Category Archives: reading

fleas caused the plagues.

The transmitter’s size says nothing about the total jolt of the message: what are we if not the exquisite parquetrywork of chromosomes, retarded or voluptuous by assignment of perhaps a single gene? Oh nodes no larger than peas can double us over, and these are the casters on which well-being wheels. One scant nodded yes or stuttered no will drive an entire life from its route. We need to be attentive, to the smallest rising moon above a cuticle, to the lilliput taj mahal of blue at the center of any red flame, to the slimmest syllable love or politics utters, yes and because our forgiveness is the flimsiest mote in the galaxy’s eye and our tenderness as well, we need to practice them daily, turn to someone who matters and practice them daily, as if repetition does count, for suffering’s armory of small but endless plaguemarks adds a grief to a grief and finally strikes with the strength of a huge blunt instrument, and even the least of our comforts and dignities needs to be archived, kept well-lubed and, when required, marshaled in attempt to be a counterbalancing force.

–from Albert Goldbarth’s brilliant essay entitled Delft

Page 120. you (yes you) have a capacity for violence.

(see book tag for full citation info)

The aggressive instincts that have their roots in resource competitiveness can obviously extend to full-blown violence. In fact, humans appear to have evolved facultative adaptations to murder and vengeance (Buss and Duntley, 2003) in order to preserve resources and ensure reproductive success and inclusive fitness (in the form of lost or gained resources, mates, or social status/reputation) in certain high-stakes situations, which are continuous with those found in other animal species (Ghiglieri, 1999). In other words, destruction lurks in everyone because it can result in improved inclusive fitness when properly triggered; no amount of enculturation will be able to eliminate this because it is a part of our neurobiology.

Page 87. On science and myth.

Science is to trees as myth is to forest—they appraise different levels of analysis but are not separate from one another or necessarily contradictory.

Page 76-7: ON DREAM SYMBOLS, the relationship between waking vs. non-waking mental life, and how dreams are like George Washington.

(follow book tag to get full citation info)

What information, then does the mind use to create these symbols? The first clue comes from a number of experiments which have shown that the unconscious “emotional mind seems to be particularly susceptible to stimuli that its conscious counterpart does not have access to [but are recoverable in dreams, fantasy and free-association]” (reviewed in LeDoux, 1996: 61). In other words, the older implicit multiple emotional systems appear to “know” more about the internal and external environment than the conscious system does, merely as a matter of processing limits. The conscious system is powerful in its ability to process information in a deeply recursive and highly differentiating manner, and has access to personal autobiographical memory for comparison. This makes consciousness a very powerful differentiating device to modulate behavior. However, the abilities of consciousness make it come with a price—it is slower and also unable to process large amounts of information this way (Viamontes and Beitman, 2007; Watt and Pincus, 2004); it therefore is limited in a way implicit systems, which are relatively more “crude,” domain-specific, and ahistorical, are not. Consciousness has a high “filter” and cannot fully process everything impinging on the various implicit systems, but when the conscious system is relaxed, as in various altered states, the implicit systems reveal what they know and “think” (in rudimentary terms) about the current state of the organism and its surrounds. These systems generally have less access to personal history and are therefore more “nonself” than consciousness is.

It is probably this information that is being formulated into visuospatial metaphors by the dreaming brain and its deeper, more autonomous emotional consciousnesses—hence the conscious self, when the filter is “lowered,” gets a glimpse at these prelinguistic and affective “thoughts” of the multiple implicit systems in the deeper layers of the brain/mind as they push what they want forward and attempt to find their way into consciousness; often times such systems are at odds with each other, creating internal conflict.

here it comes again.

Grief is not a feeling. Grief is a skill. And the twin of grief as a skill of life is the skill of being able to praise or love life, which means wherever you find one authentically done, the other is close at hand. Grief and the praise of life: side by side. — Stephen Jenkinson, Griefwalker

Roger Woolger made a chilling statement in his lecture about how much unresolved grief there is in our culture, how long it has been building, and what it will take to process it. I wish I’d written it down, but in a way I’m kind of glad I didn’t. It was daunting.

I get more tired of practicing the skill of grief than I ever did of practicing anything else. Wave after wave after wave. It’ll surprise you in the staff lounge. It’ll take over what you intended to be a perfectly pleasant evening. In Soviet Russia, grief practices you. And no one is ever going to applaud you at your grief recital or exhibit. You will not win a blue ribbon in a grief-back riding show. You will not earn an A+, a degree, or money for your griefwork.

Refusing to deny or disown your grief is one of the more courageous things you can do in this culture. This does not mean moping around all the time. It means rejecting numbness, practiced apathy, enforced cheer, and compulsive distraction from the ache in your chest—the ache that dwells in the same chamber as the soaring love of all that is beautiful and well, the ache that must be opened to allow the soaring sound to swell.

Orphans are not people who have no parents: they are people who don’t know their parents, who cannot go to them. Ours is a culture built upon the ruthless foundation of mass migration, but it is more so now a culture of people unable to say who their people are. In that way we are, relentlessly, orphans. Being an orphan culture does not mean that we have no wisdom. But wisdom is being confused in our time with information. Wisdom is an achievement, hard earned and faithfully paid for; it’s not a possession. — Stephen Jenkinson

In a culture like ours, so unsure of itself, so without a shared understanding of life for its people, there are subtle, enduring consequences that look like personal inadequacy, failure of will, inability or unwillingness to live deeply. But what I’ve seen over twenty five years of working with people convinces me that these problems or struggles are not bad psychology, worse parenting or lousy personality development.

What we suffer from most is culture failure, amnesia of ancestry and deep family story, phantom or sham rites of passage, no instruction on how to live with each other or with the world around us or with our dead or with our history.

Any counsel worthy of the name should have culture at its core. Any counsel worthy of the name should begin to make a place in personal life for the rumoured, scattered story of who you come from where, and why. Counsel well done and honest makes a home for the orphan wisdom of personal life in the life of the world. It tries to ask the questions that the Sufi poet Rumi asked of himself eight centuries ago, and it tries to answer them:

All day long I think about it, and at night I say it:
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
Who hears with my ear, and speaks with my tongue?
And what is the soul?

Stephen Jenkinson again

Aside: I want to make a drum. I think I may want Stephen Jenkinson to teach me how.

And so the question looming largest in my mind of late: (be patient… it builds) I am lucky to have a career that I enjoy and that I am good at. I support myself doing important work I feel good about that does not suck my soul. I believe I have contributions to make to the field of librarianship, or at the very least, to the library employing me.

However, over the past few years, I have been forced to recognize and own a deep calling to do work that witnesses others and supports them in feeding and healing their hearts and souls. According to Michael Winkelman’s cross-cultural studies of magico-religious practitioners, this sort of work has not historically been full time work at which people made their livings. Thus, I don’t see myself facing an either/or choice.

For a while, I thought that not making an either/or choice was a cop out for security and comfort, but recently things keep coming up all over the place reminding me that people who do the kind of work I’m being drawn to have always straddled worlds. That’s the core of the work, actually.

My question is: how do you move into doing this sort of work without deciding you will be a psychotherapist, a chaplain, a bodyworker, a facilitator, a personal coach, or whatever on a full time basis? Perhaps you just call yourself Death Bear and call it an art project… Death Bear does have a day job.

I am sure the answer will unfold itself at the appropriate time(s). That is how my life tends to go when I’m paying attention. I just write this to remind myself to keep paying attention, and to clarify my intent.

I’m just beginning, as always, but it’s hard not to squint and try to make out the entire route before reaching the next turn.

And now, the severe thunderstorm comes rolling in. That’s a literal statement and not a metaphor.

denial is a river delta.

The blowout from the Macondo well has created a terminal condition: denial. We don’t want to own, much less accept, the cost of our actions. We don’t want to see, much less feel, the results of our inactions. And so, as Americans, we continue to live as though these 5 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf have nothing to do with us. The only skill I know how to employ in the magnitude of this political, ecological, and spiritual crisis is to share the stories that were shared with me by the people who live here. I simply wish to bear witness to the places we traveled and the people we met, and give voice to the beauty and devastation of both.

To bear witness is not a passive act.

The system is breaking down not from one thing but everything.

The Gulf Between Us: Stories of terror and beauty from the world’s largest accidental offshore oil disaster by Terry Tempest Williams

Finally subscribing to Orion, I think…

Randomly ran across a blog by one of those anonymous Internet somewhat kindred spirits. One of those things that reminds me that no, I am not alone in experiencing the world the way I do, which has the effect of reducing the existential trauma that often threatens to overwhelm me (see quote that rocked my understanding from the previous post…) Having that happen occasionally is why I continue to ever write anything on the Web—the thought that something I write might lighten someone else’s burden of alienation in some tiny way. See (post from aforementioned blog):

I have some cultural dysphoria. American culture seems abusive, needlessly controlling, morally debased, hopelessly cruel, shallow, and really just stupid.

“So when you look for guidance, direction, mentorship, we all look to institutions… but it’s really yourself that is the final arbiter. And if you keep yourself as the final arbiter you will be less susceptible to infection by cultural illusion. Now the problem with this is it makes you feel bad not to be infected by cultural illusion because its called alienation. But this is I can’t solve all problems. The reason we feel alienated is because the society is infantile, trivial, and stupid. So the cost of sanity in this society is a certain level of alienation.”
– Terrence McKenna (video link from last year)

Hermetically Blonde

From a review of a book going on the to read at some point list:

But nature is humbling on both the largest and smallest of scales. You don’t have to be in the wilderness any more than you have to stay in bed to be awed, to be jolted or slowly prodded back into the world of the living, to feel connected. Look big enough or small enough, and all things start to take on a familiar geometry. Nebulas swirling in space, the tight twist of the double helix, the “marvelous spiral” of a snail’s perfectly curled shell. Size and distance become variable, unimportant. Bailey acknowledges that “Snails may seem like tiny, even insignificant things compared to the wars going on around the world,” but through her eyes we are reminded that nothing, no matter how small, is without significance.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey, reviewed by Kathleen Yale

Last night and this morning, I read The raven’s gift : a scientist, a shaman, and their remarkable journey through the Siberian wilderness by Jon Turk. I loved the part where, when Turk’s PhD advisor questioned him on why he had not been applying for any academic jobs, Turk basically said, “I can’t be in academia. I have to be able to smell the earth with my dog.” Also loved reading about Turk’s holding the tension between rational western mind and wonder mystery mind. I like that the latter gets the seat of honor at the table.

Finally, lynx are popping up everywhere. No, not literally, but it’s getting seriously a little spooky.

two minds certainly complicate one’s mythopoetics.

Great googly moogly, I love reading Lia Purpura.

I told her I’d never had much luck with my own gardens, how they were always a mess, everything straying and overrunning the beds, getting out of hand and defiant, that it was not at all relaxing. She described the gardens she’d always kept. She spoke of her roses, zinnias, dahlias, the tangle of vines netting over, everything crammed in a too-small space. “You know,” she said in her thick accent, “I love them all. All the weeds and flowers. I keep even the dandelions in.” I remember thinking I recognize that. And I remember feeling shaken by the recognition, the neatness and the wildness unresolved. That she was not, could not be, discerning. I remember staring into the dirty gray weave of the seat in front of me. I remember thinking, uneasily, This is the only way anything will ever make sense to me.

Being of Two Minds

i’m sure this has something to do with penis envy.

I first read a little Freud when I was an undergrad. I had a friend who was fairly obsessed with him and thought he was brilliant. Honestly, he gave me the heebie-jeebies in his obsession with sexualizing everything and the incest theme. Also, when you have been close to people who have deeply suffered because of incestuous childhood sexual abuse, it is difficult to read about memories of childhood sexual abuse being “fantasies” without wanting to throw the book across the room.

I will eventually get around to reading some more Freud, because I don’t feel like I can say anything intelligent about his ideas without doing so.

However, I keep reading other stuff about the origin and development of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theories and Freud continues to come off as a narrow-minded, sexually obsessed, insecure control freak. It seems he was continually having dramatic “friend/colleague breakups” because the other person got an idea that Freud disagreed with or felt threatened by.

Perhaps everyone was always having these fall outs with everyone else back in the day, but Freud was the most famous so his always get mentioned? At any rate, I know he was important for establishing a method of studying and working with the unconscious, but each time I read about one of Freud’s puerile freakouts, I think someone else leaps in front of him on my reading list. Now Sandor Ferenczi (who eventually had a big break with Freud) has been added to the list… ahead of Freud.