Learning to walk in the dark

This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page

Advent always was an interim time, spanning the threshold between the harvest festivals of autumn and the vulnerable, fierce hope of Christmas. That “betwixt and between” time and place, where things tend to happen, wove itself around us as we gathered for retreat in a time when the forest waited, bare-branched and leaf-carpeted, for that first snowfall, likely still weeks away.

In a season when it is traditional to think about the coming of the light, I was pondering darkness. It seems that this Advent falls at a moment of history when the world is in an up-ended, uncertain, and, yes, frightening between-time, when we struggle to know how to be and what to do and how to behave as things all around us in politics, in governance, in world affairs, and in our psyches, slide toward the dark. Continue reading

How silence will save the world  

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This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page

Our country and our world is in a good bit of trouble right now. We live in what storyteller Michael Meade calls “black dog times”. The tale goes like this:

The Old People of the tribes tell of a special cave where a woman is weaving the most beautiful garment in the world. She is almost finished, but while she stirs the soup in a great cauldron at the back of the cave a black dog awakens and moves to where she has left the garment on the floor. The dog begins pulling on a loose thread of the beautiful garment. Because each thread is woven to another, pulling on one undoes them all. Soon the beautiful garment is a chaotic mess on the floor of the cave. When the woman returns she sits and looks silently upon the remnants of her once beautiful design. She ignores the presence of the black dog as she stares intently at the tangle of loose threads and distorted designs. Then after a while she picks up a thread and begins again to weave an even more lovely cloak, the most beautiful garment the world has ever seen.

The story is longer than this summary, with a wealth of meaningful detail. It was featured in the retreat “Thriving on the Threshold,” held at Rolling Ridge in October. Yet even this abbreviated version of the tale holds nuggets of insight and meaning. One could say that much of the fabric of human culture today is unraveling, and nature with it; our civil society and our connection to all that is meaningful is coming undone, our creative efforts to build a more beautiful world have seemingly come to naught. The story offers hints of what to do and how to behave when the black dog begins pulling on the loose thread and the dark times come around again, as surely they have.

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Step out of the center and take the wider view

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The last week has played out for some of us as the classic stages of grief. Denial shows up as the change.org petition to get Electors to vote for Hillary instead of Donald, or more ambitiously to do away with the baffling, arcane Electoral College altogether. There’s plenty of anger, too, with blame to make it extra spicy. Luvvie Ajayi lays the whole mess squarely at the feet of white women. Others blame the DNC, the FBI, Breitbart,Wikileaks, the ignorance of certain voters, the gullibility of others, Hillary Clinton herself for running. So much blame, so little time.

Is it bargaining or acceptance that many charitable organizations and nonprofit news sites have seen record donations in the last few days? (Or opportunism that they’ve sent out so many appeal emails?) What category does the Million Women March come under?

After the first shock wave hit, I sunk to the depression stage. From down here, the horizon of acceptance isn’t yet visible. I do see people trying on the reality that this is what we have to live with, so we may as well make the best of it. I’ve entertained that thought, even going so far as imagining that this might somehow, mysteriously, be for the highest good. Who can say how this will all play out? (Sadly, my imagination isn’t up to this challenge.) Continue reading

I’m done with triggered

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The word, triggered, is much in use lately. My son uses it to mock me when I get upset about something. Kids use it to mock each other, probably without understanding its origins and meanings.

Like many phrases or words that rise to a status of overuse, its origins were murky to me until I did an online search. The term, trigger, comes from trauma work and the study of what triggers a PTSD episode. Trigger warnings first appeared on online feminist and social justice forums discussing traumatic subjects like sexual assault and violence. Fair enough. There is now a debate in university circles as to whether course material and assigned readings should or should not come with a trigger warning. For intelligent arguments on both sides, see here and here. Continue reading

Triumph of mythos over logos, or, Nate Silver is not all that

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Ordinarily, I don’t get very political on this blog. But these are extraordinary times. To many, the results of Election 2016 are unimaginable. The Day After played out like the inciting incident in a dystopian alternate-reality Netflix series about a dying civilization. Rural voters seem to have acted from fear and misinformation, and not simply willingness, but eagerness, to be lied to and manipulated. Shirley Jackson could not have written better.

Liberal elites, neo-libs, progressives—whatever label we claim—have not just been humbled. We have been brought low. Our country elected, by popular vote, the first woman president. But the crafty Framers set up the Electroal College to give rural voters a chance against urban elites. And, boy, did they prevail. So here we are, literally unable to imagine, using the rational mind, how it happened. I am an avid listener to the 538 Podcast, but not even Nate Silver is smart enough, nor his algorithm clever enough, to make sense of this.

So, let’s use imagination for something bigger than a futile attempt at rational understanding. Let’s tap into mythos, rather than rely on logos. From a mythic perspective, we just handed the reins of the most powerful country on earth, and the one with the largest per capita environmental footprint, to the Trickster god of Norse mythology. Continue reading

Darkness at dawn

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I only know it’s raining from the sound. Outside is deep darkness. There has been a death in the family, news of a life-threatening illness, a natural disaster, an unnatural disaster, a house fire, a child claimed by asthma. My hands shake, I feel weak and sick as with an icy fever. My heart aches and a fresh wave breaks.

I am standing alone in my mother’s kitchen, gripped by the terror that only reality can serve up. She has just been unable for the first time to get out of bed. She lies upstairs in sweet docility, if not resignation. Later, I will bring her strawberries and dolmas on a tray with a daffodil in a bud vase. It’s been a beautiful spring, not that she’s been able to go outside to enjoy it.

I’ve been up since 4:00 a.m., when I couldn’t help checking the news. This thing is bigger than any of us can imagine. I know that. And right here, right now, I will not try to talk myself out of my emotions. This is one place I can be completely honest. Continue reading

Weaving and unraveling in black dog times

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Mythic storyteller Michael Meade tells the story of an old woman weaving in a cave. It is as relevant today as it’s been for the hundreds or thousands of years it’s been told around the fire. Here is the story from the White Mountain Apache, adapted from his book, Why the World Doesn’t End.

The old people of the tribes would tell of a special cave where knowledge of the wonders and workings of the world could be found. Even now, some of the native people say that the cave of knowledge exists and might be discovered again. They say it is tucked away in the side of a mountain. “Not too far to go,” they say, yet no one seems to find it anymore. Despite all the highways and byways, all the thoroughfares and back roads that crosscut the face of the earth, despite all the maps that detail and try to define each area, no one seems to find that old cave. That’s too bad, they say, because inside the cave can be found genuine knowledge about how to act when the dark times come around again and the balance of the world tips away from order and slips towards chaos. Continue reading

The hostility, power, magic, integrity, and possibility of the threshold

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In preparation for a retreat this weekend, I’ve been reading up on the meaning, lore, and mythology of thresholds. I’ve written about this before, but thought I’d share some fresh thoughts here.

Mythology has many guardians of the threshold, but Janus is the main one. He is the god of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, doorways, passages, and endings. He is depicted as having two faces, so he can look in both directions – toward the past and the future. The month January is aptly named for him.

Janus symbolized change and transitions, and was worshipped at the beginnings of the harvest and planting times, as well as at marriages, deaths and other beginnings. He represented the middle ground between barbarism and civilization, between rural and urban space, youth and adulthood. Continue reading

Two years (and counting) of dwelling on the threshold

2001_7.29_620wYesterday marked the two-year anniversary of this blog. For the first anniversary, I appreciated the artist, that denizen of thresholds, dweller of the in-between realms. In this political season, I’m drawn to reflect on the circus that is our Presidential campaign season. After last night’s debate once again elicited waves of despair over the future of our country, veteran newsman Bob Schieffer asked, “How have we come to this?” How, indeed.

At times like this, I can think of only one American capable of approaching, let alone answering, a question like that: Kentucky farmer and writer, Wendell Berry. I pull a few of his books off the shelf, feeling better just holding them in my hand. My husband has NPR on in the kitchen downstairs. I hear the cadence of male and female voices hashing over last night’s events, interviewing undecided voters. I cannot hear the substance, only the vibrations of voice. Wendell Berry is all I need now. Continue reading

Imagination softens the hard edges of opposition

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This week brought more videos and news of police shooting black men. These confrontations are as usual shrouded in confusion, misinterpretation, reactivity, bias, and defensiveness. Peaceful demonstrations in Charlotte turned violent, as they had in Baltimore last year. If we inquire into such protests and uprisings, perhaps we can glimpse the frustration, hopelessness, and rage behind them. Given the pervasiveness of racial inequity, one wonders why there aren’t more of them. I imagine similar outrage in Chicago, where the bodies continue to pile up and youth unemployment in some neighborhoods reaches ninety percent.

I was just finishing the following post when these sad, violent events occurred. I questioned its relevance and wondered if I should just put it away. After some thought, I decided that the invitation to embody and embrace opposites might be useful. It could be just the time to seek the awareness hidden behind surfaces, and to assume that all is never what it seems.

“‘Tell them they have to wake up twice in the morning,’ Nyae continues. This means that you should first wake up in the morning and get out of bed. Then awaken your heart: walk out of the bedrock of objects and materialism and into a spiritual world guided by the felt lines of relationships that hold everything together. Now the ropes, rather than the objects they connect, are primary. They are the most important and the most real.” ~ Bradford Keeney

I’m dreaming in a tent under the full moon at a forest retreat. Here to meet the awakening that beckons from the world behind this world. In my dream, a panel van pulls up in an alley behind a building. All the surfaces are hard—buildings, paving, cars, light poles. A man tumbles out. He’s been shot in the left shoulder. My first thought is, he is escaping from criminals, maybe he’s been kidnapped. Continue reading