Friday, November 29, 2013

Spiritual Warriorship

Nun in Shining Armor: 4/15/13
CC Jean Stimmell
I’ve just ordered Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation (Sacred Activism) by Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox.

From reading the reviews, Matthew Fox’s concept of “spiritual warriorship”resonates with my  dream image of a Buddhest nun’s fierce compassion; in fact, in the dream she was wearing a warrior’s armor.

There is also a synchronicity with the book I found at the beginning of our Oregon vacation: A Terrible Love of  War; reading it wrapped me in knots for two weeks until I finally was able to get out some of my thoughts and feeling in my first blog on the subject. 

But it didn’t really come together for me until after Dwight Grave’s death, when in an aha moment, I saw he was the very epitome of what it means to be a spiritual warrior. 

Matthew Fox makes clear in his Shambhala interview with Amanda Hester ⁠1that his concept of spiritual warrior “is not just about male warrior-hood, it is about the strength in all of us, how the demands of our time are calling us forward, beyond just inner peace. 

“Warriorship takes you into the chaos, into the conflicts and confusion. It is about focussing and committing. It is about tapping into the ‘Sacred Masculine’. It is the strength in spirituality, which is not only needed, but is also what we admire in people like Dorothy Day, or Ghandi. They stay true to their values. That is warriorship: developing an inner light that can deal with pain, suffering, and doubt.”

While, indeed, both Bucko and Fox recognize the need for a re-emergence of the feminine, the wisdom principle, and the importance of household and community, they say in this book what they are attempting to do is to define the relationship between contemplation and action in our contemporary world.

Fox and Bucko say, the question becomes, how is it is possible to act in the world so that your actions become contemplation.

Amanda, the interviewer, asks, How can we have spiritually grounded activism without arrogance, aggression, and dualism. How can we engage that wisdom element to transform the system of aggression through a new paradigm of gentleness?”

Fox answers: The shadow side of activism is that it can turn into further conflict. The question is profound: is there a way to move into a broader circle, where everyone is included? The practice of meditation and deep listening is something that we need to bring to the struggle. 

It is important not to turn things into us vs. them, and that’s tricky, because you still have to designate what your differences are. But it is about making a distinction between people’s positions, roles, or ideologies, and the person themselves. It is about people’s hearts and the wisdom that is latent inside all of us.”

In a video of another interview,⁠2 Fox talks about how we must learn to wrap compassion around our moral outrage. He talks about how the activist has to become the contemplative and the contemplative has to become the activist: we must learn to meld the two. 

By merging the two, Jim Burklo writes in yet another review of this book that “[Matthew Fox] and Adam Bucko and millions like him are fulfilling a prognostication of Walt Whitman, quoted in the book. 

Long ago Whitman said: “There will soon be no more priests…. The gangs of kosmos and prophets en masse shall take their place. A new order shall rise and they shall be the priests of man, and every man shall be his own priest.”⁠3

Much to chew on in this book.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Monarchs in Our Coal Mine

THE MONARCH:  Hanna Yata © 2013

The Monarch strikes me as an entrancing fantasy of stunning, evocative, erotic beauty and, at the same time, an apocalyptic nightmare of our planet’s last gasp, a final brilliant flash of orgasmic pyrotechnics as all life on earth – each species exquisite and irreplaceable – fades into extinction never to be seen again – all because of human greed and stupidity.

But I didn’t appreciate the utter appropriateness of her title until reading a New York Times news analysis this morning entitled “The year the Monarch Didn’t Appear:”

On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.
This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers... Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.

Yannah is tapped into a deeper reality. Her title is perfect: metaphorically and mythologically, the magical monarch is the canary in our coal mine.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The houses we live in and what is really real

Web Study by Amy Casey @ 2007
(Image used with the permission of the artist)
Our psyche reveals itself through our dreams and through art in the form of symbols or archetypes. A house is a very rich archetype representing our self or our personality. We all seek a secure house that is authentic, that is uniquely our own. I got thinking about this today while reminiscing about growing up in rural NH in what was still part of the 1950s culture. Although I grew up in a nice middle class family and was a good student that was college-bound, my future filled me with existential dread. In high school, I sought escape by partying with my wild friends, drinking too much, and crashing cars.

I was truly a rebel without a cause in the sense of not being able to articulate the cause of my despair. I felt smothered by the conformist society I lived in: I felt like a widget in an assembly line, destined to grow up to live in some bloodless suburbia in a cookie cutter house with a helpmate wife, 2.2 children, and a job I hated shuffling papers in some cubicle. I hated what mainstream America called “The American Dream.”

Malvina Reynolds came along at that exact time, representing the collective unconscious of my generation, to put words to what I felt but could not articulate: she wrote Little Boxes, a song that was an opening salvo of the’60s, a satire about suburban tract housing and conformist middle class attitudes. It became a hit for Pete Seeger in 1963.

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university,
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,
And there's doctors and lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

For those of us growing up to be part of the 1960s generation, these little boxes were empty slots waiting for us to fill them; they represented our fate.  No wonder we rebelled!

We were rebelling against the shell game that corporations pulled off after World War II: tricking Americans into abandoning vibrant local communities, woven out a web of intimate human relationships, in favor of a consumer society where we became widgets in a vast societal assembly line to maximize corporate profits.

If a house is a symbol for our self in Jungian terms, then “little boxes” perfectly represented the state of our psyches in the 1950s. No longer does this symbol of home represent a safe and secure refuge, a place that is uniquely ours. Now it has been set over and against us; we have been conned by a false ideology. Yes, we still lived in real houses but now they are all the same and built out of flimsy material without character, a perfect metaphor of how our human spirit became commodified, starting in the 1950s.

The 1960s upheaval was a revolt against this commodification of the human spirit as represented by the ticky tacky house. We had an opposite vision: going back to the land, learning to grow our own food, to be self-sufficient, and live in simple, owner built homes built out of local material in interdependent, close knit communities.

Thank god that vision is on the ascendant again with the recent explosion of interest in small scale farming, living in concert with nature, buying local, practicing simple and sustainable living. The Jungian symbol of the self in this alternative vision is a small, simple, self-sufficient home with a big garden out front instead of a lawn and solar panels on the roof in a close-knit community in an urban setting.

But, juxtapositioned against this return to what is really real is the explosion in high-speed communication and the web.  I came across a painting today by Amy Casey (displayed at the top of this essay) that perfectly represents the Jungian symbol of what home is becoming under this scenario, as the self become increasing enmeshed in information overload.

Amy Casey’s wonderful painting depicts the next stage in mainstream society from the 1950s home we have already discussed which is built out of real material but is an assembly line commodity, giving a false sense of what an authentic house or human being should be.

Now with Amy Casey’s painting we have moved from a real but false sense of what human reality is to the web where the real is no longer real. As Baudrillard notes, it is no longer a question of just imitation or duplication (picture the cookie cutter suburban, ticky tacky houses): “Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is a generation by [electronic] models without origin or reality: a hyperreal…[1]

The question becomes, which house will we find ourselves living in in the future. If we make the wrong choice, the only thing that will remain are faint electronic traces of what used to be a really real, flesh and blood human race.

[1] Jean Baudrillard’s  Simulations “Hyperreal and imaginary”

Friday, November 1, 2013


Goat: A magnificient product of the relationship between humans and nature
Water Color Painting © 2013 by Russet Jennings, Northwood, NH
 (used with the permission of the artist)
 My long-time hero died this week: Arthur Danto, professor emeritus of philosophy at Columbia University, influential art critic, and long-time cultural arts contributor to The Nation. He was unparalleled at reviewing art, not just for its intrinsic value – not just for art’s sake –but in the wider sense of what was the significance of a particular piece of art  –what was its meaning – in terms of the culture at large.

Until the ’60s, the history of western art was presented to us by the cultural elite as an evolution from primitive to modern along a single path, each stage making incremental progress toward some shining destination representing ultimate reality.

Dante was among the first to see that this was no longer the case and in 1986 wrote his famous essay proclaiming The End of Art.[1]

“By this he meant not that people would stop making art, but that the idea of art progressing and evolving over time along one clear path, as it seemed to have done from the Renaissance through the late 19th century and into the first post-World War II decade, could no longer be supported by art of the late 20th century. After the ’60s, art had splintered and gone off in a multitude of directions, from Photorealist painting to the most abstruse forms of Conceptualism.[2]

I see his essay as a major cultural turning point. From this point forward, art can no longer be defined as having a reality separate from the viewer. It can no longer stand on its own.  Instead, art becomes defined as a relationship: art becomes a representation of reality as understood by the viewer: a relationship not an entity.

This week appears to be a week for me to talk about endings: The end of Arthur Danto, the end of art, and, even, the end of nature.
I came across a conversation in the current Orion Magazine[3] by William Cronon and Michael Pollan entitled, Out of the Wild, where they talk about the end of nature in the same manner as Dante did about art. Just as in art, we can no longer view nature as a pristine wilderness, separate from humankind.
This thesis was first put forward by Bill McKibben in 1989 in his book aptly named, The End of Nature.[4] In it he describes nature as a force previously independent of humans but which is now increasingly driven by the actions of people. His book is considered to be the first book about global warming written for a general audience:
"If the waves crash up against the beach, eroding dunes and destroying homes, it is not the awesome power of Mother Nature. It is the awesome power of Mother Nature as altered by the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born."[3]

McKibben’s point is well taken about the dangers of global warming and how humans are complicit. But, on the larger point, humans and nature have never been separate from one another: we have always been in relationship with her, not as some privileged demi-god ordained by heaven to have dominion over nature as the Bible proclaims but as one humble component among a multitude, all participating in Nature’s all-encompassing majesty.

It’s the same with art: each of us has a relationship with art, not just because we are privileged enough to be part of a cultural elite who has appointed itself the anointed gatekeepers as to what is art and what is not, but, more broadly we have a relationship with art, simply because we are human beings, each pulsating with native creative energy.  

If only we could cleanse our perception by casting off the smothering blanket of our socially constructed blinders, we would see the world as it really is, “a common language of symbols arising from body and mind of Earth.”[5]

[3] Orion Magazine, November/December 2013, pp 66-67