a secondary result, poopoo the threat of climate change.

Who can deny, in our technological society, we take the earth for granted, treating her like an inert object: either a storehouse of commodities to be used and discarded, or as scenic, background prop to our lives, as if we were staging a movie.

Increasingly, however, in this age of man-made climate change, we pollute  at our own peril. While more of us perceive the danger, most offer as solutions only new government regulations or technical fixes. But, like the domestic abusers we are, I fear we will continue to defile the earth until, if and when, we recognize her sacred nature.

We have no choice but to change. The question is, will it be in time? Our survival  – along with most life forms on planet earth – depends on us stepping up in time to reclaim our primal forbearer’s reverence for our home.

 Kingsnorth, in his essay, is not sure if we need a new religion, but he makes a powerful case for a renewal of the sacred to re-awaken in us a sense of awe and wonder for something bigger than us:

What could that something greater be? There is no need to theorize about it. What is greater than us is the earth itself—life—and we are folded into it, a small part of it, and we have work to do. We need a new animism, a new pantheism, a new way of telling the oldest of stories. We could do worse than to return to the notion of the planet as the mother that birthed us. Those old stories have plenty to say about the fate of people who don’t respect their mothers.

In the spirit of Rumi, poetic teller of the oldest of stories, we must reclaim our Earth for who she really is: a living, breathing body, our beloved other. She is our Mother, supporting and cradling us, the source of all life.



Friday, June 2, 2017

Trump's gift to humanity

CC Jean Stimmell: 3/29/17

Wiped out by climate change
 may our descendants rest in peace

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Felt sense of being watched

MFA in Boston 5/8/17

I was intrigued by this pastel painting Tree Trunk by Arthur Dove. I was drawn in enough to take this photograph of the painting, purposely including the reflections of other patrons in the gallery space because, to me, they enhanced my felt sense about the painting that I was being watched.

It was only later that I read the following quote by critic Paul Rosenfeld whose observations of Dove’s abstractions meshed with my own:

“The represented objects look at us. There is something behind them, something in them, which watches us inquisitively: menacingly at times, at others with secret complicity.”