Sunday, December 29, 2013

Most people visit dream animals while they sleep; I see mine during the day walking around

Along Great Bay at Adam’s Point last Friday, the sun was melting new snow off the rocks. The interesting play of dark and light on this particular stone (pictured above) attracted my photographic eye. When I looked through the viewfinder to compose my shot – to my great surprise – I saw not a boulder but an elephant.

I’d always thought of elephants as magnificent social animals, big and strong, non-violent and wise. However, my heart went out to this animal because she appeared just the opposite: sad and all alone, drenched and freezing, covered with snow, melting away.

Then I went home and did some research: I found out Jungian analysts like Daryl Sharp place great importance on elephants:

"On a dreary afternoon in the fall of 1974 I was walking in the hills of Zurich, feeling bleak and very sorry for myself, when I spied an object on the path. I stooped down and picked it up. It was a little black elephant made of ebony. It was numinous to me, a magical thing. On the spot, I fell in love. 
"I took it to be a case of what Jung calls synchronicity, where an outer event coincides with what is going on inside. I assumed it had something to do with my psychology and I spent the next few years exploring what that might be. [i]

Was this the case with me, too? Was my introduction to this elephant a case of synchronicity, an outer event coinciding with what was going on inside me?
Chopra says this about that in his “Archetype Series: Who is Ganesha?

“Ganesha is one of the most distinctive Hindu deities, with his large elephant head and pot-bellied human body. Known as the Lord of Obstacles, Ganesha has a dual role of removing obstacles as well as creating obstructions for those whose hubris and ambition have become destructive.”[ii]
That part rang true to me. While I have worked hard emotionally and spiritually to remove obstacles from my journey, nevertheless, a set of new obstacles have recently reared their heads.

Revered for his cleverness and wisdom, according to Chopra, Ganesha is also known as the patron of letters and learning. I, too, am a patron of books and learning but, in my case, I know this cuts both ways as I have the bad habit of carrying it too far, of over-intellectualizing, of favoring my head over my heart, of thinking I know more than I do. Certainly, reviewing my history, my elephant self has created at least as many obstacles as it has removed.

Humbleness, of course, is a virtue for all humans. As Carl Jung once said, “The idea that man alone possesses the primacy of reason in antiquated twaddle.[iii]

Jung favored the indigenous and primitive way of life over the modern. He praised the African zoological classification scale which put the elephant is at the top, followed by the lion, then the python or crocodile, and finally humans and other creatures. While our capacity for reflective consciousness may be a unique human attribute, it does not necessarily imply superiority.[iv]

Then I found the best explanation yet!  This one definitely resonates with me: Is my elephant a rogue premonition of an increasing madness that is consuming animals and humans alike as capitalism and climate change drive us past the point of no return?

Indeed, it is already happening.

G.A. Bradshaw has written about escalating elephant rampages in India. This unsettling trend is continuing unabated as attested to in several recent articles. [v]  Often humans and livestock are killed or sometimes only massive property damage as in the following example:

An elephant herd from Jharkhand turned violent as the locals tried to chase them away while they were guarding a female jumbo which had given birth to a calf in Nilagiri on Sunday.
The herd went berserk raiding nearby villages and damaging 10 houses. They also consumed paddy crops and other food materials that were stored by villagers in their houses.
After another group of 12 elephants joined the herd, the number of Jharkhand elephants in Kuldiha reserve forest here has reached 97. So far, the elephants have damaged 56 houses in six villages.[vi]

Indian officials openly admit to the cause, "yet another case of elephants being forced to venture into human habitation because their natural habitat is being eroded," as well as a constant threat of violence by guns, poison, electrocution, and other lethal methods of control… According the India's Elephant Task Force, the problem is systemic and solutions require …"new institutions and mechanisms" if the elephant is to be saved.[vii]
G.A. Bradshaw then asks a provocative question: is this “a case of elephant breakdown, elephant madness—or our own madness reflecting back?” As he notes: while the definition of madness remains a matter of debate, “most agree that madness reflects the soul in pain.” And in all of psychology, Carl Jung lays bare the most moving account of such angst in the pages of his Red Book:
" The work is gripping. It is impossible to remain detached from Jung's psycho-spiritual maelstrom. As we follow elegant prose along the edge of reason and irrationality, the dark, timeless abyss of the unconscious in Jung's journey swallows us. Primordial images simultaneously assault the senses. At times, the tissue-thin veil between reader and writer, past and present, real and surreal, completely vanishes. In the chapter entitled Descent into Hell in the Future, we fear for our own soul as Jung becomes a terrifying prophet from the world within: You all have a share in the murder...[viii]

“But I ask you, when do men fall on their brothers with mighyt weapons and bloody acts? They do such if they do not know that their brother is themselves. They themselves are sacrificers, but they mutually do the service of sacrifice. They must all sacrifice each other, since the time has not yet come when man puts the bloody knife into himself in order to sacrifice the one he kills in his brother. But whom do people kill? They kill the noble, the brave, the heroes.”[ix]

 “They kill elephants.”[x]

Or we kill elephants by benign neglect, letting them fade away into extinction from habitat destruction and human greed.  And that is what I’m seeing through my camera viewfinder: No longer the wise social Buddha, the apex of Jung’s zoological scale but a shrunken being, sad and all alone, covered with snow, melting away.

I guess the ultimate question becomes: who is mad? Is it the elephant, Carl Jung, human greed, capitalistic ideology or just me for mistaking a snow-covered boulder on Great Bay for a pachyderm?

Or is it all of us.

[iii] C. G. Jung on Nature, Technology & Modern Life edited by Meredith Sabini p. 12
[iv] ibid. page 12
[v] /topic/elephants-on-rampage
[ix] Jung, C.G. (2009). The Red Book: Liber Novus. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, p. 238

Friday, December 27, 2013

How I Go to the Woods

Fallen oak in estuary of the Merrimack: 12/5/13
CC Jean Stimmell
"Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore

I don't really want to be witnessed talking to catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible..." *

*the above poem an excerpt from Mary Oliver's How I Go to the Woods

Disappearing in the estuary of the Merrimack: 12/5/13
CC Jean Stimmell

Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Solstice: Reflecting on childhood reverie & sense of place

This essay was resurrected from an old blog entry and published 
yesterday, 12/22/13, in the Concord Monitor.
“We are standing before a great lake…and suddenly we are returning to a distant past. We dream while remembering. We remember while dreaming… The little becomes big. The world of childhood reverie is as big, bigger than the world offered to today’s reverie… And that is why childhood is the origin of the greatest landscapes. Our childhood solitudes have given us the primitive immensities.” Gaston Bachelard [i]

Thirty years ago, I took this photograph of my son gazing out on Jenness Pond in front of my parent’s house, the house I grew up in.  I remember it was a brutal, bone-chilling day in early December.  We had come down to see if the lake was totally frozen over and to pull the boat up on the bank to safety before it was entombed by the thickening ice.

The shore we pulled the boat up on has special meaning to me; it had also been my resting place.  More than 50 years ago, during my young teenage years, I spent a lot of time on this spot, lost in reverie.  Yankees of my generation weren’t encouraged to just sit and think but it was okay if a person did something real like hunt–and that was my sport and also a way to put a little food on the table.  By the age of ten I was hunting on my own and that autumn and subsequent ones, I sat here at dusk, camouflaged by the low-hanging pine boughs, hoping to hear quacks and the swish of beating wings, signaling the arrival of a flock of migrating ducks.

Much of the time it was stone quiet as I sat in solitude looking over at Catamount Mountain on the far side of the lake. Occasionally I would hear the hum of a vehicle and watch its lights as it skirted the shore and then snaked up the hill before disappearing over the top.

 In my reverie, I imagined that at the top of the mountain, each car was escaping the drab unreality of my world to join the “real world” of substance and excitement.

David Foster Wallace once said, “There’s this existential loneliness in the real world. I don’t know what you’re thinking or what it’s like inside you, and you don’t know what it is like inside me.” [ii]

From my present vantage point in life at age sixty-eight, I think Wallace makes a profound statement about our individualistic society, perhaps all human societies, and, at least, the 1950s culture I grew up in. Looking back on it, I can see why my world did not seem real, over and above the fact that I was shy and rurally isolated. It was more than that.  And it was more than growing up in a reserved, middle class, New England family lacking plain talk or honest emotion.  It was more than that.  Looking back it seems everyone was playing a role without knowing why, looking over their shoulders, afraid of mushroom clouds, commies under the bed, and, most of all, not being just like everyone else.

But I didn’t know all that then.

All I knew was that I felt trapped like the boat in the photograph engulfed in thickening ice. My escape was to go to the lake and sit nestled under the protective canopy of pines, luxuriating in reverie, imagining all the revelations that awaited me on the other side of Catamount Mountain.

It was a rude awakening a few years later when I finally managed to scale that mountain and find out what was on the other side: Rather than discovering the nirvana I had imagined, I found that the “real world” was itself the culprit, the true source of the existential loneliness I was trying to escape.

It took many years for this lesson to sink in, to admit that poets and philosophers like Gaston Bachelard were right: childhood reverie “is the origin of the greatest landscapes,” bigger and more nourishing than the world.

[i] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language, and the Cosmos, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), p. 102
[ii] Slate interview of David Foster Wallace by Laura Miller in 1996:

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Guardian Spirit of Pawtuckaway

She-Who-Watches is an ancient Native American pictograph-petroglyph, revered throughout the Pacific Northwest. For her people she was the resident guardian of the Columbia River basin. One can’t be detached or coolly cognitive in her Presence: Her eyes not only follow you everywhere, they pierce your soul.

I had a similar experience yesterday cross-country skiing with Russet and Coco in Pawtuckaway State Park.  Climbing up an incline between North Mountain and Middle Mountain, I began to have the uneasy feeling I was being watched. I looked around but no one was visible except us.

Just then, the sun briefly pierced the leaden sky illuminating a massive, stony presence: He wasn’t fearsome or sinister but achingly sad and mournful, his shoulders bent as if bearing the weight of the world.

I thought I knew who he was: The guardian spirit of the Penacook Confederacy, a peaceful, indigenous people who once made this land their home, until broken and emasculated by the White Man.

Then he beseeched me: “I pray that you come with peace and wonder in your heart to commune in my sacred realm – and not to stab me again in my already wounded heart.”

In that moment, it struck me like ice falling from an overhanging hemlock tree  that he was more than the guardian spirit of Pawtuckaway, he was an emissary of Gaia, our living, breathing Earth.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Pontiff, pulling no punches, joins the Occupy Movement

December 2011: 'Occupy group' takes 'golden calf' to Congress
Two years ago, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) rose up in solidarity against the flagrant economic inequality in this country: 99% of us being squeezed out by the 1% of corporate  plunderers and  greedy super rich.

Now Pope Francis has stepped up to join the fray, constructively breaking all the rules of popery. Not only has he faulted the Catholic church for its negative obsession with gays and birth control, but now he has expanded his mandate to economics with a groundbreaking screed denouncing "the new idolatry of money". 
The pontiff is pulling no punches: In his "apostolic exhortation," he writes:

"The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings."

His thoughts on income inequality are searing:

"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality."

Isn’t it time we join with the pope, adding our voices to his, demanding that we rise up against the idolatry of money and an impersonal, corporate economy devoid of compassion and human purpose.

Isn’t time we  rise up together and slay the golden calf?