Friday, 15 July 2016

The Hidden: Illusions, Crossroads, and Winter


It’s winter.  When I began blogging I did not plan or expect to return to the theme of seasonal cycles[i].  I expected to leave it behind...but I have returned and it has been relevant.

Autumn, one of the themes in my previous blog, ended up being the time when we as a family sorted and cleared out my mother’s belongings and home.  So many memories...so much to let go...perfectly timed for autumn.

It was fitting, then, that we closed the door on our family home for the last time in winter;  the time when all withdraws and seems dead and gone, and the seeds of new life are hidden...stirring unnoticed.

The house was, for me, a symbol of my parents hopes and dreams for themselves and their family, some which were fulfilled, others not.  My dad built the house himself with the help of family and friends;  something he might not have been able to do with current council regulations.  Every brick, every plank, every nail, a commitment to this future.
I think I was four when it was being built and my sister was born not long after. So it has been the centre of family and extended family life for over sixty years.  Dad died there and mum managed to live there, with much assistance from carers and family, up to two weeks before she too died.  Yes, many memories.

I’ve made a collage of photos of them both which traces moments of their lives, from the time they met to their old age.  All photos show them smiling together at the camera:  pictures of happiness and contentment.  Of course life is not like that.  It's more complicated.  We all conceal our hidden stories from the camera if we can.  The resulting pictures are illusions.  But the illusion is what I have chosen to remember, and we choose to remember.  Our choice, as individuals and as humans, seems to be to ignore those things which challenge our idealised beliefs about ourselves and those we love.  We would rather believe the illusion.

In Australia we have experienced a mid-winter election; aimed at triggering the end of the old government mix and beginning of a new.  It ended up a close brush with a ‘hung parliament’;  not at all what the government expected.  The people spoke and they spoke of hidden dissatisfaction with the offerings of the two major parties, especially with ‘the economy’ and ‘balancing books’ being presented as the only platform promoted by the political right.  Noticeably absent from the two major parties were any references to ‘global warming’, sustainability or environmental issues. What we have ended up with is more of a mixed Senate than before:  many voices and perspectives needing to be acknowledged and accommodated.   Perhaps there is hope for serious and in depth debate.

Simultaneously I have been reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything[ii].   What a revelation:  the hidden world of fossil fuel extraction, pollution and Green politics.  What shocked me most was to learn that the fossil fuel industry is not only driven by human need for fuel but by the need to put as much excess as possible into storage to increase share prices...and that the pollution, especially as a result of dirty fuel extraction as easy fuel sources decline, will be continuing to manifest over years because the effects on the environment and animals sometimes takes time to exhibit fully (read the book for the details).  We only need to look at what is happening to Australia’s once ‘Great’ Barrier Reef.  As respected and awarded marine biologist Frank Talbot has said,
 
‘The reef is the bellwether of the health of our oceans...We should take the bleaching as a major statement by the reef that what is happening is real and damaging, and it needs to be addressed’. (Frank Talbot, 2016)[iii]

The other unexpected shock was of those global Green groups who have fossil fuel representatives on their boards and have been compromised.  And yes, there is more, much more.  Yet not all filters through to the general public.  Every now and again there may be a crisis or someone notable speaks up and makes the news, but it doesn’t last long and it is forgotten the next day.

Our planet seems to be in so much difficulty in so many places it is not overstating to say that it is reaching, or has reached, its dying phase.  We have not yet solved the contradiction between the lifestyle of excess the developed world has created and the resulting exponentially increasing pollution, global warming, and dying of species.  We have compromised our, and others’, food sources and environments needed for longterm survival, and we do not seem to be exhibiting any interest in actively redressing it. We prefer the illusion that ‘all is well’ and even though alternatives are ready to be put into place, there does not seem to be the political or public will to face the problem head on and take action.[iv]

At the core of Klein’s writing is the assertion that humans have a moral and ideological problem, and that only a change in the current global philosophy of domination, control, and growth at all costs will result in a sustainable future for the planet and ourselves.  It is disappointing, frustrating and concerning to read again of issues which have already been addressed extensively in writing on this topic from the 1960’s onward.  To mention a few,

‘..the moral imperative of respect for life...the need for population control and for bringing a halt to the waste of resources and pollution of the environment...we are split against ourselves...’ (Mary Daly, 1973[v]... a theme she returned to in subsequent publications)

‘I share the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the earth is not only social, political, economic, and theological, but is at root spiritual.’ (Carolyn Christ, 1989)[vi]

‘...I believe that the metaphor of dancing could prove helpful in articulating and enacting a different kind of rationality, an ecosophical ratio, which might better equip us for safeguarding life in a perilously warming world’ (Kate Rigby, 2009[vii])


And in the fourth or third century BCE, writing attributed to Lao-Tzu,[viii].

Governing people and serving heaven
   Is like living off the land.
Living sparingly and responding quickly
Means accumulating TE

There is nothing than cannot be overcome.
There is no limit.

You can become the country
And the country’s mother,
And nourish and extend it.

This is called deep roots, firm base.
Shih wei shen ken du ti

This is the TAO of living long and seeing far.

At the beginning of this blog I have placed a photo which expresses, for me, our winter sky.  It could have been taken anywhere;  that is the illusion.  It is cropped.  If you pan back there is a clothesline, which places the photographer in a backyard...somewhere.
Further back and there are apartment buildings.  We are definitely in suburbia, perhaps the city.
Further still and the sky is now background...a distant memory.
We seem so far removed from the natural world in our daily lives.  That too is an illusion for we are, in reality, totally dependent on it for survival.  How do we refocus?  How can we be motivated to care...and act?

In 2000 I wrote the following,

Once I had a dream
   a dream of Nirvana
                   of Eden before the Fall
                                   of a time when...            

   And I believed as I believed others believed
   that if I searched I would find the truth
                   of this perfect beginning of all things
                                   culmination of all things
                                                   fulfilment of all things
  
   But the truth that was revealed did not match the dream
   and nomatter how close I came to the dream
   it remained just
                   out of reach
                                   out of touch
   with the reality of the truth revealed.

   So we have made a pact the dream and I
   She had shed her half bloomed petals
   revealing her centre
                   her heart
                                   her potential
                                                   her seed.
   And I have taken this seed and hidden her
   in the deepest recesses of my womb.

   For we have made a pact the dream and I
   and we will love, nurture and protect each other
   until the time is right
   and then,
                   and only then
   will she risk to birth again.

We are at the crossroads and have been for a while.  Do we take it seriously or will it be ‘business as usual and let tomorrow look after itself’?  We may not be able to solve the problems of other nations or the world, but in our own backyard?  Surely that is possible.

In 1999 I wrote,
Midwinter,
                   the time of magic,
                   the time of conception:
                   that hidden unseen, unnoticed change when life begins
                                                and the potential to be...is

Winter is the time for new beginnings.  If only we could say, mean and commit to, 'this time I/we will take the road to recovery'.


c. Annette Maie, 2016


[i] One of the underlying themes of my thesis,2002
[ii] Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. Penguin, 2014
[iii] Frank Talbot interviewed in The Australian, Wednesday July 6 2016.
[iv] The other night a friend told me of a family member who, I think this is correct, completed his solar engineering degree only to have to retrain in an alternative field because of the government’s backsteps on global warming...and that he was one of many in the same boat.
[v] Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father.
[vi] in Plaskow & Christ, Weaving the Visions, New Patterns in feminist Spirituality
[vii] Kate Rigby, ‘Dancing With Disaster’ in Ecological Humanities, Issue 46.  The full title of her book, Dancing With Disaster: Environmental Histories, Narratives, and Ethics for Perilous Times.
[viii] from Stephen Addiss & Stanley Lombardo’s translation of Tao Te Ching, 1993

Thursday, 24 March 2016

The Trickster on a tightrope: on being 'in between', autumn and time for reflection

I’ve been reading a couple of seemingly unrelated books recently.  One is Paul Ehrich and Robert Ornstein’s Humanity on a Tightrope, the second is Mythical Trickster Figures, edited by William Hynes and William G. Doty, the third is The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, and the fourth is Doidge’s sequel, The Brain’s Way of Healing.  In spite of their differences a number of common themes have emerged.

One is how precarious, fragile and interrelated it all is.  Whether we are talking about the state of the world or the natural environment, or the health of our bodies and minds, there is a delicate balance which must be maintained for us to continue as individuals as well as a global community.  Even when everything seems to be calm, ‘together’, and progressing on an even keel, behind the scenes is an enormous amount of continuous activity, sometimes frantic activity, of networking, repairing damage, filling gaps, offering alternatives, making friends, attacking enemies, discarding rubbish, maybe even recycling, creating replacements...whew...exhausting just to think about it...oops...that’s just engaged another set of neurons and chemical reactions!

What I enjoy about the trickster figure is that it also symbolizes our humanity and vulnerability.* Yet while seemingly part of this conglomerate organic world the trickster does not follow the expected rules or mores.  Instead the trickster upsets things.  The trickster opens doors that society says should not be opened and asks questions that society would rather not consider, especially ‘why not?’  By doing this the trickster also reminds us that all is not as it seems on the surface, that there are many alternative choices and pathways that can be taken, and we can ,if we dare, go against the norm.  These choices may end in disaster, not only for ourselves but for those near us.  On the other hand they may also lead to exciting insights, unexpected opportunities and new truths.


Whereas the Trickster does not seem to reflect before taking action, we are challenged by the Trickster’s actions and the results of those actions to reassess our own biases and assumptions about life.  Erlich’s and Ornstein’s book challenges us to reflect on the direction we are taking with the choices we are making as a global community.  Their main focus is for people to take the time to listen to, and develop empathy for, the natural world and each other.  Doidge’s work addresses, among other things, the human brain’s need for reflection so that regeneration can occur, and to calm down the ‘overdrive’.

In Australia autumn has finally arrived after a very long summer.  Autumn is the in between season and in one sense can also be viewed as the season on the tightrope teetering between summer at one end and winter at the other.  We know where it is going, or we’re pretty certain, and that winter is next on the agenda.  On the other hand we will never be sure where the Trickster will end up:  whether he/she will fall, remain balanced, go forward or backwards, or have thought of some impossible alternative. So too when the figure on the tightrope is used as a metaphor for the human world and the environment, as in Erlich's and Ornstein's book.  We have no way of knowing the outcome in these contexts either.  What we do know is we have choices - for ourselves, our world and in relation to others - and in order to make informed choices and for our own health, we need time to assess and time for reflection.  Perfect for Autumn.



AUTUMN
A time of assessment,
of visiting ancestors
and ghosts of the past,
of gathering in,
sorting,
letting go,
and a time of preparing for long nights ahea

c. Annette Maie, 2016

*Note.  It also reminds me of the vital roles performing artists, visual artists and writers can play in society when they and their work function in the same way as the trickster.