Month: March 2014

Bones Water-n-Harmony

I’ve slowed down in my book reading a little bit and got lost in the Internets again, with specific focus on mobility, bones, fascia, movement, and other wonders of the body.

My search has taken me strange and beautiful places, such as Emilie Conrad’s Continuum. “The woman who dances like water” has since the 1960s pursued her inquiry (not a complete theory, as she emphasizes, not a masculine assertion of infallibility) into the essential unity of the universe, movement as its graceful expression, water as our eternal environment. Stressing the spiral, the spontaneous, and the involuntary, inspired by fetal development and the evolution of our species, and drawing on Haitian dances, Conrad has found a way to float without water, seemingly diluting gravitational pull, opening and nourishing every cell of her body in the process, as she puts it. Her videos show remarkable corporeal awareness, rarely seen in human beings, as in this video:

I have gained much body awareness in the past couple of years, but am still half asleep when it comes to reading internal sensations. I’ve begun wondering how my scoliosis fits in here. I wore a back brace through high school, a plaster cast for about three months, and finally was operated at 18 (two metal rods screwed into my thoracic vertebrae). Luckily enough, I never had any complications and even though I was told that sports were an absolute no-no (with the exception of swimming), I kept sneaking some into my life. It always felt like breaking a taboo, though, as if my life was on the line. I was scared of becoming badly hurt, or disabled, but I kept trying. Until today, each completed run, vinyasa sequence, or boxing class feels like a miraculous victory to me.

I listened to Liz Koch‘s audio book on scoliosis the other day. Liz Koch is the psoas woman, studying and spreading the good news about the human filet mignon, as she calls it, with fierce love and dedication. It would appear that nourishing the psoas, keeping it juicy and supple, is the key to everything: alignment, freedom from pain and fear, openness to love. She wrote about and collaborated with Emilie Conrad, and her psoas exercises echo Conrad’s liquid movements. What I found startling in Koch’s words on scoliosis was the idea that it had much to do with family dynamics, sexuality, creativity, and a score of other, deeply embedded issues. I balked at the claim that getting her spine surgically strengthened was tantamount to sending a message to a young girl (as scoliosis usually appears or worsens at puberty) that she, her developing body, is not ok and has to be called to order, or fixed. Koch unraveled her own curvature, but I have met hunchbacked people – and yes, the hunch was the result of untreated scoliosis. So I am very grateful for having been operated and being more or less straight now. Perhaps, had my parents been Californian hippies, and had we had any idea about alternative treatments back then, we would have found another way of dealing with it. The way things were, my mother did everything she could to save my back: I was followed by orthopedists, chiropractors, I swam and exercised every day, until I was about 13 and grew 12 cm in one year, which was when my scoliosis became dangerous. Perhaps mine was a pathological case. Not everybody requires surgery, but I reached the 50 degrees threshold.

Criticism aside, it is true that emotions and physical experiences do leave traces in the body. An invasive surgery, involving stretching, drilling, scraping, and grafting of the skeleton, must present an enormous trauma to the organism. According to Koch, fear and pain get lodged in the fused vertebrae, which in turn influences breathing patterns, both physically and psychologically. I also know the importance of early attachment patterns and the constant, unconscious replaying of family dynamics every adult is bound to perform, unless they acquire a bit of a higher awareness. So I followed Koch’s suggestion, went into the memories linked with my scoliosis, saw many things surface, and cried. I’d never cried over being sick before – that was what my mother, aunts, and grandmothers did. I laughed it off, and roughed it as well as I could. But the sorrow I felt today softened me. It was good.

It’s interesting that three weeks ago I was moved to write a story about my scoliosis in the creative writing workshop.

Travis Bedel

Travis Bedel

It seems like I am getting deeper and deeper into this flesh business, and oh, them bones! Ania, my Berlin-based dancer friend, spoke to me of Klein Technique today, and I wish I could try it in motion, but reading must suffice for now. Susan T. Klein writes,

Bone is the deepest, densest tissue of the body and thus it conducts the greatest currents of energy. Bone is at the core of who we are and through it we know the essence of our being. When all else is gone, as a tree stripped bare in the season of winter, we can read its code; we can see its essential nature and know what was, through reading the bone. Bone does not yield to gravity, but acts as a conductor, conducting energy, and connecting us to the system of nature, to the greater whole. It is through the bone that we stand as a ridgepole, “the tai chi”, between heaven and earth. When all else is gone, it is the bone that remains. It is bone, which holds our self-identity, our essential selves and our will power. Dropping away from the superficial and deceptive strength of the muscles we access strength from coordination; we access power connected to the knowledge of self-identity and the spirit of will available in the bone. Our power and identity come from working at our deepest physical level – the bone. (source)

This is so fascinating. Somehow, this knowledge results in enormous relief and humility. And it just seems so natural that I am doing it now, the whole going inside thing, reaching through to the bones. I was reminded of Clarissa Pinkola-Estés’ words, in “Women Who Run With the Wolves”:

Some say that the soul informs the body. But what if we were to imagine for a moment that the body informs the soul, helps it adapt to mundane life, parses, translates, gives the blank page, the ink, and the pen with which the soul can write upon our lives? Suppose, as in fairy tales of the shapechangers, the body is a God in its own right, a teacher, a mentor, a certified guide? Then what?  . . . It is in this light that the wildish woman can inquire into the numinosity of her own body and understand it not as a dumbbell that we are sentenced to carry for life, not as a beast of burden, pampered or otherwise, who carries us around, but as a series of doors and poems through which we can learn and know all manner of things. In the wild psyche, body is understood as a being in its own right, one who loves us, depends on us, one to whom we are sometimes mother, and who sometimes is mother to us. (205-206)

I need to sleep now (my morning ritual has suddenly become a Saturday night thing, how did THAT happen?), but I want to note down two more things.

One: I saw Jane Goodall speak at Concordia University on Friday and it was an absolutely beautiful experience. Her new book, out on April 1st,  is about plants and is called “Sowing the Seeds of Hope.” Along with Vandana Shiva, she advocates for Mother Earth with such steady passion and conviction that I know it must flow from some deeper source. Goodall turns 80 tomorrow. Reportedly, after one of her recent lectures, someone asked her, “You achieved so much in your life, what’s the next thing?” She smiled and said, “Well, death, I suppose.”

Two: I am listening to the audio of Julie Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity” and it is precious, offering lots of kindness and compassion. Cameron writes of “artists in recovery,” as if life without creation were one drunken spell, while creativity meant sobriety that could only be granted by the Great Creator (aka God). It sounds  religious, but not institutional, and I am with her on it. Happy that I chanced upon this book. Goodnight now.

 

Clap your hands, Blue Jay

Eskimo medicine man, Alaska, exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy (The Library of Congress)

Eskimo medicine man, Alaska, exorcising evil spirits from a sick boy

 

Native American myths and legends often deal with death, and I often wonder how today’s children would like them. When I was little, my mother thought that H. C. Andersen’s or Grimm brothers’ fairy tales were too cruel, so she’d change the endings as she read them to me. She feared I was too sensitive. I don’t think so; I would have just probably pestered her with questions she wasn’t sure how to deal with. I remember finding a collection of Inuit stories in my parents’ large library and being absolutely terrified and yet drawn to their stark universe, in which life and death coexisted, not peacefully, but not at polar opposites either. Last night I read the story (not Inuit; this one’s from the Pacific Northwest) of Blue Jay and his sister Ioi, who married a ghost. Blue Jay went to visit her in the land of the dead, where he had a grand time switching skeletons’ bones, ripping them off, and being generally wicked. The story ends thus:

Eventually, the ghost people complained about Blue Jay’s tricks, and Ioi’s husband told her to send him home. At first he didn’t want to go, but he finally left. On his way, he came to a prairie that was ablaze, and Blue Jay burned to death. Then he went back to the land of the ghosts. His sister met him at the river and went over to him in her husband’s canoe. . . . When they came to the village, the people were playing games and singing. Blue Jay shouted at them, trying to get them to fall into piles of bones, but the people just laughed at him. He kept pestering them to no avail until finally his sister told him that he was dead, too. And then he became quiet. (72)

I like how there is justice and there is logic to the story, but also this soft transition from the living to the dead, the consciousness of illusion, and the life that goes on, regardless of death.


Interestingly enough, the day after writing skeptically about “the power of storytelling” and feeling terribly bold about it, I read a 2010 BOMB Magazine interview with Adam Phillips, a British psychoanalyst and essayist I’d just discovered. Here is a passage that made me prick up my ears :

SP: One of the things that most resonates for me in “On Balance” is your writing on the dissonant, disjunctive, essentially random nature of existence. My last question concerns this state of incoherence. A word that is bandied around a lot at the moment is storytelling. It’s applied to branding, marketing, everything. In its wide, popular usage, the word is becoming increasingly incoherent. I literally don’t know what it means anymore. Could you talk a little bit about that?

AP: You can see the issue in a current debate in psychoanalysis. One version of psychoanalysis will say that the definition of mental health would be the capacity to tell a coherent narrative. From another psychoanalytic point of view, that would be precisely the problem. I think both things are true. People who have suffered ruptured, violated lives need and want some narrative coherence, but narrative coherence quickly can be a problem when it becomes a refuge from thinking. I agree that the idealization of narrative coherence is a bizarre cultural development. The problem is finding forms of incoherence that are listenable to. . . .  Somebody’s got to find a way of making a form of incoherence extremely revealing and alluring. It’s a really interesting cultural task—not that we should become better storytellers, because that’s the most boring thing on earth, but let’s become better antistorytellers. There is more to life than the stories we can tell about it. . . .

People need to be educated into believing that evocation is more important than information. If we could bear listening to people, without trying to understand what they’re saying, we would get more from them. Effectively, psychoanalysis listens for the incoherencies that are saying more, or something other, than the coherences. It’s got something to do with the musicality of people’s voices and intonations; it’s a form of listening that’s less hypnotized and distracted by their coherences.

There is something about this idea that makes my heart beat faster. Maybe it’s because I have tricked myself into believing my own story, and playing the character I imagined I was with laughable zeal and conviction. It’s true that words have a life of their own. The ease with which they come to me is deceitful, because it also signals that I am always up for one hell of a ride. Fiction writers often describe how, in the middle of the book, characters seem to take a life of their own and, at some point, almost hijack the story and dictate it back to the writer. I think this might be true in life as well. I wish I could meet Blue Jay and see if, when he claps his hands, I’d really turn into a pile of bones? Or not yet? 

Lastly, Phillips’ statement that “there is more to life than the stories we tell” and his call for incoherence of narratives reminded me of this brilliant documentary by Sarah Polley. You can watch it here. It is so worth it.

Silver spring

The participatory photo exhibit went well. I was kind of relieved to see a small group attending and I am happy to move on to other things. I got to ask a couple of people involved in film making how to proceed with the documentary, now it’s up to me to make it happen. I have all it takes – except the microphone, but it’s on the way. I’m stoked again. What I needed.

I’ve finished the full engagement bible and, again, it is implementation time. The toughest and the most desired.

Yesterday, in the Metro, a black boy sitting next to me was reading Krishnamurti on his iPhone, in French

As for me, I think I’ve had enough self-help for the moment (mind you, I might change my mind again tomorrow). Right now I’m treating myself to two books: Handbook of Native American Mythology” by Dawn E. Bastian and Judy K. Mitchell, and “The Illustrated Guide to Native South American Myths and Legends: Tales from the Aztec, Maya, Inca, and Amazon Peoples,” compiled by Geraldine Carter.

I have been fascinated by Native Americans ever since, as a kid, I discovered suitably themed adventure novels (in Polish, many of them by Polish authors). I soon realized that no happy ending ever came to stories of noble warriors and their tribes. They were always tragic. I remember that it made me sad and angry at the white man’s, my, destructive civilization. I think I never quite got over that anger.

I’ve often wondered how it is possible that, as kids, we are taught very clearly what is right and wrong by so many books and films: we learn that greed and war and destroying nature is evil – we all do! And then we grow up, rationalizing that, after all, grades, productivity, efficiency, jobs and economy and this thing called “progress” are the most important. We need to make more money, people! Screw the forests, we need to build highways; fuck the mountains, there’s precious stones inside them! And stinky liquid under the ocean floor! And gases trapped in the Earth’s belly! We’ll have fuel and fighter jets and space shuttles and no oxygen! Won’t it be grand. And so we deride the same values we should have absorbed and followed through, calling them “idealistic,” or “utopian,” or “unrealistic.” Is this a naive rant? Oh yes, very. And very, very true. And everybody and their gut knows this to be true. But there’s no happy ending for us either, I’m afraid.

This is what makes me wonder about the value of stories and “storytelling” as such. It’s one of the words used so much today, and it’s been commonly accepted that it’s good and important because hey, that’s how we think, that’s how we understand the world, right? True, no doubt. But, as Krishnamurti points out, if we look at our model of knowledge critically, including the storytelling part, we see that accumulation of facts and narratives did not make us a better humanity. It is actually this greedy, agglutinating paradigm that makes us continue in our suicidal ways. Maybe we don’t need more stories, you know? Maybe we need to really listen to some old stories, and really learn them, and live them through, in silence. Again, I realize I am contradicting myself here, because I carry on with this blog, and I have plans of writing this, and filming that, but really, I think I want to do all that mostly to validate my existence. To show that I have something to offer. I feel forced to show, to prove, to be deserving. I wish I could just sit down, shut up, and be, and I wish that were enough. But I’m not ready to be homeless.

I’m clearly oversaturated with language and verbalized thought processes. So why do I read Native American stories? I think it’s the mystery that attracts me. Elements that will never be known or explained; sequences that escape my logic; unfathomable, and yet strangely relatable, gods and goddesses with as much to lose as us humans. Just listen to this Aztec myth:

ITZPAPALOTL

Itzpapalotl, the horrible “obsidian-knife butterfly” is a supernatural being who combines attributes of the butterfly, or soul, with the knife of sacrifice. The butterfly in many mythologies is the ghost of the dead, and in this ghostly creature it is associated with the horror of the altars of blood. She is one of the Tzitzimime – “the demons of darkness.” Her dreadful face is tricked out with the cosmetics of the Mexican court ladies – rubber patches and white chalk. Her claws are borrowed from a jaguar, and sometimes she is represented as having a skull instead of a face.

The Expulsion of Itzpapalotl from Heaven

Itzpapalotl was expelled from heaven because, as she pulled up some roses in a garden of great delight, the tree suddenly snapped and blood streamed from it. As a consequence of this action she was deprived of that place of enjoyment and was cast into the world. (36)

Simple, almost familiar, and yet so foreign. The above excerpt comes from the “Guide to South American Myths,” indeed beautifully illustrated. It’s the first time I’ve actually taken a close look at Diego Rivera’s murals. Genius.

All in all, fascinating as these stories are, the language used to transmit them in the books seems inadequate. Maybe it’s the oral tradition that dies in the writing. There is definitely a big SOMETHING lost in translation. Something eludes me, like a beautiful fish I see swimming in shallow water and cannot name, even though I Know it. Actually, I’ve decided, I don’t even want to know its name any more. Seeing is enough. The “Handbook” is on to something when it explains that

Long before Newton, Kant, Einstein, or Minkowski, ancient cultures around the world understood that there was a relationship between time and space. They understood that an event happening right here, right now could be imbued with a sacredness that not only set the event apart from the mundane, but also set apart the time and the place where it occurred. In the remembering of the event, whether by telling and hearing oral narratives, or by participating in or viewing various ceremonies, people were able to transcend the present and become part of the sacred. . . .

Native American people believe that time is cyclical and dynamic, and that this cyclical time functions not only in the spiritual realm, but in the day-today existence of all living things. One Hopi scholar has called this relationship “mythic reality.” In other words, the truth of this present, physical world exists simultaneously with that of the mythic, spiritual world. (36)

The past and the future coexist with the present. There was no bing bang. There is just this constant growth and death and overlap. And we within it. And I am just beginning to feel this pulse.

Malinche by Diego Rivera

Malinche by Diego Rivera

 

 

Poisonous silence

I finished reading “Addiction to Perfection” last night – with mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is much to be learnt from Marion Woodman’s insights, on the other – her perspective can be very narrow. When claims to universality are made using a limited  range of symbols, it all falls apart – there are just too many caveats. Also, too much normativity. Part of me wants to follow and believe, another part is left cold. However, I found the section on filial complexes very revealing. Woodman would call me a “father’s daughter,” Athena, Brunhilde. It’s funny, and at times unsettling, to see oneself in these categories. Psychoanalysis makes me feel superstitious. There is so much vagueness in the unraveling of symbolic meanings, so much berth for transference. Well, I’ll let good lady Marion rest for a while. Her conclusion is, as any wise woman’s would be, to go inside and find what needs to be found there. Fair enough. Oh and do body work to express emotions without exploding. I’m on it. This is definitely one plus of being unemployed: there is time to move and write. The only thing I don’t like about writing is sitting.

Actually what I have been reading and watching most lately are books, articles, interviews, lectures, videos, etc. on the way the body works. I do yoga and just started boxing, and I try to figure out what hurts, what is locked, what to do with tensions, why I can perform one move but not another, how to challenge myself and not get injured. I discovered Kelly Starrett and Mobility Wod and I am impressed. Starrett is annoyingly macho at times (most of the time, tbh), but his mission of bringing physiotherapy home, so that everyone can “perform basic maintenance on themselves,” is just plain awesome. He is a geeky jock, if you will imagine. I also study a yoga anatomy atlas and do psoas exercises with Liz Koch, and I am learning to do self-massage (myofascial release) with yoga therapy balls. I miss dancing. In a week or two I am taking my bike out of the basement and, once the snow in the Olympic Park is thinner, go running. I can’t wait. I am sleeping well, drinking lots of water, trying to make sure that my joints and muscles are strong and in good order. The body is endlessly fascinating. It is sadly amazing how little we know about ourselves, how easily we delegate that knowledge to specialists. I want to know me, so I listen hard and treat well this awesome body of mine.

I finished the text on that art event I mentioned earlier, and I am pretty pleased with it; waiting for feedback now. It’s very dense, poetic, and sensual, a tad on the heavy side.

In a creative writing workshop I am taking I get intense, positive reactions to my stories. Last week, a fellow writer began encouraging me to get them published. I realized how much I wanted it – encouragement – and also how afraid I still am to step forth. I am afraid! In so many ways. The workshop is my little safe outlet, where I write either memoir-type stories or fiction, often based on family stuff, and even thinking of making it public feels sacrilegious. Even writing these very words here feels wrong. I shrink as I write, as if someone was standing behind me and reading this over my shoulder, disapproving. This someone looks a lot like my mother.

On the other hand, I really want to do it. Family secrets are poison and they have made me sick to the core. Even now, I feel angry as I type – angry that I should feel like I have to “protect” (i.e., not talk about) a person who crushed me with all her might, all in the name of love. This is absurd. I don’t hate, I just suffocate, and the more balance I am seeking out in my life, the less sense it makes to go along with the old family narrative. There is no one left to please, I tell myself. I don’t want to be angry forever. The prize  is being expelled from the family, losing the last imaginary stronghold of belonging. But that has already happened, I guess. 

I am dizzy with incertitude and made to think of Marion Woodman again. This time her words ring very true:

“Having sacrificed our old attitudes and traditional structures, we are not at all sure that Yahweh won’t destroy us. We stumble along, walking as proudly as we dare, trusting in the love of others who are walking their parallel paths, mustering the same kind of courage, trusting that there is meaning in the irrational.” (187)

Djuno Tomsni

Djuno Tomsni

Grandiose Little Me

I participated in a digital storytelling workshop yesterday, in preparation for next week’s group photo exhibition, and it made me very emotional in all sorts of ways: what surfaced included excitement, choking ambition, perfectionist tendencies, and desire for praise. I was yanked out of my contemplative little cell, faced with the world inhabited by other people – under the most benign circumstances – and shaken.

One of the things that struck me most was how actually uncomfortable I felt in this group setting. I worked as a teacher (i.e. leader) for a long time and found out that being on the other side was extremely difficult, especially since we were working on a group project. I want to say that I hate group projects, but hate is not the word. I just panic because I have no control over their results. No control! Even though I sit in the first row, trying to communicate to the teacher, in this case a sweet-tempered and witty young woman from Vancouver, that I indeed am the best. “How do I get your job?” is actually what I wanted to ask her, but didn’t. And while I realize how ridiculous my controlling impulses are, I want to see them clearly, without condemnation or justification.

The idea for the exhibition and workshop came from a young woman,  recently graduated from journalism at Concordia University, whose goal is initiating more citizen participation and involvement in public affairs. She searched for people coming from varied backgrounds, selected about a dozen, furnished us with single-use cameras and asked to document a day in our lives.

I followed her instructions to the letter (I am certainly well schooled), and even though I can shoot pretty well and own a decent camera, I stuck to the disposable one and to the project’s raw, documentary purpose. I used to play with disposable cameras years ago so I knew that the key to getting anything out of them was using flash all the time (except in sharp direct sunlight). Anyway, I told myself, the point is not to look good in this. The point is, in my case, to say something honest about living unemployed in Montreal.

At the workshop it turned out that most people’s pictures did not turn out well, or that they hadn’t even picked up their single-use cameras at all, so they worked with digital photographs. The day-in-a-lifetime frame was not respected by anyone but me, and so I felt a pang of irritation, thinking, man, if I made a slide show of the best pictures taken over my time in Montreal, I would blow your minds. I felt like I was being unfairly limited in my output just because I stuck to the rules. I also went for a very basic narrative of my day, including revelations such as “In the morning, I do yoga, and have breakfast. I like to cook and eat well, so the BIO label really gets me going.” Others mostly went for philosophical and poetical treatises on Montreal, in French – I was the only one doing it in English.

Then there was the audio recording. It was the first time I’d ever worked with iMovie and I couldn’t make it do all the things I wanted it to do… I almost punched the computer at some point, at the same thinking, whoah, whoah, what’s with all the anger? What is this? And I realized that I wanted it to be perfect, but I was given only 4 hours to write the story, select, edit, and time the pictures, and finally record the voiceover. The vision engrossed me completely and made me feel like I was actually fighting for something real. I had to remind myself that I was not there to make my name known, but to represent Montreal’s diversity. The project really was about humility, but even though I feigned this quality in my amateurish pictures, I couldn’t bring it to the creation process. To me, it was mostly ambition and stress and anger. Interesting, eh?

The end result is far from good. If I had more time, I’d change the narration in a few places, choose better soundtrack, add a few final strokes. I’d stick to the choice of photos though.

I am a bit apprehensive and worried about the exhibition, even though it is going to show at a university gallery, and is not about me, really. But when I think it will be available online later on, with my name tagged to it forever, I squirm. Here I am, showing off a bunch of pretty bad pictures with a dull, halting voiceover. But hey, I did it and I am glad.

Thing is, I actually like the punk rock aesthetic of these stills – they just seem out-of-place in this particular context.

Also, I know more about myself now. I’ve learnt about digital storytelling and iMovie. Nothing stands in the way of me making my own stories and not worrying about the context someone else may place them in. If I want to control it, I will, but didn’t I want to let go of control? There goes, that’s how it feels. I used to spend hours editing pictures, a long time ago when I was still shooting film, and I remembered it yesterday. Except in the past, nobody would rush me. Yesterday I was rushed and it made me impatient. Pictures are dear to me. I’m serious about them.

Then again, why so serious? Why was I so solemn about it all instead of relaxing my shoulders and having a bit of fun? I think it was partly because I found myself in an environment where I would actually want to work, and so I purposefully set myself up for a test. In the end, I don’t think I passed it – I tried too hard.

What also dawned on me was that I did have a strong work ethic. Sometimes, when I look at job ads and see requirements such as “sense of organization, time management skills, self-starter,” I wonder if there is a place for me in the working world, because I often cannot bring myself to do the above. Not because I can’t, but because deep inside I don’t really want to, or because I feel that the job is demanding too much for purposes that have nothing to do with me, for some high organizational goal which I don’t actually support. But if I focus on a thing that fully matters – lo and behold, I come alive. It was a beautiful realization and it just confirmed that I need to keep on writing, filming, telling stories.

Yesterday exhausted me emotionally but also sowed the seed of something good for the future. I am grateful for having faced the repressed, frustrated artist in me with full force. Sure, I would like to start with a Pulitzer and a MOMA retrospective before getting one thing done and exposed to criticism and ridicule. I thought of what Brené Brown said about embracing one’s own imperfection and stepping forward. In 2010, she delivered a TEDx talk which became incredibly popular, and had this to say about what happened next:

“One of the things that I’ve learned, that I didn’t know before that talk exploded, is how hard I’d been working to keep my career small. And that was a little bit heartbreaking for me, because I usually thought of myself as being pissed off because I couldn’t get my work out there enough. But really I think I was engineering that, because I was afraid of these things that actually happened, like the personal attacks.

For people to look at other folks who are trying to come up and share their work with the world, or their art, their ideas, their writing, their poetry, whatever, and say “You can’t care what other people think” is bullshit. When you lose your capacity to care what other people think, you’ve lost your ability to connect. But when you’re defined by it, you’ve lost your ability to be vulnerable. That tightrope is what my talk is about, and I think that balance bar we carry is shame resilience. I think it’s the thing that keeps us steady. If we can understand that: I’m not the best comment, I’m not the best accolade I’ve received, and I’m not the worst. This is my work.”

Before drifting off last night, I watched a documentary on Krishnamurti, possibly the worst documentary I have ever seen. It starts interestingly enough, recounting the myth of his childhood and beginnings with the Theosophical Society (by which he was “discovered,” like America, like gravity), but the storyline ends with his dissolution of the society and start of an independent teaching “career.” Similarly, all the sources I can find offer more or less detailed accounts of his childhood and teenage years, and then BAM! enlightenment strikes under a Californian pepper tree and he stops being a person! He ascends to another level! The rest of the documentary are excerpts from his various public addresses and dialogues in India, the US, and Europe. He really says the same things over and over (I don’t get the impression that he read much himself) and insists that he does not want acolytes, but people follow him like sheep nevertheless. Just check the Krishnamurti Educational Center of Canada’s website, where he is depicted like a saint and seems venerated in a way he would surely bash. I found this funny exchange in the transcript of a 1967 public dialogue in Saanen:

 “Questioner: I am very conscious of my share of responsibility in this disintegrating world. The rich have even more responsibility for this disintegration. There are rich people who have listened to you, some of them for forty years; they are still more responsible. The presence in this tent of such persons represents a static force in contradiction to what you have been saying for forty years. There is an urgent need for each one of us to understand what you are saying, because of this disintegration. But whose role should it be to denounce vigorously the sabotage which this static force constitutes?

Krishnamurti: I don’t know why we are concerned with the rich or the poor, nor who is disintegrating or not disintegrating; whether somebody is using the speaker as a drug, to stimulate himself and therefore remains static, or those who take actual LSD and remain static. . . . Now I don’t see . . . why we are concerned with another. We are concerned first with what we are – you and I. Leave the others alone! Whether rich or poor, Communist or Socialist, Hindu or Buddhist – leave them alone! You and I are responsible! You who are listening and I who am talking. I am responsible. And whether you use me, the speaker, for your own amusement, enjoyment, as a drug – that’s your affair, it’s your misery. . . .

I believe the speaker has talked for more than forty years. It’s my tragedy, not yours. And it would be a tragedy to the speaker if he was expecting something out of it, expecting people to change, to bring about a different society, a different way of life. If I was expecting it I would be disappointed, I would be hurt, I would feel I had not done what I started out to do. It doesn’t affect me at all! Whether you change or don’t change, it’s up to you.”

I fell asleep musing about change, again, after reading and reading and reading and watching so much of what others have done and thought and invented. At night, all I dreamt about were very mundane things: a friend, a young mother, talking to me about her baby’s allergies; buying furniture; taking a bus, making phone calls, trying to be lovable. I woke up late, tired and sad. Snow storms over Montreal. I am writing.

Seeds of knowledge, seeds of life

I don’t have much time this morning so this will be just a quick note. Last night – some more Krishnamurti in a “public dialogue” on aggression and violence. I don’t think it’s much of a dialogue if one side happens to be Krishnamurti. One participant, exasperated, says at a certain point, “In all the questions during the last hour, it appears that none of us is as serious as you are. That makes it rather hopeless.” To which the teacher answers, “It’s up to you, Sirs! You mean to say you are not interested in war?”, eliciting an honest reaction: “…not the way you are.” I searched for the Alan Watts-Krishnamurti connection and found out that 1) Alan was in awe of Jiddu; 2) he occasionally criticised him in his irreverent, non-fact-checked way. I listened to a charming interview Watts did with Laura Huxley (apparently Aldous and Krishna-ji were chums) and I also found out that Bruce Lee read Krishnamurti (and Watts), and that his notion of truth as a “pathless land” influenced Lee’s philosophy of “using no way as way, having no limitation as limitation.” I melted a little. Which reminds me of a kung fu teacher I met last Saturday, but that’s a story I want to explore elsewhere.

Yesterday was also the day of listening to Vandana Shiva and signing the declaration on seed freedom. My fingers are itching to get green. I so love activists who embody this female archetype of earth and nurture and renewal. It gives me butterflies and a sense of rootedness.

Wise Old Men, Wise Old Women

I don’t think I will go through everything that is available on the J. Krishnamurti website (it is so vast!), but I’ll stick with it for some time still. In the concluding talk of his 1967 series, Love and Loneliness, he offers a kind of closure, promising a way out of the crazy, self-destructive mind and world:

“To be aware of thought, of feeling, never to correct it, never to say it is right or wrong, never to justify it, but just to watch it and move with it. In that watching and moving with that thought, with that feeling, you begin to understand and to be aware of the whole nature of thought and feeling. Out of this awareness comes silence, not simulated, not controlled, not put together by thought.”

This is true meditation, according to Krishnamurti, who at the same time brusquely rejects all other contemplative practices (involving sound, visualization, etc.) as phony. I wonder: does this rejection not lead to further division and thus conflict? I would rather believe that any path leading to a worthy goal (such as peace) would be commendable, but Krishnamurti seems to question the very idea of “taking a path” and insists on everybody assuming absolute authority over their own existence:

“We cannot depend on anybody, there is no guide, there is no teacher, there is no authority, there is only oneself and one’s relationship with another and the world, there is nothing else. When one realizes that, faces that, either it brings great despair from which comes cynicism, bitterness and all the rest of it, or in facing it, one realizes that one is totally responsible for oneself and for the world, nobody else; when one faces that, all self-pity goes.”

What follows is that “each individual human being is responsible for all the misery, for the wars, for the hunger, for the brutalities and . . . enormous violence that exists in the world,” and so each one of us must bring about a revolution in ourselves if we ever want to end this vicious cycle.

I want to retort, shut up Krishnamurti, I did not commit atrocities in my life, but I know that essentially he is right. If we are one, then each individual is also humanity, and so contains in herself the seeds of all good and evil. Thus the need to cultivate virtue… except it sounds so puritan and cold that I am taken aback. The idea of watching oneself carefully all the time, being aware of each thought, each motive, and the consequences of each action – and hoping for grace which may or may not descend – gives me shivers. Then I turn to the belly-laughing Alan Watts, who likes to say, “Don’t worry so much; it’s only a game.” But as I was listening to “Out of Your Mind” the other day, it struck me how lightheaded Watts sometimes was. Speaking of world poverty, for instance, he affirmed that humanity is at such an advanced stage of development that, thanks to robots and machines, hunger and deprivation will soon be absolutely eliminated. And then what, he asks, what will a modern man do? When all the sick and poor are taken care of? Imagine having that dilemma for real. Sure, he was a product of his times, and that was a common belief in the sixties, but it only goes to show how detached the overspiritualized people can be.

Anyway, who isn’t. I know I am. I don’t believe in objectivity, and I know that universality tastes different to everyone. All the wise men say essentially the same thing, albeit in different words, using different examples, appealing to different facets of their listeners’ personalities. When I leech onto their words and try to follow with too much intensity, I miss the message, just as I fail to grasp it by way of criticism. My critique is partly motivated by the fear of being naive, gullible, and easily manipulated, and partly by the confidence of being smart enough to see through them. And yet I keep coming back for more, instead of effin’ taking the cue and following my own lead. How fascinating is that. How addictive.

To counterbalance the voices of wise old men, I am reading Marion Woodman’s “Addiction to Perfection.” I discovered this Canadian psychologist and writer thanks to a documentary film, “Dancing in the Flames” and loved her immediately – she makes for a great mother figure. The book was first published in 1982 and deals mainly with eating disorders from a Jungian perspective.Woodman’s insights on addiction and dysfunction, especially in women, is extraordinary. Identifying the drive for perfection (bodily as much as spiritual) as a deadly threat to sanity, she writes:

“The further I move into the white radiance on one side, the blacker the energy that is unconsciously constellating behind my back: the more I force myself to perfect my ideal image of myself, the more overflowing toilet bowls I’m going to have in my dreams. . . . As human creatures, not gods, we must go for the grey, the steady solid line that makes its serpentine way only slightly to left and right down the middle course between the opposites.” (15)

Again, the path emerges. Woodman does not promise her analysands a dissolution in the ocean of bliss – it is what they often pursued prior to admitting that they needed help – but feeling one’s own way through life, which also means heeding the needs of one’s own body, needs that find sneaky, often destructive ways of expressing themselves if they are denied.

A younger Canadian author, Matthew Remski, questions the extremities of spirituality from another angle. Inquiring into the philosophy of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the ancient foundational text of Yoga) and its value for contemporary yogis, he asks in a recent interview:

“Do we really believe that our ultimate goal as human beings is to ascend into the splendid isolation (kaivalya) of pure consciousness? Do we really want to maintain good hygiene so that we can discover how disgusting our bodies are? Do we think that meditation can allow us to be bodysnatchers? It’s ‘no,’ I think, to all of these. So why has this text been translated and commented upon uncritically as an object of faith for the last 150 years with vanishingly little regard for the paradigm it is encountering currently? Why is an ascetic meditation manual advocating anti-social goals at the heart of the modern postural movement, as if it has anything specific to say about asana? Why is it held as a textbook to salvation, when it can’t even come close to addressing the complexities of neoliberal narcissism or radical climate change?”

So many questions! I love it even as I proclaim the end of intellect. And I can’t deny it.