Saturday, January 25, 2014

"The Buddha's Last Instruction"

The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light,” 
said the Buddha,
before he died.

I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal – a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.

An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.

The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.

No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.

And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire –
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something 

of inexplicable value.

Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Male Violence is not just "a woman's issue"
It's interesting that if you google "Statistics of Male Violence", many of the first articles that come up will be statistics about "men who are victims of female violence".  It's almost as if, once again, women are to be blamed, or dismissed,  for the overwhelming statistics of  male violence.  Yes, there are women who do violence - but overwhelmingly  it is men who are mass murderers, men who rape, men who molest children both male and female, men who beat women, and men who kill other men. What got me on that search was the poem below, forwarded to me by a group list I'm on. I like the way the poet closes with "praying for a resocialization miracle".      My response to this poem was what got me surfing the internet, and I came up with some interesting videos, among them one by Jackson Katz, who speaks eloquently about that deflectment, denial, and dismissal of the tragedy of violent male culture, and addresses the fact that it's not "just a woman's issue", but a man's issue, a human issue.

I'm happy to find there are men, like Dr. Katz, so passionately addressing the issue of male violence and gender imbalance (to use a nice term for a great worldwide injustice). 

 Sociology 101, First Night of Class

I wanted to like him
This twenty-something ex-Marine
Young enough to be my son
Too young for the things he's seen.

His cragged smile creased his face
Reflecting back the horror
Buried deep in his eyes
His giggle belying his past.

What broken scene makes a man
glorify murder? Causes him to gloat
As he recounts his fun--shooting turtles
On a friend's twenty acre ranch.

What makes him wish he was an infantryman
Because they get away with
Bursting through doors
And killing whatever moves?

What mother ever raised her son
To be this monster?
Laughing as he talks of killing,
As though it's a picnic in the park.

And I, his Jewish sociology teacher
Who takes her sacred obligation
"Thou shalt not murder" seriously,
Pray for a resocialization  miracle.

Debra L. Winegarten
All rights reserved

Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity

While the social construction of femininity has been widely examined, the dominant role of masculinity has until recently remained largely invisible. Tough Guise is the first educational video geared toward college and high school students to systematically examine the relationship between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of masculine identities in the U.S.  Jackson Katz argues that widespread violence in American society  needs to be understood as part of an ongoing crisis in masculinity.


 **  For a powerful interview with Amy Goodman on Domestic Violence - the subject is an HBO Film  "Private Violence: Survivors & Advocates Confront Victim Blaming & the Epidemic of Domestic Abuse" currently at the Sundance Film Festival.

Another statistic:  Since the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, CT, there have been at least 35 school shootings in America - here they are.  Every one was instigated by a (young) male.




School Name

1. 1/08/2013  Fort Myers FL Apostolic Revival Center Christian School
2. 1/10/2013  Taft CA Taft Union High School
3. 1/15/2013  St. Louis MO Stevens Institute of Business & Arts
4. 1/15/2013 Hazard KY Hazard Community and Technical College
5. 1/16/2013 Chicago IL Chicago State University
6. 1/22/2013
Houston TX Lone Star College North Harris Campus
7. 1/31/2013 Atlanta GA Price Middle School
8. 2/13/2013 San Leandro CA Hillside Elementary School
9. 2/27/2013 Atlanta GA Henry W. Grady HS
10. 3/18/2013 Orlando FL University of Central Florida
11. 3/21/2013 Southgate MI Davidson Middle School
12. 4/19/2013 Cambridge MA Massachusetts Institute of Technology
13. 4/29/2013 Cincinnati OH La Salle High School
14. 6/7/2013 Santa Monica CA Santa Monica College
15. 6/19/2013 W. Palm Beach FL Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts
16. 8/15/2013 Clarksville TN Northwest High School
17. 8/20/2013 Decatur GA Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy
18. 8/23/2013 Sardis MS North Panola High School
19. 8/30/2013 Winston-Salem NC Carver High School
20. 9/28/2013 Gray ME New Gloucester High School
21. 10/4/2013 Pine Hills FL Agape Christian Academy
22. 10/15/2013 Austin TX Lanier High School
23. 10/21/2013 Sparks NV Sparks Middle School
24. 11/1/2013 Algona IA Algona High/Middle School
25. 11/2/2013 Greensboro NC North Carolina A&T State University
26. 11/3/2013 Stone Mountain GA Stephenson High School
27. 11/21/2013  Rapid City SD South Dakota School of Mines & Technology
28. 12/4/2013 Winter Garden FL West Orange High School
29. 12/13/2013  Arapahoe County CO Arapahoe High School
30. 1/9/2014 Jackson TN Liberty Technology Magnet HS
31. 1/14/2014 Roswell NM Berrendo Middle School
32. 1/15/2014 Lancaster PA Martin Luther King Jr. ES
33. 1/17/2014 Philadelphia PA Delaware Valley Charter HS
34. 1/20/2014 Chester PA Widener University
35. 1/21/2014 West Lafayette IN Purdue University

Data: These are incidents in which a firearm was fired or brandished on school property, including colleges and universities. Incidents were identified through media reports, so this is likely an undercount of the true total.
Last updated: 01/21/2014

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Tiny Houses" film

 As someone who lived very happily in trailers (my "$3,500.00 house") I have a lot of enthusiasm for the "time house movement".   Living in the southwest, it's easy to buy older motorhomes and trailers for very little, and for many people they are not recreational vehicles, but homes. Although she doesn't include that option in her film, I really enjoyed this this little film by TV producer and Internet-video personality Kirsten Dirksen documenting  her journey into the tiny homes of people searching for simplicity, self-sufficiency, minimalism and happiness by creating shelter in caves, converted garages, trailers, tool sheds, river boats and former pigeon coops.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Once and Future Myths

 "Myth is a living force, like the telluric powers that stream through the Earth.  It is this mythic vision, looking for the ‘long story,’ the timeless tale, that helps us approach the deep mysteries because it insists that  there are  the stories we really live by, rather than the one we like to think we are living, and moreover, ("mythic vision" helps us)  decide if our myths are working for or against us. ’'
I seem to be having a difficult winter, because I simply don't know where to go or what to do lately.  Sometimes it occurs to me that I speak a language not many people speak, and like any traveller in a foreign land, there is such a relief when one meets a fellow country person who speaks your language. Art and art process can be (and not always is)  a shamanic journey.  The language of art, like the mother tongue of those who explore the language of dreams or of myth, is mythic, symbolic, multi-layered, interdimensional, and, as Phil Cousineau comments in the brief essay I take the liberty of copying below, a language that "resembles the god Proteus in the Odyssey, a shape-shifting creature who knows the secret that the lost Greek sailors long to hear—the way home.  But they must learn how to get a grip on him, if only for one slippery moment, so he might surrender his hidden wisdom."

Artists of all kinds, in my humble opinion, floundering around for identity in a world that stupidly, blindly, dangerously defines value and success according to the $ in front of it........ might find what they need when they perceive themselves as having kind of  sacred task as  myth-makers of culture.   And then they can see that they have their creative, intuitive hands in the ever evolving loom of Spider Woman, weaving and unravelling brightly colored threads, finding ways to communicate the story even as the story continually reveals itself to them, and through them, to others.   Does that make any sense?  

 On Myth and Mythmaking

 excerpt from book by  Phil Cousineau
 Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives (2001)

I was raised on the knee of Homer, which is an Old World way to describe growing up on stories as old as stone and timeless as dreams.  So I see myth everywhere, probably because I am looking for what my American Indian friends call “the long story,” the timeless aspect of everything I encounter.  I know the usual places to look for it, such as in the splendor of classic literature or the wisdom stories of primal people. 

I want to explore the aspect of myth that most fascinates me: its ‘once and future’ nature.  Myths are stories that evoke the eternal because they explore the timeless concerns of human beings—birth, death, time, good and evil, creativity and destruction.  Myth resembles the god Proteus in the Odyssey, a shape-shifting creature who knows the secret that the lost Greek sailors long to hear—the way home.  But they must learn how to get a grip on him, if only for one slippery moment, so he might surrender his hidden wisdom.

This is what I call ‘mythic vision.’  The colorful and soulful images that pervade myth allow us to step back from our experience so that we might look closer at our personal situations and see if we can catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, the human condition.

 But this takes practice, much like a poet or a painter must commit to a life of deep attention and even reverence for the multitude of meaning around us.  An artist friend of mine calls this ‘pulling the moment,’ a way of looking deeper into experiences that inspire him.  In the writing classes I teach, I refer to this mystery as the difference between the ‘overstory,’ which is the visible plot, and the ‘understory,’ which is the invisible movement of the soul of the main characters.   In this sense myth is a living force, like the telluric powers that stream through the Earth.  It is this mythic vision, looking for the ‘long story,’ the timeless tale, that helps us approach the deep mysteries because it insists that  there are  the stories we really live by, rather than the one we like to think we are living, and moreover, ("mythic vision" helps us)  decide if our myths are working for or against us.

If we don’t become aware of both our personal myths and the cultural myths that act upon us like gravitational forces, we risk being wholly overpowered and controlled by them.  As the maverick philosopher Sam Keen has written in Your Mythic Journey, ‘We need to reinvent them from time to time. . . .  The stories we tell of ourselves determine who we become, who we are, what we believe.’'

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Anima Mundi, Soul and Imagination

"If the heart, one's wellspring of dreams, is regarded as a mere pump, then the mind languishes in a soul-desiccated wasteland. Under such dire circumstances, one is advised to dream oneself awake. And that does not translate into lapsing into unconsciousness. Withal, it suggests… reaching down and touching the bones of the earth and a steadfast communion with Anima Mundi i.e., literally, the soul of the world. "
I find myself often talking, or thinking about, "soul" lately.  It's not a word I've often used in the past, because of all the traditional connotations, and because, like the word "love", it's so overused or abused as to have lost its potency.   But recently I've been thinking again about the yin/yang concept of "Spirit and Soul", enlightenment and endarkenment.  "Soul", it seems to me, is the participatory, empathic, intertwined, interdependent, "feminine",  emotional intelligence that has been so little understood, or valued, in our world.   Soul makes us responsive, in ways that are not immediately, if ever, obvious to an individuals intellect, or an eras paradigm.  In so many of my recent conversations I find myself, and others, talking about "soul loss".  And what of the World Soul?
The greatest beauty is organic wholeness,
the wholeness of life and things,            
the divine beauty of the universe.          
Love that, not man apart from that
 Robinson Jeffers
 Recently I heard that  a new vegan restaurant had opened in Tucson, and was eager to visit it.  Then I saw that it was called "The Ascension Cafe", and featured all kinds of  New Age pictures of "higher mind', and I thought "Oh no, I ain't going in there even if the tofu cheesecake is to die for."  I don't want to "ascend" with any kind of privileged spiritual group.  I'm not looking for higher mind anymore, and to be honest, I don't know if believe in "enlightenment" any more either.  I want to imagine and create, and listen to my dreams, even when they are terrible, or incomprehensible.   I want to live a more fully soulful, grateful, responsive life in Gaia, with the hope of maturing into compassion that grows in resiliency, and depth.

Here is a beautiful article by  writer and poet  Phil Rockstroh that my friend Valerie James forwarded to me, and I take the liberty of sharing here. The temptation is to stay numb, to "be positive" - but I believe "soul" requires us to embrace all of it, to allow our responsive intelligence to surface, and wake up, and go forward integrally, as a compassionate human being.  There may not be answers, but there can be depth to that walk. 

Fear In A Handful Of Dust: The Sacred Vehemence Of Imagination In A Soulless Age
Photo by Fred Hood
From the picture window of our family's eighth floor apartment, at the intersection of 23rd Street and Avenue C, we have a view of the inhuman currents of the East River and the dehumanizing, vehicular currents of the FDR expressway. The tenor of the river is timeless while the FDR's voice is mindlessly addict on a dope run—evincing the urgency of an errand undertaken to relieve distress but trajectory hurtles towards annihilation.

 Like the misnomer known as freeways, wherein one is enslaved to speed and forward motion, the spirit of our age is manic. One reacts; there is no time to reflect. In contrast, the river speaks the language of the deathless heart of creation. The river sings of ensoulment. It does not seek; it is.

 Because the spirit of the age is frantic, surface level, and going nowhere—and fast. The soul of the world harbors a quality of sadness. When it speaks, nowadays, it does so in a lament—a dirge for exquisite things lost. Unlike raging spirit, the soul carries the sadness of the veritable bones of the earth. Take caution when you seek to commune with soul, because you have entered a realm that is not only timeless but one that lacks mercy regarding the self-important constructs we human beings hold, cherish, and enshrine.

Yesterday, our nine month old required a diaper change, and my wife and I, being on Lexington Avenue in Midtown at the time, slipped into Bloomingdales to use the changing station accommodations within. As we navigated our way through Edward Bernays' consumer simulacrum, I was gripped and grappled by grief. A sense of alienation descended on me like the arrival of an Old Testament angel, one whose mission was to throw me to the ground and pin me in the dust of my vanity. I feared I might begin to weep outright. The dark magicians of the consumer age have the heart-usurping hustle down. They have us in the thrall of misappropriated desires as the soul of the world weeps for the carnage attendant to our cupidity.
I held my tears in check. But, this morning, upon first glimpse of the FDR and the East River, I wept outright. The sicknesses of the soul are mirrored in the disorders of a culture and vice versa. In turn, tracing symptoms is a path to the soul. The symptoms are the soul's means of attempting to be heard. But, all too often, whether it be the obtuse ego of an individual or the obtuse, egoistical guardians of the status quo will refuse to acknowledge the symptoms. The reigning power structure will attempt to deny, marginalize, and demonize the soul's message…its plea for attention, its attempt to gain entry into the protected sanctums of power. Its entreaties are dismissed as merely the complains of misfits—or overreacted to as dangerously radical.

 Often a collapse, a breakdown, a depression—some sort of unsolvable crisis is required before the soul's message is heard. The economy is chronically depressed. Isotopes of Fukushima are carried on currents of wind and wave. The oceans and seas are rising from humankind-created greenhouse gas Climate Change. The world's oceans are being destroyed. The human element evinces the pathology displayed in psychoanalytic consulting rooms: The economic elite are psychopathic; Tea Party types exhibit paranoid displacement while liberals exhibit neurotic insularity. Pain and pathology are extant. A crisis is imminent. The sooner the process of listening to soul-borne dispatches begins the sooner the dissonance attendant to the culture's cacophony of shattered minds and occluded hearts will begin to dissipate. If not, prepare yourself for a dark night of the soul that will seem endless in duration.

By what means do we as a people—who are all too often myopic, self-absorbed, manic in the pursuit of vain agendas, in the thrall of relentless necessity, alienated by the circumstances of a shallow era and buffeted by the machinations of a self-serving political and economic elite whose hubris embodies the criteria of classical tragedy—transform random events into soul-saturated meaning? One might ask: How is such a thing even possible? Then add: It is sheer fantasy to even suggest that soul exists.

Indeed, it is... for fantasy itself is one of the means by which soul reveals itself. Accordingly: Reveal the yearnings of your heart and be in dialog with your true nature. To renounce fantasy is sheer fantasy, and a dismal variety of it at that, and one made all the more lamentable by the mindset of self-proclaimed pragmatist types who do not realize that compulsive reductionism is a form of fantasy. We, as a culture, are in the waning years of the cultural fantasy of state capitalism. A clue to the hypertrophy riddling the system is the rise of fascistic elements within the state, for fascism is the vehicle by which capitalism destroys itself, by a form of societal murder/suicide. (The pandemic of mass shootings is the personal microcosm of the cultural macrocosm.) If the heart, one's wellspring of dreams, is regarded as a mere pump, then the mind languishes in a soul-desiccated wasteland. Under such dire circumstances, one is advised to dream oneself awake. And that does not translate into lapsing into unconsciousness. Withal, it suggests… reaching down and touching the bones of the earth and a steadfast communion with Anima Mundi i.e., literally, the soul of the world.

The earth is under siege; therefore, the act will be painful. As noted above, her oceans are being destroyed; her fauna and flora are being decimated. When we denude the seas of abundance, our dreams will mirror the cataclysm. How else would one explain the dearth of imagination that is so-called Reality Television and Celebrity Culture? We must come back to fantasy to keep a grip on reality. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the late James Hillman, the founder of the school of Archetypal Psychology and the man responsible for bringing Neoplatonic Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino's concept of Anima Mundi (i.e., The Soul of The World) to the modern imagination, visited my friend Dick Russell, in Los Angeles. During the course of a discussion of the event, Hillman averred, "[In the U.S.] the towers haven't fallen yet."

Russell related Hillman's quote at a reading and presentation revolving around his recent biography of Hillman that I attended at The C.G. Jung Center of New York. Shortly thereafter, during a break for lunch, I slouched into Chipotles (which was the only vegan fare I could locate in the area and was less than a block from the Center) for a lunch of beans and rice, garnished with hot sauce. The fast food eatery's interior design was a melange of traditional fast-food eatery decor (if there is such a thing) and faux post-modernist industrial design, yet was adorned in Aztec iconography, with the soundscape consisting of a mix of loud pop music, ranging from the 1960s to the present.

There was a violence to the disparate epochs and clashing societal milieus and mythos…as if history and memory had been forced into a massive particle accelerator and smashed to psychical quanta and then reconfigured. The thought occurred to me: The towers have fallen… but they arose again, not in the form of solid state architecture, but as a veil of culture-wide, consumer age illusion, a collective phantasm that only appears to be solid yet surrounds us as obdurate as stone towers. This edifice of electrons obscures the House of Usher-type decay and dissolution of the age. Yet there is neither a center to hold nor give way… simply a nexus of never-was. To chronicle our time… is to eavesdrop on and hurl invective at phantoms. The soul of the age has simply ceased to be.  

Will the excesses and tumult of this era serve as a passage to cultural transformation or simply deliver meaningless tragedy, a witless farce, a cautionary tale for the hopelessly obtuse? As in classical tragedy, will denouement arrive only after the stage is littered with corpses… the avoidable carnage resultant from the hubris of a flawed hero whose vanity and compulsion for upward ascension engender his fall and inflicts torment upon those close to him. Or are there autochthonic forces at work? Is a type of liberation, borne of devastation, coming to the fore? Is there hidden meaning attempting to reveal itself from within the inchoate jumble of events?

Let us consider the redemption inherent to ruin—the manner that a new order that initially appears as a relentless antagonist, an amoral trickster, or an angel of vengeance. How we bray—even to the point of becoming gripped by animal panic—when we are in the midst of being transfigured by ancient forms that arrive in novel guises.

Often what is required is not redemption but re-imagining: simply, the ability to open oneself to the timeless forms of the imagination. At present, we are gripped by the fantasy of perpetual growth but buffeted by incessant images of violence, violation, decay, decline, zombification, emptiness, manic compensation, cynicism, and profound hopelessness. The abyss yawns before us. We lurch in extremis, even as we are ensconced in a void of vanity and avoidance. Under the present neoliberal order, we text, make FaceBook entries and tweet, as we proceed ever closer to the precipice of global ecocide. We careen along when what is called for… is to become frozen in mortification, stopped in our tracks, and then have our souls, personally and collectively, thawed out of deepfreeze by hot, huge tears borne of lamentation.

Over the top? Damn straight. The times call for us to explore the soul's topography of exaggeration, and this is propitious because it is not possible to exaggerate the peril we face if we cling to the status quo of neo-liberal levied wealth disparity and planet-wide ecocide.

Yet those in power are doing just that—and that fact should summon forth rage. Plangent, ringing rage. Not an anger that inflicts helpless, fist pounding—but an anger that summons forth libido. A societal-wide chorus of focused vehemence that can begin to dismantle the structures of an ossified order.

 Phil Rockstroh  is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City.  Visit Phil's website or at FaceBook.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why We Can't Afford Food Stamps............

The priorities of the patriarchal mind are pretty obvious when you look at the budget, and as far as the powers that be,  non-essential services, like food stamps (1%), education (6%), the environment (3%) (and heaven forbid, even the arts (just about no %).......have to be cut back.

 (Thanks to the American Friends Service Committee and their 1 percent for Peace campaign


Oh, and here all those "free loaders" who sponge off taxpayers with foodstamps.................funny how most of them are either under 12, or over 70...........................