Helen WalkerI bribed my best friend Ellie Morgan to come visit me in Brunswick Maine with a workshop ticket at the Maine Jung Center. The ticket was for an excitingly relevant workshop on Brazilian Myths and Fairy Tales, relevant because of Elle’s upcoming Brazilian retreat and her gorgeous baby Brazilian grandson. So we chose that over a sunny afternoon beach walk--and we both held our breath for 2 straight hours! Well, I did and she seemed to. Celia Mantovani (a practicing Jungian psychoanalyst) showed us her country’s and her own cultural, historical, and religious evolution--using stunning images, her own childhood story, and her incredibly clear storytelling. She called her story “The Mutilation of the Brazilian Soul.”
As I sit here writing, I am filled with deep sadness, but what also comes now is gratitude for this great passionate swath of truth I personally experienced on Saturday, and also gratitude for the new hope I have! Hope may seem crazy given the sense she gave us of the depth of the problem of the extreme poverty and even extremer violence. But she showed us her understanding of the way through this “unconscious stagnation” to arrive at the transformation of a culture. I believe her.
Three things affected me the most. They translated directly to my own life, and our own country’s possibilities despite the messed-up place the U.S. is in right now. I also include the rest of the world in her problematic picture that ends in positive transformation.
The first awesome thing was how she discussed the powerful force of the national fear bred from cultural archetypes in the Brazilian unconscious. The fear, stuck there, has led to deep feelings of powerlessness and finally stagnation, numbness, with no tools to change the problems. Her own childhood bedtime stories, told to all Brazilian children, still scare her she said. They scared me! They also explained how deep fear could become planted deep in a national psyche. The mutilated evil characters lurking in the jungles; the nightmarish headless mule sucking off her fingers and her eyes; the ghost of the dead blond woman appearing in her bathroom mirror were not pretend; they were as real as her school history lessons.
The second thing still affecting me is the power that cultural heroes have to create a strong, healthy nation. She showed how Brazil’s early history had no national heroes, as models and mentors. In contrast, U.S. history gave us heroes, who led us to freedom, who showed us that standing up and fighting for beliefs pay off. At this point in Celia’s workshop, it was an easy leap to think of our own lack of principled national heroes right now, and how this can and perhaps is allowing us to slip into this same fear and thus powerlessness if we let it get stuck in our national unconscious. What a gift and a necessity to see this clearly!
And finally, she told us just briefly of her theory of hope--coming from her belief that we the people, her people in Brazil and us in the U.S., can “transform our culture” through “sacrifice.” On a spiritual level, this made sense to me, just as much as the mystery of Christ makes sense. True it is not understandable, yet even so it can be true! She explained just enough to get my
hope roaring, and my imagination going into overdrive. Where there is a will, there is a way. Right?
Am I the hands of Jesus, the heart of Mother Teresa, the mind of Ayn Rand?
Am I unique? Am I a speck? Am I you?
At a recent retreat in Stone Valley, on a cool October night, my students and I prepare for a ceremony under a full moon. Say what you like, there is nothing quite like it--nature in her rawness and humans in their vulnerability. I know I couldn't recreate it in my public speaking classroom at 220 Thomas Building!
We stand in a circle, listening to night insects, looking into each others shadowed faces. We wait for the directions from the ceremony leader. "In preparation for tomorrow's water ceremony down at the lake, please take an ice cube from the tray, and replace it with your nature artifact. This represents your uniqueness--your individuality. Now put the ice cube in the bowl."
Twenty-four people wait our turn and then place a cone, a blade of grass, a pebble, a weed, into the tray. We do this witnessing each other and seeing each other, in silence, under moon glow.
The next day of course, when we go for the bowl, to take it to the lake for our water ceremony, the cubes are all melted.
The student leaders hold the bowl then say, "All streams lead to the ocean." And they pour the water into the lake. We become one. Did we? Are we?
How are we connected to others?
My students and I were on retreat to consider our personal connection to nature. We were asked to consider our role in the degradation of the earth. We talked about the 4 elements of nature--fire, water, earth and air. And, the 5th element--humans. What is ours to do? For whom? And why?
The question of Well Being is, "How do I feel about my self and my life? " Author and philosopher Ayn Rand says that happiness comes from the achievement of living ones values. Those values could differ as each of us are different.
How do you feel about your connection to others? Is this a high value? To connect? Or even to serve others? If so, by Rand's definition of happiness, a state of well being could be attained partly, at least, through ongoing connection and/or service.
For our own well being, it's worth asking--what is my connection to others?
I love this question so much.
For one thing, it is so hard to answer. For another, it is beyond exciting.
This is the question that ignites our passions, tickles our imagination, and breaks up marriages. I will get to the marriage thing a bit later. My marriage is in tact, so it’s not necessarily a given.
The other side of the coin is that asking ourselves what we really want scares us silly. AND, it bumps headlong into certain Christian “training” one might have had as a child. “Don’t be selfish, think about others”, and all that nonsense. I call it nonsense, not because we shouldn’t think of others, OF COURSE we must. But, what our early training fell short on was how to identify and develop our God given gifts, and stick to our guns about it! Once that is accomplished we will then naturally want to share THAT with others.
I remember that when I was in college, I was confused by this idea of “wanting.” I even told my boyfriend at the time. “I don’t want anything.” I was going along with the “program.” Nothing seemed out of my reach, and I was pleasing everyone along the way, my parents, my friends, and even myself.
There was a nagging question however, “What do I REALLY want?” I just didn’t know. But, I now realize that my 21 year old self was simply afraid of the answer.
As long as I did what was expected, I was comfortable but as soon as I got “wild ideas” like moving to California, or New York to become an actress, or move to Vermont to become a ski bum. Then, I got panicky.
So it was all about others, what they thought, how I was perceived and whether I was smart, talented, or gutsy enough to do something that “maybe” I wanted.
There is a long story in between the 21 year old wannabe actress and the 67 year old wannabe completely myself that I am today. I’ll save that saga for my memoir.
Suffice it to say, I now ask this question on a daily basis. What do I want TODAY? How do I want to feel? What do I want?
In answering this “call.” I am listening to my soul. The soft, still voice inside that knows--knows everything. And now, thank Goddess, that voice even knows when I act as if I don’t want it, but actually I am just plain scared. And now, that voice knows that the very best thing is to simply say, “It’s alright, you’re scared, but you are a big girl now--go after it! Go after anything you WANT!
PS Back to the breaking up of marriages over what you want. Personally, I think some marriages fail because one spouse feels unsupported by the other in what they truly want. They blame, curse and fight with the “other.” when actually time better spent would be in just noticing that it isn’t the spouse who doesn’t support--it’s probably you not supporting yourself.. Anyway, that’s what happened with me. So now I can love him because he reminds me to support my own damn self.:) And, I say that fiercely and lovingly.
Asking questions, as Socrates taught us, brings light and awareness, critical thinking, and activation.
My father’s philosophical bend along with his serious inquiry about the workings of nature led him to wonder what place humans have in the scheme of things. It led him to ask his children, his friends, and even strangers, “Why are we here?”
Perhaps there is some loneliness in the pursuit of understanding the reason for our birth on this planet, and that’s what prompted my Dad’s little project.
Maybe it allowed him room to question, like the carte blanc a journalist assumes with her duty to cover something important. Maybe it gave him permission to reach out so that he might make connection, create intimacy with another.
I am my father’s daughter and I have full permission to ask too. I give it to myself.
This week, the activating question is,
“Who are we?”
Actually, I have a month’s worth of questions to pose---one for the next four weeks . These questions when asked one at a time, with a little rest in between will lead us toward the last question, which, I don’t mind disclosing now, because it is the purpose of this inquiry and it might provide some motivation to ask the tough questions. Make no mistake, these questions are not for the faint of heart. They are especially not for the” too busy.”
The last question is: How do I feel about myself and my life? This is a question of Well Being.
But let’s not jump ahead. Back to question two.
“Who am I?”
One way to go at this question is to ask it multiple times, like this,
“What would nature say I am?”
“What would science say I am?”
“What would God say I am?”
“What would soul say I am?
French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin answered it this way,
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
My favorite way of answering this question right now is through art. The “I am poem.”
Just say” I am” over and over and over, and think of nature,and the senses. Think of your essence, and beauty.
“I am the salty taste on sunburnt skin from ocean baptism.
I am the lonely call of the last seagull on the beach.
I am windswept and worn--permanent blown branches facing south.
I am rotten yet sweet smelling seaweed/fish/life/death/ and in between.
I am endless upon endless sight beyond blue, beyond gray, beyond line to more, more, more.”
And so it is.
Come to our next Meet-up of Yo-eco Art Walk. We will be hiking through Milbrook Marsh in State College and then writing an I am poem. Oct. 6 at 5:30.
I would venture to say that not every child is as lucky as I was to have had a parent continually and persistently ask me (and everyone who came to our home) the question, “Why are we here?”
Am I right?
Why is this lucky? And, why do I ask this question today?
Let me provide some context. My Dad, John Thomas Ammerman, was a self-taught naturalist.He was born and raised in a little town, where I was born and raised--Curwensville, PA. Population 3,000.
He spent his boyhood and most of his twenties “in the woods.” To me, it's a miracle that he came to town long enough to fall for my mother.
But fall for her he did, his “wildflower from Kerrmoor.” And, they married in August, well before Buck season.
There is no one on this earth now or ever who walked it with such gratitude as my Dad. He loved nature as his mother, counselor, teacher--and as himself. When he was 80, he told me, “I feel no different than an Oak tree.
Throughout my years of reason, my father would ask the question periodically, “Why are we here.” He would listen to my child heart answer, “to play in the woods.” He would listen to my teenage answer, “to make friends and have fun.” He would listen to my college days answer, “ to make the world a better place.”
He would ask anyone that came into our house, my college boyfriend included, and anyone who sat around our campfires when we would invite friends and relatives to join us in our outdoor adventures-- “Why are we here?” It was embarrassing!
Dad said that sometimes when he asked, people would get a real scared look on their face. Sometimes they would clam up, and other times they would wax philosophical. He always listened with interest to their response, cataloguing the qualitative research.
And then, if people would ask him, he would give his answer du jour.
I remember the answer he gave when I was a college student. And, it was very unsatisfying to me, but it made perfect sense too, given his background.
“We are here to reproduce!” What? “Oh Dad, that’s not why we are here, humans, that is--there has to be something beyond our biology! Beyond our sex drive, beyond the mundane!”
“Well, I’ve been walking in these woods all my life. I’ve been watching nature, the seasons for years. And, what I see is that life wants to insure that it continues. Look how many acorns fall! Look how many dandelion seeds are dispersed to the wind!”
It wasn’t until my father’s 87th year, on a November day which turned out to be three days before he died, that I asked him this question for the very last time.
He was sitting at the kitchen table, breathing with an oxygen mask and then he took it off to bid me goodbye since I was leaving to go back home after a weekend visit.
I hugged him, and then I said, “Dad, you’ve been going through quite a lot these last few months. I just want to ask you something before I go, “Why are we here?”
With no hesitation, he looked me straight in the eyes and he said, “To love...and don’t hold back.”
I ask you, am I lucky or what?
Why are we here? To Love--yourself, one another, the world. Life itself!
Join our band of artist/activists in Brazil during Spring Break--March 8 through 13.
Yo-eco ART Retreat! Love Your Life!
Turns out we love the chance to share our ordinariness!
My friend asked people to share on Facebook, "something regular" you did today. You could probably lump the over 50 responses into -- doing things with pets, being with spouses, parents and kids, doing nothing, procrastinating or resting, and getting little jobs done, including eating.
And, when you read each one you thought, “Yeah, I get that! Me too!” This IS what life is made of, this ordinariness.
And, you also noticed that, there is something else about ordinary. One person acknowledged that, “holding hands with hubby walking down the street,” is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
As was my post of sharing a salad at a restaurant with my husband--something I have done for over 34 years. Suddenly it seemed extraordinary that we have shared our differences--he eats meat, I’m a vegetarian--in this way. Steak and fries on salad split equally from top to bottom.
We love the daily ordinariness of our lives. Sitting on the front porch and watching our neighbors’ preschool children toddle off to school like little ducklings behind their parents.
Watching a single leaf fall from a grand Maple tree out front. When do things turn into extraordinary? Perhaps it is in the noticing of it.
As Emily asked the Stage Manager, in Thornton Wilders’ play, Our Town,” Do any human beings realize life while they live it? Every minute? His answer, “Saints and poets maybe--they do some.”
And yet, the extraordinary calls, doesn’t it? Our love and appreciation of our ordinary lives certainly must be the stabilizing, resting force for something else. For something we didn’t know we could do, see, or experience!
So my follow-up Facebook question might go something like this, “What is something extraordinary that you desire to experience? Love? Unbridled passion? Travelling to exotic destinations? Becoming friends and colleagues with people that you admire? Doing something important for yourself, your family, the world?
Ordinary is the stuff of life. Ordinary is filled with all the integrity that we can muster--to do the right things, as in, doing what is good for us and others-- to enjoy, to inhabit, to show up, to participate.
Extraordinary is noticing the golden light that shines on EVERY moment.
Extraordinary is also picking up on a certain exhilarating vibration and saying yes to it! Falling back into ordinary at that time is hiding instead of living.
So let’s give ordinary her honor and extraordinary her due.
A special thanks to my friend Cindy who started it all and inspired others with her FB post. :)
An exhilarating and extraordinary experience awaits in Aquas de Lindoia, Brazil
Yo-eco ART Retreat during Penn State’s Spring Break
March 8 through the 13.
Ask yourself these questions?
Are YOU an artist/activist?
Here are a couple of questions to find out if you fit the bill. They don't have anything to do with being a professional artist, and they have nothing to do with whether you go to rallies, and protest,and that sort of thing. Just ask yourself these questions and see if you match up?
YOU are an artist/activist….in training
Join us in Brazil where we will learn from Brazilian artists how to express ourselves and our love for the planet. Here is where we will BECOME artist/activists.
Yo-eco ART Retreat. March 8 --13, 2020
Aquas di Lindoia, Brazil.
I know that in embarking on nonviolence I shall be running what might be termed a mad risk; But the victories of truth have never been won without risks.
"I am a Divine expression of life. I love and accept myself where I am right now."
~Affirmation by Louise Hay