A Golden Thread?

Maze, Graphic, Render, Labyrinth, Design

As I reflect on how many states are now again recently declining after major spikes of covid19 cases, it appears this is due to an increased emphasis on masking and social distancing in the national media and governing actions this past month.  I say this as a New Yorker, who has witnessed the dramatic effect these measures have had in our state over time.  For all of the hardships and trauma the pandemic has wrought and continues to wreak upon individuals, families, schools and businesses, I see here yet a golden opportunity.

IFF, or perhaps by the degree to which this dire threat to human wellness and basic survival can be approached collectively by people uniting and agreeing to step up to protect themselves and one another by masking, social distancing, testing, staying home especially if feeling not well, and disinfecting, we then CAN reach the other side of this mountain, together.  We can bring down the scourge to a much more manageable level while yet awaiting effective vaccines and treatments.

The opportunity I am recognizing here is that we can UNITE to face our common enemy; then this era could serve to help us advance spiritually as a whole.

There is a golden thread that we can follow–like Theseus in the realm of the Minotaur–to re-emerge from the perilous labyrinth we are in.

Contemplation, Woman, Meditation, Sun

The interwoven triad of awareness-responsibility-freedom means that when we act responsibly on the basis of our highest awareness (e.g. responsive to scientific data and medical as well as spiritual guidance), then we can discover our measure of freedom within a given range of experience.

Your freedom ends where another’s begins.”

(Sri Harold Klemp, spiritual leader of Eckankar)

I have the freedom to be in a public space, of course, but I need to act responsibly in that arena on the basis of my own and collective awareness. So, I always carry a mask and put it on whenever other people are present especially within six feet (I try to at least double that myself when I can).  Acting responsibly means looking out for the other person’s freedom in the process of expressing my own.

If we can learn this deep lesson we can emerge from this pandemic stronger and healthier as a global species than we have recently been. We can be more united, more caring, more whole.

Woman, Walking, Dog, Leash, Leg, Foot

But yesterday I had an experience that brings me to add a caviat with regard to this optimistic hope.  I was walking with Sophie (my Shorkie girl) at a lakeside park nearby. We walked along a sidewalk on the perimeter of the park. Usually we would have walked along a path next to the lake itself, but no one was masking except me so I did not feel safe there. Honestly I became perturbed as I realized the park had lots of people organized in couples and small family clumps, walking amongst and past one another freely, but no one was wearing a mask. A woman with two children came along on the perimeter walk and crossed my and Sophie’s path at close quarters to get to her car, no masks. I involuntarily let loose verbally at her:

“Why isn’t anybody wearing a mask?” I asked.

“Go Home,” was her swift as if well practiced reply.

I was miffed, but of course I also felt chagrined and mad at myself for my angry outburst in front of this mother and her two little daughters. “Go Home,” indeed!  What was she saying? That as someone who masks I am not welcome in open public spaces? That non-maskers have claimed this park as their own?

Monalisa, Mona Lisa, Mask, Painting

images are from pixabay.com

I am actually preparing for a move back to my hometown from high school days. Visiting recently while searching for a new home there, people are masking in that slightly more populous town.  So, maybe my harsh encounter with this mother was a waking dream or “golden tongued wisdom;” confirmation that I do not belong where I am currently living so that I should in fact Go Home.  As well, spiritually Home is beyond this physical plane altogether, so maybe she was reminding me to maintain a higher awareness so as not to be perturbed by the course illusional states of this lower plane arena.

Responsibility is the key word of the triad of Awareness-Responsibility-Freedom at least insofar as living in a society is concerned.  For myself, I aim to act in a manner that serves the Whole, not just my own selfish immediate interests. 

We have an opportunity to grow and we might even begin to heal our divisions by respecting one another (my lesson in this encounter) and, yes, by wearing a mask in public spaces during a global pandemic.

Masked Messages

This summer semester as I have been teaching Anthropology remotely online, I have held Microsoft Teams (like Zoom) weekly sessions with students. This past 8 weeks we have been developing a discussion about the emerging cultural messages associated with masking and not masking in the U.S.. The following is my final week announcement to the students about the results of their observations over the semester. Then I have added some of their specific observations below that.

Man, Mask, Blue Eyes, Hand, Mystery

Some of your (students’) key findings:

that women are tending to mask more than men; that masking matters (e.g. spikes have occurred after the Tulsa campaign rally and other mass gatherings); in Colorado Springs students observed more people 30’s to 50’s not masking; that not masking can be a rebellious statement (claiming civil liberties); that whether or not to mask can be confusing due to mixed messages and ambivalent leadership; and that masking is generally perceived as caring and protective as versus not.

I observe that masking has quickly developed a cultural patterning: it adheres to partisan and other divides and becomes a marker of identity when used to draw attention to itself (either to a specific kind of mask–e.g. a fishnet mask observed at a gym, and Black Lives Matter masks) or to not wearing in situations where it is clearly mandated.  WHY has masking, a basic public health measure, become such a cultural phenomenon in America? It mirrors social segmentation and masking behavior may also reveal subtle issues around FACE: e.g. ‘losing face’ or feeling emasculated–nice pun!–when masking  esp. for men; losing a display of individual identity; concern with being perceived as criminal or threatening; though masking can also be associated with superheroes, e.g. caregivers!

Some specific observations:

  • A woman repeatedly attending a gym that has a sign requiring masks, wearing a fishnet mask as a form of defiance.
  • A Chase bank in Seattle with a sign outside stating Blacks do not need to wear a mask (purportedly to defray profiling but isn’t it actually profiling so that security cameras can see Black clients’ faces?)
  • A bus driver bludgeoned with a baseball bat in San Diego, CA for being asked to wear a mask
  • Parents rewarding their 6 yo child for always masking
  • More women masking than men (do men have issues around ‘demasculating’—pun intended?)
  • More 30’s to 50’s year old not masking
  • A student of color sharing that his friends and he are afraid to mask because they fear white people might perceive them as not smiling and therefore threatening
  • Political partisanship showing in degree of masking compliance (more democrats) or not (more republicans)
  • Confusion generally about the effectiveness or need to mask due to ambivalent media statements and ineffective national or state level leadership (versus e.g. in New York state, with strong science based leadership and effective response).
  • Art, Mask, Head, Human, Psyche

 images are from pixabay.com

In a diverse, complex society like the U.S. today, the covid19 pandemic has struck at a vital weakness in the divisive political and social climate here.

We can use masking to declare our CARE for ourselves and for one another.  Not masking can be a dangerous form of protest and may be perceived as a selfish lack of concern for others’ wellbeing.

To build bridges for Better Endings, it helps to talk with one another and to stand up for positive messaging.

A Smile to Bridge Troubled Waters

Bridging The Racial Divide

Black And White, Baby, Boy, Kid, Child

When I was in tenth grade in high school in 1970, my progressive English teacher engaged all of his “lily white” suburban area students with a half a year of Black Renaissance literature. I loved it! This material opened me to a new world of awareness, especially about racial inequalities and diverse voices.  Our book Black Voices  included the following poem that I have never forgotten:

The Incident
by Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Once riding in old Baltimore,
    Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
    Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
    And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
    His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
    From May until December:
Of all the things that happened there
    That’s all that I remember.

 

This poem by Countee Cullen has been with me since tenth grade and now, with the Black Lives Matter movement still needing to draw attention to persistent racial inequalities in America, it has resurfaced in my own, shall I say, racial memory.  I have had a counter sort of experience I like to share.

Bus Stop, Waiting, Bus, Public Transport

Around 1978 I was living in Buffalo, New York while in graduate school.  I used the bus system to get around in the city, and one night I was in inner city Buffalo near midnight, waiting for a bus connection at around 11:30 PM, the last bus of the night. I was returning to my apartment across town from an activity at the spiritual center I was involved with.

The bus stop was just outside from a bar. While I stood waiting for what would be around 20 minutes there at the bus stop, a man wobbled out from the bar and approached me. I could smell from his breath that he was quite tipsy. He happened to be black, maybe in his mid-thirties or so.

grayscale photography of jacket

“My name is Freddy,” the man said as he approached. “That is my car right there at the curb.” He continued: “I bet you think I’m gonna grab you by the arm ‘n drag you over there to my car and take you away and rape you.”

“No, I do not think that, Freddy,” was the answer that emerged from my mouth, much more calm and confident than I actually was beginning to feel about the situation.

“Well I could, you know. All I need to do is grab you and take you over there,” Freddy continued.

“My name is Linda. Do you live around here?” I asked (or something of this nature). I started asking about Freddy’s family, if he was married and how many kids he had.  He reciprocated and asked me about my life. I told him I was a college student waiting for the last bus home and that I had just come from my spiritual center across town.

We talked for a few minutes. Then Freddy said:

“I’m gonna stand right here and wait with you until the bus comes ‘n I’ll make sure nobody does anything to harm you.”

Freddy and I continued to talk for another fifteen minutes or so, then the bus arrived. I thanked him and we shook hands, then I boarded the bus and went home to my apartment across town.

Architecture, Building, Infrastructure

images are from pixabay.com

This encounter with Freddy has shaped a lot of my understanding about race relations.  I feel that so long as we see one another through the lens of stereotypes—helpless white female, drunk inner city Black man—we are likely to interact according to these stereotypes. But as soon as we connect with each other as individuals, as Soul=Soul, the stereotypes dissolve and we can see and hear one another for who we are.

So here is a Better Endings slight revision of the same Countee Cullen poem, The Incident:

Once riding in old Baltimore,
    Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,
I saw a Baltimorean
    Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
    And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, and he looked twice,
   and smiled back just as nice.

I saw the whole of Baltimore
    From May until December:
Of all the things that happened there
    That’s all that I remember.

 

Such a small shift in wording, a smile returned for a smile.

Is that so very much to ask of ourselves?

The Out-of-Doors Time, A Retrospective

There was a time, so long ago that by now many of our greatest scientists question if it was ever more than a parallel reality, when we did not live entirely indoors.  Our social fabric included “stores”: places people walked through to shop for their food and supplies; and physical spaces called “classrooms” and large university campuses where our chidren learned from actual people called “teachers” and where young ones interacted with one another in actual physical locations and events called “playgrounds,”  “summer camps,” and “Spring breaks.”

Back then there were many social ills, such as “racism” and “gender-based sexism.” That is way back in our primitive history, when we did not communicate wholly through our neutrally assigned avatars.

We had families resulting from the random vagaries of biological sexual reproduction rather than from our well controlled allocation of techno-genetic offspring we so value today.

Can you imagine?  We walked unruly pets in outdoor settings called “woods” and “neighborhoods.”  We risked all sorts of debilitating physical ailments: sunburns, aching joints,germs and viruses, and aging. That is before, of course, when we were a fully biological species.

girl's black and white collared shirt

Such absurd sounding history–and this is but a glimmering–is still preserved in nano-implants you can purchase only if you are eligible to harbor such restricted knowledge.

images are from pixabay.com

Such an alternate reality which we are so grateful to have transcended streches back to a time when our ancestors eked out their survival on a fragile little blue planet called “Earth.”

The Color of Love

A friend recently posted a prompt for her writing group after sharing a picture of military humvees in DC.  She asked, “What is the color of love?”

Here is my my meager response:

The Color of Love

Love is green: a walk in verdant woods, freshly mown grass;

Love is yellow: Sun’s golden rays, wedding rings;

Love is blue: clear sky vistas, soulful music;

Love is also red: beating hearts, lifeblood;

 

 

Love is lavendar: lilac blooms, early sunrise hopes;

Love is black: solace in the darkness, night before dawn.

Love is white: hospital care, a blank page.

images are from pixabay.com

Love is all the colors of the spectrum:

Unity in diversity, melodic harmony, joy.

Love is Light, and Sound; the very essence of Life:

Divine Breath, all the hues and call

of Creation.

Stranger than Fiction?

Are we in a collective, shared and co-created fantasy we call Reality?  Actually there are contemporary physicists who have argued our apparent physical, three-dimensional reality is a holographic projection from the event horizon of a black (or, white) hole. I know, that is mind-stretching to the point we cannot comprehend with our pithy human brains just what that means. But as we deal with a global pandemic and racial rage and mob violence in our streets, our collective story right now does seem to have become rather fantastical.

Panicked woman wearing a face mask against covid-19, she is scared and stressed

Lately I have been watching (and am recording as I write) the film Stranger Than Fiction. I have blogged about it before. The story is about Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) as a tax auditor who comes to realize he is a character in a narrated story about his life, being narrated by an author with writer’s block (Emma Thompson) who always kills her protagonists. A literary professor (Dustin Hoffman) asks Harold to try to figure out if his life story is a comedy or tragic.

The matrix of this movie script leads me to ask what is my own life about and on a bigger canvas, yours; all our lives?

If we look at our current chapter or act or scene as scripted, what is the narrative purpose of the pandemic, the character motivations of the patients and politicians, the doctors and scientists, and people either staying home, risking all to go to work and provide care and service, activists and anarchists, and our neighbors whom we hardly get to see any more? Since not as much as a word is ever wasted in good writing, why is all this occurring, how might it end or develop as a plotline, and what lessons might we all gain if this is—as I expect that it is—composed as a transformational story?

To scale down such a wild hair set of questions born no doubt of my own self-sheltering thought formations, what am I/ are you learning through the challenges and ordeals we are facing?

I am learning to pay greater attention to my dreams and inner guidance.  In fact this ‘time out’ has brought me to a revolutionary, transformative quantum leap moment for turning a page of my own life’s tale: I intend to make yet another Big Move by December or January. Quite to the honoring of epic mythic structure, I am going Home—moving back to the one and only true hometown I have known in this life—where I attended high school and worked for early college summers. Now two hours from my current location, I am feeling inwardly, deeply called to return to my hometown community, at least for awhile.

Maybe my character is seeking an anchor in these decidedly unmoored times. Even though only one of my high school friends—my best high school friend, in fact—is still there, the place itself, a village that is generally a quiet, sleeper community until it becomes an artistic and musical resort town over the summers due to its dynamic performing arts center, is Herself a familiar friend I have always kept tethered to in my heart, a hearth-stone to all of my travels.

images are gratefully from pixabay.com

What about you?  What momentous or meaningful ideas are occurring that could help propel you in your character arc to enact transformational growth or change?  With the time you have for deep reflection—or from the stress you are facing—what fantastical leaps of faith might you be preparing to embark upon?

This is a meaningful passage, ripe for epiphanies.  As such, I am grateful for the gifts that it brings. It is not so much what happens in the world but how we respond to what happens that matters most in our own life story; in this way we are the authors and editors; rather than being merely acted upon, we are agents of self-change.

Sit Still and DO!

Sheltering in place has its opportunities as well as challenges.  On the down side, over time staying home can seem isolating and lonely.  Then it may feel draining.  Time drones on, days and weeks go by with little advancement but for provisioning and maintaining basic contacts by phone and social media.  But on the up side, there are golden opportunities: for solitude and inner processing, and for Doing.

“Sit still and do something” (Paul Twitchell, Stranger By the River) is a Zenlike koan of sorts: a spiritual nugget or seed.  In that context it can mean to be active even while sitting for deep contemplation. Explore your inner cosmos, reflect on life’s lessons, unfold in wisdom and awareness.  But now this phrase can also mean, for me, stay home and yet find ways to be of service to others and to the Whole.

Many of us are fortunate during the current pandemic to have social media and readily available technology.  With these we can communicate by phone or through our computers and other devices; email, FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Google generally and online learning platforms allow us to expand our connections while staying home to provide safety for ourselves and our families.

There is a lot of Doing possible, day by day. For myself I continue to teach online and to write. I attend spiritual discussions online and have learned how to conduct Zoom meetings.    I am helping an elder friend get groceries by adding her items to my Instacart orders. I have also helped send out some positive messages for the general public through placing local Pennysaver ads with my spiritual group that offer online public discussions.

I am finding that, when I can sleep, I am often dreaming deeply, and when I contemplate, that too is  very revealing and helpful. I often go to bed with questions or concerns and wake with answers.

images are from pixabay.com

I do wonder what will result socially after all this staying home and social distancing becomes less necessary.  Are we changing as a society overall to an even more atomistic, socially fragmented population?  Or will we emerge as from a chrysalis, with greater appreciation and gratitude for human and natural connection? Time will tell, but I sense we can benefit greatly if we simply choose to  Sit Still and DO!

The Cultural Meaning of Masking

monalisa-4893660__480

As an anthropological linguist, I have been noticing how so few Americans, at least in my local area, are comfortable wearing a mask in public. Despite our state governor Cuomo’s executive order requiring all to wear masks or cloth facial coverings “in public,” in my semi-rural neighborhood and wider small city community few except essential workers who are assigned masks are actually wearing them, to the potential detriment of the whole population. Most instead are relying on “social distancing” by a six foot margin; that behavior is not uncomfortable, at least between strangers.

carnival-2092819__480

I recognize this noncompliant behavior may have to do in part with the “cultural markedness” of masking. Since normally the average person would not wear a mask in public, then wearing one is “marked,” i.e. noticeably different. Further, we have negative cultural associations with people who wear masks: they might be hiding something or they could have criminal or “shady” intentions.  People who wear a mask have something to hide, we may unconsciously believe; they are being deceptive or pretending to be someone or something other than whom they really are.

actor-1807557__480

Now superheroes are the notable exceptions to our negative masking semantics. “Who was that masked man?” we asked after the Lone Ranger or Spiderman or Batman, for example, had saved the day. Superheroes mask because they are selfless, serving the common Good.

In these days of our confrontation with a deadly villainous global pandemic, to wear a mask is to protect not only yourself but everyone you interact with. Still many feel uncomfortable so they choose not to comply.

We need to establish a “markedness reversal;” to reframe the very meaning now of wearing a mask.

close-female-nurse-putting-on-260nw-1625323060

Wearing a mask in public is a demonstration of humility and caring, of respect for others, of service to the common Good.  None of us knows (unless recently tested) if we have been infected. We might be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, and if so, we could be spreading the infection unknowingly.

Be a selfless Superhero!  Wear a mask in public.  You can know privately that when you do so, you are serving the common Good.

When you see someone else masking as you do, give a thumbs up! I would say smile, but of course that gesture may not show except for that kindly twinkle in your eyes. Thank one another. Continue to social distance, but  you can do so while acknowledging how the masks unite rather than separate you from your neighbor.

eyes-1283163__480

We are confronting a common enemy, together.  We need one another.

Give yourself a superhero name or give your neighbor one.  Lovely Lily, Helpful Harry or Generous George.

We are in this together. Wear a mask!

Be Still and Do Something

meditation-1384758__480

Are you spending a lot of time at home these days? Unless you are in an essential service…and bless you if you are!… likely you are sheltering in place as far as possible, as am I.  Yet I am finding that with all the extra demands and stressors I need to deal with day to day, this staying home is becoming like a full time job!

I am reminded of a spiritual kernel:

Be Still and Do Something

There is so much you can accomplish while being still and staying in. Here is a brief list from my current experience. I invite you to compose your own list.

contemplation (active imagination)

meditation or prayer

writing (and editing)

art

reading

conversation (by phone or social media, including

FaceTime, Zoom, Skype)

Online searching

Jigsaw puzzles, crossword puzzles, Soduko

     Ordering groceries or supplies for home delivery (e.g. Instacart, Amazon,                                       WalMart.com)

     Cooking, learning new recipes

What are some activities you are engaged in that I have not covered here?

dubai-728130__480

images are from pixabay.com

I have opened a book of Rumi poetry to this passage (“No More the Presence”/ Coleman Barks, The Big Red Book):

               No more meanings.

               My pleasure now is with the inner sun, inner moon.

               This giving up has nothing to do with exhaustion.

               I walk from one garden to another,

               waves against my boat, ocean flames refining,

               as fresh as flowers and fish calligraphy.

Are you being beckoned to connect with your own inner guidance?  We are never truly alone!

 

 

 

Just Love

I have had a blog post written on the monthly theme of Listening Closely to Others for over a week, but the magnitude and scope of the global pandemic we are all dealing with makes any words I have to say seem weak and vain. So I am postponing regular themes. Today I just want to write from the heart.

At night before trying to get to sleep in these trying times, I have been sending light and love to the earth and all its beings. I visualize sending love and light from the center of my consciousness that then joins with billions of other souls, both embodied and from higher planes, also sending light and love, like 360 degree waves or globes expanding, intermixing and merging to blanket the entire globe in a golden sea of light, love and purity.

It is important I feel when I participate in this global light and love not to try to direct that love in any way. It is not a prayer or petition; it is not asking for anything to occur, just sending light and love and being detached, releasing that love to the whole.  This detachment is necessary to allow the outpouring of love to be humble and pure.

images are from pixabay.com

So if you wish, Just Love.

Gratitude for All Good Things

While dealing with the every day requirements of sheltering in place during the covid19 threat, lately I have come to realize how, for myself, I find I have much to be grateful for.  An attitude of gratitude helps me to tip the proverbial glass from almost empty to somewhat full.

I am grateful for my current state of good health, knowing that for all of us, that is not to be taken for granted.  My state of health allows me to be here for my home family of Sophie (my Shorkie dog), and Emily, my cat, who depend upon me for their own wellbeing.

I am grateful for my family and friends and for keeping in contact with them day by day.

I am grateful for Love. I perceive Love to be the very fabric of the universe that connects all to one another in all planes of Being and to the Divine, always.  Whatever happens, Love is here and now.  Fear can cast a shadow over our perception of Love but if we can remember to turn our hearts to give and to receive divine love, the light can shine through to dispel the shadows.

I heard a doctor quote from Mr. Rogers the other day: “In times of darkness there are always the Helpers.”  I am grateful for the Helpers, whether health care professionals, compassionate politicians, neighbors and friends, and service workers who deliver supplies and services to those quarantined or staying home.  So quickly have these Helpers become mobilized to serve others in ways unprecedented on the planet Earth.

images are gratefully from pixabay.com

What are you most grateful for today? If this question has become a difficult one for you to consider or to answer because your circumstances may seem anything but fortunate right now, of course I honor your feelings and you are entitled to be where you are at.  Whatever you are experiencing may divine love reach you, bringing some comfort to you and your loved ones.

May the Blessings Be!

For the Good of the Whole

 

What times we have found ourselves mucking around in these days! A global pandemic such as we have not encountered, certainly in America anyway, since the 1918-21 flu epidemic.  As this year’s theme for this blog site is about “Building Bridges,” I feel it is worth noting that underneath the terrible situation we are still trying to get a handle on collectively as well as individually for ourselves and our families, there are some potentially positive undercurrents.

When faced with a common fear or enemy, there can be a unification of otherwise factionalized groups.  We can put aside our differences and come together to share our insights and our resources, our best practices and our compassion, for the Good of the Whole.

May it be so!

I am finding my neighbors are reaching out to each other, checking in on each other to see what may be needed. Spiritual classes that cannot meet at a center or church are starting to occur by phone conference calls or by Skype or Facetime or Teams.  We have ample online resources now so that we can stay connected.  I have found I can order needed supplies and groceries via Instacart for a small fee; they will deliver to your door. Thank heaven for such services and that there are still goods and groceries available.

images are, gratefully, from pixabay.com

We are facing a common dilemma, together.  Hence we are already building bridges and sharing smiles (6 ft. apart!) as we go.  These are difficult times and many are facing peril.  Every single individual matters.  Hopefully we can lessen the dangers as far as possible, so long as we continue to serve the Good of the Whole.

Remember to Smile

 

dalai-lama-1169298__480

Life is precious.

Remember to smile.

Pets giving unconditional love.

Remember to smile.

brown-and-white-dog-4633734__480

Family and friends, and few strangers now.

Remember to smile.

Birds singing Hu-u-u

Remember to smile.

HK_silhouette

Sun in the Sky.

All is Love,

Remember, and Smile.

sunflowers-3640938__480

images (except Sri Harold Klemp) from pixabay.com

 

When You Smile–Not Lost in Translation

boys-1283786__480

Hi everyone. I apologize for slowing down on blog frequency lately. I am teaching three classes online and trying to complete my next book manuscript (Better Endings!), so I have just been preoccupied.

This month’s theme continues our focus this year on “building bridges” and the theme (same as the title of this post) comes from an experience I had in high school that I have never forgotten. At a drama workshop I took part in an exercise.  One at a time, each student in a group of around ten was put in the center of a circle, with the rest of the group making the circle. The one in the center was to make a statement that they would keep making no matter how much those in the circle tried to override or interrupt the person.

The statement I used when it was my turn in the center was from Crosby, Stills and Nash:

When you smile at me I will understand,

because that is one thing everybody everywhere does

in the same language.

I persisted with this phrase for about ten minutes and gradually the rest of the group relented; they liked what I was saying! So did I.  This statement does carry a universal truth and maybe these days, with so much divisiveness and “tribalism,” we could certainly stand to remember this notion and remeber to SMILE with one another, regardless of anyone’s opinion or angle on ‘truth’ or reality.

lion-3012515__480

images are from pixabay.com

So that’s enough. This month, I aim to practice smiling more. Next time we can apply this to the conclusion of the story of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, which follows the life of the Buddha. Good reading if you are looking for a respite!

Sometimes the Magic Works–If We Let It!

After writing about finding common ground for my last post, I was musing about how that approach could be applied to the political quagmire surrounding the impeachment trial in America. It was the evening before the final vote in the senate. My insight was that if only both sides could agree on some common point at issue, maybe common ground could be forged and progress toward working better together might ensue. Just as I was musing so, I turned on the TV to breaking news: one moderate democrat senator was offering a compromise. He called for a vote of censure rather than removal of the president who has already been impeached by the congress.

Sometimes, the magic works!, was my thought as a common ground solution was at least being proposed. Whatever the result of such a measure would be, at least there was an attempt to move the debate process to a more centrist position.

The measure did not move forward to a vote,  and the final vote of senate for ‘acquittal’ was lodged almost entirely along “party lines.”   As such, a lack of achieving a common grounds discussion perpetuates diametrically opposed parties rather than an obvious (at least publically) dialectical, dynamic interaction.

Ah well. In order for polarized altercations to resolve, where common ground exists it can be helpful to meet there, but such ‘magic’ can only work when we allow it.

images are from pixabay.com

This principle is available to all!

 

 

Common Ground–Finding the Middle Path

This month’s prompt for contemplation is about finding Common Ground to help resolve conflict, relating to our year’s long theme of “Bridging the Divide.” Common Ground or the Middle Path requires meeting someone halfway with respect to a disagreement.  How? Looking for the shared common denominator in one another’s interests or goals is the key. Even though two people or two groups or parties even might seem to be impossibly divided, since we all share a common humanity, there must be a middle ground if only we are willing to find it.

This brings up the notion of a Dialectic. Yeats, whose poem on Words I shared last month, was a dialectical thinker. If you ever want to learn how, take a look at his rather obscure book A Vision.  There he describes the universe as “an egg, turning inside out without breaking its shell.” Or he describes two opposing gyres of thought or belief, bound together so that the minimal content of one gyre is located in the maximum expanse of the other; opposites instersect and coexist, as Hegel would also state. For example, the greatest objectivity implies some degree of subjectivity and vice versa. When you look at these two intersecting gyres constantly in motion though in opposite directions, what stands out is the CENTER, wherein both sides of an argument maximally overlap as the synthesis between thesis and antithesis.

It is the Center, the dynamic space between polarities, where Common Ground is fertile. It is full in its emptiness of opposition.

Apologies if I am waxing too philosophical but I aim to set the stage with this first of the four monthly posts on this topic. So one more step:

We live as physical beings in a dualistic universe of form and values: for every mountain there must be valleys; where there is darkness, so must there be light. Happiness and sadness, the good and the bad, heroes and villains, one side’s right as the other’s wrongdoings: such is the nature of what some would call the illusional matrix of human experience.

So, how can we meet in the Middle to find our way out of the Labyrinth? Finding the Center is always the key. Let’s say there are ten entry points to an actual labyrinth; where would we all meet up; yes, in the Center.

To reach that Center means to let go of tethers to one opposite polarity or the other. We must be willing to step forward, to enter the labyrinth, to LISTEN to another point of view. What is around the bend from that viewpoint? How can you bring yourself/ your own viewpoint, into that exploration without being caught up in a morass?

Openness and flexibility, and simple Acceptance of difference as well as commonality are needed; they are your tools in the labyrinth that can help you find your way back out, like the golden thread that Theseeus was given by Ariadne. There is a great mythic archetype: Theseus and the Minotaur. King Minos imprisoned Theseus’ brethren and was feeding them to the half-man/ half-bull Minotaur (the meeting point between civilized demeanor and animalistic instinct).  Theseus had to battle the minotaur at the center of the labyrinth, manos a manos. In defeating the animal he absorbed some of the brute strength and cunning of the beast and perhaps freed the monster of its animalistic prison. Only by his successful encounter could he earn and assume the rightful position of becoming king back in his homeland of Athens.

In a world of duality, struggle bears fruit.  It is only when we refuse to engage that all sides remain unenlightened.

images are from pixabay.com

Let’s see what examples we can apply this to this month!

 

A Better Endings Yeats Poem about Building Bridges of Understanding

Driving home from spiritual activities the other day a poem came to mind and I realized this poem is very appropriate to this year’s “better endings” theme of Building Bridges. It is a poem by William Butler Yeats, long one of my favorite poets, so much so that I memorized several poems from The Selected Works of W. B. Yeats when I was in my late teens and these poems continue to inform and nurture my life nearly 40 years later.  The poem is “Words.” Notice the Better Endings theme in Yeats’ effort to communicate effectively to his beloved:

 

From memory 1/19/20:

Words

By William Butler Yeats

I had this thought a while ago:

My darling cannot understand

What I have done or what would do

In this blind, bitter land.

And I grew weary of the Sun

Until my thoughts cleared up again,

Remembering that the best that I have done

Was done to make it plain;

That at length I could cry,

At last my darling understands it all,

Because I have come into my strength,

And words obey my call.

That had she done so,

Who can say what might have

Shaken from the sieve?

I might have thrown poor words away

And been content to live.

I can so relate; can you? I feel that building pathways of understanding is the very basis of human experience.  Whether through art, poetry, fictional narrative, memoire, or basic day-to-day conversation, through language and other expressive forms we communicate, either more or less effectively, and perhaps more or less in a reciprocal fashion as well. We listen and we share. Listening probably should always come first, even listening to our own thoughts as well as to what the other is truly sharing, so we can communicate truly, not just remaining stuck in our own ideas.

This is a key to unlocking schismogenesis or downward-spiraling discord, this month’s topic.  Communication, to be true, must forge a bridge of mutual understanding and mutual acceptance.

Maybe even Yeats could have added how his ardent desire to express himself fully to his beloved would benefit from listening well to what his beloved was also aiming to express to him. Communication is a two-way process, not one sided.

So, life is art, art is life. By that I mean, day to day we strive to express and to understand one anothers’ expressions.  As such we move forward, rather than being entrenched. As such we may yet proclaim, ‘Ahah!’ when we finally hear another’s thought or viewpoint as their art form, with genuine appreciation. Perhaps only by so doing may we overcome barriers to harmony and mutual growth in the human community.  Would that the political discourse of the day would share that better endings goal!

Confronting Schismogenesis: A Case in Point

And the world

Will be a better place

For you, and me,

Just wait and see!

Put a little love in your heart!

Week 2/3 of this first month of our annual theme of “Building Bridges.” This month I am focussing on Schismogenesis—Going for the Win-Win. Schismogenesis is when an argument becomes more and more schismatic or divided as people dig into their ‘side’ of a disagreement.  Well of course when I choose a topic, life always provides plenty of grain for the mill.

So, I have accepted a role as a member at large for my neighborhood Homeowners Association, standing in for someone who is relocating. As I step on board, the HOA is working on a policy to shift our neighborhood to a no rental policy over time.  My own input has led to a change in how that policy was being formulated, from a ‘quota’ system (a certain number of houses being allowed to be rented based on the current number) to a grandfathering approach, so that current homeowners can state their intent to rent now or potentially in the future and others can opt out immediately, then after the cutoff date (now passed), no new owners will be permitted to rent out their homes or rooms.

A couple of the owners are up in arms about the new policy, verbally haranguing the president of our board to the point of attacking her online in public neighborhood forums. It isn’t pretty. Most of the board members themselves and the majority of owners on the street filed their option to reserve their right to rent though they do not intend to do so. I find myself a bit bemused at how we can establish strict rules for new owners if we do not find those rules amenable to our own rights, although they did take an earlier survey that determined the majority favor a no rental community over time, so I continue to support a grandfathering approach. The opponents are trying to undermine the legality of the new policy and accuse the board president personally of lying or otherwise abusing her role.

So, here we stand, smack in the middle of the microcosm of a divisive society. My challenge, to myself alone anyway, is how to facilitate building a bridge to help resolve the growing feud?

What comes to mind are:

  • Honesty; and
  • Communication

Honest communication, “across the Board.” I do aim to stand up for a fair process for all, though I generally side with the board’s approach and find the president to be honest, forthcoming, diligent, and also aiming for fairness. I have made it clear to those engaged in verbal attacks online that I find their negative campaign distasteful and unethical, but I do want to understand their points of argument.

Sometimes I do not like my own tendency to sound too direct or assertive about my own ideas. I had a dream the other night wherein the president told me she refused to act if I were telling her what to do. So the next day, I walked over and told her about the dream. She laughed and said no, my ideas are welcome to her and she does not feel I have been too assertive. But that was one way to build a bridge anyway, one small step involving honest communication.

One of the opponents who has been canvassing me with his ideas claims he sees me as bringing a degree of ‘balance’ to the process. I believe that is because he simply has not targeted me with a negative bias as he appears to have done with the president. It feels like a power or control struggle on his part. The board president, for her part, has reached a point of stating her terms directly then standing back rather than continuing to react to the personal attack.

 

images are from pixabay.com

This little glimpse into the inner workings of one small neighborhood process has illuminated dynamics present in the much of the whole of modern society. For myself I find I need to be careful to remain as neutral and as attentive as possible while still supporting the organizational process going forward. If I cannot fulfill this role properly, I may need to walk away–down the road as the phrase goes–, to remain a detached though supportive neighbor.

A New Year of Better Endings: “Overcoming Schismogenesis–Go for the Win-Win.”

In America and the world today, I can think of no more helpful Better Endings topic than “Building Bridges,” so that will be the theme for the blog this whole year. Please see the Monthly Topics tab for our list of topics we will address.  Generally I will  introduce a topic on week one, then the next two weeks I will share my own and others’ stories pertaining to the topic, and week four I will present a Better Endings approach to the topic based om insights gained throughout the  month.

For January, let’s get started with the topic of: “Overcoming Schismogenesis–Go for the Win-Win.”

The insightful psychological anthropologist Gregory Bateson, in his book Steps To an Ecology of Mind, wrote about the psychological dynamic principle of schismogenesis. He explained this as being in effect when two people or two opposed groups of people get into an argument that becomes more and more heated, each side “digging in” more and more deeply to diametrically opposed or binary points of view. Each party in the argument holds to their truth as if it were absolute, insisting that the other’s point of view is patently false and unfounded.

“Fake news!” each might proclaim about their opponent’s ‘facts.’ The wedge widens with each new round of the argument. It is as if both parties or groups are inhabiting distinct ‘thought worlds’ that exist at polar-opposite or perhaps in parallel worlds of Reality.

Does this sound familiar? Try watching a left-leaning newscast then switch the channel to a right-leaning rendition of the same ‘news’ story. This polarizing of worldviews creates what is tantamount to a civil war of ideas, each side certain they are right because their side of the argument has become established over a long period of time and is reinforced by like-minded, equally entrenched folks.

It is probably nearly impossible to overcome schismogenesis by continuing to mount opposing arguments. Bateson suggests that the two parties, such as a husband and wife caught in such a headlock, should back off, separate for a time and agree to revisit the situation at a later date without holding to either of their original positions. They need to find a win-win solution that involves each side giving ground and compromising for the sake of preserving the deeper relationship.

images are from pixabay.com

What can we agree on? What do we both want apart from our differences? Is there a way we can build a bridge to arrive at a new, fusional sort of solution that meets the common goal even if we must sacrifice more partisan objectives?

Let’s construct a hyptothetical.  Spouses argue over whether to stay in and cook (one party to do the cooking) or going out (the cook wanting that option instead). Cost is involved; but the cook is tired from working all week too. Perhaps the solution is EITHER that they go out but to a less costly than usual restaurant and share the expense, or they have fun making a meal together, sharing the load.

So, try it out! Let me know if you are able to build a bridge in your own relationships. Go for the Win-Win and everyone gains!

A Shaft of Light, Beacon of Hope

Driving two mornings ago to Ithaca (NY), early morning on a crisp winter day, suddenly to the East I saw a single shaft of light streaming through hazy clouds. Like the lucky end of a rainbow, I thought, amazed at how this golden shaft of light, distinct and enduring, carved out a pathway from sky to ground (so I first thought), breaking through clouds and through the treeline just east of Lake Cayuga; like a portal, a straight avenue up to the heavens.

The mythical import of such a sign—which later I learned to call a “sun pillar”—struck me as a positive message. Ithaka is the home of Zeus and the Greek pantheon of gods atop Mt. Olympus, so as the poet Cavafy has brilliantly penned in his poem Ithaka (click on link to read), returning to Ithaka is a pilgrimage Home to our spiritual Source.

I almost did not take this drive. I was returning to Ithaca College to close out my office there from teaching online for the college this semester. But something prompted me to go, and to leave early morning from my new home an hour and a half or so away. I am so glad I did go, so I could witness this beacon of hope, for myself and perhaps for the world. From a Native American perspective this might signify the breath of a New Dawn, harbinger of a new cycle of growth and realization of spiritual fulfillment. Elahkwa! (Thanks!) might a Zuni person utter to the Creator for sending such a pillar of Light to fill the hearts of Its beloved children on Mother Earth.

We are never alone and ever loved. That message I share and bring forward for you.

Never before in this lifetime have I witnessed this celestial phenomenon of the Sun Pillar. But just as I pulled off the road to take a picture with my phone, the orange top crest of the Sun rose up into the shaft of light and climbed like an orange ball along the path of this golden shaft, up into the Sky. This, I realized then, was two days before the Winter Solstice and two days after the impeachment of an American president; it felt like a sign of hope, this singular stream of golden sunlight illuminating a passageway up from darkness into Light on this golden morning. The full, round orb of this brilliant Sol rose along its own trajectory upwards to rest in its height over serene Lake Cayuga.

images are from pixabay.com

Better Endings to All, and to all a Good Year!!!