Wild Child

“Among oral people’s, language functions not simply to dialogue with other humans, but also to converse with the more than human cosmos. Words do not speak about the world, they speak to the world, and it is our loss that we have become severed from the vaster life, and have forgotten the expressive depths of language provided by the whole of the sensuous world.” David Abrams

A post on the Depth Psychology Alliance group, Ecopsychology, discusses the topic of story, fairy-tales and language in relation to environmental education and this paper by Joanna Coleman. You can read the post and conversation here, but a free membership is required.

My heart goes out to this vital topic. Before one can enter into a conversation on using stories to heal the rift between ourselves and nature, might it first be necessary to consider both Nature herself and the nature of belief and story? Are stories still a vital way to see ourselves?

Perhaps some resistance to seeing ourselves in a story, a living fiction, preferring instead to call it Reality, stems from a necessary agreement that we are not simply making the world up. We need agreement for those places where our lives intersect. The modern distinction between reality and fiction mistakes story as something untrue, rather than something that provides a metaphorical way to understand reality. Reality and story are not opposites. They belong to two entirely different modes of perceiving.

Storytelling, for us moderns, is enjoyed primarily because of its fictitious nature. Immersing ourselves in a story means suspending reality, perhaps releasing us from the tensions so many of us feel. Tensions caused perhaps by an increasing dependence on remote, uncontrollable sources for food, water and shelter. Technology, in some ways, returns us to infancy, only our mother is now the Sysco truck, the Real Estate agent and local Utility service provider.

File:2008-07-24 International truck docked at Duke Hospital South 2.jpgCan humans live for hundreds of thousands of years, relying primarily on hands-in-the-dirt participation with local resources for survival, to a place where we’ve forgotten most of the knowledge it takes to survive, trading it in for utter reliance on a network so vast, complex and distant that it’s become out of sight and out of mind? What does this change do to Psyche, let alone Nature?

Perhaps the change in us that’s hardest to see, although sensed, is also too primary to see. We live the life given to us through the structures already in place upon entering this world. They are natural. And if nature is now out there, in a zoo, a storybook, or a National Park, we’ve tamed it to the point that what little exchange we have with animals and trees barely touch us, except in a sentimental and safe way, or through efforts to manage her. From forest fires to so-called Parks, nature must submit to human demands – the more so, the more damage done.

But, do we remember the fear of the wild our ancestors lived with, or understand their drive to tame the wild west? Perhaps we have never come to terms with the conflict between a desire for safety and its result of devastating loss of wild life. Must the choice for safety always come at the expense of nature?

Culture:

Middle English (denoting a cultivated piece of land): the noun from French culture or directly from Latin cultura ‘growing, cultivation’; the verb from obsolete French culturer or medieval Latin culturare, both based on Latin colere ‘tend, cultivate’ (see cultivate). In late Middle English the sense was ‘cultivation of the soil’ and from this (early 16th century) arose ‘cultivation (of the mind, faculties, or manners)’; sense 1 of the noun dates from the early 19th century.

Ironically, culture relates to land, saying something about our relationship to nature, not nature as it is, but the one we till, grow and harvest. Culture than is the very thing that moved us from a people living with the inherent constraints and fierceness of nature, to a people resisting her wild unpredictable circumstances by settling down, forcing nature to comply through the use of our technology. From here it’s easy to see that nature becomes our thing, less something nourishing and containing us, and more something to be subdued, enslaved and dominated.

A Snow Leopard at the Toronto Zoo.

Not only must we see the horrific attitude that comes from dominating nature, but perhaps we must also see that blindly following the path of our ancestors has less to do with some inherent human evil and more to do with the harshness of nature herself. Can we remember what the pre-technological past was like and the harsh conditions of day-to-day life for primary sustenance? Could we moderns ever willingly give up even a drop of our technology; the safety, the abundance, the convenience and choices we have as a sacrifice for longterm stability?

Perhaps we need first to forgive the ancestors and ourselves, for choices made along the way that brought us the comfort we now seem unable to live with or without. Maybe then we can accept the sacrifices necessary to bring about a balance between our comfort and convenience and a sustainable world. Can we see though that our desire to plan and manage nature is what got us to where we are today? Does nature need us to tend to her ways?

I prefer to answer that question by remembering that I, too, am nature; part of the problem and the solution. Perhaps the thing most needed now is not only to see how blame, hope or turning away affects us, but to enter into a conversation that allows fear, anger, and sadness as necessary expressions that encourage attention to the complexity of our human nature and current predicament.

Maybe our fate has already been sealed and we’re free-falling our way to an unknown future – not alone though, for, abandon her, love her, fear or hate her, nature will be there too.

With hunger at her heels,
Freedom in her eyes
She dances on her knees,
Pirate prince at her side
Stirrin’ into a hollow idols eyes
Wild child full of grace,
Savior of the human race – Jim Morrison

I-Me-Mine

Is it the fear of what is other, the initial recognition of duality, that tempt us further into categorizations of duality? Is individuality, that necessary movement for freedom of action, what fosters a battle stance, a duality initiating all future duels?

Perhaps fear of the other must finally, as Jung suggested, reduce the gods to diseases, eliminating their autonomy, along with the autonomy of ideas, that now further reduces all human perception to the material causes of brain chemistry, neurons, or delusional thinking. Could we have moved from a world where once all was personified, to one where we’re not even sure of our own personhood?

“…the experience of the gods, of heroes, nymphs, demons, angels and powers, of sacred animals, places, and things, as persons indeed precedes the concept of personification. It is not that we personify, but that the epiphanies come as persons.”

Pan, Mikhail Vrubel 1900

“Epiphanies come as persons,” for us rarely, but to understand the truth of this we can look to dreams or art.

If you can possess your experience, all threats of “other” are “managed.” Filtering experience, we make sense of the world as fits our emotional state, religious viewpoint, cultural conventions, language skills, or whatever else fits the habits of our awareness. Barriers between us and the world are forged categorically: self and other, self and self (resistance even to unwanted thoughts and fantasies that have their way when all is quiet), self and world (especially the uncivilized worlds of forest, jungle, deep-sea and inner city). Sometimes, it is only through a dream or nightmare that we may be reached, and then, rather than hear a message, we might rather insist it was something we ate. 🙂

“When Pan is dead, then nature can be controlled by the will of the new god, man, modeled in the image of Prometheus or Hercules, creating from it and polluting in it without a troubled conscience.”

In their book, Pan and the Nightmare, Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher and James Hillman remind us of a historical account of Herodotus’ in which Pheidippides receives a message from the god Pan that saves Athenian democracy:

“Herodotus says Pan burst in on Pheidippides, cried out his name, and gave him a crucial message that saved Athens. The leaders of Athens believed Pheidippides, won the battle, and set up the Cult of Pan in Athens. Were the cunning and intelligent Greeks so deluded? Did all this come about because of the exhausted state of mind of a certain messenger who had a sudden bright idea and conjured up “Pan” to bless it with authority?”

Here Hillman mocks the modern prejudice which insists the phenomena of receiving messages from the gods is some form of delusion or power grab. I agree with Hillman that it is to the essence of the experience; that of being receptive to receiving messages, that remains relevant to us. What has modernity done for us by refusing to even entertain any such direct experience of the divine? Are we any wiser, safer, secure in our destiny, more civil in our interactions, more caring for home, city and planet for it?

I love the hints, suggestions, ideas and messages that come through experiencing the world as personal; alive, layered, varied, imprecise, whose purpose serves more than functionality. When fear provokes me into summarily dismissing a foreign way of looking at something, or a new way to hear an old idea, it leaves an unsettled feeling in my heart. That unsettledness, when attended to, eventually brings a gift of insight, understanding, compassion, beauty and love.

When ideas themselves can be seen as other, coming to us personified, as dream images do – without the threat of seeming like a foreign invasion, the desire to possess them and boss them around lessens. Their gravitas remain, but without weighing us down as their owners. If there is one gift I have received from spending time with Hillman’s ideas, it is this loosening and respect of fear, and an increase of interest in ideas for their own sake.

“Could we step back from our times, step out of the pretensions of the fearing ego who would bring every atom of nature under its control? Then we might realize again that we are not the source of personified gods. We do not make them up, anymore than we invent the sounds we hear in the woods, the hoof prints in the sand, the nightmare pressure weighing on our chests.”

As well, it is freeing when I recognize that others are also not the author of ideas. We may all be possessed by them, but who knows where their source lies?

Perhaps our need to possess ideas, shifting them away from an experience of the divine, comes from the absorption of polytheism by monotheism, and monotheism by scientistic materialism that takes monotheism one step further. If monotheism reduced the gods to one, separating divinity from the material world, materialism finished the job by removing altogether any notion of the divine, reducing the world to mostly dead bits and pieces bossed around by chemistry, math and physics.

But the shifting of states of awareness through the ages may be necessary, and the Greek imagination helps us to see Dionysus at work here. It may be Dionysus, the only god to have one mortal parent, that best represents the psychological style of modern consciousness, for he was both a god of the grapes, given to transcendent ecstasy, but also ripped apart by the Titans to avenge his father Zeus’ love of Semele, his mortal mother.

Can this myth tell us something about the modern tendency to reduce the world into bits and parts, along with a love of transcendent states, whether through drugs, alcohol, technology, apocalyptic visions or meditative states? Can we see the possessiveness in reducing the world to bits and pieces, and deadening it for the sake of control?

In slicing and dicing as we have throughout the last millenia, perhaps the resulting technology will come to serve another twist of fate. Through the transcendent impulse, we may see seeing, taking on a birds-eye view of not only our planet, but of the vastness beyond our understanding, which may foster in yet another Dionysian trait; a rebirth into another style of consciousness, one that expects variety, and without fear, experiences the divine everywhere.

All quotes, Hillman, James; Roscher, Wilhelm Heinrich (2014-10-09). Pan and the Nightmare. Spring Publications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Oh Noah, where art thou?

” “It’s in Genesis,” he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an interview that aired Tuesday. “Noah is saving the animals; he’s not out there saving innocent babies, he’s saving the animals, he’s saving creation.” 

“It was very clear to us that there was an environmental message. To pull that message out of it, we think, would have been more of an editing job than just sort of representing what’s there.” ”  CNN blog

What do you get when you cross four verses of a biblical story found in Genesis with modern-day film maker, Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of that story as an environmental tale of caution and message for our times? In this case it’s an epic movie called Noah, named for the character in Genesis who as the story goes, is instructed by God to build an ark and save two of every living kind from the flood he is sending to wipe all living creatures from the face of the planet.

The truth about Noah and the event of a flood, like all historical accounts, serves its believers by supplying a predictive value. In a culture where linear thinking and literal historical fact takes the place of relationality that come from appreciation of myth, poetry and story, we no longer need a belief in Christianity to sustain an interest in apocalyptic visions. As we still serve the monotheistic god of historical, cause and effect narrative, to know something means the same in the secular square as it does in Judeo-Christianity; what is true is restricted to historical, material, real public events. One god has come to mean one reality, and one reality equals one truth.

The Christian apocalypse comes from the promise of separation of sinful humanity from the saved, Aronofsky’s apocalypse comes from the human destruction of the planet through disregard for animals and other lifeforms.

Noah2014Poster.jpg

Noah was a great movie for me and perhaps for anyone who enjoys movies that reflect back the current cultural mythology. I can’t take issue with any of the liberties Aronofsky is accused of taking, because I don’t have a need to defend any particular historical narrative re-presented, whether in a book, a movie or a first-hand account. Going one step further, the preference for the historical view as the truer account of what is now referred to as reality is, to my mind, an impoverished, soulless, beauty-deficient way to look at or experience life’s most precious gifts of love and the splendor of being alive and aware in the mysteries.

The movie is not without some obvious flaws; the barren scenery wouldn’t feed one person let alone the population of people and animals shown living there. But they were minor distractions for me. The barren setting was fitting for the apocalyptic feel to the story. Noah is shown as a man who has dreams of the flood and whose desire for justice for the animals creates a conflict over the ultimate value of humankind that culminates in a very tense ending in which Noah chooses whether or not humanity will be allowed to reproduce after the flood. My reflections on the movie come primarily from the idea of the effects of historical time on our modern mythology and especially our notion of “reality.”

In what ways does historical thinking shape our awareness and does it create imagined boundaries and divisions by partitioning us off, one from another, group from group? The Protestant reformation, while not the only example, gives us a picture of endless divisions over smaller and smaller issues. Once the Church splits off into division, splitting never ceases as the thousands of ways to understand and define a theological point or idea serve only those seeking power to control the narrative. The historical narrative in which time begins in paradise, followed by a fall, offers us the promise of restoration and for some, a trip back to paradise.

These divisions have created an atmosphere of defense and offense in every social aspect of modern culture. Partly perhaps, because as humans become more aware of each other through the advance of technology and mobility, who is “self” and who is “other” keeps getting redefined. But the result seems to be an inclination to pit all contenders of the one and only truth through comparison to the notion of “what really happened,” rather than “what does it mean.” What “really happened” demands that we strip away superfluous information, to get to the facts and to the point, slicing reality into as many pieces as it takes to defend a truth we expect to find. But reality slips out of reach as its ungraspable nature can never be completely objectified by our limited subjective perspectives.

“A lot of people are going to be like “What? Noah, drunk and naked? How dare you?!” It’s in the Bible. People are going to say, “Giants walking the earth? Fallen angels? How dare you?!” But it’s in there.” Darren Aronofsky

The attempt, if one must, to depict a story, or even a myth, as a literal account, as Aronofsky by his own admission falls prey to, is a tough one for us moderns to do without. We are still, especially in our public exchanges, caught up in seeing the historical perspective as the truer one. This insight might explain why the parallel universe story is so appealing. In the interview linked to above, Aronofsky tells us that the controversy over the film not being a literal account of the biblical Noah does not concern him because he doesn’t take the Bible literally. But he doesn’t escape from his own literalism as he goes on to defend the details of the film as a more realistic (historical) approach.

No surprise here because the blind spot created by historical thinking permeates our modern mythology. That we don’t see beyond history to the mythologizing in our depiction of reality, or can only see mythology in someone else’s worldview happens as we mistake the content of a worldview for the archetypal forms it shows up in.

Not to say there aren’t in some ways an objective aspect to reality, but to see reality in its totality directly contradicts the approach of slicing and dicing events into facts, parts and divisions. You can’t get there from here…

The fall into history may be necessary to recover the vision of unity, but not the unity of undifferentiated nothingness, but one where the pieces fit or at least belong, bridged by love, meaning and acceptance of the nature of existence. And through a vision of unity of many, many pieces, history can then take its place as one mode of perception among many others.

And where we might agree with storyteller Michael Meade that, “the fact of the matter is a story.”

The Unveiling

Perhaps we moderns no longer see ourselves as living under the influence of myths or belief systems. Whatever their source, they no longer serve us because any belief we subscribe to does not necessarily come to us through the culture of our familiars. More than any other period in history, we have become fractionalized as our awareness of the big menu of ideas, belief systems and cultures increases. Even the beliefs we first experience through the childhood lens of family and small communities of fellow believers are contaminated, if not corrupted, as we venture forth into adulthood where we discover a bigger world of competing beliefs.

Perhaps the act of choosing our beliefs rather than adopting what is handed down to us causes some of us to lose the inclination to sign up for any structured system of beliefs, especially as it has become increasingly evident that all communities are susceptible to the failings of their all-too-human members. Modern communication tells all and every belief system is at risk now of being de-mythologized. Even in looking for something to believe in, we find the only way to sustain our true-believer status comes at the price of excluding other beliefs, even of people who we love and respect as rational beings like ourselves.

File:The Caxton Celebration - William Caxton showing specimens of his printing to King Edward IV and his Queen.jpgOr, maybe we can no longer “believe,” because our exposure to competing beliefs leaves us with the belief (ironically) that any belief system is man-made, constructed, and so we come to acknowledge the fantastical nature of all sets of ideas which drives us to conclude that the only viable search for truth left for us moderns is one we have come to call reality. Secular, if not down right atheist, we will not be fooled again, or so we believe.

In pondering this idea of reality, I have wondered why we moderns seem to be so much under its spell. What do we mean when we make reference to reality, declaring something to be real (or not), and how is it that this modern usage came into being? What new shift in our experience does it reflect?

Reality as a belief, perhaps brings us to the ultimate supposition that there is one true background to all that exists, and paradoxically seems to show us that we live amid a multiplicity of perspectives, but at the same time insist, either that one of them is true, or perhaps something grander, that an as yet to be known truth does in fact exist. This now makes sense to me – to see our notion of reality as that which refers to the Whole, a sense that there is an undivided nature of all that was, is and will be.

File:Motorway (7858495690).jpgHow did we get here, to this point where we now experience ourselves as separated parts that make up a whole? We might agree that what has changed is our ability to both relocate and communicate at the speed of light and to any geographical distance, either physically or virtually, through the technology of travel and telecommunications. We no longer live in small localized communities that stay together generation upon generation, because we are not as confined and limited as were previous generations. We now have the means to move, in varying degrees, through both physical travel and the use of the internet to anywhere around the globe. As both the speed and frequency in which we move increases, perhaps so does our sense of separation from others and from the past. Especially in Western cultures, our independence reinforces the notion that we are separate, forging our own paths and no longer bound to a collective set of beliefs or the past.

Recently, I have been entertaining that notion that in order to restore the feeling of belonging and caring more for each other and for earth our home, we need a new myth. Some of us can see that it is a common mythology that holds a culture together. Only in our modern, historical, non-mythological culture could we think it possible that if we could just find the right myth all will be well – returning us to a paradise we imagine was once there.  Our de-mythologized state may be what allows us to entertain a notion like that but as well curses us with a mythology that says there is no myth, only reality! That is our myth, that there is a reality, even if we don’t feel ourselves to belong to it. Totally unreal! 🙂

File:Ottheinrich Folio296r Rev13.jpgWhat is it then that we need? Perhaps the historical perspective needs its grand finale, transforming us out of its myth of progress, and at last freeing us from the sins of the fathers.

I would guess, that the more we try to power our way out of the current global storm, the stormier it will get. If something must die, and it’s not a literal dying, what is it?

Maybe all that is left is to see is that there will never be an escape from myth. We are myth makers, and whether we call it reality, fantasy, science or religion, we are bound and contained, limited ultimately by our sense of who we are. The more we try to and need to define ourselves, the more caught we’ll be. If we are not who we think we are, then who are we?

It All Looks Fine…to the Naked Eye

The Future (apocalyptic fantasies) 
In my younger days, I assumed that humanity has and continues to change for the better. Whether from the optimism of my forward looking youthfulness in a world full of possibility, or from absorbing the current cultural voices that inspired hopefulness, the story line in the America that I grew up in was one of optimism for a future made easier, safer, and longer and better by science and technology. Much of which remains true.
Things change. I first remember being aware that all is not well with the world, and hearing that the end is in sight, during the 70’s when environmental issues or events such as the approaching planetary alignment hit the news. Doom was coming. Later in life I came to understand that just like creation stories, apocalyptic fantasies abound throughout human history and in all cultures. Even if we do not know how or when, we do know that everything, our individual lives, and the life of the cosmos has its end.
I have over the years come to understand end times primarily as archetypal, with the power to draw us into imagining the future and so better to be aware of our attraction to Endings and how much influence their ideas may have over both our thoughts and choices. Keeping this in mind we can look at all end time scenarios for the fantasies contained within them. What do they say of us – our hopes, fears and sense of meaning and purpose (or lack there of) in both our individual lives and the span of the bigger cosmos we find ourselves in?
Presently, there is a Christian, primarily post reformation, view of the end based on a literal interpretation of Revelations, a political play by play of the end of the world as we know it often referred to as the Apocalypse. All you need to do is google “the coming apocalypse” to see how much currency this idea has in our culture. Entering politics in many ways, but especially concerning itself with current events in the US and the middle east, this view centers around a belief that since Israel has come back into existence, the count down to the end game has begun. A battle between good and evil has been in play ever since Adam and Eve got evicted from the Garden, and there will be a grand finale in which all the supernatural forces will make themselves known to us and a battle to end all battles will play out before us. In the end, though this world will be destroyed, Believers will be saved and God will make a new heaven and a new earth for them.
Although the idea of Cosmic Justice is sometimes appealing in a world in which Justice does not always prevail I have never been convinced that Justice in God’s eyes is equivalent to Justice as we, with our limited vision, see and understand it. In this world where we are all vulnerable to pain and suffering, living with a frequently unavoidable ability to cause hurt to others, how likely is it that God created us just to simply destroy us at some point along the way? Why bother to create us less than perfect in the first place? Perhaps some of us really need to believe that evil will be punished in order to live with the reality of evil, but the more peace and compassion I come to feel, the less likely the thought of punishment of others seems attractive to me. Evil deeds, it seems, come from a lack of a sense of an ability to love and to choose goodness. We do evil things when we’re wounded, living in fear, and have not yet known and experienced a true and compassionate love in our lives.
We can’t lay claim to know what torment a murderer may live with, no matter how hard we try, but we might consider the possibility that their choices and actions reflect their own suffering and torment. Maybe Justice is the torment we experience when we have knowingly taken advantage and hurt someone weaker than us. But when we are wronged it can be so hard to see anything except through the lens of our weakness, pain and suffering that we’ve been reduced to at the hand of another. If only they could feel our pain, we imagine, then justice would be done. But I am not so sure what Justice really looks like or feels like. If Justice does mean that someone should suffer for hurting me, it certainly is not my job to decide what that suffering looks like. But how could I, not wanting to suffer, ever want suffering for another and not see that want as evil?
But I do think that Christian ideas are still very much with us, even for non-believers and that it’s worthwhile for them to consider just how they might be influenced by them. It may be just as dangerous to reject Christianity without understanding what it is that’s being rejected. You might reject Christianity wishing to be rid of authority and fantasy. Here God becomes the fantastical big daddy rejected perhaps out of our hope of growing up, living in reality and being responsible. And yet, childishness has permeated American culture to the point that we sometimes take pride in our childishness.
I say we have not moved beyond a need for authority, but rather have embraced new gods, such as Science, Commerce and Entertainment. Or, we have become the gods, and we are the destroyers, hence the strong belief in a coming environmental apocalypse caused by Us, as well as our love of war with our bombs and other weapons of mass destruction. And because in this modern sometimes atheistic view, God is a fantasy, we must be real, and so, save ourselves. This I think explains why political power and a belief in Central Government has for some, taken on a sense of import and urgency. Just as the literal Biblical Apocalypse has been politicized by Believers into war games in the Middle East, non-believers want Us to Save Ourselves from Us using primarily political means.
But the Christian idea of Salvation may help us to understand what Endings have always been asking of us. The root of the word salvation is related to healing, or making whole. So, perhaps we should be asking ourselves, what is it that heals us, and makes us whole and how could another’s pain aid our healing? If we have any capacity for compassion, would we not wince at another’s suffering, especially when we know well our own suffering? I do believe that healing and a sense of wholeness, or the ability to be at peace with oneself is the end game for all of us. There is no more rewarding sense than to be at peace with oneself and others along with feeling a genuine love and compassion for all of our sufferings weaknesses. Life is truly hard and we are, each of us, at the deepest level of our being truly alone left to figure it out the best we can. That is, I believe, both a blessing and a curse.
Thank you to The Who for the theme-

You hold the gun and I hold the wound,
And we stand looking in each other’s eyes,
Both think we know what’s right,
Both know we know what’s wrong,
We tell ourselves so many many many lies,
We’re not pawns in any game, we’re not tools of bigger men,
There’s only One who can really move us all,
It all looks fine to the naked eye,
But it don’t really happen that way at all.

-Pete Townsend