Sunday, June 15, 2014

Our Unforgettable Fathers

Fathers of daughters can make or break their girls' sense of worth, competency, confidence, ambition, ethics, zest for life, feminine appeal. Traditionally, they've served as bridges for their daughters into the wider world. Unless they totally blow it, they are their daughters' first loves.

My own father has been gone for twenty-five years, and I'd give anything to bring him back again. Charlie Karson -- actually, Charles Kirschon until an Ellis Island immigration official decided to Americanize his name -- walked this green earth for seventy-seven years. His original family constellation was complex: youngest child in a Russian Jewish family whose father left for America before he was born; son of a religiously devout mother who couldn't find her way to care for him; darling of his oldest sister Rivagolda, who pretty much raised him before he was spirited off with the youngest of his six siblings to join their father in the New World. 

As The History of My Body's Fleur Robins would put it, he experienced many incarnations in his lifetime. Before leaving his native land, he would live through a terrifying Easter pogrom, perform Shakespeare plays with his family in Yiddish (actually, as the youngest kid, he was the prompter), and witness the Reds riding into his starving village on horseback bearing baskets of bread and fruit, prompting his oldest brother Jack to ride off with them. When he arrived in America he was suffering from rickets. He'd barely begun junior high in Minnesota before he had to quit school to help support his family as a plumber. Within no time, he became a YCL organizer, stood on soapboxes and ran from cops' billy clubs in a successful drive to organize steel workers, and had his heart broken by revelations of Stalin's monstrosity. He never lost his zeal for socialism, though, and retained his advocacy of the underdog until the end. Generosity was a given in my father's house, bed and board provided without question to the hungry, the lost, and the out of luck.

My dad suffered more loss than anyone should. He lost his native land, his parents at a young age, his young first wife and the baby girl she was carrying to pneumonia, two of his older siblings to Hitler, a brother and a sister-in-law to a drunk driver, a friend's nephew whom he was kindly putting up in his home to a heroin overdose.

A rakishly handsome man who in his younger days resembled Frank Sinatra, my dad was a working-class intellectual who read Engels and Ibsen, Tolstoy and Poe, Sholem Aleichem and Langston Hughes. He had an exquisite singing voice, revered science, took guitar lessons, played chess with Bobby Fischer and played the horses at Hollywood Park, passionately shouted his way through thousands of dinner table political "discussions," adored his grandchildren beyond measure, and left behind a body of secret poetry more spiritual and psychological than this daughter would have imagined. He imprinted my soul with a legacy of tenderness and fire, the profound valuing of family and friendship, and hearty laughter and love as the best medicines in the world. 

But just as my Jungian colleague Clarissa Pinkola Estés urges women to surround themselves with numerous "little mothers" to their development and creativity, so I've had more than one "father" to my spirit in this life. One was my precious zayda, Chaim Wodlinger, a determined bull of a man who lived with my family until his death in 1956 and served as the inspiration for Fleur's beloved grandfather in The History of My Body. Just months ago, I was fortunate enough to find his gravesite after many years of fruitless searching, and I tearfully "introduced" my kids to him there, delighted to discover that his grave is currently home to a beehive. Talk about images of death and rebirth: you can't get more auspicious than that!

Another of my "fathers" was Paul Robeson, which I write about in this issue of Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche in my essay, Tangled Up in Brown. In that piece, I describe how my olive skin prompted many of the tow-headed, pale-skinned Dust Bowl refugee kids in my hometown Hermosa Beach to call me "Nigger." Here's how I describe my special relationship with one of America's most extraordinary native sons: 

"The sobriquet "Nigger" was all the more confusing as my leftwing parents were in the habit of joking with their friends that my father was really Paul Robeson. They undoubtedly meant it as a compliment, but I was hardly sophisticated enough to appreciate their meaning. If anything, I felt I'd been given away to a stranger -- belonging, not to my Russian-born father, but to a man I'd never met. I knew how Robeson looked from an album cover. His skin was even darker than mine, the darkest of chocolates, and his bass-baritone voice unsettled me; it went so deep it could have been God himself singing, 'O Shenandoah, I took a notion to sail across the stormy ocean…'"

Though I was confused by it at the time, I could have done worse in the "little father" department. Paul Robeson exemplified what is most golden in the human spirit and much that is wonderful and terrible in our American story: class valedictorian and football All-American at Rutgers, he completed his law training at Columbia while playing in the NFL; he became a gifted singer and actor on the world stage, as well as a tireless advocate for social justice; his stellar international career was destroyed by McCarthyism, especially once the State Department revoked his passport. These days, I'm happy to claim Robeson's glorious giftedness and the reach of his engagement with the world as an inspiration for my own creative attempts, my advocacy of our Mother earth and her precious creatures, and as one of my bridges to the wider world. 

But I can't refer to the (spiritually immense) "little fathers" of my life without expressing the depth of my gratitude to Carl Jung. Also in this issue of Jung Journal is an "enterview" of me by the wonderful Rob Henderson, titled When Everything Began to Change, in which I describe my first exposure to the man who would truly alter the direction of my life: 

"I was introduced to Jungian psychology in the seventies while I was assistant teaching at a Montessori school. Another teacher, a particularly vital and creative young woman, was in Jungian analysis at the time and spoke in reverent tones about a mysterious Miss Miller, who I instantly associated with a line in Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” that I misheard as 'Miss Miller!' (That particular mondegreen turned out to have been synchronistically prophetic, since the 'Miss Miller' I thought I heard Freddie Mercury and the band deliver in full operatic bravura was actually 'Bismillah,' a word used throughout the Qur-an to express the phrase, 'In the name of God!') So my own personal Miss Miller led me to approach my first book by Jung, Symbols of Transformation. Opening the pages of the worn used book I’d purchased, my eyes lit upon the words:

From the written records of all times and peoples we learn of significant and prophetic dreams, of warning dreams and of healing dreams sent by the gods. When an idea is so old and so generally believed, it must be true in some way, by which I mean that it is psychologically true. (CW 5, 1967, {4)

My life would never be the same. In two brief sentences, Jung linked all eras and all cultures with the spiritual and the scientific, establishing the reality of the psyche and its symbolism as co-equal to the concrete realities of everyday life."

Those realities are particularly complicated in these times of profound technological change, increased awareness of the interconnectedness of us all, dangerous political polarization, senseless violence, and environmental depredation and climate change threatening the very continuance of one of nature's most hopeful experiments: us. 

We need all the good fathers we can get. 

So it's with a particular sense of reverence that I bow my head to Charlie Karson, Chaim Wodlinger, Paul Robeson, Carl Gustav Jung, and, yes, even Freddie Mercury for offering us bridges into an ever deepening engagement with ourselves, one another, and the wider world, for showing us how it can be done and doing it in style.

Happy Father's Day, with love.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Riding the Rails with Psyche

Sometimes a work of art comes along that changes your life. As a native Los Angelena, I find film a particularly powerful medium to effect that change. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you’ve got what my daughter “in the industry” rates as an Academy Award-worthy movie and what scads of people can’t wait to talk about in their psychotherapy sessions. Motion pictures are both literally and metaphorically “moving images.” At their best, they bring the light of greater consciousness to those dark recess of emptiness and longing, violence and rage, envy and greed, sorrow and stuckness, anxiety and depression, and innumerable compulsions and obsessions that bedevil us odd creatures, blessed and cursed with the knowledge that, despite our best efforts, this glorious life we've been given is replete with limit and loss and we ourselves will one day die.

For me, The Railway Man is one of those sorts of masterpieces. It’s what some might call a small film, made on a relatively low budget and released at exactly the wrong time of year to signal a potential Oscar campaign, but it’s big in ways that truly matter, big in the same way that indigenous peoples speak of a big dream. One that has meaning for the whole tribe and holds the potential to jiggle social and political perspectives, open heads and hearts, and - if we believe in tipping points or the collective unconscious - even alter the direction of our cultural evolution, if only just a bit.

The true story of traumatized World War II vet Eric Lomax, The Railway Man is a brilliantly directed (by Jonathan Teplitzky) adaptation (by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Andy Paterson) of Lomax’ book. The film is blessed with particularly moving performances by two extraordinary actors: Colin Firth, whose shoes most of my girlfriends would happily see tucked under their beds any night, and Hiroyuki Sanada, a less well known actor who could definitely leave his parked under mine.

The female lead is played by Nicole Kidman, of whom I have a touching memory, having met her on what I anticipated would be a rather bleak Mother’s Day, with my son out of the country and my daughter needing to work on Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge junket. My thoughtful girl had invited me to join her on her working holiday at the Four Seasons Hotel; she knew her mama would want to be with her particularly on that day, and besides, Moulin Rouge was a rare film musical that we both loved. I shook Nicole’s hand while she was getting made-up for a day’s work of grueling back-to-back interviews. She was luminously beautiful in the flesh, but that flesh was pretty fragile. The hand that shook mine felt as delicate as filo dough, and tears sprung to her sparkling blue eyes when I told her, quite sincerely, that I’d thoroughly enjoyed her performance in the film. “Really?” she asked, with a catch in her voice. “Really,” I assured her.

And I really loved her character in The Railway Man, with her intuitive capacity to see beneath the surface of her husband’s entrapment in trauma and her faithfulness to her deeper vision of all he was born to be. It’s a gift that good mothers – and good lovers – have, and should be a requirement of any therapist or analyst hanging out a shingle. Being a gift, it’s not something we can necessarily will for ourselves, but we can, as author Elizabeth Gilbert suggested in her marvelous 2009 TED Talk, open our arms nice and wide to receive the gift flying through the ether should the gods be willing to fling it in our general direction. Do I mean that? Yes. Really.

Colin Firth received his own gift in this instance with great dignity. The finesse with which he conveys the suffering of a man longing to have a feelingful life but held down by the shaming and torture he experienced at the hands of his Japanese army captors is excruciatingly right on. It’s the kind of performance that gets under the skin and yanks us into knowing what he’s feeling, whether we want to or not.

But I have to say that the actor who is already changing my life is the brilliant Sanada, who plays his part with the quiet truth of a sunrise. For it is he who must consider how or whether to contend with the evil that he’s done. That’s the one that yanked me in big time. It’s what Jung aptly called “the shadow,” what my courageous patients wrestle with in the work we do in my consulting room, what I had damned well better be grappling with myself if I’m to have the honor of working with them. It also comprises a good chunk of what my protagonist Fleur imagines in that awful void of hers in my novel The History of MyBody and in the sequel I’m cursing and crawling to finish as soon as she’ll let me.

I was born a romantic. It’s been a curse and a blessing. I fall to my knees before the sun, the moon, a David Austin Ambridge rose, a dove’s call, a crow’s glide, Joan Baez’s voice, the 2nd movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez, the innocence of the young. But there’s a grave danger in all that unfettered ecstasy. As my philosophy professor Hans Meyerhoff pointed out when I was a UCLA student about five million years ago: romanticism most commonly leads to cynicism, since life is so terribly far from ideal (and because, I might add as a Jungian analyst, we ourselves are so far from ideal).

My pal Rob Henderson recently reminded me of this quote from Jung in a 1945 letter to a friend: “Everyone goes through this mill, consciously or unconsciously, voluntarily or forcibly. We are crucified between the opposites and delivered up to the torture until the reconciling third takes place. Do not doubt the rightness of the two sides within you, and let whatever may happen, happen. The apparently unendurable conflict is proof of the rightness of your life. A life without contradiction is either only half a life or else a life in the Beyond, which is destined only for angels. But God loves human beings more than the angels." That one’s a doozy isn’t it? And if you don’t happen to believe in God, no worries. Just substitute Nature, higher power, or the reality of the human psyche. 

The contradictions within us high-flying romantics regularly fling us down upon the jagged rocks of life’s cruelties and contradictions. As well as our own. I’ve had several family members contending with serious illness this year, borne ongoing witness to the environmental depredations that are decimating species in droves and may well portend our own demise, and have continued to wrestle with my own wishes to wreak vengeance on anyone and anything that would wrong myself and my beloveds. I fight a constant cold war with my own futile desires for it all to be easier.

The good news is, I’m getting older. Old enough for my internist, the comedic and significantly younger Dr. Drew Schroeder to call me “spry.” (Actually, I told him I’d kill him if he ever called me that again.) Which means that years of practicing analysis, writing fiction, fielding disappointments and suffering awful loss, as well as finding joy so sparkling it's lit my soul on fire, seem to have grown a capacity in me to find nourishment and fertilization in the darkness even while cursing it. That inner-contradiction is, I believe, what keeps me in the transformational pot with my amazing patients, learning from my fictional protagonists, and in a vital partnership with sentient beings and the planet itself, all of us learning, falling apart, suffering, transforming, discovering, tripping on our own feet, getting up and plugging on, and celebrating this odd experiment of the cosmos in popping out creatures capable of at least some consciousness of themselves and their breathtaking universe.

So on this Sunday morning, I offer us all my own post-Railway Man prayer. May we find the kindness in ourselves to forgive our own brutality, our own failures of nerve, our own fragility. May we at least open the window just a crack to the possibility of forgiving those incarnated shards of the infinite in others, too.

(Melanesian hymn God Yu Tekkem Laef Blong Mi, scored by Hans Zimmer )

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Ides of March Aren't ALL Bad!

I'm delighted to be speaking and signing books this coming Saturday, March 15 - oh, those Ides! - at the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts Bookfaire at Whittier College. I hope you can join me!

Besides being, with the assassination of Caesar, the defining moment of the transition from the Roman Republic to the Empire, the Ides of March were celebrated in ancient days with the Feast of Anna Perenna, a celebration of wine, women…and wine and women. I can't promise you THAT sort of revelry, but there's sure to be laughter, joy, and perhaps even a ditty or two as seven of us authors regale you with riotous readings and tantalizing tales from the front lines of fiction and non-fiction. 

I've got all the information right here, so no excuses ~  shake a leg and shake your groove thing down to the campus, where Fleur might even share a little skip with you across the sunny quad. 

Meet the Authors & Bookfaire

The Friends of the Shannon Center Meet the Authors & Bookfaire
 March 15, 2014 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Cost: $60.00 with lunch (Deadline for lunch reservation is 3/1/14)
$40.00 No Lunch
$15 Students No Lunch
Authors scheduled to appear*
3/5/14 - Due to unforeseen circumstances, William Link will not be able to attend the event this year.
Keynote speakers Nicole Mones and Hector Tobar
Breakout speakers Katya Cengel  and Sharon Heath
Breakout speakers Edward Humes  and Attica Locke
Breakout speaker Mary de la Peña
Meet great authors, discuss books with other bibliophiles and enjoy lunch on stage. The Bookfaire is a fundraising event for the Friends of the Shannon Center, the official support group of the Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts. The proceeds are used to maintain the premises, fund outreach programs for the community and local schools, and support the performing arts at Whittier College.
Tickets now on sale!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE...except when they’re threatened with extinction.

"Flight," Adriane Grimadi
And you can’t take the sixties out of the girl ~ especially, I’ve discovered, in her sixties.

More than four decades ago - in a time, like our own, full of terrible evil and a luminous new consciousness - I organized a Teach-in against the Vietnam War and marched against racial injustice and in support of striking farmworkers (Viva la Huelga!). I was hardly alone. For college kids of my generation political protest was as ubiquitous as pot and patchouli. But getting high is a heck of a lot easier than getting down to the demo, and dope smoking seems to have had a longer shelf life for subsequent generations of college kids than political activism.   

That’s why I was particularly heartened to see so many young people, generous with their time and bright of spirit, at the March Against Monsanto in downtown L.A. this past May. The march wound its way to Spring Street at the City of Angels' historic core, and it culminated in speakers urging us to protect our families and our planet by insisting on accurate food-labeling, working to ban GMOs, and (encouraged by Ed Begley, Jr.) growing our own organic gardens. Which is how this novice ended up tending to a glorious little array of squash, chard, fennel, kale, cucumber, sage, oregano, tarragon, and thyme  - but who’s counting? – in my urban patio.

It was a multi-ethnic, multi-generational crowd that gathered on Spring Street that day, which felt particularly fitting since Monsanto is like the Galactic Empire of mega-corporations, seeking dominion everywhere.


Now, I feel obliged to warn you that the next two paragraphs are something of a downer. You can skip over them and go straight to the edgy videos by AshEl “Seasunz” Edridge of Earth Amplified and of Dead Prez, or you can hang in here to learn just a little more about the ill wind blowin’ around these days.


Back in the sixties, Monsanto and its co-disgusting partner Dow Chemical manufactured Agent Orange, an herbicidal defoliant responsible for the death and maiming of somewhere around half a million Vietnamese during the Vietnam War and a like number of children born with birth defects caused by its use. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Agent Orange has afflicted Vietnam vets and their kids with a horrifying array of cancers, type II diabetes, peripheral neuropathy, spina bifida, Parkinson’s, and ischemic heart disease.
Photo by Phillip Jones Griffiths 


But these days Monsanto is an equal opportunity destroyer. The corporation is currently raking in billions with a chemical arsenal whose effects are blanketing the globe. Monsanto is the top banana in the manufacture of genetically engineered seeds, cooking up the Roundup brand of the toxic herbicide glyphosate to zap the Roundup-ready genetically modified seeds concocted in its chemical kitchens. In a gross perversion of the truth, Monsanto claims that its motivation is to help increase the world’s food supply, but there’s virtually no evidence that its seeds increase the yield of farmers’ crops. Instead, spread by the wind, they pose a profound danger to our shared ecosystem, cross-pollinating with non-GMO crops the world over. The hazards associated with GMOs include (but are hardly limited to) organ and immune system damage to us humans, increased use of toxic herbicides, and environmental damage to our land, water and species as divergent as dogs and Monarch butterflies.


I take the threat to the Monarchs personally. No matter what my mood, I shift into sheer delight when I see one winging through my little neighborhood. It’s no accident there’s a Monarch pictured hovering above Fleur’s hand on the cover of my novel The History of My Body, since the story is one long riff on the butterfly effect. So an insult to Monarchs is an insult to me...and to Fleur, too! 

Rather than drive you nuts with statistics, I’m going to include some links below to reports and films that go into these issues at greater length, including one by my gifted writer pal Smoky Zeidel, who went on the march with me. But the bottom line is that Monsanto and corporations like it are not at all interested in what my friend, esteemed environmental lawyer Carolyn Raffensperger, has dubbed the Precautionary Principle, a kind of Hippocratic oath for the scientific community that proposes that, in coming up with new technology, we first preclude any potentially harmful impact on future generations.

I’m not asking you to demonstrate, but I hope you’ll take a few minutes to investigate Monsanto and its sticky-fingered bedfellows in Congress (who managed to sneak a Monsanto-protecting rider into the 2013 Continuing Resolution that funds the government through September, stripping federal courts of the power to restrict the planting and sale of genetically modified seeds - even if they find they should not be planted!)


On the other hand, it’s incredibly heartening to see that young people are in the forefront of the effort to ban toxic herbicides. And it’s definitely an E-ticket ride to hear young artists like AshEl “Seasunz” Edridge and of Dead Prez preaching beyond the choir about banning junk food and GMO toxins from what people of color, the poor, all of us consume, advocating consciously feeding our bodies while feeding our souls. From the beginning of human civilization, music and poetry have been such powerful seeds of cultural transformation!

In the science world, the butterfly effect is a term that Edward Lorenz used to describe the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, in which a small action in one place can, like a cosmic domino effect, cause a big change elsewhere. Poetically put, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in, say, the Amazon forest can lead to an earthquake (or a sweet summer rain) in L.A.

But science doesn’t hold a patent on the butterfly as symbol. Throughout the ages, the butterfly’s awesome transit from lowly caterpillar-hood to glorious-grace-in flight has been a symbol of the human psyche and its extraordinary capacity for transformation. That doesn’t mean that the process of change is easy. The caterpillar has to undergo the death of everything it’s known to become what it was born to be. Likewise, for us to grow from bumbling idiot-hood to bumbling (and beautiful) wisdom, nature requires us to endure a fair amount of pain and misery – of both the universally archetypal variety and stuff that is so intensely personal we can barely speak of it.

Which is where my pals the poets come in. They speak the unspoken. They articulate just about anything we can humans can experience – light, dark, and darker - and, armed with curiosity, craft, patience and love they help us find the transcendent in the terrible and the larger truths embedded in the trivial.

There are three poets I want to give props to today, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to get your hands on their brilliant books and feed your souls with the cosmic antidote they offer to toxic chemicals and genetically modified seeds. Unsurprisingly, each of them is an advocate of this continuously creative earth of ours that billions of other species also call home.

In her new book The Faust Woman Poems, prolific writer and Jungian Analyst Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, in a kind of literary tonglen, breathes in our terrible separation from our instinctual natures and breathes out from her blood-red poet-lips the gorgeous wildness of who we actually are. Here’s a taste from the book’s signature poem Faust Woman: “You didn’t know the taste of your own honey/didn’t know willow thighs/delta song/until that cast out She materialized in your kitchen/a dazzle of dust ridden light/a voice/a hand/offering you the world...”

And then there’s Queen of Courage Frances Hatfield ~ also a Jungian Analyst, describing the agonized shattering of a too-limited way of knowing ourselves in the poem Nude Descending a Staircase in her book Rudiments of Flight: “and there are two worlds you try to keep apart with this invention of yourself/and who are you fooling that you are made of something solid when you are really only liquid light…”

It is no accident to me that my sister Jungian Analysts are able to bear witness to the truth that the brightest light resides within places of torment, terror, and despair, waiting to be discovered and redeemed. This is what we see every day in our consulting rooms, but it takes great art to express its many manifestations in exquisitely brief and compact form.

And, finally (for today, anyway), there is expansive-spirited Leah Shelleda, the College of Marin’s Professor Emeritus of Humanities and Philosophy, who weaves and gardens and mines the kabbalistic myth of creation in the title poem of her book After the Jug Was Broken: “Some say the world shattered/in its making vessels too fragile/to hold such luminosity/Then I will be a gatherer of shards.”

Each of these poets writes about being shattered, split, conflicted, estranged, wrecked until the earth within begins to gather the shards together, the power of words numinously weaving together what is most instinctually ancient and what is brand spanking new.

In just such a fashion, if we acknowledge what havoc we are wreaking within ourselves and upon our planet, if we march, write, dance, sing, probe the toxic places in our own psyches, love big, push for large-scale change, and grow gardens in the most improbable places, who knows how many butterflies will take flight from our efforts? 

Who knows how many butterflies will be born in our hearts?

Monsanto has been removed or banned by Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Madeira, New Zealand, Peru, South Australia, Russia, France, and Switzerland. But it is still protected by big Monsanto money in politicians' pockets here in the U.S.A. We’re living in the Belly of the Beast when it comes to this one; isn't it time for us to side with the dogs and the butterflies and ban it, too?

Thanks to Malcolm R. Campbell for his lovely review of The History of My Body.

...And here are some interesting links for those of you who want to learn more about Monsanto and GMOs:

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Stars Are Fire, So Dance!

Today, my hometown celebrates the art and industry that puts bread on our tables and fosters dreams in millions of hearts. It’s the Academy Awards, and many of us are rooting for our favorite dreamweavers to walk away with the gold statuette aprocryphally dubbed “Oscar” because of its resemblance to an Academy librarian’s Uncle Oscar. 

I’m rooting for Beasts of the Southern Wild, a fantastical homage to our link with all living things and the fierce and fertile Earth that sustains us. Playwright and screenwriter Lucy Alibar’s protagonist Hushpuppy has several things in common with The History of My Body’s Fleur, who might be seen as the sky to Hushpuppy’s earth. They are both intuitively wise children, adoring of animals and attuned to the rhythms of the natural world, and, in suffering terrible loss, they have much to learn – and teach – about the wisdom of love.

On March 23, I’ll be signing books and speaking about what writing the character of Fleur taught me about love and loneliness, quantum physics and the quirks of Nobel prizewinners at the Whittier College Bookfaire.  (I'd sure love to meet you and hope you can come!)

But getting back to Hushpuppy, she is played by Quvenzhané Wallis, who has to be the most intuitively gifted six-year-old actress ever and a star in the original meaning of the word. The word “star” is derived from the Greek “aster,” a root shared with the kind of asteroid that spawned the meteor that injured a thousand Russians a few weeks ago. What I think of as “true stars” impact our lives powerfully, not for the spoiled and screwed up antics they get up to and the ridiculous amounts of money they’re paid, but for shaking us up and initiating us into a deeper appreciation of what it is to be incarnate and at least somewhat conscious beings, subject to mortality and inhabiting a planet hurtling through space.

The empowering and yet humbling wisdom that we learn from both Hushpuppy and Fleur is that we’re not alone. If there's anything we need to remember in times like ours it's that there's so much more that unites us than divides us. We’ve seen some glorious expressions of that awareness this month. One occurred on February 17, when 50,000 souls gathered for the Climate Forward Rally at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. It was the largest climate rally in history – sponsored by the Sierra Club,, and Hip Hop Caucus. They were united in the recognition that we quite literally sink or swim together, that the Earth is our shared home, the living mandala that brings forth life and death, affect and image from her rich womb. They were united against unconscious matricide, the murder of our common Mother. They were united on behalf of our ancestors and future generations. Many of them traveled very far to do this, taking time from their busy lives and reaching into their pockets to get there. I am so grateful to them!

For many years, I was intimidated by the ferocity and combativeness of political debate in my home, at school, and on T.V. I often felt that the arguments emanated from above the neck – that the body was being left out of the body politic. This, I believe, is where women – and the feminine in men - come in. This month on Valentine’s Day, in a synchronistic counterpart to the Climate Forward Rally, a worldwide action against violence against women called One Billion Rising flowered from the fertile imagination of Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues

The number "one billion" represents the number of women who have been raped or beaten in their lifetimes. People across the globe – young and old, female and male, from Chicago to Mumbai, Congo to Singapore to a prison in San Francisco –  participated in dancing flash mobs to the tune of Tena Clark’s signature song: “One Billion Rising – Break theChain.” Women – and girls like Hushpuppy and Fleur –  have so much to contribute to the evolution of a soul-rooted, healing, humanized, and embodied political discourse!

We Jungian Analysts know that if we work deeply enough on our personal wounds and aspirations, we’re ultimately led past ourselves into the archetypal dimension – what we share with all human beings who’ve ever lived and who ever will. I believe that if we reflect deeply enough on what makes a film a true contribution to our lives or what are the political issues that really matter to us, we approach that intersection between our individual selves and the World Soul.

If, like me, you find yourself curled on the couch tonight with a nice, big bowl of popcorn, take a moment to reflect on how YOU are a star in the life of our planet and in the hearts of those who know you, and let yourself imagine how you’d like to more fully make your own conscious impact on the soul of our world. From Fleur to me to you: I urge you to go for it! Tackle that novel that’s been bumping around the corners of your mind, go back and get the degree you never finished, pen that letter to the editor you’ve been itching to write, save an orphaned animal, tell all the people you love that you love them.

And, during the commercial breaks, shake off your blues that the right folks didn't get the awards you wanted them to (or, better yet, rise up in your joy that they did), and get up offa that thing and dance! 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dance of the Big Hunger: Time to Vote!

It's election time in America. In case you hadn't noticed. The national temperature is way, way up, bringing to mind the apocryphal Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."

As kin on the right coast struggle to climb from the wreckage of Mother Nature's terrible reminder of the reality of climate change, everyone else I know is obsessively poring over polls, clinging to the prognostications of Nate Silver, swearing at the TV, avoiding the TV, calling swing states, ranting about voter suppression, preaching to the choir, biting our nails, and taking more acid reflux remedies than we'd care to count.

We humans have a long history of caring about the big well as denying it - which is undoubtedly why the power and scope of Hurricane Sandy took way too many people by surprise. That's one of the many reasons why the indigenous Bushmen of the Kalihari have something to tell us about what really matters.

In my article Honoring the Mantis Between Our Toes, appearing in the current issue of the journal Psychological Perspectives, I discuss Sir Laurens van der Post's description of the still-surviving prehistoric Bushmen as serious dancers. They have a dance for almost everything. The two dances they consider the most sacred are the Dance of the Little Hunger (for food) and the Dance of the Big Hunger (for meaning). Think about it. They pay homage to our need to eat for survival, but revere even more our yearning for a sense of meaning.

The young protagonist of my novel The History of My Body, Fleur Robins, searches for her own sense of what matters. She calls the feeling of meaninglessness "the void" and discovers that people have been finding solace throughout the ages in a variety of god-images, from the Greek Zeus (Friend of Strangers and Thunder God) to the piquant Ungud (aboriginal God of both rainbows and erections). 

Being an original people in more ways than one, the Bushmen worship a god that happens to be a praying mantis. And guess what? I had a visit by one of those extraordinary creatures when I was writing my article. Carl Jung and physicist Wolfgang Pauli weren't fooling around when they came up with the concept of synchronicity.  

The main thing I learned from Fleur - and who says we create our fictional characters? in my own experience, they help shape us - was that we are all interconnected in ways we can't begin to fathom. Jung acknowledged that reality in his idea of the collective unconscious, and nowhere can we find greater evidence of that than in our dreams. Which is why the Bushmen's mantis god is such a clever pants. When he's confused about what direction to take, Mantis consults his dreams. Following his example, the Bushmen do, too.

I had a dream awhile back of being asked by Barack Obama to put him in touch with indigenous poets. The dream began like many a fairy tale: the kingdom is in trouble, crops are withering, the future looks grim. The king needs assistance, which inevitably gets provided by some fool. (Yours truly plays that role in my dream.) I don't know about you, but I tend to think of our president as whip smart - you have to be to edit the Harvard Law Review. In my dream, the one with the heady intellect needs to be connected with the earthiest, the most primal, the most poetic of energies. The head needs the heart. The heart needs the head. They need to come together if the land is to be healed. 

We Americans seem to be living out some particularly scary fairy tale, where we're at risk of flinging into the void the education of our children, caring for our sick and elderly, respecting the integrity of women's bodies and minds, and honoring the glorious diversity of our human tribe, as well as the flora and fauna with whom we share this amazing planet.

In 1936, Jung wrote in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, “The tempo of the development of consciousness through science and technology was too rapid and left the unconscious, which could no longer keep up with it, far behind, thereby forcing it into a defensive position which expresses itself in a universal will to destruction.” What do you think he meant? I think he was suggesting that we've alienated ourselves from the slower rhythms of our natural instincts and that our inner natures are biting us in the behinds for getting ahead of ourselves. 

As we approach November 6, nervy as a clowder of cats covered in fleas, I like to think that we are doing our own version of the Dance of the Big Hunger. As far as I can tell, we're either going to acknowledge we're in a vast tribe composed of many cultures and many creatures, committed to compassionately caring for one another... or we're going to take the whole show down, pulling thousands of species with us. We know where Sandy stands: Mother Nature voted early. Now, dear people - and, please Mantis, not just on November 6! - it's our turn.

It really does matter. You really do matter. Don't forget to vote!