Sunday, November 25, 2012

Is this floating rock real or a waking dream?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being: 4:30 PM on11/18/12

Walking the dog at Northwood Meadows,
teetering between being light and heavy,
between happiness and sadness,
meaning and nothingness.
Under an equally ambiguous sky,
teetering between day and night,
sun and clouds,
hot and cold.

Without warning, a floating rock reveals herself,
The Unbearable Lightness of Being*,
perfectly symbolizing my mental state
caught between lightness and weight,
an inscrutable paradox:
Is life a circle of eternal return
or just a disappearing act?
Is this floating rock real
or a waking dream?

* this phrase taken from the title of the renowned novel by Milan Kundera

Our neglected, coming-apart-at-the-seams Home

As Russet and I did errands yesterday afternoon, the temperature plummeted and the wind started to whip, chasing odd-shaped, dark clouds across the sky. Driving home we were intrigued by the haunting play of light and shadow on a falling-apart, abandoned Victorian house at the end of a long gated lane in Northwood Narrows. We couldn’t resist stopping and trespassing past the no trespassing signs to take some photographs.

The above image is my best effort to document what we found. It looks best to me rendered in black and white, so that’s what I did.  To my mind, this once gorgeous home, now so pitifully neglected and coming apart at the seams, is a perfect metaphor for our planetary home, Mother Earth. 

Whenever I think about it, I feel guilty that my profession remains so blind. What Theodore Roszak said about us in the early 1990s, unfortunately, still holds true: Today’s psychology and psychotherapy “stop at the city limits, as if the soul might be saved while the biosphere crumbles.”*

To date, we have no more insight about this than our patients: If we can't imagine our own deaths, as Freud insisted, how can we be expected to imagine the death of our planet?  The answer, I believe, lies beyond the purview of psychology and involves reconnecting to a deeper, more fundamental sense of spirituality and ethics. 

It seems to me that it is not enough to master Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the art of swallowing psychotropic medications: To be fully actualized, healthy human beings, we must develop an ethical responsibility for the Earth not only to save our souls but to prevent our imminent extinction. If we are to be successful in this effort, we must disengage from the marketplace and reconnect instead to our bodies, our sense of place, and Mother Nature.

*Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth: An Exploration of Ecopsychology., p. 19.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

We must affirm that the world is a being, a part of our own body

Walking through the woods at Wagon Wheel Farm in Durham with the brilliant morning sun streaming over our shoulders, we stumbled unexpectedly upon this otherworldly, shimmering mirror in the deep channel of a fresh water creek, interpenetrating with the salt water of Great Bay estuary. We arrived and I took this photograph at that magic moment at the apex of low tide when it feels like the whole world has stopped, as if in prayer. Unlike many of my images in my blog which have been manipulated in Photoshop, this photograph is straight out of the camera, except for increasing the contrast.

Our experience resonates with what Joan Halifax writes, along with quotes by others, in her book I am reading, The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom:

“According to Paul Shepard, ‘Ecological thinking ... requires a kind of vision across boundaries. The epidermis of the skin is ecologically like a pond surface or a forest soil, not a shell so much as delicate interpenetration... we must affirm that the world is a being, a part of our own body.’

We are discovering that we are already in what the phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty has called the Collective Flesh, the world itself as an intelligent body. Earth now is revealed as a vast being who is the ground of our perceiving, dreaming, and thinking.” (Kindle Location 1449-1454). Kindle Edition.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

In our bones is the rock itself

Alone in the wilderness, the fire of the sun can burn us; the rains can freeze us; the winds can blow our sense away; Earth can fill us with fear. We are initiated and purified by the elements, empty-handed and undefended. Fasting, our bellies hungry, we feel closer to the bone of life and under the skin of death. The poisons of our body and mind rise up from the depths. They are the stale bitter taste on the root of our tongue. This stuff of a past not worthily lived is also medicine.

 Without food, we seek nourishment in the present and in the silence; the sandy wash, the varnished stone, the dark hard lava, the small gray cloud, all are food for us. We also begin to derive nourishment from our ancestral past. In a Ute song, it is said, "In our bones is the rock itself; in our blood is the river; our skin contains the shadow of every living thing we ever came across. This is what we brought with us long ago." We are the sum of our ancestors. Our roots stretch back to blue-green algae; they stretch to the stars.*

* The quote above is from Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Kindle Locations 446-453). Kindle Edition. 

** The image above is comprised of photographs I took at Gallina Canyon Ranch in the midst of the Chama Wilderness in New Mexico last spring combined with a space image of Mother Earth.

I am drawn to Joan Halifax’s writing, and her as a person, because we share a similar mix of esoteric passions. But with that, the comparison ends. Yes, I am blessed that my diverse passions give me frequent insights – standing, as I do, at the intersection between psychology, anthropology, art and myth, Buddhism, photography, ecology, indigenous wisdom, and sustainable living –   revelations that often blow my socks off.  Yes, I get terrific rushes! But while I have lived my life, at least to date, skimming along the surface as an inveterate dabbler, Halifax has made a commitment with her life to full immersion living, time after time plunging below the surface into the dark unknown, seeking the essence of things. She is my hero.

Joan Halifax (born 1942) is a Zen Buddhist roshi, anthropologist, ecologist, civil rights activist, hospice teacher, and photographer. She collaborated on LSD research projects with her ex-husband Stanislav Grof, in addition to other collaborative efforts with Joseph Campbell and Alan Lomax. She has studied Buddhism under both Korean master Seung Sahn along and Thich Nhat Hanh. Throughout her life, Roshi has loved photography and has taken thousands of extraordinary pictures of people and landscapes in Nepal, Tibet, Burma, China, Cambodia, Korea, and many other places.

The Fruitful Darkness was first published in 1993. Grove Press had this to say when they reissued her book a few years ago: “Joan Halifax delves into "the fruitful darkness" — the shadow side of being, found in the root truths of Native religions, the fecundity of nature, and the stillness of meditation. In The Fruitful Darkness, a highly personal and insightful odyssey of the heart and mind, she encounters Tibetan Buddhist mediators, Mexican shamans, and Native American elders, among others. In rapt prose, she recounts her explorations — from Japanese Zen meditation to hallucinogenic plants, from the Dogon people of Mali to the Mayan rain forest.”

This quote from the The Fruitful Darkness, to me, is a fair synnopsis of her book:

Like Buddhism and shamanism, deep ecology is centered on questioning and directly understanding our place from within the web of creation. All three of these practices-Buddhism, shamanism, and deep ecology-are based on the experience of engagement and the mystery of participation. Rooted in the practice and art of compassion, they move from speculation to revelation through the body of actual experience.(Kindle Locations 216-218).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Our world, a ship on fire

This poem from Mary Oliver's wonderful new book, A Thousand Mornings, resonated with me, finding common ground both in terms of my age and frame of mind:

Every day I’m still looking for God 
and I’m still finding him everywhere, 
in the dust, in the flowerbeds. 
Certainly in the oceans, 
in the islands that lay in the distance 
continents of ice, countries of sand 
each with its own set of creatures 
and God, by whatever name. 
How perfect to be aboard a ship with 
maybe a hundred years still in my pocket. 
But it’s late, for all of us,
And in truth the only ship there is
Is the ship we are all on
Burning the world as we go.*

* Oliver, Mary (2012-10-11). A Thousand Mornings (Kindle Locations 541-550). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.

** The above posterized image was inspired by a photo I took of Bar Harbor Maine in 2011 with the addition of setting the cruise ship on fire which ignites a raging forest fire and adding a cast of characters that includes Maye Deren and myself.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Keep on the journey, whatever you do, but climb the right ladder

“People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success 
only to find, once they reach the top, 
that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall” 
Thomas Merton

"Shrinking away from death is something unhealthy 
and abnormal which robs 
the second half of life of its purpose."
 C. G. Jung

The above stylized, Photoshop image above includes my photo taken last spring in Taos Pueblo, an indigenous village over 1000 years old, and a photo I took this morning of the crown of a sumac silouetted against a weak November sun trying to pierce the turgid sky.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nature's artistic mysteries

I've always marveled at how deer and dogs, among others, are able to fold up their long, slender, multi-joined legs so gracefully when they lie down. Above is a stylized image I made of our Plott hound, Coco, legs folded up beside her, snoozing in her favorite wicker chair.
(click on the image to make it bigger with more clarity)

Monday, November 12, 2012

What we see is determined by infinite possibilities

What I really saw walking along the Merrimack River

Part II: What we know is a reflection of the questions we ask – which, in turn, is determined by a myriad of shifting factors, changing instant by instant.

As I walked along the Merrimack River in Concord yesterday, infinite possibilities existed on what to focus on and what to be attracted to based on what Mother Nature was doing moment by moment along with what I was thinking, sensing and feeling. 

Just to scratch the surface of possibilities: was it windy or calm, sunny or shady, and what was illuminated by the light and what was hidden in the shade? And out of the totality of my individual experience, what was I thinking about at that exact moment and what memories in particular were triggered by the scene at hand and how were they filtered by the acuity of my five senses interacting with the felt sense of my body along with my emotional state.

I had my camera, as usual, and took a few photographs of what attracted me which, it turns out, formed a theme I have combined in the Photoshop image above. 

What I saw was golden grass blown around a branch jutting up along the edge of the river, looking for all the world like the wings of a bird. I saw a milkweed pod that looked to me uncannily like a pterodactyl's head and a raspberry colored crabapple that looked like the glowing eye of a fierce bird of prey.

I'm guessing that if if every person on earth had been given the opportunity to follow my path along the river yesterday, they would have each formed their own unique composite of images, none of them like mine.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What we know is a reflection of the questions we ask

Pawtuckaway State Park, late fall 2012

What we know is a reflection of the questions we ask…

According to Gaston Bachelard, “all knowledge is in response to a question. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed."

Gaston Bachelard was a renaissance man, living from 1894 to 1962, writing about poetry, dreams, psychoanalysis, and the imagination. But he is best known for his work in philosophy and the history of science. He was a professor at Dijon from 1930 to 1940 and then became the inaugural chair in history and philosophy of the sciences at the Sorbonne.

To Bachelard, scientific developments such as Einstein's theory of relativity demonstrated the discontinuous nature of the history of sciences. I am especially fond of him because I share his view that human reality is socially constructed. He was a major influence on leading thinkers of his day including Thomas Kuhn, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault.

Other quotes I like by Bachelard:

“The characteristic of scientific progress is our knowing that we did not know.”

“There is no original truth, only original error.”

“Man is an imagining being.”