Another amazing Radiolab aired May 5, 2021 (Staph and Gamma) that revisited and provide updates on two simple scientific discoveries that potentially hold huge ramifications for our modern times. This episode began by replaying an earlier show Robert Krulsich did with Molly Webster back in 2016. At the time, this was breaking news. This episodes includes updates as of 2020.
Li-Huei Tsai is a professor and director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT. Li-Huei explained to Molly how most research on Alzheimer’s disease (a disease that affects every family) has focused on genes predisposing people to developing this disease later in life. But, Li-Huei took a different approach at looking at this disease. Her work centers on gamma frequencies, which are like a beat in your brain (a type of brainwave).
Entire groups of neurons will beat at the same time. Some beat at 1 beat per second. Others beat at 600 beats per second. A person who needs to super focus his or her attention requires groups of neurons to beat at 30 to 100 beats per second. These are gamma beats. We can measure them through EEG recordings.
They look like this.
Brainwaves andAlzheimer’s Research
Li-Huei explains how the human brain has billions and billions of neurons. To do what we do as humans, process information, have a thought, problem-solve, communicate with each other, and remember things, all these neurons need to communicate with each other. The neural cell has long tentacles that reach out towards other neurons like waving hands. When an electrical signal passes through them, it is like a zap that sends a signal (neural transmitter) across the gap to another neuron, which turns it on.
To walk, write a poem, or compose a song, whole groups of neurons must turn on and fire in synchrony. The gamma frequency (or synchrony) has been considered very important for the higher order cognitive function. However, Molly Webster explains that when you look at an Alzheimer’s brain, what you see is there’s actually less gamma happening. Or people say, like, the power of gamma is reduced.
Li-Huei says this is because not all the neurons can be recruited to oscillate at the gamma frequency and this is because of plaques that build up around neurons gunking them up. the more plaque, the harder it is to think…sort of like cobwebs in the brain.
Let’s Manipulate Gamma Oscillations
So, Webster and Li-Huei wondered: What would happen if they could just bring gamma back to the brain?
Working with mice that have an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease measured by elevated levels of beta amyloid peptides, they drilled a small hole into the skull of the mouse’s head, slide a very thin fiber-optic cable into the brain (specifically, a group of cells modified to be sensitive to light), and then using blue laser light, flicker it at 40 beasts per second: a gamma wave.
They did this for one hour, the looked at the mice’s brain to see if anything was different. Not expecting to find much, they were shocked. After one hour of pulsing light, there was nearly half as much of the nasty plaque gunk filling up their hippocampus (a 40 to50% reduction of beta amyloid in their brain).
Who knew blinking light would do that? But, somehow, the pulsing light triggered the brain’s cleanup crew (microglia) that gobble up the gunk.
In a normal brain, these janitor cells are constantly gobbling up the gunk, but in an Alzheimer’s brain, it is sort of like the janitors have gone on strike. After one hour of light, the microglia cells seem to get a lot bigger, meaning they’ve gobbled up beta amyloid mucking up the brain.
With less gunk, more neurons are available to oscillate together at the gamma wavelength needed to concentrate and do higher level cognitive work.
Wait, It’s Even Better
These findings were really exciting, but drilling holes and inserting fiber-optic cable into brains is pretty invasive. So, Li-Huei wondered if there was another way to get light into the brain. Perhaps through the eyes?
So, they created a flicker room for the mice by using duct taped strips of LED lights. They put the mice in the altered cages and let the LEDs flicker at 40 beats per second. They let the mice bathe in the flickering LED glow for 1 hour. And then took a look at the amyloid beta levels in the visual cortex and once again found a 50% reduction.
Over time, they found out that if the mice are not put into the flicker-light room at least once for an hour every 24 hours, the plaque comes back. So, they are trying to see how to keep the levels down longer, or ever for good.
The Update to This Research
Since Radiolab first reported this research, Li-Huei has tried sound at 40 hertz per second for one hour with her mice.
The same thing! A 40 to 50% reduction in plague in the brain.
They are just moving into human trails, but there is a whole movement out there not waiting to find out the results. Here are just some of the interesting efforts underway, but people, companies, and meditation tapes aren’t waiting.
And there are many other products available.
Several other videos describing this light therapy include the following.
While far from conclusive and so far untested on humans, the results of the studies detailed in the podcast are extremely promising. The gist is by flickering light at and around the gamma frequency for extended periods of time, brain plaque caused by Alzheimer’s is dramatically reduced in lab mice.
This got me thinking how one would go about building a flicker box for this purpose if you wanted to try it out for yourself. My first thought was to just build a simple website (seizure warning):
I absolutely loved a recently aired episode of RadioLab titled: Man Against Horse. It originally aired December 28, 2019, but I heard it May 23, 2021. I had been working on my story trying to getting straight in my head man’s long line of evolutionary changes that ultimately lead to us, the living beings who stare at screens and do everything to extremes.
Man & His Ancestors
There was Australopithecus afarensis who emerged 3.67 to 2 million years ago in the Middle Pliocene to Early Pleistocene of South Africa, an extinct species of australopithecine. Spread:Southern Africa (Lucy’s species). I love them. Look at those eyes!
There was Homo habiliswho emerged 2.4 to 1.5 mya inhabiting parts of sub-Saharan Africa from roughly 2.4 to 1.5 million years ago (mya). In 1959 and 1960 the first fossils were discovered at Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania – roamed Eastern edge of Africa, moving from the Horn of Africa to the tip.Spread:Western to Southern African
There was Homo ergasterwho emerged (“working man”) is an extinct hominid species (or subspecies, according to some authorities) which lived throughout eastern and southern Africa between 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago with the advent of the lower Pleistocene and the cooling of the global climate: 1.9 to 1.4 mya (although some classifications include additional individuals that extends their range to between about 700,000 and 2 million years ago). Spread: Africa: 1.9 to 1.4 million years ago. Considered an early, exclusively African form of Homo erectus. Started making stone tools 1.6 million years ago.
And of course, there was Homo erectus who emerged 2 mya, evolving from either a late form of australopith or one of the more primitive forms of Homo, and went on to spread into many parts of Asia. Spread:Western African,Europe, Arabian Peninsula, Southern Asia, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, Eastern coast of Asia to Bering Strait
There are many more early hominoid species that evolved, lived for thousands (and some more than a million) years, and then died out and disappeared. This is where I was getting lost, and this is when I took a break and tuned into RadioLab and heard this episode that straighten everything out in my mind. It all came down to the nuchal ligament and the human butt.
It’s All About the Butt
I was skeptical at first because this episode started out with Matt who began saying:
Okay, so this story comes to us from Heather, who is a fantastic writer who brought us this story that, if I were to boil it down, is about a horse, a lone man running through the desert, and what it fundamentally means to be a human being. And weirdly, butts. I didn't see this coming, but it's about butts. Just butts. Your butt. It's about your butt.
Heather is writing a book about the cultural history of the female butt. She said:
I thought I'd save that one for on tape. It started as an essay that I was just working on because I have a big butt, and I grew up in, you know, the suburbs of mid-Michigan. That was -- it was pretty white. And in high school in the '90s, it was very much like, not good to have a big butt. Like, I got made fun of, et cetera, et cetera. But then sometime in the mid-aughts, all of a sudden this body that had sort of been bringing me all this shame became attractive in sort of a mainstream way.
As Heather started taking apart and looking into issues such as race, appropriation, beauty, her essay about the butt ended up becoming a book about the butt. She asked herself: what does the butt mean? Like, what does it symbolize and why does it symbolize that? Then, she realized she had to answer a more fundamental question: Why do we even have a butt at all?
Gluteus Maximus & Evolution of Man
Daniel Lieberman is an evolutionary biologist at Harvard University who is interested in the evolution of the human body and the effects of physical activity for a long time. He wanted to understand how and why the human body evolved the way it did. Back around 1992, he was a post-doc doing research on pigs…miniature pigs running on treadmills!
Lieberman was looking at how different parts of the skeleton respond to the effect of the loads caused by exercise. Lieberman says, “Sounds like an exciting thing, but believe me it eventually gets kind of — kind of dull.” This is until the day a fellow called Dennis Bramble, a professor at the University of Utah, came to Harvard to do his own research next door to Lieberman.
Dennis Bramble recalls turning to his co-researher saying, “What the hell’s that sound? Is somebody doing something there?” And they said, “Yeah, and this guy Dan Lieberman is running pigs over there.” I said, “Oh, I gotta — I’ve gotta see this!”
Lieberman recounts Bramble popped his head in and watched the pig, then cocked his head to the side and said, ““You know Dan, that pig can’t hold its head still when it’s running.” Lieberman said, “It’s funny I’d spent hours watching pigs run on treadmills, but I never really thought about it.“
Bramble said: “You know Dan, I bet that pig’s head is flopping all around because it doesn’t have this thing called thenuchal ligament.” This ligament provides support for the head and neck. It is like a rubber band attached to the back of the animal’s skull and runs down the spine to keep the head straight as it runs. Bramble pointed out that all mammals that have specialized as runners have this nuchal ligament–everything from cheetahs to leopards to antelopes to horses, to jackrabbits and dogs. Animals who are bad runners don’t have this ligament–like pigs.
This is where my attention perked up: humans have anuchal ligament.
But, our closest hominoid cousins do not have a nuchal ligament. This includes apes, chimps, gorillas.
Humans Evolved to Run
Way back, our closest hominoid relatives split off into the genus Pan, while humans split off into the genus Homo. The first hominoid in the genus Homo to have this ligament was Homo erectus. Paleontologist can tell this by a sharp ridge on the back of the skull that this ligament leaves behind as a trace.
Daniel Lieberman says, “It doesn’t have a snout, it has smaller teeth. It’s — it’s the first species that’s really very much like you and me from the neck down.“
Around the time that Homo erectus emerged, spectacular changes were occurring with its foot (e.g., toes were shortening, arch was forming, Achilles tendon), hips (i.e., taller, narrower, twisty that helps us stay stable on two feet), arms (shorter), legs (longer), inner ears (semicirucular canals got larger to balance), joints (got bigger to bear the load of running), and butts!
Butts evolved for running. Lieberman explains that when humans run, the gluteus maximus muscles fires twice with every stride to prevent the trunk from pitching forward and falling face first.
"Running is a controlled fall. Very different from walking. And so your gluteus maximus fires just before your body's about to -- your trunk is about to pitch forward and make you hit your nose on the ground, and it helps pull your trunk backward. And the other time the gluteus maximus fires is when your leg is swinging forward when you're in the air, and it helps decelerate the leg so that you bring your leg down onto the ground. So the gluteus maximus plays a very important role when you're -- when you're running, and turns out to barely be active when you're walking. And, you know, you don't need the fancy equipment in my lab to figure this out. You can just do this yourself at home. Just walk around the room and hold your butt and, you know, clench your kind of butt. And -- and when you're walking your butt will just stay kind of normal, right? It'll stay kind of, you know ..."
But Why Did Homo Erectus Evolve Bigger Butts?
Climate change! That’s what happened about two million years ago. The tree filled jungles were disappearing and being replaced by open grasslands. This was triggered by an ice age that was drying out Africa. These vast open spaces were quickly filling up large grass-eating animals such as the kudu and antelope. Carnivores were rapidly evolving to catch and eat these big food sources such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs.
Compared to these apex predators, Homo erectus was puny and not a good runner. But, Homo erectus could do something they could not do. Homo erectus could sweat! This meant Homo erectus could chase his prey over long distances. He didn’t have to be fast; he simply had to have endurance, pay attention to tracks, and be patience.
Daniel Lieberman explains:
"The trick is you find that animal before it's cooled down, because of course the animal would have run away, and when it runs away it gets hot. Like, when you -- running generates a lot of heat. And these animals aren't very good at dumping heat."
There is a lively, fascinating argument on this episode of RadioLab as to whether Homo erectus tracked and followed its prey to exhaustion or if he simply looked for vultures and other scavengers that an apex predator killed and banded together to scare them away. We don’t know. Probably a little of both. But, the extra protein, fat, and nutrients he got this way helped his brain grow bigger and other evolutionary changes to occur. So, the evolution of a bigger butt and nuchal ligament were pretty important to get to modern human beings.
Man vs Horse
The last half of this episode you just have to listen to… really, you should listen to all of it… I skipped a lot of good stuff. But it is all about a crazy race that takes place in Prescott, AZ every year. It is a high desert long distance race (50 miles) between a group of human runners and a group of horses with riders.
The story goes like this:
HEATHER: So in 1983, a city councilman in Prescott comes into this bar in Whiskey Row, like super-old west America.
MATT: And he gets there, he sits down, and he has a beer. And down at the end of the bar …
HEATHER: There’s a couple of cowboys. The city councilman’s just run a marathon.
MATT: And at some point …
HEATHER: The city council guy says, “I just ran this crazy race.”
MATT: And one of the cowboys says …
HEATHER: “My horse could run that far easily.”
MATT: “You’re not that fast.”
HEATHER: “My horse could do that in an afternoon. Wouldn’t even break a sweat.” And then the city councilman’s like, “You know, I’m not sure he can.”
MATT: “Actually, in fact, I bet I can outrun your horse.”
HEATHER: And for 30-plus years, they have been sort of seeing who’s right.
Matt and Heather follow the racers and it is fantastic, fun story. Who do you think wins? Listen and see!
Recently on The HiddenBrain, I heard Iain McGilchrist talk with Shankar Vedantam about our divided brain and the making of the Western world. Shankar introduces this episode saying:
"I'm Shankar Vedantam. If you type in the words left brain versus right brain on YouTube, it's not long before you'll find yourself in a vortex of weird claims and outlandish hype. (...) For decades, pop psychology books and plenty of YouTube videos have made dramatic claims about people who are left-brained and people who are right-brained. It got to the point that respectable scientists felt they had to steer clear of the study of hemispheric differences. This week we follow the work of a researcher who went there. What he's found is much more nuanced and complex than the story on YouTube. His conclusions, though, might be even more dramatic. He argues that differences in the brain and Western society's preference for what one hemisphere has to offer have had enormous effects on our lives."
The program is called: One Head, Two Brains. I will highlight pieces that really resonated with me. Vedantam begins by highlighting all the pop science and psychology that has emerged over the past 20 to 30 years about the hidden powers of the left or right hemisphere of the brian.
McGilchrist adds: “Well, the conventional model is something that sprang up probably in the ’60s and ’70s and had some life into the ’80s and even into the ’90s and is now, probably, mainly at home in middle-management programs and pop psychology books. And I was told when I got involved in this area – don’t touch it. It’s toxic. Don’t even go there. And basically, that was that the left hemisphere is logical and verbal and the right hemisphere is kind of moody and possibly creative. But all of this turns out to be much more complicated, and some of it’s plain wrong.”
The Brain: SuperComputer or Musical Masterpiece
McGilchrist explains: “In motor terms, (the brain) is fairly straightforward that the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body and receives messages from it and vice versa. But in terms of psychological life, they have quite different kinds of roles. They have quite different dispositions. And I believe evolutionarily, they are – if you like – addressing different questions. (…) It’s there in all mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fish, insects, nematode worms – which have, you know, like – one of them has 302 neurons, but it’s working asymmetrically. And in fact, the oldest creature that we know of that has a neural net of any kind is called nematostella vectensis. It’s 700 million years old, and it’s thought of as the origin of neural networks. Guess what. The neural network is asymmetrical.”
He is adamant the human brain is much more than a biologic computer saying, “(First of all), it’s a vast waste of computing power to have this brain divided into two bits.” His research has revealed that brains have evolved with two different hemispheres to provide living beings with two different views of reality: the right focuses on the big picture, the left focuses on details. Both ways of understanding the world are essential because if you can’t see the big picture, you don’t understand what you’re doing. And if you can’t hone in and focus on the details, you can’t complete the simplest tasks.
McGilchrist provides the example of listening to a piece of music, say Mozart’s Requiem.
McGilchrist explains that “the right hemisphere takes in the whole at the start. The left hemisphere unpacks that and enriches it. But then that work being done, it needs to be taken back into the whole picture, which only the right hemisphere can do.“
All living creatures must do this simultaneously to survive.
Left brain:In order to manipulate the world – to get food, to pick up a twig to build a nest – you need a very precise, targeted attention on a detail in order to be able to achieve that and be ahead of your competition.
Right brain: But if you’re only doing that, and if you’re a bird just concentrating on the little seed, you’ll become somebody else’s lunch while you’re getting your own because you need, at the same time, to be paying the precise opposite kind of attention – not piecemeal, fragmented and entirely detailed but sustained, broad and vigilant for predators and for other members of your species.
In every living being with a complicated brain, the two hemispheres are connected by a bundle of nerve fibers named the corpus callosum; often described as a bridge passing information back and forth between the two hemispheres.
McGilchrist explains: “All living creatures need to be able to attend to the world in two different ways, which require quite different attention at the same time. And this is simply not possible unless they can work relatively independently. On the one hand, in order to manipulate the world – to get food, to pick up a twig to build a nest – you need a very precise, targeted attention on a detail in order to be able to achieve that and be ahead of your competition. But if you’re only doing that – if you’re a bird just concentrating on the little seed, you’ll become somebody else’s lunch while you’re getting your own because you need, at the same time, to be paying the precise opposite kind of attention – not piecemeal, fragmented and entirely detailed but sustained, broad and vigilant for predators and for other members of your species.”
The Master & The Emissary
Where my attention really perked up is when Vedantam and McGilchrist began talking about the title of his book, which comes from an old parable about a wise spiritual master who rules over a land. The master appoints an emissary. He’s a smart messenger. His job is to carry the master’s instructions to the far corners of the land.
McGilchrist recaps this very old story:
This emissary was bright enough but not quite bright enough to know what it was he didn't know. And he thought, I know everything. And he thought, what does the master know, sitting back there seraphically smiling, while I do all the hard work? And so he adopted the master's cloak, pretended to be the master. And because he didn't know what he didn't know, the result was that the community fell apart, essentially.
Sounds a bit like Harry Pottery and the cloak of invisibility; however, what McGilchrist is pointing out with this story is what Vedantam says next: “Iain argues that the right hemisphere of the brain is supposed to play the role of the wise master of our mental kingdom. The left hemisphere is supposed to be the emissary. Iain says we have grown infatuated with the skills of the emissary. We prize the details but scorn the big picture. He makes an analogy about the relationship between the hemispheres.“
McGilchrist stresses the brain is not a computer. It is far more sophisticated; however, in terms of function, he says the left hemisphere, in a limited sense, is a little bit like a very, very smart computer. Like any computer, it collects massive amounts of information, but it does not understand it. To do that, the ability to set back and analyze the interconnections and patterns of the data collected is necessary.
McGilchrist warns that for the first time in the West, we have become enamored with and slipped into listening only to what it is that the left hemisphere can tell us and discounting what the right hemisphere could have told us.
The right hemisphere is the master… the left hemisphere is the emissary. One sees the small picture…the other, the big picture.
See it! Grab It!
McGilchrist says that modern man lives in a world that prizes what the Left Hemisphere of the brain offers while offering contempt for what the Right Hemisphere does. What results is that the emissary usurps the master. However, just like the parable, the Left Brain doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Adding to this, the realities constructed by each hemisphere of the brain are very different.
McGilchrist gives a very simple example of the types of realities each hemisphere specializes in creating for a living being, particularly, one that using language.
Language has many components. One of them is attending to the tone of voice in which I say something. For example, I can say yes, or I can say yes. I can intone that in probably a dozen different ways with quite different meanings. So for example, I say, it's a bit hot in here. You, using your right hemisphere, know that what I mean is, could we have the door open? Could we put on the air conditioning? But your left hemisphere is wondering, meanwhile, why I'm supplying this quite unnecessary meteorological information.
Because of this, all kinds of things happen. Because of its narrow focus, it doesn't see anything that isn't explicit. It only sees what's right in the center of the focus of attention. And it doesn't understand things that are not said. Often, that's as important as what is said. The way in which it is said, my facial expression, my body language - all of this is lost, as well as the interpretation in the whole picture.
For a person who becomes overly reliant on the functions and abilities of the Left Hemisphere of the brain, metaphor in language is lost.
McGilchrist points out that “this is no small thing because as some philosophers have pointed out, metaphor is how we understand everything. And they point out that, actually, particularly scientific and philosophical understanding is mediated by metaphors. In other words, the only way we can understand something is in terms of something else that we think we already understand. And it’s making the analogy, which is what a metaphor does, that enables us to go, I see, I get it.”
Now, if you think that metaphor is just one of those dispensable decorations that you could add to meaning - it's kind of nice but probably a distraction from the real meaning - you've got it upside down. Because if you don't understand the metaphor, you haven't understood the meaning. Literal meaning, however, is a peripheral, diminished version of the richness of metaphorical understanding. And what we know is the right hemisphere understands those implicit meanings, those connections of meanings, what we call connotations, as well as just denotations. It understands imagery. It understands humor. It understands all of that.
McGilchrist says that the Left Hemisphere is “very goal-driven but very short-term goal driven. It wants to grasp things that are within reach. Remember, the left hemisphere is what controls our right hand with which we grasp things that are within reach. So it has a very direct, linear idea of a target and let’s go and get it.”
McGilchrist beautifully sums up what this extreme focus on details can do to individuals and civilizations when he tells Vedantam this:
Time can be seen rather like the flow of a river, which isn't made up of slices or chunks of river that are then put together. We, as personalities in time or cultures in time, are like this flow. The left hemisphere can't deal with anything that is moving. It fixes things. It likes things to be fixed because then you can grab them. You can't grasp your prey, you can't pick up something unless you can at least immobilize it for that second while you're interacting with it.
So it doesn't like flow and motion, which are, in my view, basic to not just life but actually to the cosmos. So instead, it sees lots of little punctuate moments, little slices of time. And things have to be put together by adding them up.
Vedantam says, “It’s almost like a form of calculus, you know, of taking slices and then trying to integrate them together.”
McGilchrist agrees saying: “You’re absolutely right. And calculus is an attempt, actually, to achieve something which is indivisible by dividing it in slices.”
Two Hemispheres; Two Very Different Sets of Values
Vedantam says that the left hemisphere prefers to reduce moral questions to arithmetic.
McGilchrist tells a story to demonstrate how the Left and Right Hemisphere come up with very different values that translate into very different realities.
Hypothetically, let's say you can temporarily disable the right temporoparietal junction with a painless procedure, and then ask people to solve moral problems. They will give quite bizarre answers to them based on entirely utilitarian understanding of them.
For example is, a woman is having coffee with her friend. She puts what she thinks is sugar in her friend's coffee but it's in fact poison, and the friend dies. Scenario two, a woman is having coffee with her friend who she hates. (Laughter). She wants to poison her. And she puts what she thinks is poison in the coffee, but it's sugar, and the friend lives. Which was the morally worse scenario?
Now, all of us using our intact brains say, well, the one in which she intended to kill her friend. But no. If you disable the right hemisphere, the good old left hemisphere says, well, obviously, the one in which she died. The consequence is what matters. So values are not well-appreciated, I think, by the left hemisphere.
Right Brain Damage
Another example of how the two hemispheres operate and see the world very differently is an exchange between a physician and a patient who experienced right hemisphere brain damage. This example bowled me over! McGilchrist explained that her left hemisphere (the detailed, likes things still and not moving, focusing part of brain) is still intact. The patient has a strange belief about her own arm. We asked a couple of producers to read the exchange.
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #1, BYLINE: (Reading, as physician) Whose arm is this?
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #2, BYLINE: (Reading, as patient) It's not mine.
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #1: (Reading, as physician) Whose is it?
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #2: (Reading, as patient) It's my mother's.
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #1: (Reading, as physician) How on earth does it happen to be here?
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #2: (Reading, as patient) I don't know. I found it in my bed.
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #1: (Reading, as physician) How long has it been there?
UNIDENTIFIED PRODUCER #2: (Reading, as patient) Since the first day. Feel. It's warmer than mine. The other day, too, when the weather was colder, it was warmer than mine.
What we're seeing is a phenomenon called denial, which is a feature of the way the left hemisphere works. So if you have a left hemisphere stroke, so your right hemisphere still functioning, you're very aware of what deficits you have. If you have a right hemisphere stroke, you are completely unaware of there being anything wrong. So if you have a paralyzed left arm, which is often a consequence of right hemisphere stroke, more often than not you will deny that there's any problem with it. If asked to move it, you will say there, but it didn't move.
If, on the other hand, I bring it in front of you and say, whose arm is this, can you move it, they say, oh, that's not mine. That belongs to you, doctor, or to the patient in the next bed or, as in this cut, my mother. It's extraordinary because these are not people who in any way mad. They don't have a psychosis. But they're simply incapable of understanding that there is something wrong here that involves them.
Denial.Denying facts. Denying reality. And creating alternative versions of events. Does any of this sound familiar? Narcissists are particularly good at denial and creating fantastic alternative realities. Perhaps they have become completely stuck in their Left Brain Hemisphere. Sure, narcissists can be highly dynamic people and fun to watch. They count on that affect because they feed on your time, attention, and pocketbooks. Narcissists tend to be extraverts as well and know how to hook and reel in their targets. Such a person likes to be in front and most will lead you (dear admiring follower) right to the Gates of Hell, and then give you a kick inside.
My series Collective Storytelling takes a deep dive into how and why we create alternative reality bubbles, and knowing how the Left Hemisphere works helps to explain why these concocted alternative realities are so convincing–so much so, people are willing to raid the Capitol and die for the alternative facts they have absorbed as the truth created by a master storyteller of anything other than the truth or reality.
Left Brian Damage
McGilchrist says about damage to the left side of brain creates interesting complexities too; however, the structure of reality seems to remain in tact:
It's really fascinating because the consequences are so obvious. You can't speak. And sometimes you can't appreciate the structure of a sentence that's being said to you. The other thing that happens is you can't use your right hand, which is a bit of a bummer if that's your important hand. But effectively, the structure of reality is not changed. That's why it is easier to rehabilitate somebody after a left hemisphere stroke than after a right. The left hemisphere is the one that sees body parts whereas the right hemisphere is the one that sees the body as a whole. It has something called a body image, which is not just a visual image but an integrated image from all senses of the body.
But I've been looking at all the interesting neuropsychiatric syndromes, many of them described by Oliver Sacks, which follow brain damage. And all these quite extraordinary delusional hallucinating syndromes that most people can hardly believe can happen to a human being happen either only or very largely after damage to the right hemisphere, not after damage to the left. So the succinct answer is the left hemisphere is to do with functioning and utilizing - reading, writing and grasping - and it doesn't really deal with the structure of reality whereas the right hemisphere does.
I love Oliver Sacks. I researched and helped the common man and woman understand so much about ourselves and our brains. McGilchrist reminds me of Oliver Sacks and Alan Watts. Here are a few amazing Oliver Sacks interviews. Sadly, he died on August 30, 2015.
Emotion & the Brain
Broadly speaking, the right hemisphere is more emotionally literate. It reads emotional expression, and it gives emotional expressivity to a greater extent than the left. But it's not a simple matter. And some emotions to do with particularly understanding another person's point of view, what it feels like to be that person, are very profoundly connected with the right hemisphere. However, there are some emotions that are more particularly associated with the left hemisphere. Perhaps the most striking one is anger, which happens to be the most lateralized of all emotions. And it lateralizes to the left hemisphere.
So I think it's that the left hemisphere always has an immediate task because it wishes to accomplish. And if it encounters any opposition, it's dismissive, and it becomes enraged. I mean, that's a simplification, but I think it works. And after a right hemisphere stroke, the range of emotions open to somebody is limited. It's mainly irritability and anger.
Music & Humor
Music and humor would not exist without the abilities of the Right Hemisphere. You can listen to HiddenBrain’s discussion of music, I will highlight just a little about what McGilchrist says about humor:
So humor is another example of something very human and very important that the left hemisphere doesn't get. Humor is an example of something else, which is the ability to understand the implicit in poetry. You can't really understand poetry by paraphrasing it any more than you can explain the joke and expect it still to be funny.
And that's very close to my heart because I used to work in the area of English literature. And in brief, I left it partly because I loved poetry too much. And it seemed to me that these internally implicit, unique, embodied creatures - the poems - were being turned into explicit, general and entirely abstract entities. So I thought this was a destructive process. I wrote a book called "Against Criticism" and went off to study medicine and become a psychiatrist!
In a Right Brain Hemisphere world:
The right hemisphere, if it were really without the left hemisphere, would see a lot of connections between things and would see a broad picture, but it might not be so good at focusing on details. Emotionally, the timbre might be somewhat melancholic and sad. Because I think it's one of the aspects, I'm afraid, of the right hemisphere's realism and sympathy, a capacity for empathy, that it does feel suffering. We would not be able to make calculations in the same way. Most arithmetic calculations are made by the left hemisphere.
In a Left Brain Hemisphere world:
There'd be an emphasis on the details, instead. There would be a great emphasis on predictability, organizability, anonymity, categorization, loss of the unique and an ability to break things down into parts but not really see what the whole is like. There'd be a need for total control because the left hemisphere is somewhat paranoid. After right hemisphere damage, people often develop a paranoia, and that's because one can't understand quite what's going on and one needs, therefore, to control it. Anger would become the key note in public discourse. Everything would become black and white.
The left hemisphere needs to be decisive because, don't forget, it's the one that's catching the prey. It's no good at going, well, yeah, it could be a rabbit, but it might not be. It's going to go, I'm going to go for it. So it likes black and white. It doesn't like shades of meaning. So in this world, we would lose the capacity to see grades of difference. We would misunderstand everything that is implicit and metaphorical and have to make rules about how to achieve it.
In the world we live in now, McGilchrist warns:
I think what I observe is an overemphasis on predetermined systems of algorithms. The sense of social alienation. The way in which we live divorced from the natural world, which is a very new phenomenon. The insistence on extreme positions, which is what the left hemisphere understands, not a nuanced argument about the pros and cons of every single thing.
Here’s what we need to shoot for:
I love science. Since a child, I was captivated by science. I depend on science in my work, and I depend on scientific discoveries for my life. The argument in my book, as people have pointed out, is sequential, analytical and rational. In fact, people say is quite a left-hemisphere book. And I say, good, I hope I used both my hemispheres in writing this book because if not, it wouldn't be a very good one. So we need both. And what I feel is that science and reason depend on a balance of these things. There is a distinction to be made between rationality - by which I mean the mindless following out of rationalistic procedures - and what I would call reason - which, since the Renaissance, has been exalted as the mark of a truly educated person, which is to make balanced, informed judgments - but not just informed by data but informed by an understanding in the whole context of a living being belonging to a vibrant society of what this actually means.
In other words, judgment - judgment has been taken out of our intellectual world and replaced by something a machine can do. And that may look good to a certain kind of way of thinking, but I think it's a disaster. The right hemisphere sees the need of the left. That's in the image of the master and the emissary - the master knowing the need for the emissary, the emissary not knowing the value of the master. And if I may use a quotation from Einstein, I think this gives us the full picture - he said that "the rational mind is a faithful servant. The intuitive mind is a precious gift." We live in a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift.
Perfect timing! This announcement and our new Youth Poet Laureate’s message could not have aired more synchronistically!
Alexandra Huynh of Sacramento, California is the nation’s new youth poet laureate. The 18-year-old’s appointment was announced Thursday night in a virtual ceremony hosted by Urban Word and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Here & Now learned more about the four laureate finalists on Thursday, and now has more about Huynh and her future plans.
It is Syttende Mai, and I just heard the most delightful story on Morning Edition–about an invasion of Trolls! But they are not coming to destroy the world, rather they are showing up to show us how to save it!
Thomas Dambo makes gentle giants from scrap wood, old pallets, twigs, and debris. In Maine, he is constructing a team of trolls that resemble a different part of a tree: the roots, trunk, branches, leaves and flowers. He is making a bunch of trolls in Maine, each with a particular story and like a different part of a tree: the roots, trunk, branches, leaves and flowers. Birk is one of these Maine trolls and he is intentionally rough and “bumpy” because he is emerging from the soil. Dambo says, “A lot of my trolls, they have fur, but this one is naked. I’m imagining … that this troll used to be underground and now it’s pushed itself out of the ground.”
Like the cicadas are doing right now in DC…the big brood–billions and billions of them.
Dambo created Birk as if he is pushing himself out of the ground: that’s why his skin is naked.
Dambo knows a lot of the stories and concepts he creates probably gets lost on visitors. But, he says, “It doesn’t really matter for me because what matters is his trolls draw people into nature where they can have a good experience.”
Dambo makes trolls all over the world and enlists a team of local volunteers to help him build a troll, which reminds me of where the heck is Mike videos (I love these videos! Oh and he has two beautiful kids now!! What a way to unite the world in love and unity through music, dance, and laughter and the joy of life).
Back to the trolls, Dambo says, “Everybody wants to be a part of some big positive project” and building a great big troll is perfect! Dambo says, “I think everything needs to be really important where you are, because that’s where you can fight your fight and that’s where you can make the change.”
I love his story about Hector the Protector; a troll he built on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra.
Hector sat on rocks at the water's edge, protecting the island. In his hand, he originally had a rock "ready to throw at invaders," smiles artist Mark Rivera, one of Dambo's collaborators. But Hector did not survive Hurricane Maria.
In 2019, Dambo returned to the same spot to make Hector 2.0. Instead of a rock, he's now holding a lantern embedded with a solar panel so boats can see the coastline in a hurricane.
Dambo builds trolls that .
My favorite story of this interview was the troll Dambo built in Breckenridge. He was named Isak Heartstone and was removed by the city because he got so popular!
I love this song about Isak Heartstone. It is absolutely fun, brilliant, and done in the spirit of trolls (who really don’t want to harm anyone). I would only add that I doubt it was really the doing of the mayor or government who did poor Isak Heartstone in. It was the property owners who lived nearby. Suddenly, due to the lovely nature of Isak Hearstone, hundreds of people who didn’t live in the neighborhood were showing up, parking on the street, hiking to see Isak Heartstone, taking pictures, probably not cleaning up all their trash–and for individuals owning property nearby–well, they probably feared this was reducing the value of their lovely homes as well as their privacy. And so, that’s where the mayor and government come in… they are there for the people to take care of all the things the people care about… and at that time, it was the value (most likely) of their properties.
That is why we organize governments, to carry out the will of the people. But, we are the people. We make the rules and then enforce them, no matter how much they stink because they really only represent a very few people. Often the one’s with the most money who can influence the rules and how they are enforced.
Take for instance the Presidential election of 2020 in America. Joe Biden won by a landslide. Trump and a lot of other Republicans didn’t like the results and so Southern state after state are changing the voting laws and rules, making it harder to vote by mail, to vote in person, and to vote, especially if you are not a pale male with a Republican bent.
It’s all on us. We live in the system. We use the system. We suffer under the system when it gets rigged against those who have less status, less money, and less power. For far too long, status, money, and power in Western Civilization has been titled to benefit white males living in the systems of power within which everyone else must find a place and a way to survive.
W. Kamau Bell has been writing and talking about this for a long time. He use comedy to have tough conversations about race, inequality, and inequity. A recent opinion piece he wrote introduces some of the topics he digs into. To really understand, it takes a willingness to do so and time to learn about and see all the connections that we contribute to just by living in a system like Western Civilization: W. Kamau Bell: Until those in power act right, I’ll see you in the streets.
But, back to Dambo and what he is doing. I just love the spirit he is literally building into the world through his fantastical trolls! His joy and fun and surprises rejuvenate the human mind and spirit. His fanciful trolls situated in whimsical places help us to realign mentally and bring us back into a harmony with each other and with all of the life. Sure, once my Nordic ancestors believed trolls were real. But, then that is why we have our fantastic minds today. We became conscious beings in a living world. At first, it is only natural to project one’s mind into the strange, beautiful, and scary things all around us.
Jung says, “When there is no consciousness of the difference between subject and object, an unconscious identity prevails. The unconscious is projected into the object, and the object is introjected into the subject, becoming part of his psychology. Then plants and animals behave like humans beings, human beings are at the same time animals, and everything is alive with ghosts and gods (and trolls). Civilized man naturally thinks he is miles above these things.Instead of that, he is often identified with his parents throughout his life, or with his affects and prejudices, and shamelessly accuses others of the things he will not see in himself.He too has a remnant of primitive unconsciousness, of non-differentiation between subject and object. Because of this, he is magically affected by all manner of people, things, and circumstances, he is beset by disturbing influences nearly as much as the primitive and therefore needs just as many apotropaic charms. He no longer works magic with medicine bags, amulets, and animal sacrifices, but with tranquilizers, neuroses, rationalism, and the cult of will (e.g., capitalism, communism, socialism, nazism…choose your ism… there are so many we cling to these days).
So go out today and find a troll or better yet, make one–a little one, a big one, an imagined one is just as good–the real point is getting outside again and melting into the magic of being here, now and alive.
Sometime last fall, while biking, the word Sisyphus popped into my mind. I did not know what it meant. I knew it was familiar, but I could not remember why. It’s a weird word. Not a word you hear on a daily basis, not even a word you hear on a decade basis, unless perhaps you are a scholar. But, it kept popping into my mind randomly at least a dozen times or more into the beginning of 2021.
I Was Just Looking for Something Good to Watch
I was looking for a new series to watch on Netflix. I’d finished a score of good series, and then hit a patch of bad ones. I wanted something good…something I could sink into and get lost inside. I was looking for something like the shows I had recently finished watching such as:
Outlander: I never read Diana Gabaldon‘s books, but once I started watching this series, I was hooked. I was trying to find a replacement for Masterpiece’s Poldarkseries based on Winston Graham’s books, which is absolutely amazing. And when I saw Ronald D. Moore was producing this series, I was intrigued because his last big hit series was the updated Battlestar Galacticaseries, a TV drama I loved immensely in the 70s, and Caprica(this tells the tale of how that fictional human civilization fell by showing how the Cylon androids took over their worlds, but then it got abruptly and cruelly canceled before the whole story could be told).
Outlander does not disappoint from the very first episode onward. Its characters are complexed, nuanced, and compelling. The series does not rush the story, reveals each character honestly and humanely, and tells the tale in a captivating, mysterious way. Each season builds upon the last one. The characters grow as the times change around them. The difficulties and battles feel real and vital. Each character has layers of complexities that influence their choices and actions, just like real people do, making the story relatable; indeed, a symbol that transforms the complexities encountered in novel and unexpected ways. And isn’t that what you are really hungry for when you sit down to watch a story?
His Dark Materials
His Dark Materials: I never read Pullman’s novels but I loved the Golden Compass, which was made for the big screen in 2007. However, due to the financial crisis of 2008/2009, the next parts of this series never materialized. Then in 2019, HBO teamed up with BBC to reimagine this fantastic tale for the smaller screen/TV. They did an amazing job translating a complicated story to the screen. I found it believable, compelling, and thrilling. The characters are complicated. You think you’ve pegged one as evil and then realize later critical nuances that force you to reconsider your views. They mystery of the story is revealed slowly and unevenly, so you have to guess or imagine for yourself why this or that happened. Each new character has something new to offer in understanding the whole story. The special effects add to the story rather than overly dominate it.
I love this scene where the researcher and scholar Mary talks to Dust, then she realizes the Dust itself are the Angels. (From His Dark Materials | Season 2, episode 4. The Tower of Angels).
She asks: “Angels are creatures made up of shadow matter of dust?”
The Mysterious Something answers: “Yes.”
Mary further inquires: “And shadow matter is what we call spirit?”
The Mysterious Something replies: “From what we are, spirit, from what we do, matter. Matter and spirit are one.”
Mary asks: “You’ve always been there?”
The Mysterious Something says: “Making, stimulating, guiding.”
Mary queries: “So does that mean angels have intervened in human evolution?”
The Mysterious Something answers: “Yes.”
Mary asks: “But why?”
The Mysterious Something says plainly: “Vengeance.”
Now, I wonder what that means? I didn’t find out in Season 2, so waiting for Season 3. But after that exchange, Mary starts working with the I Ching–which is our world’s equivalent to the Golden Compass from Lyra’s world. Because of Mary, I got the I Ching for my birthday and learned to read the yarrow straws. I supposed that now I too am talking to the angels.
I use good TV drama like a support system, especially during this year of COVID where social distancing has put so many of us into isolation to extremes. My own Indra’s Network was already partially destroyed and broken. The connections I still maintained with friends and family were sorely stretched by time and distance. They were incredibly nourishing when time and attention permitted, but these moments were punctuated by long bouts of silence and little to no meaningful interactions with people who care.
Good stories, powerful dramas are ways I have found that soothe and nourish my soul, especially during times when kindness and caring human contact is in short supply.
As I was working on this blog, Liz Cheney spoke before Congress on the eve before the impending vote tomorrow (5/12/21) to remove her from her leadership position as the 3rd most powerful Republican Leader in the House. Republicans are doing this to her because she took a stand not to support Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him. She named Trump as the chief sower of doubt in the hearts and minds of Americans.
The Dark Force
By the way, the I Ching says doubt is the Dark Force. Now, who is being a superhero here in the United States on this very day of May 12, 2021? Who is growing the fabric of time and space rather than ripping it to tiny shards of broken light?
The Tibetan Book of the Dead
The Tibetan Book of the Dead warns the soul of a dying individual not to follow the illusionary images and lights they have created inside of themselves and then projected into the world around them. They did this because they did not understood their true Self in life. They did not descend and understand their true identity as a space-time being. They did not understand the meaning and purpose of life. Death is a time thats unravels the net of confused pain each individual becomes entangled within throughout the course of their life on Earth. To not do so, condemns the eternal soul to return again and again and again–sometimes (perhaps often) as a lesser being in order to learn the lessons not mastered in the life before. This returning can occur again and again for the world of rock and buildings and money and power is like water–it continually flows, dissolving everything in time.
Those who use the power of the Dark Force may indeed achieve tremendous riches, success, and power on Earth. However, all this will turn to dust and scatter into nothingness at the time of death. Nothing here is permanent. At death, we lose everything. Nothing that we thought is real is real. If we don’t let go of everything we have clung to in life, the tiny light of consciousness every human being is born into at the beginning of their life will be born into another painful life, again and again and again.
Those who peddle in doubt and fear can live 10 billion, million lives, each one diminishing his/her original source of light until there is nothing left of that light.
Leonard Cohen narrated a beautiful documentary about the practices and wisdom contained and known within the Buddhist tradition. It is elegant knowledge, beautiful knowledge. It shows how we can grow as space-time beings, as we are suppose to grow, rather than collapsing into smaller and smaller living beings.
“People make hell realms out of their own anger. They make worlds out of passions, out of envy or complacency. We project our emotional states, and then believe it is the real world. But no matter what, everyone longs for compassion. Everyone wishes to be awake. So the best thing is to develop genuine compassion for all living beings and for ourselves too. And our compassion should extend beyond our friends and family and the people we like. It must extend to all people and to all living beings.” — From Documentary about The Tibetan Book of the Dead
This is how to wake up as a living conscious being.
The OA: This series is a mind-bending SyFy fantasy that often leaves viewers with more questions than answers. Word has it this is one of the reasons this show was cancelled after season 2 when 5 seasons were planned. Apparently the average viewer does not have the attention span or interests to dabble in complexity–perhaps this is the inevitable end to Carmel Marvel storytelling–everything has to be blunt, not complex, and nothing left to the imagination, much less to dabble with moral ambiguity. I loved this series. I guess I drank the Kool-aide and became part of its cult following late. And I agree with 110% with Brit Marling that storytelling in America has become not as good as it could or should be.
When the show was cancelled, one viewer went outside of Netflix’s headquarters and held an 8 day hunger strike. Refinery29 interviewed her and wrote a compelling article about why she did this.
“We are living in a time where it seems that things are going to go very badly,” explains Young in front of the Netflix building in Hollywood, where she has been protesting since August 15 and hunger striking since August 19. “The response to that has been ‘Okay, we’re going to make darker, grittier television.’ But in times of darkness, light is most important, and The OA is filled with light. We need something to let us know, ‘Yes, we can do something,’ because all the media around us is telling us that these are dark, grim times and there is nothing you can do about it.”
Created by Brit Marling and creative partner Zal Batmanglij, The OA tells the story of Prairie (Marling), a blind woman who returns after years in captivity with her sight restored. Season 1 of the series mostly exists within the narrative that Prairie tells a group of soon-to-be friends about her time in captivity and before it, in which she transcended time and space and found herself in alternate dimensions. Along the way, the show tackles themes of trauma, and of the importance of a human connection amongst it. Young isn’t wrong about The OA being different: There’s a hopefulness to The OA that is unmatched by more gritty prestige TV offerings like The Handmaid’s Tale, Westworld, even Game of Thrones.
Learning about this woman, Brit Marling and Zal Batmangli came and brought her water. Afterward, Brit posted this about her reaction to OA’s cancellation and how storytelling in America has become not as good as it could or should be.
This is no small thing that Emperial Young and Brit Marling are drawing our attention to in this protest and post, particularly this part: “… the role of storytelling and its fate inside late capitalism’s push toward consolidation and economies of scale.” This is a post about Sisyphus: Is Late Capitalism and its push towards consolidation and economies of scale perhaps not the rock Sisyphus not pushing up the mountain getting it to the top after great effort only to have it fall back down to the bottom again and again and again.
Invisible City (Brazil): This is a new Brazilian fantasy that is streaming on Netflik television series created by Carlos Saldanha that is based on a story co-developed by the screenwriters and best-selling authors Raphael Draccon and Carolina Munhóz. It is in Portuguese, so you have to read subtitles if you are only an English speaker. I was born in Brazil and once knew Portuguese, but have forgotten all of it. I loved listening to the characters speaking in Portuguese. It felt familiar and lovely. It is a musical language and the music in this series is alive and vibrant. I soon forgot I was reading subtitles and got lost in the rich and depth of storytelling unfolding through this complex, invigorating story. The characters are treated with dignity and respect. The puzzle of the drama unfolds in surprising reveals that add depth to the story and bring this mysterious world into vivid view.
Glitch (Australian): This is an older series that begins with a bang when a police officer and a doctor face an emotionally charged mystery as seven local residents inexplicably return from the dead. It is three seasons long, and the first two open up so many innovative ideas and possibilities, but season 3 falls flat on its face and destroys all the wonder and the miracle being explored, in my opinion. I am glad I watched it because I learned what I do not want to do as I write my tale.
I was so bothered by how they ended this series, I went on online to see if others were too and found this great blog: Old Ain’t Dead | Reviews of movies and TV focused on women … specifically Season 3 (so if you intend to watch Glitch, save this site for later because there are definitely spoilers, including my comment there).
Carmel Marvel Syndrome
When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, I have come to realize I am picky, and not all are the same. In fact in the United States, we are suffering from what I have come to term the Carmel Marvel Syndrome. It is a widespread a syndrome that is dumbing down how stories are being told in books and reimagined on screens. The good-bad divide in Carmel Marvel stories is stark, uncreative, and boring. Nothing is left in-between–you are either the good guy or girl or you’re the bad one. The bad ones almost always lose in the end, but you get there in terribly unimaginative, brutal, evil ways…as the good guy or gal finally finds a morsel of moral or spiritual strength and prevails. Romance is reduced to uninspiring sex scenes that clearly come from basal fantasies of pale males.
What bothers me most is Carmel Marvel storytelling is that they are not honest to the characters. They tend to stripe away their complexity and humanity and force them to do things against their character’s moral underpinnings. Yes, imagined characters have moral underpinnings, they are real and must strive for meaning, purpose and dignity too. I am not going to explain this now, but Carmel Marvel stories like to put their characters into highly contrived situations that they would never do unless forced to by their bored and uninspired creators. They are put into these situations purely for entertainment reasons, which really translates to money. Because Carmel Marvel producers and creators hope for billions and billions of viewers–and they think only highly fantasized modern gladiators well do this. After watching such a sickly story, nothing sticks or stays in the psyche or soul from the story. That is because there is nothing real there. There is nothing nearing the human experience of meaning, truth, reality, or wonder. Everyone knows these types of stories are junk food for the soul. They are cheap imitation of images meant to trick, deceive, and fill you up with a whole lot of nothing, just like if you ate only Carmel candy for all your daily nutrient requirements.
So let’s get back to that word Sisyphus that kept popping into my mind.
After being disappointed by another Carmel Marvel HBO series, I switched back to Netflix to hunt for a new series to watch. That’s when a 2021 Netflix out of South Korea caught my eye. It was called Sisyphus! Normally, I would have put it on my To Watch Later list since it required reading subtitles again. But because of the synchronicity, I thought what the heck, go for it!
I loved it! And I discovered that I love the Korean way of telling stories!!!!
The fabric of this story is rich woven with little bits of gold and silver throughout the 16 episodes. Each one takes the viewer on a journey, revealing a little bit more in surprising ways that adds depth to each character, even the evil ones. The villains have backstories that are as complex as the heroes. Villains and heroes alike are treated honestly and no high tech short cuts are used to substitute good storytelling. Throughout the 16 episodes, the viewer enters a journey (a world) that grows more and more complex as you go: you grow as the characters grow.
Sisyphus masters the art of subtle storytelling. This is a subject I briefly touched upon early in my blogging efforts in a blog questioning if Collective Transformation Possible. In it I talk about the Black Magician and the White Magician and their roles in our human psyche. I drew them while listening to a Chinese business-financial scholar talk about Trump’s power play back in 2018 with China on trade. (It’s didn’t end well by the way… this power play Trump tried… for Americans or for Trump who placed the livelihood of hundreds of small soybean and other farmers in jeopardy.)
Dr. Peter Chen pointed out Western ideas of negotiation are quite different from Eastern ideas. He said in Chinese, the most similar word they have to negotiation is tánpàn, which means talking and judging. For the Chinese, it is considered the dark side of economics with the East preferring to focus on conversation when working out deals. However, there are huge differences in how conversation is conducted by a Western diplomat versus an Eastern diplomat. By Eastern standards, Westerners are considered low-context communicators (i.e., direct and forceful, which can be considered very rude by Eastern standards). Eastern culture dictates a much more high-context style of communication, which is reserved, relies more on body language, and is based on relationships.
This why I loved Sisyphus. They tell this story using a much more high-context style of storytelling. I also love listening to the actors speak Korean. Every word they utter is full of meaning, purpose, and emotion. The tone and way a word is said is more important than the word itself. You understand a song by how the singer sings it, so too with Eastern languages. They are full of images, meaning, context, and emotion. And isn’t that what we are really craving in watching or reading a story? Deep meaning and purpose? Sure, lots of people will say they just want to escape into something entertaining… but if you discover something about yourself and others while doing so, isn’t that a whole lot better. Stuff that stick to you and makes you a better individual… helps you grow as a conscious living being?!
Even though we deny how powerful and essential good storytelling is in Western culture, we are starving for good, wholesome, spirituous stories that fed our souls as well as our fractured, confused minds. Stories that awaken sleeping spirits needed to defeat doubt: the force that splinters our psyche and traps us in endless delusions and illusions that only make us smaller, meaner, and contribute to the demise of all life on Earth.
A new friend I’ve made during runs with Pumper (another mom of dogs and kids) recommended another Korean Netflix show called Crash Landing on You. I didn’t think I would like it better than Sisyphus, but I love it even more. The depth of each character grows and spills out in unexpected ways in each episode. And don’t miss the little peaks at the very end after you think the episode has concluded. Not always, but often, they show you something not shown earlier. It is often something that fills in a gap and fills out the depth of the character–how they are thinking, perceiving, and acting in the world. How they are transforming through time and space.
My friend Fabian Navin has just posted something very insightful about why I loved this show. The Facebook embedding is not working, so I am copying below what Fabian has posted (go to his site above to see more of his posts):
*Warriorhood in Marriage and Relationship* Conscious fighting is a great help in relationships between men and women. Jung said, “American marriages are the saddest in the whole world, because the man does all his fighting at the office.”
When a man and a woman are standing toe-to-toe arguing, what is it that the man wants? Often he does not know. He wants the conflict to end because he is afraid, because he doesn’t know how to fight, because he “doesn’t believe in fighting,” because he never saw his mother and father fight in a fruitful way, because his boundaries are so poorly maintained that every sword thrust penetrates to the very center of his chest, which is tender and fearful. When shouts of rage come out of the man, it means that his warriors have not been able to protect his chest; the lances have already entered, and it is too late.
Michael Meade has suggested that both marital partners begin by identifying the weapons that have come down through their family lines. Perhaps the woman has inherited the short dagger, used unexpectedly, and the spiked mace, which she swings down late in the argument onto the foot soldier’s head. The husband may have inherited a broad sword, which he swings when frightened in large indiscriminate circles; it says “never” and “always.” “You always talk like your mother.” He might add the slender witticism spear to that.
Some people also use the “doorway lance.” When the argument is over, and the woman, let’s say, is about to go to work, the man says: “By the way,” and the lance pins her to the doorframe.
Man and wife might say which weapons he or she plans to use in the particular fight coming up. During such preliminary conversations the man’s warrior and woman’s warrior are welcomed in the house and honored. A good fight gets things clear, and I think women long to fight and be with men who know how to fight well.
When both use their weapons unconsciously or without naming them, both man and woman stumble into the battle, and when it is over the two interior children can be badly wounded. The adult warrior inside both men and women, when trained, can receive a blow without sulking or collapsing, knows how to fight for limited goals, keeps the rules of combat in mind, and in general is able to keep the fighting clean and to establish limits.
Marie-Louise von Franz once told a story about a woman friend. “This woman had gone through several marriages. Each marriage would go well until an argument came. Then she would throw a fit, and say damaging things. The terrible quarrels would continue, and finally the man would leave. One day we heard she had found a new husband, and we said, ‘Oh-oh, here it goes again.’ But something else happened. A few weeks after the honeymoon, the same old quarrel arrived and she brought out her poison and said terrible things. The husband turned pale, but to her surprise, said nothing, and left the room. She found him upstairs packing his bags. ‘What are you doing?’ she said. I know,’ he said, ‘that I am supposed to act like a man now and shout and hit you, but I am not that sort of man. I will not allow anyone to talk to me in the way you have, and I am leaving.’ She was astounded. She asked him not to leave, and he didn’t. The marriage is still going on.”
This story is not perfect. If a woman has a fair argument, it is not right for the man to leave; he should stay and fight. But von Franz’s use of the word fit implies that her friend had a habit of going over the line into possession. Her fits belonged metaphorically to Kali’s realm, rather than to the human realm. Men cross that line often as well. The inner warrior can tell a person when the partner is on this side of the human line, and when on the other side.
Marion Woodman remarks in The Ravaged Bridegroom, “Anger comes from the personal level, rage from an archetypal core. . . . The rage in both sexes comes out of centuries of abuse.
If it is taken into relationships, it destroys. Attacking each other in a state of possession has nothing to do with liberation.” The interior warrior in both men and women can help them to fight on the human plane. If men and women have only soldiers or shamed children inside, they will have to settle for damaging battles constantly. ~Robert Bly, Iron John: A Book About Men
I am totally hooked now on the Korean way of telling stories!!
The stories we tell can liberate us or chain us to the rock we must push up the mountain of life only to watch it fall back down, again and again and again, like poor old Sisyphus. Who do you want to be in life? How are you going to become the best version of yourself, a better person than you have been so far? How will you grow you fragile light of consciousness and help others do the same?
I started biking outside for exercise when my gym shut down because of the national lockdown issued in March of 2020. When my gym reopened in June, I went back only to discover they were allowing people to exercise inside without a mask. I was shocked. At that time, the effectiveness of mask wearing was still being hotly debated in the United States, but anyone paying an ounce of attention could discern that this was an airborne virus and wearing a mask was one part of an essential defense in bringing it under control. It felt their decision was extremely short-sighted combined with the fact they made me sign contract stating I would not sue them if I contracted Corona there. I did not to return to the gym after that day. The concern they projected about the health and wellness of their members was completely undercut in my eyes by making me sign that document in order to enter a gym I had been a member for over 15 years. I had wondered what they would do if the Coronavirus made it here… now I knew. It was very disappointing.
In fact, I believe someone already died from COVID-19 due to exposure at my gym. She was a cleaning woman. She was a hard worker. She had worked for the company for years. I’d known her for years as well. She was always kind to everyone. She was from Guatemala. She had lost an eye. She spoke broken English. She was a single mother. I learned she had died from another member at the gym. She died in January after a flu-like illness. This was more than a month before the first COVID case was confirmed in the U.S. I think COVID-19 was already here in the United States, on the East coast, spreading everywhere in January of 2020. I think people were dying then from COVID and were didn’t even know it yet.
I think I contracted COVID at my gym. It was a mild case, early in March when tests were not available yet. I never found out if I had it, but I had lingering effects for months after this–extreme sluggishness, bouts of dizziness, shortness of breathe, and bouts of extreme arthritis-like pain.
Inner Changes: Shifting from Me to We
Seeing More of Me
At first my commitment to exercise outside was entirely selfish. It was aimed only at keeping me and my family safe. However, as I remained outside, something shifted. It was something inside me. I could feel myself slowing down and disengaging from deeply embedded routines instilled in me since my childhood. It was cultural programming: all the things I’d been told I needed to do in order to be a good person and contribute to my society. But really, these were things and behaviors the economy required of me. They had nothing to do with me at all.
I began making movies on my bike rides. This slowed me down even more. The more I slowed down, the more I saw all around me, and then inside of me.
Seeing More of Nature
The first thing I noticed was the beauty of nature everywhere. The videos I made documented beautiful moments I saw that transported me to inner Islands of Tranquility. One such moment was a fight between a bee and a wasp on a patch of Goldenrod!
On the day I filmed this war between a bee and a wasp, news broke the former President, Trump and the First Lady Melania, tested positive for COVID-19. His infection was announced exactly one month and 1 day before the Nov. 3 election. Since the pandemic began, he’d played down the deadly nature of this new virus that was marching around the world. Trump took the strong man strategy. It is a strategy that rocketed the United States of America to number 1 in coronavirus infections and deaths within the first few months of the pandemic.
Trump’s failure to get the coronavirus under control was perhaps the single greatest factor in his defeat on Nov. 3, 2020. Although his arrogance andinability to tell the truth should have been the single greatest factor in his defeat because these were homicidal actions. He consistently chose to play to his base, to protect the economy over people, and to serve himself over everyone else. He refused to wear a mask. He held huge rallies cramming lots of unmasked people together. And he repeatedly said untrue things over and over again such as: ‘it’s nothing, it’s like the flu, one day: like a miracle, it will go away.’
In fact, it was far worse than the flu. His lie that one day like a miracle, it would go away turned into a nightmare. It killed more than 25,000 people by mid-April, 2020. By the time he left office, it would kill 500,000 Americans. One confirmed case turned into 2, that turned in 4, that turned into 8, then 16, then 32, and then 64, then 128, then 256… that turned into 13.6 million (this is how many confirmed cases of Coronavirus there are as I write this blog at the end of November 2020 — it’s far more now and this is just the United States). Around the world, the global infection continued to surge too. Even now with vaccines, terrible waves continue to kill hundreds of thousands of people everywhere.
Bob Woodward told us Trump was homicidal. In his book, Rage, in Trump’s own words (recorded), Trump reveals that he knew it was a deadly airborne pathogenin January of 2020. Trump would call Woodward during the early months of the pandemic to tell him what was going on at the White House. Meanwhile Trump tells the American people it is nothing. It will go away. The closest he comes to admitting reality is in an Axios interview in August where he says: “Nothing more could have been done.”
Reviving Beloved Memories!
Back to the bike rides! So, in addition to seeing the beauty of nature all around me, I found they also revived lovely memories with loved ones, which spontaneously bubbled up and burst into my field of awareness, mixing with the loveliness of the landscape I was peddling through. Each revived memory was helping me too. They were helping me reconstruct a life raft to float on the overwhelming Grief and Pain of the past few years that had created a Sea of Devastation inside of me
Most people still think I am stuck in grief after my father’s death. They are wrong. It’s not their fault. They are not paying attention. They are distracted by their own lives and drama. Every time they glance at me, they see the same frame and they think I’m stuck. They fail to grasp I am simply doing deep inner work.
My father would have perceived this. That’s what fathers do. They pay attention to the ones they love, especially their children. It is a rare and precious relationship. This is why the Death of a Father is devastating no matter how old the father is when he dies. It leaves a hole that cannot be filled by anyone else. Everyone will experience this lost at some point in life, unless they die before their father. There are spoiled relationships between children and fathers too. My father had a spoiled relationship with his father. This leaves a hole too.
So when I lost dad, I lost a powerful source of gravity in my life. He had kept me safe, protected me from reality barbs, held me in eternal love that grounded me to the Goodness of Earth. His gravity was his unconditional love. I didn’t even know it until he was gone. So as good memories of dad percolated up on my rides, they were precious and healing.
My bike rides also helped me sink deeper into my imagination. I need to do this to finish the story I’m writing about Climate Change and Consciousness. I won’t bore you with details of the story, but the timeline begins in 2020. So I have felt tremendous pressure to go faster, but I know now is when I need to go slower.
Imagination requires time to digest ideas that come to me from my daily reality as well as are coming through me. As modern humans, we are pretty ignorant about the need to digest consciousness daily. It is a lot like digesting food needed to sustain our bodies. To sustain our minds, we must digest ideas, dreams, visions, inspiration, and our day to day reality. This is how we grow as individuals. This is how we evolve as conscious beings. Our ancestors understood this, but we have forgotten this as modern humans.
This is one of the videos I made from my imagination digesting sessions:
Digesting the Daily News
Lastly, my bike rides provided ample time to digest the news and information I’d consumed on social media or other places. Information swirls around us all the time. It is embedded in everything we see, hear, touch, and experience in the world. As conscious beings, it necessary to pay attention and to weave together what is rising from inside oneself with what is happening outside oneself. To be a conscious being is to blend these two realities, and in doing so, something else is born. This is a timeless act of creation. One person reaches out across the void to share ideas, experiences, and feelings with another person. It is a miracle. It is how we create reality together.
As human beings, we have amassed expansive pools of knowledge. We do it through art, music, philosophy, theology, and many other systems of consciousness we have evolved through time that distill, sort, digest, and transform consciousness. An International Baccalaureate (IB) blog defines Fields of Knowledge as 8 Areas of Knowledge, including Mathematics, the Natural Sciences, the Human Sciences, History, The Arts, Ethics, Religious Knowledge and Indigenous Knowledge.
Some forms of knowledge elevate and enrich our individual pool of consciousness. Other forms of knowledge depress and pollute it. Some are down right dangerous and distort reality (see the previous blog in this series on collective story telling and fake news).
Making and creating relative reality bubbles to live inside is a luxury really only modern human beings are able to indulge. Thousands of years ago, human beings were preyed for more powerful creatures. One of the most fascinating stories I heard about this topic was about a young hominid child of the species Australopithecus africanus, a direct precursor species leading to Homo Sapiens. His small scratched skull was discovered in 1924 along with the mangled remains of many other bones of small to medium-sized animals, as described in an article written by By Ross Pomeroy (RCP Staff) in What Hunted Ancient ‘Humans’? Pomeroy says, “the best explanation for the skull and the accompanying collection of skeletons is that they were gathered by an ancient, large bird of prey – the leftovers of many, many meals.”
Our ancestors needed a keen, accurate understanding of reality because if they didn’t they would most likely become dinner for giant birds, crocodiles, and leopards. Early humans likely had to contend with bears, sabertooth cats, snakes, hyenas, Komodo dragons, and even other hominids. I write about this in my story, but that’s another story for another day. We consume information daily and we must digested it daily, just like eating food. This is how we grow our inner light of consciousness. If you eat a daily diet of outrage, greed, selfishness, or purple prose, you will become that. Your mind molds into what you feed it. Eat well my friend. Feed yourself with the realness of who you are each and every day. Don’t be afraid to see inside yourself the good, the bad, and the ugly parts. You need each and every part to grow whole and to fulfill your destiny.
Healing the Now... one person at a time…
What Are Your Stories?
You are the Maker & Creator of your Eternal Now. Each and every moment, you weave your reality into our Collective Reality. When you heal, the world heals. By creating you, you create me.
On a recent Saturday afternoon, I was working on my story while listening to NPR, as is my habit. I remember perking up and paying attention when This American Life introduced the subject of this episode: Bloody Feelings — Stories about the Power of Blood. The stories were not at all what I was expecting from the title.
Act 1 was about Adele who she described herself as “the worst phlebotomist in the whole hospital.” She was a physical therapist until the Coronavirus gripped the country. With all her physical therapy sessions cancelled, she was not needed there. But what the hospital really needed was more people to do blood draws. I loved her story.
Act 2is about the discovery of 30 century-old postcards written in old Yiddish by a distant family member challenges David Kestenbaum’s ideas about the unimportance of blood ties.
Act 3 is about a Shakespeare theater production that involved a lot of blood that was a little too real for the audience and what befell everyone.
Act 5is about a broken heart… no, not a love sick broken heart… a heart that required open heart surgery.
Walk In The Woods
While I enjoyed these stories, I wasn’t bowled over by them as other stories I’ve heard, although the color red stuck in my mind. I finished what I was doing and got my pup ready to go for a trot. This is our pandemic routine. Pumper loves our trots, especially when we see other dogs! I am pretty sure that she thinks all dogs exist on Earth to play with her. She plays well with all dogs no matter their size or temperament, adapting herself to whoever she mets for an instant playdate.
So, when we caught sight of big dog ahead of us, it was Pumper’s mission to catch up with them. They were walking fast, but Pumper was pulling me faster. Eventually, we caught up and found out the big dog was a Great Pyrenees–-Poodle mix– a Pyrepoo! It was the first one we’d ever met, and it was only 7 months old but already twice as big as Pumpernickel (now 15 months). I was admiring all the similarities between the two dogs who got along splendidly together. The owner of the Pyrepoo just told me how the Great Pyrenees were guard dogs of a flock not herders. And I just told her my dog was a Pyrepitt (she’s actually many more dogs mixed in but the Great Pyreness and Pitt Bull are the most dominate) when a Pitt Bull came upon us.
The guy walking the Pitt looked a bit anxious, but neither I nor the owner of the Pyrepoo took alarm. As he passed us with the Pitt on a super short leash, the Pyrepoo pup went over to say hello. This is common doggie custom to greet all new incoming dogs with a sniff. But no sooner had the pup approached the Pitt to sniff when he yelped in pain. The Pitt had bite him and would not let go. Both owners tried desperately to pry the Pitt’s jaws open. Pumper and I stood stunned and helpless watching what was happening before us.
Finally, the Pitt released its grip and Pyrepoo pulled back to a safe distance. I was relieved to see his nose was not the part bitten, but blood dripped from his lower lip. There was also blood in the Pitt’s mouth, and blood on the hands of both owners. It turned out the man was helping his sister with her dog and apparently didn’t know the Pitt’s temperament. The whole thing was terrible. I helped flag down a Kleenex for the owner of the Pyrepoo, then they were off to the vet get stitches. I felt so bad because had we not stopped them to say hello, they would have missed the Pitt Bull.
The synchronicity of the moment was duly noted. I have learned to pay attention to such moments when I recognize them. There is usually more going on that needs to be understood, but I had no idea what. Ruminating on blood was something I did not do, really at all… perhaps due to cultural programming.
Brooklyn Center — Then & Now
The next day, another terrible synchronicity occurred when Daunte Wright was fatally shot in Brooklyn Center, MN during a ‘routine’ traffic stop. The shooting occurred hardly more than 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis. And it happened right in the middle of the trial of Chauvin, which had just completed its second week of heart wrenching testimony about George Floyd’s final moments, his life, and lost potential and presence in the lives of all who loved him. It was painful to absorb. And then, another young black man lost his life at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota.
These deaths hit close to home because I grew up in North Minneapolis. I know where George Floyd died and where Daunte Wright was shot. I could walk to Brooklyn Center from where I lived. I often went to the old Brookdale Mall in Brooklyn Center because that’s where you went with your friends in high school (well, maybe that’s where the nerdy kids went). It was a place we could go to feel young and free.
I remember meeting my girlfriends at Rocky Rococos, then walking around the Brookdale Mall. We mostly just walked and talked, dreaming about our futures. None of us had much money to spend, but every once in a while, one of us would buy something special there. I remember hunting for prom dresses there with my friends and buying one even though I didn’t have a date and did not go to my high school prom. But I wanted a picture in a prom dress…lol. Looking back at these moments, they were times we were pretending to be all grown up, and the Brookdale Mall was the perfect backdrop to step into our fantasy lives.
Back in its day, the Brookdale Mall was part of cutting edge suburban social architecture being one of 5 malls opening around downtown Minneapolis to provide the perfect place to go for suburban housewives and families who needed ordinary household supplies, furniture, school supplies and clothes–whatever was needed for a suburban household. They were knows as the Dales and included Brookdale (Brooklyn Center), Rosedale (Roseville), Ridgedale (Minnetonka), and Southdale (Edina). Brookdale first opened in 1962 and grew in stages. A lovely blog called Abandoned Retail recounts the rise and fall of the Dales surrounding Minneapolis, specifically the Brookdale Mall.
When I was growing up, I never considered the privilege my white skin afforded me as I walked around places like the Brookdale Mall or drove to it myself after getting my driver’s license. I never thought about how the dreams I entertained or how the gallivants with my friends at the mall were carefully packaged in specific ways designed to make us believe we each had a chance to become Cinderella and to find our Prince Charming.
It would take decades before I realized how fatal the childhood fairytale fantasies I reveled in were. How they obscured brutal realities embedded throughout American society, inherited from its long history of slavery and institutionalized racism. Places like the old Brookdale Mall sold the white suburban fantasy to white Americans, but it was an artificial, super sugary coating trying to cover up the cruel realities faced by black and brown people every single day.
I have never feared for my life being pulled over for a traffic violation. I never felt watched by workers at stores who worried I might steal something. I know now my friends and I got get out of jail free cards simply for being white. This was not so for my friends and classmates who were brown and black who were losing their lives for making the very same mistakes I had made.
Policing & Justice in the United States of America
Description of this episode: Last summer, millions across the country took to the streets to protest police violence. Now, against the backdrop of the trial of Derek Chauvin, criticism of the criminal justice system in America is once again under scrutiny. Recent shootings of Black men by police officers in the suburbs, including in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, have attracted new attention to the changing demographics of the suburbs and the tactics police use there.
We recommend this thread from researcher Will Stancil, who is one of our guests for this conversation:
And conditions are often different for people in wealthy, white suburbs. From a piece called “The Case For Defunding Police Is In Our Affluent White Suburbs” in Mel Magazine:
Homicides, robberies, rapes and other violent crimes happendisproportionately in poor minority communities. Crime rates have been falling across the country for the last 30 years — it’s statistically the safest era to be an American. But Black and brown people, especially those in inner-city communities, are victimized by crime that’s practically unseen in whiter, more affluent suburbs.
Those suburbs aren’t safe and clean and orderly because they’re white and wealthy. White, wealthy suburbs are safe because they benefit from two world-shifting factors: 1) the police harass less and solve more serious crimes; and 2) there’s significant funding for municipal and social services, whether that’s schools or health-care facilities or simply park space.
How are police and local officials responding to changing demographics in the suburbs? Have police been able to answer calls for justice from local residents?
We’re talking about how policing works in the suburbs.
Black Americans being victimized and killed by the police is an epidemic. As the trial of Derek Chauvin plays out, it's a truth and a trauma many people in the US and around the world are again witnessing first hand. But this tension between African American communities and the police has existed for centuries. This week, the origins of policing in the United States and how those origins put violent control of Black Americans at the heart of the system.
Description: Black girls are suspended six to seven times more than white girls in schools across the U.S. Now, Rep. Ayanna Pressley is reintroducing a bill that aims to disrupt the school-to-confinement pipeline.
Here & Now’s Tonya Mosley speaks with Rep. Pressley, Democrat of Massachusetts, about the bill to address the disproportionate punishment of girls of color in schools.
Description: Recently, The Takeaway convened five of those voices, across law enforcement, advocacy, and academia, and asked them to come together to talk about the way forward. What is the future of policing in America? In our ongoing coverage, we tackle what’s broken in today’s system and what it would take to fix it.
April 20, 2021 — Today Was A Monumental Day, But We Are Not Done
Wow — I did not expect this verdict today. What a relief. It is one step in the right direction towards justice, but there is still a long ways to go and a lot of work to do to transform as a people, a society, a nation that values the lives of all its people–black, white, Asian, indigenous, immigrant, religious, non-religious–whoever you are, you belong in a society that treats everyone with dignity and respect and justice.
We Are a Nation of Beautiful People and Each & Every One Is Precious, If We Could Just Learn to See
The United States of America is at another inflection point; a time of reckoning of cultural precepts obscured and hidden through false politeness and talk of freedom for all, but with harden attitudes and deep brutality and injustices baked into our systems, our stories, and our brains. To change deeply ingrained attitudes, actions, and behavior, they need to be made visible. Even when they are made visible, they need to be reckoned with honestly by each individual in which they exist.
Perhaps that is why my attention got drawn to blood and its brutalities just before another police officer killed another precious soul in my hometown. Just the word blood conjures up violent, brutal images. But it also heralds new life (though any mother will tell you labor is hard and painful work). To do the work necessary to transform collective reality requires lots of individuals doing the hard work of self-development. A good place to begin is how we are programmed by our culture. For a modern man or woman, this gets complicated fast because modern society frequently requires belonging to lots of groups with each possessing its own unique culture that exerts an influence an individual’s mind space. This is important because it is here in this invisible space of mind where our values, beliefs, and attitudes are formed. These then inform our actions in the world, which create our collective reality.
Shankar Vedantam explored recently how culture and the cultural narratives we carry around inside of us influences our individual attitudes and actions in a podcast called Made of Honor. He introduces this episode saying, “Stories help us make sense of the world, and can even help us to heal from trauma. They also shape our cultural narratives, for better and for worse.” His guest speaker, Ryan Brown, begins with a story from his childhood where he finds himself along with his boyhood friends flying down a dark country road with no headlights on, no seatbelts, no helmets. The car was driven by a friend but appeal to him to go slower only goaded him to go faster. It was a moment Ryan believed he and his friends would die. It was also a moment that led Ryan to become a psychologist at Rice University in Texas.
Ryan Brown now understands why his fried refused to slow down nor apologize later for his reckless behavior. His friend was following a cultural script based on honor culture. “Honor cultures are societies that put the defensive reputation [of the group] at the center of social life and make that defense one of the highest priorities people have.” It is a culture that encourage excessive risk-taking behavior to show how brave and tough a person is, especially males in the culture. Doing so is a way to build and solidify one’s reputation in the society. In an Honor Culture, if your honor is threatened, you never back down, especially as a man, then you can only double-down and never show an ounce of weakness.
Ryan tells how his ancestry traces back to Southern Scotland that is steeped in the values and beliefs of Honor Culture. Residue of Honor Culture have been brought over from Scotland, England, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and many other immigrant groups that had these beliefs. These attitudes and values took root and grew strong in the Southern colonies, even when the United States had not been born yet. And they continued to flourish when the Southern colonies transformed into the Southern states, and then they pushed West.
Ryan says (12:39): “And so if you think about westerns, if you think about Western movies or Western history, there are always rough and tumble guys with names that sounded kind of Scottish, a McTavish McDonald, McDougal, Graham, et cetera. And that’s not an accident. So even today, even though most people in the us in the South, I don’t think of themselves as byproducts of Scottish history. You can still see this cultural residue in some fairly powerful patterns of, of social life, that social scientists, many others, including myself, have documented over the last 20 years.”
Over the past 20 years, Ryan and his colleagues have documented a strong connection between Honor Culture and Military Valor. This is a positive trait of this culture but there is a dark side too because honor cultures can get trapped in endless cycle of violence where retribution for dishonor is followed by retribution upon retribution of escalating violence. Honor cultures are found all over the world in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and also found in black and brown communities in the U.S. Honor culture is particularly prevalent in states like Alabama, Oklahoma, and Texas. The names of towns and businesses even reflect honor culture such as a little country town in Texas called Cut and Shoot. But, naming places is only one small example of how honor culture shapes the lives of millions of people.
Honor cultures tend to take the stance: “That’s not my people. That’s not my family. That’s not my community.” Such a mental stances discourages individuals to reflect on situations that arise that end in conflict, even violence, and these cultures do not cultivate empathy, kindness, and compassion. These qualities are considered signs of weakness. If you lose your honor in an Honor Culture, you lose your value, your standing, your reputation and never get it back. Honor cultures tend to have a veneer of extreme politeness, but violence bubbles below and can break out at the slightest perceived slight. For instance, a simple insult in an honor culture can rapidly escalate into a violence.
Gender roles tend to be highly rigid as well in Honor Cultures with Ryan saying (29:59), “If you’re a real man in an honor culture, then that means you’ve built a reputation as someone who’s strong, tough, brave, loyal, and utterly intolerant of disrespect. If you’re a woman in an honor culture and your considered a good woman and honorable woman, that means that you’ve lived up to the social standards that say you should be loyal to family, especially loyal to your husband and sexually pure.“
In a complicated country such as the US, honor cultures have effects on how politics play out (47:55) “And what to spend a few minutes talking about the role of honor culture in politics. You’re a list of States where there is a strong honor. Culture include South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee and States that don’t include Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Minnesota. It’s hard not to see a division there between, you know, a prototypical red States and prototypical blue States, Republican States and democratic States, right?“
AprilSometimesBrings More Than Showers
Honor Culture explains a lot, but it’s not the only influence shaping individual attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. There are many factors shaping who we are as individuals. Circumstances such as social status, economic status, rural or urban dweller, religious community all exert tremendous influences on individuals. To be a modern human living in a highly technological society requires belonging to many systems and groups that all have unique cultures all exerting expectations and limitations on individuals. In short, modern humans live in very complicated worlds, made so by us. Although living in groups has proven to be an undeniably successful strategy to survive, there is a price and there is a dark side. The eruption of violence seems to be a deadly cost of living in huge groups.
As I did research for this blog, I came across an article about how April 14 to April 20 is historically a Bad Week for violent or disastrous events to occur. I will not speculate why bad things seem to cycle in patterns or occur in series, but here is a partial accounting of this week through time:
April 19, 1995: Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building in downtown Oklahoma City on
April 19, 1993: a 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX ended in a devastating fire that killed more than 50 people, including children
April 20, 1999: the Columbine shooting occurred that left 12 students dead and 21 injured happened
April 16, 2007: the Virginia Tech shooting killed 32 people and wounded 17 others
April 14, 1912: the Titanic sank
April 18, 1906: the most deadly earthquake in U.S, history hit San Francisco.
Regardless of whether violence is because of honor culture, racism, or the growing disease gripping the United States of America of mass shooting, it leaves a on survivors too. One group, impacted more than most, is hardly ever heard. Millions of children around the country are affected by gun violence every year. Whether it’s sitting through safety and violence prevention programs in school, losing a friend or loved one, or being a victim themselves, this brand of cruelty has an effect on the young.
1A talks with author John Woodrow Cox who shares powerful stories from young victims–and looks at what their experience can tell us about preventing further harm, both physical and mental.
Here & Now talked to racial trauma therapist Resmaa Menakem in this interview. He brought up something terribly important in the wake of the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death almost one year ago. Menakem says what Chauvin did was not only traumatic but meant to inflict terror in the community as well. He says (which has been said by many others as well in the past 24 hours) that “— guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter — is not justice, but rather accountability. It took uninterrupted, uncut video evidence to prove what people of color have been saying for decades about the police.” He said, “This particular video, compared to other taped incidents of police violence against Black Americans, represented white body supremacy so clearly that people could not dismiss it anymore. [But] still, there are significant swaths of people who don’t believe there are innocent Black and Brown people who are profiled and unfairly targeted by police.“
I know such people. I know what Menakem says is true about white people in particular.
Menakem further states that “there’s pain in not being believed, and also trauma from racialized gaslighting — a form of psychological manipulation that white bodies in the U.S. have done to Black, Brown and Indigenous people for centuries.“
I’ve experienced gaslighting, and I know people who still suffer from the pain and trauma of being gaslighted by people they depended on who gaslighted them instead of took care of and nurtured them. Mencken is right to point this out. It is tremendously painful and highly effective at tearing apart the fabric that sustains us all. A gaslighter is a person who makes other people feel like they are the one who is going crazy. They are insidious, crafty, deceitful people.
“If a white body says something and then a body of culture says something else, what ends up happening is that the white body is always given the benefit of the doubt,” Menakem says. “So throughout the trial and verdict, people of color held onto hope for accountability on one hand while on the other hand, knew “white bodies will never admit that this system is feral.”
It is feral. The United States of America has a completely lopsided, feral system. And because of all the sugar coated, fluffy fantasies white kids get fed in their youth combined with being instilled with you’ve got to be somebody, white people are left with very little inner resources to see and deal with the truth. It is much easier to pretend not to see how brutal, how feral, how sick our culture really is.
Healing is possible, Menakem assures. He ends saying we need to start by turning towards each other and seeing other other rather than away from each other. This is powerful advice.
Lots of Human Beings, Lots of Disasters
Human beings seem particularly prone to creating circumstances that end in disaster:
You get the idea. Now, how do we get out of cycles of violence and disaster (mostly human made)? How do we recover and get to a place where something better can take root and grow?
Something else flows alongside the red blood cells in our bodies. It is not something that is visible, but it can be felt. This invisible substance (or perhaps force) is essential to sustain our inner spaces and to maintain a healthy state of mind. Each and every human being is born with this invisible force flowing through them just like blood flows through them. Because we are human, we are aware of this force and this awareness allows us to channel it and to alter instinctual responses and urges before acting on them. Human beings can suppress instinctual responses. They can amplify them, and they can transform them into something else entirely. Carl Jung called this ability consciousness, or perhaps it is spirit blood.
It is through our choices and how we alter instinctual responses before acting on them that our collective reality is created. Eastern traditions, religions, and philosophies call this power Karma, which is simply the recognition that every action creates a reaction, a consequence.
This all ascends quickly into the realm of spiritual and metaphysic concerns, which is a realm most often regulated to religions to grapple with the nebulous inner spaces where thoughts, attitudes, and bias materialize into action.
I was raised Lutheran, but during the time of my father’s death, I found my childhood religion negated the realities of powerful synchronicities that occurred and inner experiences my father and I experienced during the 10 days he lived beyond the moment he should have died. I have written about his previously, so will not do so again here.
Instead, I would like to highlight something that my friend Ali Raza Saleem posted, which caught my eye during the time my attention was focused on blood. My friend is a neuroscientist and scholar of Jung and posted the following:
Qalb (Faculty of Heart) and Lataif e Sitta
The faculty of heart (Qalb) is the faculty of the Spirit, not the biological pumping heart when we refer Qalb in terms of spirituality. The nerves associated with heart are primarily concerned with pumping of the heart, conveying signals to muscles, as well as sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system to control the pace of heart beat.
Faculty of Heart, spiritually speaking, isn’t tied strictly to ’emotional aspects’. Brain has designated centers for emotional perception and the affects are mediated through signals to the body including changing contraction and pace of the heart, bodily sensations, fight or flight mechanisms etc.
Faculty of Heart is the faculty of immaterial Rooh (Spirit) that along with other faculties (lataif) ‘feels’ Love, Suffering of the other Soul, Compassion, Benevolence, Bliss, Tranquility (itmenaan), Gratitude, Spiritual longing and Joy of Union with Beloved, Divine Beauty and Majesty etc, and blocked by Greed, Anger, Arrogance, Bukhl (stinginess), Hasad (Jealousy), Bughaz (spitefulness), malice, malevolence etc stemming from unpurified Lower Nafs (Ego). The emotions resulting from gratification or failure of gratification of lower Nafs (Ego) are also more of bodily/’brainy’ in nature. But in a loose sense, speaking poetically, heart can be said as preceptor of emotions in general as their ‘Affect’ is ‘felt’ at the heart.
The immaterial lataif including Qalb (heart) have specific locations on the body (metaphysically superimposed on various organs like heart as in the case of Qalb) as described in Lataif e Sitta, where the virtues associated with them are experienced spiritually.
He further sent me this graphic.
And he explained:
For a Sufi his body is in service (submission) to Divine Will helping him fullfil the tasks for nourishment of the Spirit/Soul.
The terms in this diagram maybe used in different meanings compared to the ones used in Psychology like the term Self here have meanings different to what we use in Psychology. This article further explains the model and the meaning of terms used in this diagram.
I know so little about Muslim teachings and wisdom, but I find everything Ali Raza Saleem shared extremely helpful in understanding the workings of the Invisible Self. These are the parts not visible to others unless we share them through words or actions. I have also been reading The Philosophy of the I Ching by Carol Anthony and have found her writing also very illuminating about the Invisible Self. Beginning on page 35, she writes:
“People who can hear within are called psychic, but, in truth, we all have this ability; it is simply suppressed in most of us. Through inner listening we can also become aware of other people’s conscious thoughts. Our superior self listens and looks, but does not speak. What we receive from the inner world that we perceive and know as intuition comes from inside and apart from ourselves, just as what we see of the outer world is outside and apart from ourselves. What we hear within comes from the teacher, the same Sage who speaks through the I Ching. It knows the way and comes to help. We can only hear it when we maintain emptiness, innocence, and receptivity. When we jump to conclusions because of fear and impatience, we can’t hear the quiet suggestions of the Sage within.“
“When we say a thing ‘comes totally out of the blue,’ this is an intuitive ways of saying that we are helped by the Sage. We say ‘out of the blue,’ because our words have the clarity of the sky and come from nowhere. What we say is what needs to be said and is perfectly appropriate. Innocence and emptiness make it possible; we are noticeably free of emotional attachment and our words come in the vernacular of the moment; everyone understands and agrees. when this happens we are always a bit surprised. The fact is, we are not in possession of such moments, although we make them happen through being in a complementary relationship with the Creative Power. This we can do only through cultivating our superior man within.“
This makes me thinks how each of us is a livingwork of art constantly in progress and transformation. As living works of art, we are both artist and the art. We choose the colors, patterns, subject, and background–and by so doing, we live them, we feel them, we see them, we know them. The canvas is our mind. And we develop our art of being by listening and learning how to regain our innocence and inner emptiness that allows us to be open and receptive to every moment we met. This is how we can transform ourselves, and by doing so, transform the world.
— Myths of Fear, Marks of the Beast, and the End of the World
Storytelling Species: Makers & Players of Reality Bubbles
Oh How We Love Scary Tales & Stories Skirting the Edge of Being Bad
We play with reality. We do this with our minds. The world is not a perfect place and a lot of bad things happen in it. When we don’t understand something, it is in our nature to make sense of it, and we do this most often by telling each other stories. Collective stories provide a critical glue that hold people together in a common understanding of reality. But that is not all collective stories do. Collective stories activate our inner worlds. They energize them and inspire action in the world. They are powerful and people who seek power know this and they know how to manipulate stories to benefit themselves or a small few.
Recently, the idea of alternative facts and reality has entered the mainstream Western lexicon with a vengeance. It’s been confounding to watch common, ordinary facts get twisted and ripped apart, then thrown in the air like confetti. Today, pretty much anyone can be a Magician of Reality; pretty much anyone can concoct elaborate myths and illusions of reality, and then peddle their piddle as truth. People do this for lots of reasons: to entertain, to distract from something bad they’ve done, and to manipulate and misguide others to make a lot of money.
Profit & the News (or Should I Say Altered News Meant to Tantalize, Titillate, and Terrorize)
People profit from misinformation. People like Alex Jones. It is so very tempting, in fact, it is irresistible to become a Master of Illusions. If you have not heard This American’s Life episode titled: Beware the Jabberwock, now it a good time to stop reading and listen to this episode.
There are two acts in this episode. The first is one is called: Down the Rabbit Hole where producer Miki Meeks picks up the story of Lenny Pozner, whose son, Noah, was killed at Sandy Hook. In the years after Noah’s death, Lenny and his family were harassed by people who believed the shooting at Sandy Hook never happened – that it was all a conspiracy. Until one day, Lenny decided to fight back. (24 minutes)
The second one is called: Alex in Wonderland. It is narrative by Jon Ronson who travels to Alex Jones’ hometown to validate the Alex Jones myth. He finds many, many holes in Alex’s recollection of his own past.
This act’s description is: Alex Jones spread the idea that Sandy Hook was a hoax, on his radio show and website for years after the shooting. He’s probably the country’s most famous conspiracy theorist. He’s even had Donald Trump on his show. Reporter Jon Ronson travels to Jones’ hometown in Texas, to investigate the story Jones tells about himself, and how he became who he is. Jon Ronson and his producer Lina Misitzis originally created a version of this story for Audible. They also produced Jon’s latest series, a longform Original “The Last Days of August,” the never-before-told story of what caused the untimely death of 23-year-old porn star August Ames. It’s available exclusively on Audible.com. (27 minutes)
Fake News, Fake News — EverywhereYou Look — Get Your Fake News HitToday, Just Click Here
Much has been written about misinformation, but it was not until after the election results of 2016 that more people started paying attention to the real life effects that misinformation can have on ordinary, every day, real people. the AmericanPress Institute published a very good article: Factually: How misinformation makes money in 2019. Just a little teaser from this article:
“There has been much written about how fake news websites and other sources make money from spreading misinformation. During the 2016 election in the United States, it even became a cottage industry.
Now a new study quantifies just how much misinformers are profiting from online advertising. Spoiler: It’s a lot.“
Because There Is Billions and Billions of Dollars Out There
An article in GWToday reports on a virtual forum hosted by GW’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics that explored the harm being caused by online disinformation related to COVID-19 and social media regulation (or lack there of it). This article reports that Facebook netted $17.4 billion in advertising in its most recent quarter (back in 2020).
“Fear mongering, fraudulent groups are using social media to scam users with false rumors and fake claims about COVID-19,”House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “Foreign actors including Russia, but not exclusively there, are flooding platforms with conspiracy theories and lies to sow national dissent as America protests racial injustice. Even our own president is using social media to fan the flames of intolerance and hatred during this precarious time in the nation’s history.”
So,Let’s Hurry Up and Make a PageThat Misleads, Misguides, and Makes Lot’s of Money TOO!
Insider reported in October of 2020 about 40 Facebook pages identified as ‘super-spreaders’ of election misinformation that were reaching million of users.
The Bigger the Lie — The More We Will Make!!
Sadly, we know how this misinformation cumulated into the Big Lie touted by Trump and his diehard cronies in the January 6, 2021 insurrection. In a letter to the editor of Lehigh Valley Live, one person summarizes the danger this type of information presents to us all.
The Big Lie headlines once again. Joe Biden and political commentators reference “the big election lie” to describe President Trump’s narrative regarding the election results. With repetition, the big lie takes on a life of its own. It becomes the truth to many and empowers its believers to think and act according to itself. Trump, his big lie and the believers of the big lie are cited by non-believing white people as the destroyers of democracy and the bearers of death.
Trump’s lie may be the modern Big Lie, but what is the biggest lie, the lie that has endured years, decades and centuries … the lie that shelters itself in our hearts … the lie that is passed from generation to generation?
If we white people of good will refuse to see ourselves reflected in the white supremacy that rose up on Jan. 6, then we choose to reject the truth that will free all of us. The truth will enable us to destroy our protective wall of white privilege and co-create with all our fellow human beings a society that respects the worth and dignity of each of us.
The biggest lie is the lie we choose to live. Choose truth.
In May 2020, Open Secrets explored how dark money networks hide political agendas behind fake news sites. One of the most super successful Master of Illusions to rise in recent history is Donald Trump (who Alex Jones counts as a close friend).
“Tax records analyzed by OpenSecrets reveal ACRONYM’s most recent financial information and shine light on its cozy relationship with affiliated entities.”
“ACRONYM raised $9.4 million from secret donors during its second year of operation through April 2019, more than seven times the prior year according to its tax returns. Three anonymous donors giving more than $1 million each made up more than half of that, with the top donor giving more than $2 million.”
Terrorizing people and misleading them is BIG Business!
And still, here we are reporting on the costs and consequences of misinformation in the world. For instance, this article about the very real dangers of COVID-19 misinformation was published on Jan 6, 2021. Ironically, the day the U.S. Capitol was ransacked by people who had ingested, believed, and acted on another myth filled with misinformation fed to them by the Big Lie.
Anti-Semitism, Evil Powers, the End of the World— Oh, and Don’t Forget How Eve Messed Everything Up
Michael Blume, a political scientist who serves as anti-Semitism commissioner for the government of Baden-Württemberg against anti-Semitism since 2018, has explored theories of religion and the effects in the brain (“neurotheologies”). In a recent interview, he says:
“Supporters of conspiracy myths believe that evil powers rule the world, says Michael Blume, who has just written a book on the subject. It is not a question of education: “You can have an engineering degree, a PhD or a professor’s degree and use all your intelligence to sink all the deeper into conspiracy myths. With regard to the QAnon conspiracy myth, Blume predicts that the movement will disintegrate after the US presidential election. The remaining followers will, however, become more radical, he fears. ‘It cannot be ruled out that further violence will result from this conspiracy movement.‘”
In another interview, he was asked about Querdenken 711 and explains:
So you’re not surprised about some of the statements being spread in these demonstrations? [i.e., Germany’s anti-lockdown movement “Querdenken 711”]
“Yes, it’s always been like that. Whenever a pandemic has occurred in history, we have had two possibilities. Either we face the fear and uncertainty and inform ourselves, while living with the fact that we don’t have any ready answers. For example, we do not know when the vaccine will be available. And the other option is simply to block it out: I don’t accept the fear, I look for a group to blame. All I have to do is shout at them and go out into the street. And then everything is supposed to be fine.“
“Many of these conspiracy myths already existed in the 15th to 19th centuries. Sometimes it even gets a bit boring, because they are always the same building pieces. People demonstrate together, whether they are left, center, or right, but what connects them is their image of the common enemy. And that is the important thing: People are so fixated in their fears that it is not even creative. They never come up with a Brazilian world conspiracy or a world conspiracy of Quakers or the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s always, always, always Jews and women behind it.“
In another clip from another interview, Jitarth Jadeja explains how he found QAnon in 2017, and then spent two years entrenched in this virtual cult. His biggest regret he tells is sharing the conspiracy theory with his father.
And Good Morning America explored how QAnon is tearing families apart.
But Let’s Return to thePlandemic Myth & Dig A Little Deeper
The myth that COVID-19 was planned follows the classic pathways of myth creations humans have been using since we began telling stories about ourselves and what has happened to us as we journeyed through time and space. It uses pseudo sources of trusted sources of information about the coronavirus. One such pseudo experts is the radiologist that Trump appointed to the U.S. Corona Task Force. Trump appointed this idiot because he preaches about the benefits of herd immunity–something Trump was preaching in his vain effort to get re-elected. To Trump, the Coronavirus was an unwelcome reality check that pulled the covers off his levees of lies and levers of deception he was using to hoodwink his supporters into believing he was looking out for them. But, he wasn’t. He doesn’t look out for anyone but himself. Every moment of his life is a transaction he must win. So, Anthony Fauci’s science-based knowledge about what was happening to us was inconvenient to Trump’s failed narrative of how he would Make America Great again. Thus, enter the pseudo expert, a radiologist with no knowledge or understanding of infectious diseases spouting off the lies Trump wanted you to believe.
Or the doctor Trump retweeted promoting hydroxychloroquine as a legitimate treatment for Coronavirus despite overwhelming evidence this immunosuppressive drug normally used as an anti-parasitical treatment for malaria had significant risks of triggering a heart attack in Coronavirus patients. In this same video the Trump greatly amplified through his mindless retweet, this pseudo doctor blames America’s current health problems on demon sperm. I’m not exaggerating…I really, really wish I was, but Trump really retweeted this doctor.
Trevor Noah explains it much more plainly.
As you know, this sort of crazy thinking is not contained only to the United States. It is spreading globally like a goopy goo crisscrossing the glove through social media channels–being spread through anonymous document like the one I got hoodwinked into editing. It is absolutely a mind virus spreading and has many names; the most popular being “Plandemic“.
Let’s Make A Myth & Make It Stick (Like Really Sticky Goopy Goop)
One story line of the Plandemic (there are many out theredepending on who you want the enemy to be) goes something like this: There is a group of global elites who created the virus and unleashed it on the world to make more money (as if global elites don’t have anything better to do with their lives than commit mass murder, well…maybe some, but this narrative is hiding something lacking in the person drawn to it).
There is something incredibly glittery about pinning all the ills of the world on some super elites (and I agree they do share a bigger burden for perpetuating many of our current problems), but it’s too glittery, too black-and-white, too clean and neat… and reality is not clean and neat, it is messy and confusing, and confounding most of the time. But that is the appeal of myths, they make sense out of ignorance, mindlessness, folly, foolishness, idiocy, imbecility, incapacity, senselessness, and stupidity.
Now, Back to QAnon & the Shaman!!
Now, let’s dig deeper into another glittery conspiracy myth: Q (or better known as QAnon).
This article labels Angeli as Inter-dimensionally Stupid, but is he, really? Is he not rather tapping into something deep living inside all of us that is trying desperately to navigate its way through intensely troubling tremendously stressful, fully anxiety riddled, and sometimes quite terrifying times?
Everyone is looking for answers to really scary, complicated stuff that leaves even the best and brightest of us feeling incompetent and with no personal control of what is happening to us, to the ones we love, to the world. It is during times like this when myths are more powerful and important.
So Who Is Q?
No, Q is not the beloved, mischievous character from Star Trek. Although one might just consider this for a minute. I bet the Star Trek Q is exactly who the Russian Special Disinformation Agent known as Sergei was thinking of when he scribbled out a scrappy story for his Internet disinformation campaign he had been assigned to back in 2016.
Sergei just happened to hit gold dust when he scribbled down and spewed out his fictional character Q onto the social media channels he had been assigned to pollute. Oh how the angry Americans he was interacting with gobbled Q up in the lead up to the 2016 election. Sergei crafted his mysterious Q to have mysterious access to all the dirt on Hillary Clinton. Since then, Q has evolved into the great peculiar leader of QAnon, a conspiracy theory/myth alleging there is a battle between good and evil in which the Republican Mr. Trump is allied with the former.
Good Bubble | Bad Bubble
It should be. It is the classical story arch all great stories and myths follow. Returning to our good friend Mr. Trump, it is as if he found and is guarding the good bubble of reality for all of us to step into and be safe just like Glinda the Good Witch of the South who arrived just in the nick of time to help Dorothy survive the land of Oz.
But if you have a good bubble and a good witch, there must be a bad bubble and a bad witch, right?
AndThis Guy Named Q
The Wall Street Journalreported on this newest (and pretty strange story) about this guy named Q saying: “QAnon followers are awaiting two major events: the Storm and the Great Awakening. The Storm is the mass arrest of people in high-power positions who will face a long-awaited reckoning. The Great Awakening involves a single event in which everyone will attain the epiphany that QAnon theory was accurate the whole time. This realization will allow society to enter an age of utopia.”
So, Sergei still sits in his sod hut somewhere on the Siberian Tundra typing out tangy new details about Q while chomping on Spicy Cheetos and shooting down shots of vodka. Sergei is particularly proud about how QAnon has inspired enthusiastic new believers to carry out a despicable vandalizing attack on 3 galleries in Berlin. These vandals used some oily substance, which they threw on ancient artifacts such as Egyptian sarcophagi, stone sculptures and 19th-century paintings held at the Pergamon Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Neues Museum sustained visible damage during the attack on 3 October, as reported by The Guardian. Reportedly, they did this because these museums were thought to be one of the centre of ‘global satanism’.
This is crazy stuff, right? But it is happening now in 2020 landing it right up there with the man who drove up from North Carolina, entered a beloved family pizza place called Comet Ping Pong, and shot off rounds from his rifle. Terrified families threw themselves and their children under tables while he babbled about freeing the fictional children enslaved in the basement of the pizza joint by Hillary Clinton and other Democrats elites. It is a very sad moment now known as Pizzagate.
Splitting— The Magic Ingredient of Conspiracy Myths — A Kind of Mind BubbleThat Tend to Pop Pretty Fast When It Hits the Rock of Reality (Mother Earth… the ground upon which all life must stand upon)
To spin his illusions Sergei counts on our human fallibilities that get heighten during times of highly charged social unrest such as current American politics or the pressures of globalism or the looming calamities Climate Change promises to rain down on us. Sergei knows when humans feel stressed and not in control of their stress, he can prey upon the looming hopeless and despair threatening to crush them. When people feel like this, it is easy to lure them back into an immature and destructive psychological defense mechanisms called splitting.
Splitting allows humans to make just about anyone or anything into an instant enemy. Sergei knows this and makes his mysterious Q just vague enough so people project whatever they want into his fantasy character. Once frighten desperate people have their leader, it is very simple to create an enemy out of just about anyone or anything in 4 easy steps: Step 1) Take ordinary reality and cut it into good and bad parts, Step 2) Walk inside the good bubble created by splitting reality into polar opposites, Step 3) Inhabit your good bubble and invite your friends, then zip up your bubble, Step 4) Everything remaining outside of your good bubble is the enemy, this is the bad bubble that must be popped.
Anyone can do this. In fact, we have all done this because it is a normal psychological defense mechanism all children pass through on their way to becoming adults. It becomes a maladaptive psychological defense mechanism when adults continue to do it long into their adult years. When it becomes the only thing they do to deal with the unpleasant aspects of reality it can be pathological. One of the best write ups I have read describing psychological defense mechanisms (i.e., they range from the most highly evolved and mature mechanisms to the most neurotic, immature, and pathological mechanisms) is this excellent blog simply titled: Defence Mechanisms.
— Myths Are Passages Channeling Energies That Can Hold Us Together or Tear Us Apart
The Storytelling Species: Makers & Players of Reality Bubbles
The truth of any civilization is that it is not a monolithic, inanimate thing. Human civilizations live. They are complex living entities that are fed and sustained by each individual living within it. Because of this, civilizations can die when they become sick or too rigid to flow with the pressurizing forces of time.
Many years ago, long before humans where considered human, the motivation to live together in groups was pretty straight forward—survive. Lots of species on Earth live in groups or herds or packs or flocks because it is beneficial to individual survival. Of course, individual sacrifices are required to live harmoniously in groups. For example, there always seems to be many more low status individuals than high status individuals in a group. However, overall the enhanced survival benefit of being in the group rather than outside of it tends to be a powerful motivator.
The structure of groups and how they operate is determined primarily by instincts. There are lots of similarities in instinctual responses between species because all life has had to adapt to common environmental challenges on Earth, making lots of similarities of group life between species. But, there are plenty of examples of uniquely tuned instincts species have evolved to equip them to thrive in very specific niches, making very unique group structures–consider what it would be like to live inside a beehive.
What Are Instincts?
I will let Dr. Robert Sapolsky tell you about instincts and how human beings are exactly the same in these fixed action patterns as any other mammal on Earth, but also utterly unique in how we use fixed action patterns to do things as individuals and groups. He is a professor of biology, neurology, and neurological sciences at Stanford University. He has possesses an impressive body of field research and artfully combines his mastery of his field with a charismatic ability to communicate with others, allowing him to make complicated concepts understandable to just about anyone.
This is one of his shorter talks that it is well worth listening to if you have ever wondered about human behavior and why we do the things we do. In this talk, Dr. Sapolsky dispels every myth of how humans are unique and different than animals; however, in each instance where we act exactly the same as everyone else here on Earth, he also points out how we do it bigger, more extravagantly, and ostentatiously than any other animal on Earth, and that makes us utterly unique.
Living in groups is one of the things we do as humans that is utterly different than other animals on Earth. When we live in groups, we do it with pizzazz and with style. We like our groups to proceed in a manner and approach that generates vast, complicated, and intricate social systems that operate more like ecosystems, allowing the humans existing within them to seemingly live outside of or beyond the constraints of nature. No other animal lives quite like humans do in groups–that is for sure. Our precocious ingenuity has allowed us to occupy just about every livable niche on the planet. And when we encounter a non-livable niche, we can change it so we can live there too!
Stories of Hermits
It is possible to live utterly alone as a human being and still survive. There are many stories of hermits and monks who have lived alone for years, decades, their entire adult lives. Many are fabled to do this in order to overcome and master their most primal fixed action patterns. But some simply do not want human interaction or the entanglements that human relationships entail. These are important stories. However, our current collective story is not one about a world populated by 7.8 billion hermits. I doubt Earth could even sustain 7.8 billion human beings living utterly alone and unconnected to each other.
For a modern true tale of a man living utterly alone, Snap Judgement tells a riveting tale titled The North Pond Hermit.
Snap Judgment Description:
There was a legend in central Maine, about a hermit who had lived in the woods, unseen, for 30 years. Then, in 2013, the police arrested a man named Christopher Knight.
Produced by Joe Rosenberg, original score by Renzo Gorrio & Andrew Vickers
Why Do We Need to Care About Instincts?
To me, this is simple. If we do not bring our conscious awareness to bear on our daily lives, we are destine to act based on fixed action patterns (e.g., deeply encoded urges, impulses, and instincts). When we live in an unconscious manner, we do not feel and thus cannot fulfill our full potential as a human being. We live rather as our parents, forebears, and ancestors lived seldom taking a moment to consider if what we are doing now, what we have been taught to do and think and believe, is right for the moment we are living in.
When we do not bring our conscious awareness to bear on our constantly changing circumstances, our preprogramming is bound to kick in and run wild. Acting in this way stagnates our spark of consciousness as individuals and as a species. It can even make us lose consciousness, going backwards as an individual or a group (devolving rather than evolving).
In addition to instincts, human beings (being so darn clever and unique in how we live in groups) also bring cultural precepts, religious doctrines, community rules, and all the decrees, commandments, and directives deemed necessary to live in big, complicated societies and civilizations. We willingly agree to abide by these rules whenever we join a new group or alliance or club or clique. It’s the price we pay as human beings to belong to things we think benefit us in some way or another. In highly technological, modern societies, this can add up to be a lot of groups to which an individual must belong. If a person is not careful, this sort of belongingness can end up sabotaging the amount of and quality of consciousness that can be brought to bear, without fear or favor, to our situations, circumstances, struggles, and challenges encountered in life.
When we act unconsciously to our circumstances, we often fail to apprehend, understand, and act in ways that are needed to maintain harmony in our life and in the lives of those around us. Instead, we often end up acting no better than a troop of baboons. However, because we are human, we tend to put highly creative and imaginative spins on making our lives more miserable and difficult than they need to be, if only we would have brought a little more attention and consciousness to the situation, which would have allowed us to see the bigger picture and understand the interconnections present in all events transpiring here on Earth.
Stories Act Like Glue Holding Complicated Groups Together
So what keeps us from tearing each others faces off (like baboons can do when their status is provokedby a young upstart or lower status member)? What allows us to work together in more or less harmonious ways within our massive social conglomerations?
Religions have long served a fundamental role in creating and maintaining cooperative groups. Sports can unify and unite groups, even pull different groups together in friendly competition. Food is a great unifier too, so is music. And so are stories, especially mythical stories that activate numinous content in our psyche (I’ll talk more about this in a moment).
Here are some of the foundational stories that have helped create and define Western Civilization. It is a list put together by the BBC of the top 10 stories of Western Civilization. Let’s look at a few:
1. The Odyssey (Homer, 8th Century BC)
Bethanne Patrick, Contributing Editor of Lit Hub, says, “I believe the journey of Odysseus defined a streak of individualism particular to Western culture that has led to much change in the world – good and bad.”
Kenneth W Warren, Professor of English at University of Chicago, agrees. “The Odyssey has provided the architecture for the quest narrative and template for characterising male and female virtue in ways that shape, enable, and limit our storytelling habits into the present.”
Novelist Beverley Naidoo hones in on: “The multiple stories within Odysseus’ 10-year journey home after the Trojan war, while faithful Penelope waits for him and son Telemachus seeks him, have seeped deep into our cultural consciousness. The human elements within this myriad of stories continue to resonate down the centuries, allowing endless reinterpretation.”
Jenny Bhatt, writer and Contributing Editor at PopMatters calls it “the first widely-read political novel in the US” and “the first work of fiction that openly addressed the cruelty of slavery, human exploitation, the lopsided legal system, the entrenched patriarchy, the need for feminism, and more.” It became one of the most popular books of the century – in the US and abroad – and is credited with radically altering the perception of slavery, with many voters noting its influence on the abolition movement. Its human focus and call for empathy struck a chord among readers.
Author and novelist Roxana Robinson says it “told the story of slavery through the eyes of the enslaved, and was one of the first novels to show black characters as fathers and mothers, parents and children – human beings, who were living under inhuman conditions.”
3. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
Nilanjana S Roy, novelist and Financial Times columnist, points out: “Frankenstein influenced scientists as well as writers… [and] speaks to the modern fear of the creations that spin out of our control”;
Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year, is “the quintessential story of the modern world” says Roger Luckhurst, Professor of Modern-Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck College, London.
The compelling story of the scientist who brings a creature to life has become one of the most enduring images in modern literature and beyond, and the monster serves as the “ultimate metaphor”, says Lena Wånggren, Research Fellow in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.
4. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
There is an “uncanny accuracy” says Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History at Westminster University, in the book’s definition of modern tyranny: “Now more than ever, we seem to live in the framework it identified… Even the author’s name – ‘Orwellian’ – conjures up a world of thought control. Its precision about the mechanisms of propaganda and the machinery of oppression has got it banned by every authoritarian regime: they are scared of its power to name horror. It is a handbook for those who want to resist.”
All those who chose Orwell’s masterpiece seem to agree on one thing – the novel’s scary prescience. “Big Brother gets all the attention,” says novelist and columnist Nilanjana S Roy. “But it’s the rest, the eagerness to join mobs, to obey, to hurt, that he caught so unforgettably.”
Or, as BBC Culture Editor Rebecca Laurence succinctly puts it: “The ultimate 20th-Century novel becomes the ultimate 21st-Century novel. Terrifying.”
5. Things Fall Apart (Chinua Achebe, 1958)
Telling the story of the colonisation of a Nigerian tribe from the point of view of an African, Things Fall Apart explodes stereotypes about Africa and brought to life the true impact of cross-cultural misunderstandings. Achebe said that “this was the first time we were seeing ourselves, as autonomous individuals, rather than half-people, or as Conrad would say, ‘rudimentary souls’”.
The European colonial narrative could never be the same after this was published. “It’s an empowering African novel: it brought African experience to the world like no other African fiction has”, according to Dominica Dipio, Associate Professor of Literature at Makerere University in Uganda.
By changing the filter through which the continent was seen, “The novel showed readers what an African world looked like when it was not being reduced to canned images animated by racist assumptions,” says Ainehi Edoro-Glines, a Nigerian academic. “Achebe’s innovation was to change the conventions of modern storytelling so that instead of seeing darkness any time readers looked at Africa, they’d see what every novel was designed to show – a complex representation of life.”
6. One Thousand and One Nights (various authors, 8th-18th Centuries)
“It gets at the primordial human desire for the story that never ends – which can very easily stand for life that never comes to an end.” Ahdaf Soueif, novelist, writer and commentator, points out: “Many characters, motifs and quotations (‘Open Sesame!’) from this set of stories within stories have become common parlance across the world.”
“It’s the deepest of wells,” says novelist and columnist Nilanjana Roy. “In medieval & modern times, from writers to singers and film-makers, we never stopped drawing from it.”
Critic Muneeza Shamsie admires “Sheherazade’s courage, intelligence and confidence and fact she succeeds, asserts the power of storytelling and imagination over tyranny and terror – a concept which has strongly influenced the ideals and ideas of our world.”
Lena Merhej, a comic artist from Lebanon, picked the book “because it gives a subversive voice to a woman that uses it as a weapon for her survival.”
To see the rest and read all of the reasons why these stories were selected, go to the BBC Culture page (note book images come from this page as well).
We Are An Unfolding Story
One could even say the United States’ Declaration of Independence is a collective story of the highest order and complexity that all its citizens (and even its non-citizens for no country or civilization operates in a vacuum no matter how powerful they have grown) play out every day. And so as it is played out, it is written–an unfolding story through time in space.
Manoush Zomorodi introduces him this way: “And it has been a year of thinking how our actions affect our neighbors, a year of realizing that many of our systems do little for the most vulnerable among us and here in the U.S., a year when the population further splintered over what it means to be an American. And so how do we talk about all this stuff without alienating each other? How do we move forward collectively? And what is our civic duty in the 21st century? These are big questions. And so on the show today, we’re going to explore ideas about How To Citizen with Baratunde Thurston. He’s been working on and thinking about this topic for years. And he recently came out with a new podcast series appropriately called How To Citizen.“
Through this episode Manoush and Baratunde explore some of his notable podcasts and TedTalks. The first individuals he brings up is the lawyer and civil rights activist Valarie Kaur and what she calls Revolutionary Love. He tells Manoush, “I picked Valarie as the opening voice in the podcast series, the How To Citizen podcast. I wanted her to offer a spiritual invocation to the whole idea of what it means to citizen as a verb. And that means to commit to each other.”
Thurston highlights something Valarie talks about, which is “In order to love others, see no stranger. We can train our eyes to look upon strangers on the street, on the subway, on the screen and say in our minds, brother, sister, aunt, uncle. When we say this, what we are saying is, you are a part of me I do not yet know. I choose to wonder about you. Number three, in order to love our opponents, tend the wound. Tending to the wound is not healing them. Only they can do that. Just tending to it allows us to see our opponents, the terrorists, the fanatic, the demagogue. They’ve been radicalized by cultures and policies that we together can change.“
Another person they highlight is
Thurston says, “So yeah. So to empathize and identify with the idea of hurt and pain and to acknowledge that I have played a role in probably someone else’s life where I was the opponent – to extend that to others, that’s when it makes sense to me, and it’s not just this masochistic endeavor.”
The next person Thurston brings up is Eric Liu (who he likes to call Mr. Democracy).
Thurston tells Manoush, “Yeah, I had been talking about this project of How To Citizen for years in some form, and I saw his talk at TED about making civics sexy again and these Civic Saturdays events and sermons, all this kind of religious faith language. But the faith was not in an all-seeing, all-knowing deity. It was in very fallible human beings and our institutions.“
There is much more to this talk and all of it is well worth your time to listen to in full or to read the transcript if you are interested in a healthy, diverse, thriving, democratic system. But this is why I am zeroing in on language and storytelling. We tell the stories through our thoughts, words, deeds, and actions (or non-actions). We are writing our living systems as we live it.
It is hard to keep a democratic nation. It is hard to balance differences (e.g., different perspectives, needs, desires, beliefs) as expressed and lived by lots and lots of different people from all over the world who have come to live in the United States. In the TedTalk mentioned above, Liu says: ” Democracy works only when enough of us believe democracy works.”
It takes work to keep a democracy. One of the most memorable points Liu made was out democracy does not automatically spring from constitutional rules but from the inner workings of civic spirit–that is us. We all contribute to the quality of this spirit and whether it is healthy or not.
I know it is hard to stay informed and to pay attention to all the things a complicated society like the United States of America requires its citizens know, but this sort of knowledge is important for the system to continually sustain and renew itself. It is tempting to clamp down and claim that one’s own personal set of principles or beliefs are the only ones to follow to move forward. It is hard to compromise and walk another’s path.
Moments of Illumination& Seeing More of the Story
One of things I think the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated is weakness in our existing systems of being around the world. Many of these weakness can be traced back to individuals living unconsciously; people choosing to live in narrow channels and closing themselves off to points of views that are not in alignment to their preconceived ideas and beliefs; people who refuse and are unwilling to see the world from someone else’s perspective–to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.
An interview with Kai Ryssal of MarketPlace demonstrates vividly what is happening to millions of people who have lost jobs and feel like they have been forgotten, even thrown away by our current system of being in the world. A brief clip from this interview that drills down on the fissures in our system and collective way of doing things that is doing us in as a collective is the following:
Ryssdal: When we talked last time, I don’t even remember what I said, but you in essence said you felt you had been forgotten and overlooked. And just to break the fourth wall a little bit here, we kept in touch and you sent us a text in January that said, and this is you now, “I feel so astonishingly betrayed by the systems responsible for protecting and providing for our nation.” Do you as a guy on the lower rungs of the income ladder in this country, do you feel any hope that it’s going to get better post-virus?
Cairns: You know, I really don’t see a lot of silver lining. We are so eager to get back to normal that we’re probably going to ignore a lot of the lessons learned from this pandemic. You know, restaurants and bars are already trying to go back to business as usual. Customers, people in general, definitely want to just go right back to normal. And without some sort of structure, some sort of system in place to help facilitate people taking things easier, I don’t see how this is going to get much better in the future.
Ryssdal: But Neil, if a bar or restaurant opened up around the corner from you and said, “Hey, we can give you 25 hours a week,” would you do it?
Cairns: Probably. Yeah. I don’t think I’d have a whole lot of choice, and that’s exactly the problem — we should. You know, providing for people in situations like mine, like those who are in worse positions than mine, to be able to stay home, to choose when to go back to work in a way that is best for them, I think is really important, and I don’t see any indication that we’re gonna make any attempt to do that.
How toTell Better Stories
To tell better stories, we need to see each other–everyone. The PBS NewsHour explores this idea in the rising occurrence of hate crimes against Asian Americans. In large part, Trump ignited and inspired this collective hate to be acted out in cruel and brutal ways. He gave a green light to let this hate rip through the delicate fabric that holds us together as an utterly unique collective–something that has never existed on this Earth below at this level, but only if we can keep it, as Thurston so beautifully expresses in the TedTalk above.
In the PBS piece, it is said:
“The absence of knowledge is a way of keeping people fighting each other.” Missing in History – The void of knowledge of Asian Americans has and is being replaced by garbage – caricatures of Asians being animals, disease infested, monsters.”
“The problem is invisibility. Justice is not a zero sum game. Justice is a fabric that extends across all communities.”
To tell better stories, we need to see more of ourself by embracing moments of illumination (often triggered by a crisis, a setback, a disaster) to boldly go where we have not yet ventured inside ourself, the realms where our invisible self dwells. Sometimes to tell better stories means we need to see the biases we harbor, the prejudices we protect, and the injustices we perpetuate. Other times it means seeing the power we have lost because we have projected onto someone else. But when we see it exists inside of us too, we grow stronger, we heal, we become more whole inside–we grow as a conscious being. When we finally see we are the thing we hate, we can even transform.
HiddenBrain did a beautiful piece on the power of stories in transforming ourself.
Description: The Story of Your Life: “We can’t go back and change the past. We can’t erase trauma and hardship. But what if there was a way to regain control of our personal narratives? In the second part of our series on storytelling, we look at how interpreting the stories of our lives — and rewriting them — can change us forever.”
The Power of Myth
This is the power of myths and storytelling. They show us ways to channel the intense energies that surge inside of us when we are provoked by our circumstances. These energies begin as instincts but what consciousness allows us to do is to sees these energies rising before we act on them. This ability gives us a moment to choose an action different than what our innate instincts would otherwise dictate that we do.
In the heat of the moment, many of us may well act on the instinct triggered. However, when we do bring our conscious attention to these moments, we can alter our instincts in a great variety of ways. This is what Jung calls archetypes. They are mirror images of instincts but altered by consciousness. This allows the energy to flow forward in any number of different ways different from how they would have otherwise contained in nature. The number of variations of rising instinctual responses are as vast as the number of human beings who have chosen something differently.
These are the stories of Gods and Goddesses from every culture around the world. These stories tell about what befell a God or Goddess after choosing an altered instinctual response to a situation encountered. Each God and Goddess embodies qualities and energies of our most primal, basic instincts. Together, instincts and archetypes make up the building blocks of the human psyche.
Jung came to believe archetypes are empty templates that we fill anew each time we alter our instinctual responses triggered by circumstances we encounter. They are fluid, flexible, and powerful like water. When we meet our situations and circumstances consciously, we live mythic lives.
A Few Modern Stories Offering Strong Modern Mythic Images to Ponder
A new Netflix series I have loved watching is Invisible City. The trailer says, “What if the legends of your childhood are living in plain sight?” Which of course, they are. This is a beautiful drama that weaves in the destruction of the Brazilian rainforest and its people and animals with Brazilian Folklore entities and deities. Season 1 explores what happens if one of these vital entities gives up.
The video below is an artistic-musical journey of some of the events that defined and reshaped our shared reality over the past year. It spans natural disasters, disease disasters, and human made disasters that occurred beginning around Feb. 2020 to Feb. 2021.
I began by drawing the sad woman sitting by a fire contemplating something. I drew her early in 2020 before most of what happened transpired. Behind her is a dreamlike landscape, which was drawn some years earlier. However, I felt it belonged in this dream-like landscape. I then wanted images to appear between the flickering fire, but I didn’t know how to choose which ones to draw or feature among all the disasters and terrible things that occurred last year all around the world.
I decided to focus on the United States and found a regional map that I redrew artistically. I found other maps of where fires occurred, where the derecho hit Iowa and left a 750 mile path of destruction, where hurricanes came ashore, where Black Live Matter marches took place after the brutal murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis (my hometown), and where COVID-19 infections were rising. I artistically re-envisioned and redrew these maps as layers that could be used over the Regional Map or alone.
I blended live videos of 2020 events (e.g., driving through fire, driving through the derecho, hurricane mapping and video, Black Live Matter marches) as well as murals painted by artists worldwide honoring George Floyd and/or illuminating the collective struggle of COVID-19 into this video montage of 2020.
Towards the end, I include drawings I made many years earlier. There were lots so many glitches in getting this video posted, including having to throw out 6 songs at the very end and replace them since the musicians did not allow their music to be used with anything other than their original videos. I understand this, it is their creation. However, I am deeply grateful to the musicians who do allow their musicto be used with ad revenue going to them (as it should). I have cited all musicians and tried to give credit to all videos and images used that are not my own drawings or photography. I list these sources in the description section on YouTube.
It is with gratitude I offer Mother of Grief — Remembering 2020
Remembering who we have lost and how our lives have changed is important, especially as we prepare and begin making choices on how to move forward as individuals and as communities. Our choices matter. Without taking time to reflect and to grieve for what has been lost, we are bound to go in circles and repeat fixable mistakes in attitudes and ideas over and over. Taking time to remember and grieve is a sacred act. No matter if your life has been impacted in big or small ways, this past year has caused a pause–and Now is the time to reflect, remember, and cherish the precious gift of life–something that is so fragile and fleeting for all of us. This is how we grow and transform by remembering, reflecting, and cherishing what has been lost and using this remembrance (this accounting of one’s life to this moment in time) to make different choices moving forward.
Recently, I’ve been reading a book about the philosophy of the I Ching. It is a book one of my brothers got a long, long time ago. I don’t know how I ended up with it. For years it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust. Perhaps I would not have understood what the author was revealing had I picked it up earlier. However, after 5+ years of significant reversals, setbacks, and losses, it really resonates with me today.
Carl Jung said the East charted inner landscapes and developed a deep understanding of who and what we are as conscious living beings while the West turned its time and attention to charting and understanding the outer world. Neither focus is bad. Both are part of reality; however, the Western focus on the reality of the visible, outside world grew lopsided (very lopsided), creating an imbalance in the psyche that resulted in a lost of awareness of sacred inner landscapes forming one’s inner realities. This forgetting has put the wellbeing of individuals in peril, and possibly placed our collective survival as a species, a civilization in jeopardy as well. All hands are needed on deck to heal the chasm created by this extreme lopsidedness; I will tell you more about this in my book: Sapience.
Returning to what I was reading last night that felt like it belonged in this post. I was reading a chapter about the Student-Sage Relationship. The I Ching believes student and sage are one. And, we come to know our inner sage by developing inner discipline and quieting our mind. This is how our inner sage can be heard, understood, and followed for the good of self and the greater good.
What felt like belonged here is the following:
The Sage is polite, but firm in stating cosmic principles.
It is through such firmness that we perceive his total personality as gentle, kind, firm, and correct–one that believes in us in spite of our deviations.
He waits while we exhaust our enthusiasm for false ideas; he allow us to self-destruct if we stubbornly insist upon doing so, but would rather we did not, because, as he tells us, we have the potential for achieving something both great and permanent for the good of all, if we will do it.
While working with the Sage, we feel a nourishing, helpful presence.
If we become arrogant, however, this presences departs and we begin to feel lonely.
We are hardly aware of this presence until we lose it and miss it.
When we return to our path, the presence gradually returns.
It is as if an inner light comes and goes.
By his coming and his going, he teaches us about himself and about our relationship with him.
The book is called: The Philosophy of theI Ching. It was written by Carol K. Anthony who I came to discover recently died in August 2020. She founded her own publishing company and lived close to me. I could have met her had I been a little faster in my curiosity about the I Ching, but time and fate is what it is. Her biography is beautiful:
Carol began her study of the I Ching in 1971, during a mid-life crisis, when she was age 41. Her difficulties made her receptive when a friend, desiring to be of help, introduced her to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching. It taught her to meditate in a way that helped her to understand what the hexagrams were saying. She kept notes of these insights as they occurred. Within seven years she had a complete set of notes on each hexagram that helped friends understand the hexagrams they received. She quickly realized that her notes filled a unique need. Two meditation experiences led her to publish them under the title, A Guide to the I Ching, and to found Anthony Publishing Company. This book was followed by The Philosophy of the I Ching, in 1981, The Other Way, Experiences in Meditation Based on the I Ching, in 1990, and Love, An Inner Connection, Based on Principles Drawn from the I Ching, in 1993. These books interested other publishers and some of them were translated into German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Croatian.
Kojo is retiring soon and will be missed. This was a wonderful look back on a year that turned world upside down.
It was Friday, February 28, 2020 on The Politics Hour when we first covered the coronavirus in any detail. We discussed it again briefly on The Politics Hour a week later. But at that those moments we had no idea how deadly the virus would become and how the year would unfold. We were talking about elbow bumping and hand washing.
Over the days that followed cases started to gradually increase in the D.C. region and throughout the country and the world. And on March 10 we devoted the entire show on the virus with doctors and public health officials and began covering the COVID-19 pandemic regularly.
This broadcast will take a look back at the year of COVID, with insights and reflection from Emergency Physician and Professor Dr. Leana Wen, Washington Post Columnist and Parenting Coach Meghan Leahy, and WAMU/DCist Staff Writer Elliot Williams.
Description:The year 2020 was one of painful loss. We said goodbye to respected leaders and lawmakers, to gifted athletes and entertainers, to people who have inspired us and enriched our lives even if we didn’t know them personally. In some cases, people were taken from us far too soon, victims of a pandemic that has caused death and suffering around the world. And some of those we lost were the victims of grave injustice, cruelly robbed of years of life they might have spent with family, friends and loved ones.
To lose these people is a reminder of the fragility of life, and a reminder to take care of one another to the best of our ability. But in the midst of feeling sorrow for people who are no longer with us, we should also take comfort in the gifts they gave us while they were here. Here, TIME pays tribute to those who left us in 2020, people who changed the world for the better and helped show us a path forward.
The year that COVID built: a look back on 2020
The World Economic Forum put together a wonderful snap shot of 2020 based on what we searched for on the Internet as well as other key moments of 2020.