Thursday, October 29, 2009

Reflections on remembrance and honor

Where do the dead go?

The dead that are not corpses,
cosmetically renewed and boxed,
their faces familiar and serene.
Or pale ashes
in elegant canisters.

I ask for the other dead,
those ghosts that wander
unshriven among our sleep,
haunting the borderlands of our lives.

The dead dreams,
The failed loves.
The quests,
undertaken with full courage
and paid for in blood
that never found a dragon,
a Grail, a noble ordeal
and the Hero's sacred journey home.

Instead, the wrong fork
was somehow taken, or the road
wandered aimlessly,
finally narrowing to a tangled gully
and the Hero was lost,
in the gray and prosaic rain,
hungry, weary, to finally stop
glad of bread, a fire,
a little companionship.

Where is their graveyard?
Were they mourned?
Did we hold a wake,
bear flowers,
eulogize their bright efforts
their brave hopes
and commemorate their loss with honor?
A poem? A stone to mark their passing?

Did we give them back to the Earth
to nourish saplings yet to flower,
the unborn ones?

Or were they left to wander
in some unseen bardo,
unreleased, ungrieved.
Did we turn our backs
on them unknowing,

their voices calling,
whispering impotently behind us
shadowing our steps?


It was moving last night to participate in a candle ceremony at Wesley, connected to the Dia de los Muertos altar that I and my class made this past week. I thank Deborah Sokolove and Dennis Crolley for initiating the ceremony. I lit candles for my brother, friends lost in the past several years (including animal friends), and a candle as well in memory of all the species endangered and extinct as humanity continues to overwhelm and change the life webs of our world. I mourn the loss of all my fellow life.

I was thinking, as I do at this time of year, about remembrance and honor. "What is remembered lives" is a chant from the Spiral Dance, and like to think of it in terms of re-membering as well, re-joining and re-connecting what is part of a whole. That's what a "webbed vision" means to me - to see the links, to seek out the connections, aware of a lattice of interconnection that continually expands beyond our limited personal views. Seeing in inclusive instead of dissecting ways, in terms of relationships and reciprocities.

I think honor is a very important word, particularly within this understanding. If we cannot honor the unknown ancestors who made it possible for us to live, if we cannot honor the people, living and dead, who have informed our lives and experience in every way, if we cannot honor even the animals and plants, which are not "commodities", but living beings, whose bodies and lives made it possible for us to live......if there is no honor for this intimate and also vast web of giving and taking, of exchange of energy, of relationship ........if there is no honor, there is no cohesion. The center cannot hold.

A few years ago, I began receiving some well meaning New Age emails from a group called "Go Gratitude" that was promoting gratitude as a worldwide cause (along with perky emails to circulate, and a necklace with their logo you could buy.) There was some of the magical thinking in their program I associate with "The Secret", which implied that with an "attitude of gratitude" (and positive thinking) one could also achieve "abundance" ...and presumably get the things one might desire. While I appreciated them, I also found it kind of appalling that all those slogans and "abundant more-ness" (since we are a society that cannot do something unless there is a suggestion of profit) were deemed necessary to promote a fundamental virtue. Foundational, and profound. To me, gratitude is the only logical response, the only remaining affect, one can arrive at when understanding and vision has expanded beyond the most limited and immature means. Gratitude, in other words, is the natural outcome of any kind of spiritual maturity.

I remember that Carolyn Myss, in her book Spiritual Anatomy, commented that honor and gratitude were like the backbone, the skeletal structure upon which an individual builds his or her sense of purpose within a perceived community. Without a sense of honor, it is hard to "stand" or to have "standing". To comprehend that our life stories are woven into a vast tapestry, a continuum, a greater whole that somehow, even when we cannot see it, lends "holiness" to our lives. Lends an appreciation, a comprehension, of the "whole".

The Sixth Extinction (2007)

"In 1987, the last Dusky seaside sparrow disappeared from the earth. Imagine the people of Merrit Island, Florida, gathering to hold vigil on the marsh's edge each June 15, the anniversary of it's passing. Or imagine the citizens of San Francisco gathering in the spring, beneath rustling eucalyptus trees at the Presidio, to remember the Xerces blue butterfly. That was where the last one was seen in 1941. Can you imagine the California condor, it's wings circling in the desert air? Can you hear a Mexican Grey wolf, howling in the night? Psychologists have not begun to ponder the emotional toll of the loss of fellow life. Nor have theologians reckoned the spiritual impoverishment that extinction brings.

To forget what we had is to forget what we have lost. And to forget what we have lost means never knowing what we had to begin with."

Mark Jerome Walters THE NATURE CONSERVANCY, 1998

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

Día de los Muertos is on November 2nd, with celebrations beginning on November 1, (Día de Muertos Chiquitos--The Day of the Little Dead) ( also All Saints Day) and continuing on November 2, (All Souls Day). It is a joyous occasion when the memory of ancestors and the continuity of life is celebrated, and a beloved holiday in Mexico and South America.

Like the Celtic traditions of Samhain, which were also associated with the end of the year and the last harvest festival, it was believed that at this time of the year the souls of the departed can return to visit the living (the "veils are thin"). It is not a time of mourning since, as the Latin saying goes, "the path back to the living world must not be made slippery by tears".

Celebrations for the dead originated in indigenous Mexico before the Spanish conquest. Following the Spanish conquest of Mexico during the 16th century there was a blending of indigenous customs with the new Catholic religion. All Saints' Day and All Hallows Eve (Halloween) roughly coincided with the preexisting Día de Los Muertos resulting in the present day event. Although the skeleton is a strong symbol for both contemporary Halloween and los Días de Los Muertos, the meaning is very different. For Días de Los Muertos the skeleton is not a scary or macabre symbol at all, but rather represents the dead playfully mimicking the living.

Very often, a large community altar may include many small personal shrines, such as the one below that includes Frieda Kahlo.

Or this simple "box" shrine.

Or here are some personal shrines made by artists:

Preparation begins weeks in advance when statues, candies, breads and other items to please the departed are sold in markets. A sweet bread, pan de muerto, with decorations representing bones is very popular, as are sugar skulls made from casts. All sorts of art objects and toys are created. This gives the economy a boost in much the same way as our Christmas season does. Alters ofrecetas (offerings) are set up in the home with offerings of sweets and fruits, corn and vegetables, as well as the favorite foods and beverages of the deceased. It's not unusual to see a good cigar and whiskey bottle beside a photograph of a loved one. These offerings may later be given away or consumed by the living after their "essence", and the loving remembrance, has been enjoyed by the dead. Marigolds are the traditional decorative flower.

The particulars of the celebration vary widely. On November 1, Día de Muertos Chiquitos, the departed children are remembered. The evening is sometimes called la Noche de Duelo, The Night of Mourning, marked by a candlelight procession to the cemetery. On November 2, Día de los Muertos, the spirits of the dead return. Entire families visit the graves of their ancestors, bringing favorite foods and alcoholic beverages as offerings to the deceased as well as a picnic lunch for themselves. Traditionally there is a feast in the early morning hours of November 2nd although many now celebrate with an evening meal.

There are sugar skulls and toys for the children, emphasizing early on that death is a part of the life cycle, and the importance of remembering those who have passed on to another kind of life.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Some potential paintings.....

Study for painting "La Mariposa" the Butterfly Woman

The Butterfly dancer, among the Hopi, is an older woman. This is because the butterfly in the final stage of its life, has the sacred duty of being a pollinator. This is a job that requires some weight, and some depth.

Study collage for painting - untitled as yet -

More hands and eyes........and seeds.

I want to do some black ground paintings before I swing into color.

I suppose this one is corny. I never seem to be able to get away from this image. It also occurs to me that at 60 I'm way beyond giving a damn about whether anyone thinks I'm corny anyway. Corn is the staff of life, here in the Americas anyway.

"Earth Mind"

Self portait as a tree.........

Thursday, October 15, 2009


As tradition dictates, upon entering his Zen master’s house, the disciple left his shoes and umbrella outside.  “I saw through the window that you were arriving,” said the master. “Did you leave your shoes to the right or the left of the umbrella?”  “I haven’t the least idea. But what does that matter? I was thinking of the secret of Zen!”
“If you don’t pay attention in life, you will never learn anything. Communicate with life, pay each moment the attention it deserves – that is the only secret of Zen.”
             Paolo Coelho, 2009

I've been having fun lately just BEING. I walk in a fall symphony of leafy color, meeting creative and thoughtful people, looking at art....
My mind is full of colors, half-suggested compositions, dancing mythologies, obscure symbols that drift like smoke trails, and the de-light of rain, sun, dappled pavements. Even my solitude, which felt so unbearably lonely when I first came here, is now enjoyable. Not to mention the antics of squirrels. Oatmeal in the morning with in-season apples.  Shadow dapples.

Creativity engages the reservoir of all we learn, our skills, the conversations and story lines of our lives, the cultural context we speak and move within. At the same time, the only place it can ever really be live and available is in the NOW.
I am content at this moment in time, and accept it as a gift. Happiness comes in small things; yellow leaves, orange leaves, red leaves, each as unique and brilliant as a snowflake, miraculous. The trees are performing their Grand Finale..........

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"Sedna" and a syncronicity

"In the archaic universe all things were signs and signatures of each other. Inscribed in the hologram, to be divined subtly."
Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet's Mill
Every time I sit down to write, I always feel like it entails constructing articles complete with footnotes and addendum.......which is one of the reasons my articles have been not very inventive lately. Having said that, I'm going to loosen up, maybe make a few subjective statements and meandering surmises, and stop feeling I have to write as if I was defending my ideas at a podium. So here's a mysterious synchronicity that involved my friend, sculptor Georgia Stacy recently.
Last week I sent out an announcement about "Restoring the Balance: the Mask of Sedna" being published in   Coreopsis : A Journal of Myth and Theatre Summer/Autumn 2009: Mask, Mirror, and Muse   
I'm proud of this article. It was the last event I did with the Masks of the Goddess collection. It was also wholly infused with, for lack of a better word, a kind of numinous presence. I've always felt I had a duty to document and share these stories, not just the myths, although they are beautiful and significant, but especially the stories of the rituals, the performances, the insights of the people who were involved. These were collective re-mythings, shared prayers through the medium of story, performed within the liminal landscapes of theatre and sacred space.
As Reclaiming members used to say when a circle was cast, "We are between the worlds now, and what happens between the worlds can change the world." To be "between the worlds" is to be in that zone between the secular and the sacred, a "wholly" place that is fertile and imaginally fluid. ("Imaginal cells" is the actual scientific term for the cells that are responsible for transforming a caterpillar, immersed in its chrysalis, into a butterfly. They are utterly transformative agents of biological change.)
"I think many artists feel they are weaving some form of energy into their work. It's what psychometrists see when they "read" objects. There is an aesthetic psychometry each person does as they look at a work of art. Artworks are like batteries - if we're receptive, they can charge us. My idea of reality is that there are many, many interpenetrating dimensions." .....Alex Grey
"Between the worlds" is a creative place, ripe with syncronicities, because the boundaries lessen.
So, what this is leading to is an email I received, after forwarding my article about the Myth of Sedna, to Georgia in New Mexico. Recently, Georgia has begun, for reasons she doesn't understand, to include whale flukes instead of wings in her pieces. Here's a new piece (this one with arms of bones, although not with the "fluke motif" in other recent works) and an email she sent me back.
Lauren, This is more than a coincidence. I was reading the "Inuit Imagination". When I came to the sculpture carved for Sedna, with a whale fluke, I cried for the second time. I cried the first time I heard the story, many years ago. But, the clincher...right before I turned on the computer to find your email, a friend called and wanted to read me the story of Sedna, because I had just finished a sculpture with bones for arms. Life is so interesting.
Why this confluence of syncronicities? Who can know? I personally, having worked for years with myths, believe that the archetypes are alive in our collective consciousness, within the "dream body". The story of Sedna is a very important story for our time and for any time; a story about the suffering Earth Mother, and the rites of at-one-ment the Inuit do to regain balance and good relationship with Her. It's about exactly what we lack in our industrialized world: a deep ecological understanding of reciprocity with the living Earth. That event was ripe with synchronicity because it was a story that needed to be told, and continues to be so, passing through different hands, different minds, different voices. When we enter creative space, when we step inside the magic Circle "between the worlds", when we enter the "fissures", we find we are not alone. Here's another quote from Alex Grey, in an interview I did with him and Allyson in 1989: "If you reach down far enough, we're all made up of the same archetypes. Joseph Campbell talked about what he called "core myths". As did Jung. If you go deep enough into yourself, you find yourself in a noisy place with a lot of other people. And if you draw symbols from there, you plug into a collective form of consciousness." Well, to work now, and hopefully, the Cracks will continue to open, even if I'll never understand why.
"There's a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in."   .....Leonard Cohen
Painting by Tyler Gore

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Dalai Lama at A.U.

the Dalai Lama teaches
across the street today, monks
cross the parking lot in saffron robes
at my feet
yellow leaves
wet black pavement
golden coins
everywhere, abundant
It was a pleasure indeed to be present during the visit of the Dalai Lama at American University. Although I could not attend the teaching THE HEART OF CHANGE, I was able to meet monks and attendees as they came by the cafeteria here at Wesley for lunch. The energy generated by the Dalai Lama and his entourage was extraordinary - a wonderful clear and serene energy that permeated the campus. I felt it being generated days before his arrival, and I cannot help but feel that his and their purposes in giving the teachings, especially in a world hub like Washington D.C., take place on dimensions other than the physical.

I found it disturbing that he was not received at the White House. He is a great spiritual leader, revered throughout the world. His living presence is, in fact, an indictment of the conquest and occupation of Tibet by China.

On a more auspicious note, I happened to finish (well, I still have to assemble the parts when they come back from the kiln) my WEAVERS sculpture, which I've been working on since I arrived, the very day of the Dalai Lama's visit. I also find it encouraging that the logo for this event was (above) a Tibetan woven motif. Everywhere I go these days I find weavers, it seems! Catherine Kapikian, who founded the Luce Center, is a weaver, and was just yesterday refinishing a loom in the studio we work in, with the help of Deborah, who is also a weaver (and has a woven backdrop to all of her paintings). Deborah is the new Director.

There you have it.........syncronicities abound. Why is this archetype so prevelent right now? I think, because we are truly in a time when we must profoundly evolve to be good Weavers, finding a creative and unified pattern in our human diversity, finding ways to connect instead of dissemble our energies and hearts.
weave [weev]:
1. to make something by interlacing threads vertically and horizontally,
2. to spin something such as a spider's web,
3. to construct story:
4. to introduce separate parts into something larger

[ Old English wefan )

Thursday, October 1, 2009

War Protest

There is going to be a protest against acceleration of the war at the 8th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan on Monday at the White House. Since I happen to be here, I'm going.

The photo above was taken in 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq. There was a massive protest (over 300,000 people) in San Francisco - I participated with Alan Moore and his Butterfly Gardeners Association. For myself, I wore the "Mask of Sophia", and carried the Mirror of Sophia that we had used in our performance earlier, which was a ritual for Peace. The photo was in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Joan Baez sang, Martin Sheen gave a speech, and the sight of 300,000 people filling the streets down to the harbor was an amazing sight. As I remember, there were a million or so people here in D.C., and many more across the country. In spite of this protest, the war went forward, and continues.

I marched in San Francisco in 1970 as well, against Vietnam. Joan Baez sang then as well. There were over 300,000 people then as well. Twice I've seen the streets of San Francisco overwhelmed with people. 50,000 Americans, and millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians, most of them civilians, died in those years. I could say more, but I won't, because history has, in my opinion, enough to say about the futility and horror of war.

I believe in non-violence. I do not believe war does anything except breed more war.

Here is a bumper sticker I saw on one of the student's cars that made me laugh, but has plenty of truth to it:

What part of "Thou shall not kill" don't you understand? .....God

Here's some info about the action: