Sisyphus — The Living Myth of Now

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

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 Poldark series 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 Galactica series, 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?

OUTLANDER – Season 1 Trailer | 5,355,359 views • Aug 6, 2015

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.

His Dark Materials: Season 1 | Official Trailer | HBO | 7,892,118 views • Oct 3, 2019

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).

His Dark Materials – Mary talks to Dust (Angels) | 26,773 views • Nov 30, 2020

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.


Liz Cheney

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?

Doubt — The Dark Force (Animation by Genolve)

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.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead (1994) – Narrated by Leonard Cohen | 90,513 views • Oct 28, 2019

“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

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.

The OA | official trailer (2016) Netflix | 53,112 views •Dec 13, 2016

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.

"Emperial Young is on day eight of a hunger strike. It’s not over the burning of the Amazon, or gun violence, or the latest controversial move by the current Commander-in-Chief. Young, 35, wants Netflix to renew The OA for a third season — and she’s willing to go to extreme lengths of what she calls “internal violence” to make it happen.
“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 BatmanglijThe 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.

The series was conceived by Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, and they began working on the concept in December 2012.

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

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.

Invisible City Official trailer (HD) Season 1 (2021) | 86,811 views • Feb 5, 2021

Glitch

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.

Glitch Season 1 | Trailer | Now On Netflix | 753,177 views • Feb 23, 2016

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).

Image from Virginia DeBolt‘s blog site: Old Ain’t Dead | Review of Glitch, Season 3

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.

Then I Stumbled onto Something Spectacular: Sisyphus

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!!!!

Sisyphus | Official Trailer | Netflix [ENG SUB] | 1,028,877 views • Feb 9, 2021

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.)

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Notebook drawing Yin-Yang by Bébé

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. 

The Black Magician and the White Magician

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.

Crash Landing on You | Official Trailer #1 | Netflix [ENG SUB] | 2,327,897 views • Nov 29, 2019

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
From Fabian Navin | May 13, 2021

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?

Blood & Bringing Into Being a Kinder, Better World

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.

Bloody Feeling — Stories about the Power of Blood | This American Life

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 2 is 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 4 is about fibroids and a uterus that gets turned into a play titled: There’s No ‘Us’ in Uterus. Oh, Wait…

Act 5 is 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.

What to Know About the Trial of Derek Chauvin | NYT: Last Updated April 16, 2021, 12:31 p.m. ET

Police fatally shoot man, 20, in suburban Minneapolis, sparking protests | Washington Post: April 12, 2021 at 3:52 a.m. EDT

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.

The Old Brookdale Mall that used to be in Brooklyn Center, MN — Where Your Dreams Could Come Ture

From the Strib’s archives: A trip back in time to Brookdale | StarTribune:  MARCH 13, 2015 — 7:49AM


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

How Policing Works in the Suburbs | 1A | WAMU

Image from 1A (WAMU) | A woman holds up a portrait of George Floyd as people gather outside the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

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:

From 1A | WAMU | April 19, 2021

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 happen disproportionately 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.


Chicago Police Killing of Adam Toledo Brings Police Violence Against Latinos Back in Focus | The Takeaway | WNYCStudios |

Image from The Takeaway | WNYCStudios | April 19, 2021

Description of this story: What happened to the 13-year-old at the hands of police draws national reaction after police release footage showing Toledo had his hands up before he was gunned down.


Throughline: Policing in America

Image I made for Throughline’s Powerful Podcast on Policing in America
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.

Ayanna Pressley Reintroduces Bill To Address Disproportionate Punishment Of Black Girls In Schools

Image from Here and Now | WBUR | April 19, 2021 — Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

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.

This segment aired on April 19, 2021.


State Rep. John Thompson Pushes For Police Reform In Minnesota

Image from Here and Now | WBUR | State Rep. John Thompson Pushes For Police Reform In Minnesota | April 19, 2021

Description: Minnesota state Rep. John Thompson was an activist who joined the legislature in 2020 hoping to be more effective in the push for police reform and accountability.

He reflects on how impactful it’s been so far and how his community is grappling with this moment.

This segment aired on April 19, 2021.


The Future of Policing in America | The Takeaway | Series of Five Stories

Images from The Takeaway series on Policing in America

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

PBS NewsHour full episode, Apr. 20, 2021 | Derek Chauvin Guilty on All Counts

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.


Black Lives Matter | Filmed June 2020 on Black Lives Plaza in Washington, DC

Today Was A Moonwalk Day | April 20, 2021 | I shot these pictures just before the verdict was announced in the trial for justice for George Floyd today. This is dedicated to George Floyd and his family and loved ones.

Mother of Grief — Remembering 2020 | Excerpt about the Impact of Coronavirus and Racism in America | Mother of Grief video is a journey through art and music remembering some of the events that reshaped our shared reality over the past year spanning roughly Feb. 2020 to Feb. 2021.

In this excerpt, the base video credits go to The Power of Street Art Under COVID (aired on PBS 7/7/20) — https://www.pbs.org/video/the-power-of-street-art-under-covid-tg7su0/ Photos from the Black Lives Matter march were taken by me during a march in Washington, DC in June 2020 seeking justice for George Floyd and so many more black and brown people killed by police in the United States.

This clips ends with a little girl dancing on the Black Lives Matter mural painted on the WDC street leading to the White House with a street musician singing justice, justice. Yesterday, George Floyd’s family got justice with guilty verdicts handed down to the police officer who murder him on May 25, 2020.

To read more about the full length video (Mother of Grief — Remembering 2020), go to: https://www.sapience2112.com/2021/03/20/mother-of-grief-remembering-2020/

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.

Honor Culture

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?


April Sometimes Brings More Than Showers

A Partial List of Mass Shootings in the United States in 2021 — The shootings never stopped during the coronavirus pandemic, they just became less public, researchers say. | The New York Times — April 16, 2021

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.

To see more of the dreadful events that occurred during this week, see the article by AFRO: April 14 to April 20: An Historically Bad ‘Week That Was’ (4/19/13)


In the Aftermath of Violence & Disasters

Regardless of the type of violence or disaster, the aftermath is trauma, which leaves deep, lasting scars on the inside of people.

Grieving Parents Share Pain of Losing Daughter in Mass Shooting | WYC Studios | April 19, 2021

Image from The Takeaway | WNYCStudios | April 19, 2021

Description of story: Sandy and Lonnie Phillips lost their daughter Jessica Redfield Ghawi during the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado


How Gun Violence Affects American Children | 1A | WAMU | April 14, 2021

Playground Image from 1A (WAMU) | How Gun Violence Affects American Children | April 14, 2021 | John Woodrow Cox’s new book is “Children Under Fire: An American Crisis.”Scott Olson/Getty Images

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.


Healing After Chauvin Murder Conviction: Is It Possible? | Here and Now | WBUR | April 21, 2021

Image of London Williams bursting into tears on April 20, 2021, in Washington, after hearing that former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd from Here & Now (Jacquelyn Martin/AP) | Other Photos I took or from NPR podcast series on White Lies

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 manslaughteris 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.

Gaslight (1944) – You Think I’m Insane Scene (5/8) | Movieclips | “You Think I’m Insane“: After becoming hysterical at a friend’s house Paula (Ingrid Bergman), Gregory (Charles Boyer) shares his frustrations with her.

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:

Mother of Grief — What We Loss in 2020

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?

Spirit Blood

Alongside Our Red Blood Cells is Another Kind of Blood — Consciousness — It Allows Us to Synthesize & Decide How To Use It

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.

Father | Celestial Tendencies

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.

From Ali Raza Saleem | The Productive Muslim Company

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 living work 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.

Inner Sage — Spirit Blood — Nourish Your Beingness in the World

Collective Storytelling: The Stories We Tell Become the Myths We Live

— Myths Are Passages Channeling Energies That Can Hold Us Together or Tear Us Apart

The Storytelling Species: Makers & Players of Reality Bubbles

Part 4 in The Storytelling Species Series

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?

“Instincts are inborn complex patterns of behavior that exist in most members of the species, and should be distinguished from reflexes, which are simple responses of an organism to a specific stimulus, such as the contraction of the pupil in response to bright light or the spasmodic movement of the lower leg when the knee is tapped. The absence of volitional capacity must not be confused with an inability to modify fixed action patterns. For example, people may be able to modify a stimulated fixed action pattern by consciously recognizing the point of its activation and simply stop doing it, whereas animals without a sufficiently strong volitional capacity may not be able to disengage from their fixed action patterns, once activated.[1] Instinctual behavior in humans has been studied, and is a controversial topic.”

– From Wikipedia

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.

The Uniqueness of Humans by Robert Sapolsky | Stanford University | 233 views • Dec 25, 2018

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.

Image from Snap Judgement | The North Pond Hermit – Snap Classic | Artwork by Teo Ducot

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.

To learn more about Chris Knight’s story, be sure to check out Mike Finkel’s book, The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. 

Check out The North Pond Hermit Song by Stan Keach.

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 provoked by 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.”

2. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852)

  • 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.

I heard an absolutely wonderful TedTalk exploring this very idea of how each and every person is an author of the collective story unfolding in this time, Now. The whole hour was dedicated to Baratunde Thurston who talks about How To Citizen.

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.”

Valarie Kaur – Breathe! Push! The Labor of Revolutionary Love | Bioneers | 11,619 views • Nov 13, 2019

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

Co-Parenting as Allies, not Adversaries | Ebony Roberts & Shaka Senghor | TEDxDetroit | 14,939 views • Jan 15, 2020

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).

How to revive your belief in democracy | Eric Liu | 70,525 views • May 24, 2019

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK): ERIC LIU: I bring you greetings from the 52nd freest nation on Earth. As an American, it irritates me that my nation keeps sinking in the annual rankings published by Freedom House. I’m the son of immigrants. My parents were born in China during war and revolution, went to Taiwan and then came to the United States, which means all my life, I’ve been acutely aware just how fragile an inheritance freedom truly is. That’s why I spend my time teaching, preaching and practicing democracy.

TedTalk with Baratunde Thurston

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 to Tell 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.

PBS NewsHour – March 4, 2021

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.

Invisible city Official trailer (HD) Season 1 (2021) | 69,610 views • Feb 5, 2021
Glitch Season 1 | Trailer | Now On Netflix | 739,777 views • Feb 23, 2016 | This is a fantastic modern remake of the fearsome zombie-monster movie is Glitch that explores consciousness, playing God (or becoming too much like God) and the transformative power of love.
The OA | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix | OA explores consciousness, time, what we think is real, mad scientists, being kids in modern times, choices, reality.
Travelers | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix | Travelers also explores consciousness, time, trying to change our mistakes and the unforeseen consequents of what we cannot possibly know in advance, even what a super smart computer cannot know…
Outlander: Season 5 Official Trailer | If you have not been following this series, you should watch all of them. Season 5 really takes the viewers into very modern questions of: Are you playing God?, birth of a nation, who was really barbaric back then, time, consciousness, love, family.
Succession: Season 1 | Official Trailer | HBO | Truly a modern tail exploring how power is used and abused in our time.

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Part 5 of Storytelling Species Series | Collective Storytelling: Who Is Q & What The Heck Is the Plandemic and Anti-Vaxxers All About?!!

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