Making Sense of Nonsense

 

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This summer I had the good fortune to attend a session of the New York Center for Jungian Studies’ elegant annual production, Jung on the Hudson. The subject of my seminar was Sense and Nonsense, a subject that has fascinated me since I first heard the word “nonsense” as a little girl. “Nonsense” promised other worlds and different ways of being. It never failed to deliver. Following “nonsense” I discovered Wonderland, the hundred Acre Wood, Toad Hall and Mrs. Pigledy Wiggle’s upside down house. For a while they became my true home. They still occupy a corner of my heart and every time I write I find traces of their influence in my words. I think the importance of “ nonsense” needs a bit more attention. In my case, it provided great relief from the never-ending struggle to make sense of the adult world.

Children are hit from the moment they are born with an incredible barrage of sensation – smells, colors, pitches, tones and textures appear at an alarming rate. The task of sorting, crowdestablishing contexts and learning to recognize patterns is further compounded by the addition of language and the incomprehensible emotional demands of their parents.  This chaos is presented to them a “real,” “sensible” and “normal.”

alice Nonsense provides a little breathing space. It actually reflects the chaotic nature of their lives in which inexplicable things are the norm. But those fictional worlds have boundaries and internal logic, and everything comes out all right in the end. The nonsense worlds are safe.

Lear

The seminar has had me thinking about sense and nonsense for months now. I hoped to figure out in the seminar why the subject seemed so important to me, but though the speakers were interesting and erudite, I didn’t figure it out until now.

Sense has several meanings. First and foremost it has to do with our physical sense organs sensesbut it also has to do with rationality and intention. It is a word of conveyance in that it connotes an impression or awareness of something. Finally, particularly when paired with the word “good,” it stands for “sound mental capacity and understanding typically marked by shrewdness and practicality.”

 It seems that sense is all about what is real and rationale. Nonsense would be the opposite – silly, illogical, irreverent and irrelevant.

But, in fact, it turns out that most people, much of the time do not think sensibly or rationally. They make decisions based on misconceptions, false assumptions and innuendo. Most of all they act and make decisions on the emotion they are experiencing.

As we know those emotions are powerful and complex.face masks They link back through an intricate pattern of other decisions to strong emotions in the past. They connect us directly to chaotic impressions formed in early childhood when we made life-long decisions about the way of the world based on very little information. Furthermore, these emotions are chemically based and, once triggered, persist in the body for hours, skewing our thoughts and controlling our minds.

In fact, most of us make many nonsensical decisions about sex, money, religion and politics ( all the stuff we aren’t supposed to talk about). The child escapes to the nonsense world, which holds topsy-turvy lessons in which he can understand and delight, from the totally confusing “sensible” world that holds stress inducing mixed-messages she is unable to decipher.

Sense has another other, more arcane, meaning. In in mathematics, it means one of two clockwise counteropposite directions in which a vector (especially of motion) may point or one of two opposite directions of rotation, clockwise versus anti-clockwise.

Here sense becomes nonsense, pointing in the opposite direction of where one wants to go, exactly as happened to Alice when she wanted to get into the garden and to walk away from it in order to enter.

In other words, the study of nonsense is important because it allows us an opportunity to make sense of our nonsensical actions. It opens a window on reality we cannot afford to overlook.

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“Tammy” – No Rotten Tomatoes Here!

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I love Melissa McCarthy. She rescued Brides from banality, made me laugh out loud in Identity Theft and cheer (again aloud) in Heat. I think she’s the best comedian to come down the pike in a long time.   Her comedic timing is perfect; from pause to instant rebound she never misses a beat. She even does slapstick well – a very , very difficult thing to pull off. But what really gets me is her intelligence. It shines through her work, informing and enhancing every move. On top of that, the woman can act. She can turn on a dime from bathos to true pathos adding an unexpected dollop of gravitas which engages the viewer in reality even in the midst of suspension of disbelief.

That’s why I went to see Tammy – though to tell the truth, the preview wasn’t that inviting and I’ve seen scripts created for a specific actor that did not turn out well. But Tammy plays to all McCarthy’s strengths. Perhaps her genius stems from an ability to embrace the absurdity of the human condition without bitterness or cynicism. Her characters always come equipped with compassion.  I always like them and they always ring true.

This coming-of-age story holds a mirror to our faces of just what a refusal to do the work of maturation looks like. Tammy takes the inner, ghastly, ego-centric mess of denial, self-pity, rage and despair inherent in an unexamined life and turns it inside out to make it visible. Just to make sure we get the point we have Susan Sarandon (playing Pearl, Tammy’s grandmother) as aging sidekick, suffering the same messy interior life, but with a more savvy and beautiful outside. Depicting them side by side the movie says, “Listen up people, there’s hundreds of us running around like this pretending to be grown-up without doing our homework – this is what it looks like.”

Tammy replays Joe Campbell’s mythic journey to reclaim the self. Being everywoman (and man)’s story, it never fails to fascinate. It’s a necessary rite of passage that can take place at any stage of life and may be repeated more than once. Here we see Tammy and Pearl at opposite ends of their lives, both embarking on a voyage of self-discovery. However, heroines and heroes never undertake the adventure completely for themselves; they must return to the community with a gift to share. That gift is relationship – the ability to engage, to connect, to respond and reciprocate.

Hats off to writers Falcone and McCarthy for underlining the importance of relationship and honoring the contribution women bring to its implementation. One of the great things to come out of the women’s movement is a the recognition, understanding and study of friendship among women. I love this movie because it depicts as normal the way women so often offer each other hospitality, help and honesty as a matter of course.

Tammy touches on serious cultural issues, i.e. alcoholism, the dreary distasteful proliferation of fast food, our pernicious sense of entitlement, but never forgets it’s a comedy operating on many different levels. It makes it some subtle inside jokes by casting Susan Sarandon in a road trip full of escalating criminal escapades reminiscent of Thelma and Louise or having Kathy Bates turn Fixer and quote directly from Pulp Fiction, but much of the movie is painted in broad flamboyant strokes reminiscent of vaudeville and silent picture comedies. For that kind of humor to succeed with me it has to be perfectly timed and consistently funny. This is Melissa McCarthy’s forte and with the help of husband, fellow writer and director Ben Falcone she doesn’t fail to deliver.

 

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On Returning to Iraq

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Impossible to overstate how distressed I am about US forces returning to Iraq . Once again a US president – this one, unlike the last, vaunted for intelligence – has made the same inane remark that “the dead must not have died in vain.”  Vanity being the operative word here – on everyone’s part.

I wrote the following the last time we ran this loop – still applies:

 These Are the Flowers Sprung from Blood

These are the flowers sprung from blood,

anemone, violet, poppy, aster

blood of Adonis, Attis, Aegeus

blood of mothers, lovers, fathers,

daughters, sons, a thousand

legions of unknown warrior dead

buried in the fields of Mars.

 

          I. Anemone speaks:

 

Windflower they call me

wind to which I open

anemonewind that hastens my demise

wind fickle as the love of Aphrodite

who kept Adonis by her side too long

incurring Ares wrath, who slew him.

It’s said the goddess sprinkled nectar

into his bleeding wounds‑ commingled

drops, falling to earth, engendered me.

 

          2. Violet cries out:

 

Love-lies-bleeding, Kit-run-in-the-fields

Love Idyll – two hundred names

from which to choose. Who could guess

Our Lady’s Modesty hid so many secrets? Dog-Violet-Common-1A

Attis died to make me, emasculated

beneath a pine tree by his own hand

for love of Cybele. For centuries

her rites continued, year by thirsty year

demanding male sacrifice upon the Day of Blood.

 

         

           3. Aster tells her story:

She changed me out of pity.

goldenrod-insects-img_3582Old Root Woman, sheltering us, foresaw

capture, rape, dismemberment and death,

sprinkled magic pollen on my sister’s face.

I watched it change beneath the moon

blossom into yellow golden rod.

When she came to me

I opened mouth and eyes

welcoming the dust.

 

We are the flowers sprung from blood

born from myth and metaphor

alive in Flanders Fields and on the Plain of Jars,

look for us in Normandy, Shiloh, Khe Sanh,

on San Juan Ridge and Pork Chop Hill.

Search between the burned out cars

in vacant rubbled lots. You’ll find us in Fallujah.

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Crazy Wisdom

I was an odd awkward child, an army brat dropped into new schools as regularly as other kids get new shoes or longer jeans. To defend myself, I made a virtue out of abnormality. I shaped my difference into a cool kind of elitism – my way of making lemonade out of sour grapes. And it worked! For a long time I felt safeguarded, sustained and rewarded by my elegant design. There was only one drawback, I always felt a little fraudulent –as if I were perpetuating a lie at the same time as I was being fooled. I knew in my heart of hearts that I’d built my defense on an unstable foundation of fear, resentment and loneliness.

Finding a loving partner helped, becoming a mother helped, but I still felt like I walked the world encased in glass, through which I could see, smell, taste and feel others and myself, but never really, really touch. The Women’s Movement of the 1960’s and 70’s shattered the glass. For the first time I belonged, by virtue of being female. This was a place where difference and eccentricity were valued. The movement gave me a political view that jived with my own.  I learned “the personal is political” and stopped feeling crazy for thinking the emperor wore no clothes. It introduced me into a community of wise, caring accepting individuals who expected me to engage and participate. Best of all it fulfilled my longing for meaningful spirituality in the form of the feminine divine. One by one the thousand cuts my heart and soul had sustained began to heal.

Of course I am speaking retrospectively, with the advantage of hindsight. It took the rest of my life and many other milestones to reclaim myself, face my fears, and own my stuff – all the hard work of living a life of conscious engagement. Along the way I never lost my fascination with what was normal because the hardest thing to relinquish was my internal ranking system which measured me against all comers in regards to look, smarts, aplomb, sophistication, etc.

The desire to prioritize hierarchically is probably hardwired in animals. Happily women are less vertically and more horizontally inclined! We like to nest, create relationships spread our roots across the landscape underground like aspen trees, connecting and connecting.  Learning to build relationships based on mutual vested interests in health, well-being and sustainable friendship gradually dissolved my inclination to judge myself and others.

Over time, the practice of introspection and compassion taught me that I carry within myself every impulse and condition known to humankind. Just because I don’t act on all of them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  This insight destroyed any remaining vestiges of belief that I wasn’t an integral part of humanity and by extension life on Earth and by extension the universe. Further contemplation led me to think of my psyche as a Möbius strip – a constant flowing continuum of impulse, thought, emotion that can, at any time, assume any configuration.

The only abnormality I ever suffered from was the delusion that I could somehow stand outside my own humanity. Sitting in circle with women allowed me to see myself – all my foibles, flaws, beauty and wisdom – reflected in the faces of others.  My community freed me because it gave me time. It accepted me until I could accept myself. This is why I embedded Dr. Gabor Mate’s interview. Why I think his words wise and important to hear. Why I want to support the documentary Crazywise is making. I believe in crazy wisdom.

 

 

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“The path goes ever on and on…”

I’ve recently become a SoulCollage® facilitator, which means I can teach Seena Frost’s  Seena Frostprocess for creating a personal deck of cards – each representing a different part of one’s personality. Each card focuses on an aspect of one’s life – it could be a friend, family member or pet. It could also depict a dream, an event or a place. A card might represent quality one wishes to possess or a skill already mastered.   Another could stand for any archetype, principle or idea that influences one’s actions. The cards fit loosely into four suits. One by one the deck grows.

I’ve been creating SoulCollage® cards for many years. Sometimes they come at regular intervals, sometimes in spurts, sometimes I don’t make one for months. There are about eighty-five cards in my deck – they form a kind of art journal of my life or perhaps a self-portrait. I said the cards fir loosely into my life – that’s because they tend to float from category to category or overlap.

The four suits are called Committee, Companions, Council, and Community.   Here’s a card I made several years ago, it fits all the categories:

malta dreamerOn one level it represents an amazing trip to Malta I made with my friend Susan Ford. So it could fit into the Community card because it relates to Susan and our shared interests; or it could be a Council card because it represents The Goddess, Hecate, and the Moon; or it could fit into Companions because of the dog; or in Committee because it stands for me as a dreamer and one who is interested in dream interpretation. There are also the sea, the steps and the poppies to consider!

Working with a card would mean exploring all those aspects and images in-depth – probably in different sittings. The work is always based on what I am seeing and feeling in the present moment. There are multitudes of ways to work with the deck – just as with a tarot deck. The thing I do most often is to follow Seena’s method of picking one card and dialoging aloud with an image. I speak for myself and, for example – using this card, from the point of view of the dog. Since I tend to over-think things at time and get bogged down in an over-abundance of meaning – a dog’s eye view of the practical present serves me very well, allowing the prosaic part of myself a voice that can actually be heard over the clamor of the philosophers!

This particular card is also part of a series I created while taking a nine-month class in Spiritual Midwifery. Each month had a different theme. This is the card I made for the month spent on the moon. I also made a series on the various stages in the alchemical process, the eight holy days in the Wheel of the Year, and the seven sacred directions. Each series acts as a mnemonic device to help me remember not only the various stages of these different teachings, but also the feel and meaning of each stage.

I love collage for the freedom it offers to juxtapose all kinds of symbols and images. I like being able to mix and match myths and metaphor with depictions of ordinary objects because it reflects my belief that we live at the intersection of spirit and matter – in that instant where the particle becomes wave and the wave particle. I’ve been practicing and instructing the art of collage for many years now and it’s a great pleasure to be able to add the teaching of SoulCollage® out of the personal into the public realm and share a system that has served me so well for so long. A special thanks to my teachers Anne Marie Bennett and Jeanne Marie Merkel for an extraordinarily useful and enriching class.

“When the Soul wants to experience something, she throws and image before her and steps into her own experience.”
                                            Meister Eckhard

 

 

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In Memoriam… Angeles Arrien 1940 ~ 2014

Many years ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in circle with Angeles Arrien and listen to her teach The Four-Fold Way.  Her brilliance lay in being able to condense and explicate the perennial wisdom of the world’s indigenous cultures.  She said it very simply:

Show up

Pay Attention

Speak the Truth without Judgment

Be Detached From Outcome

Over the years my husband and I have added two words: Speak and Hear the Truth without Judgment. With that small personal addition, we have found that these four tenets cover just about everything. They inevitably lead to doing-as-you-would-be-done by, to self-knowledge, deep compassion, and gratitude.

In my own case, I struggle with each of these at different times – sometimes one is more difficult to live by, sometimes another. On really good days they all come easily. This on-going relationship has deepened my understanding of each principle. As the work ripples out through the pool of my life it expands in scope, becoming more subtle in its ramifications.

Look how simple these teachings are – easy to understand, but profound enough to change a life and move it in new directions.  This is the hallmark of a great teacher.  I am so grateful to Angeles Arrien for these teachings – she was truly the angel her name implies – a messenger of spiritual truths which willingly undertaken can set one free. All her life she spoke of honoring the ancestors- those who have come before. Now, she becomes an ancestor, a part of my lineage.  I honor her, I honor her, blessed be her name.

 

 

 

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The Gospel of Mary

Arrival

Arrival

I’ve just returned from a deeply restorative retreat with a group of women I hold in high esteem.  My regard for them stems from their willingness to meet each other with the same enormous respect and good will they extend to themselves.  “Self-esteem” is a word that doesn’t begin to address the feeling of self-worth I’m attempting to describe.  It’s a quality based on intelligence about the nature of humanity and one’s self and the acceptance of that condition tempered with wry humor and deep compassion.  That kind of wisdom is, in my experience, found most often among women.

During the retreat, someone was reading The Gospel* of Mary, an ancient text purported to be written by Mary Magdalene.  Since I’ve spoken and written about Magdalene we naturally fell into conversation about her.  Our talk sent me back to my bookshelves for a refresher.

Gnostic-Nag-Hammadi-Gospel-of-Mary-WebThe Gospel of Mary is considered to have been authored by Mary Magdalene and transcribed into Coptic sometime during the 5th century CE.  In 1896 Karl Reinhardt, a German classical scholar and philologist bought the papyrus codex (sheets of writing material such as vellum, parchment or papyrus, bound on one side) in an Egyptian bazaar and took it home with him to Berlin.  Various exigencies and two world wars delayed its study, translation and publication until 1955.  Meanwhile two other fragments of the same text had turned up, also in Egypt, around the turn of the twentieth century, which indicated that the Gospel of Mary had been circulated and studied in several different places during the early centuries of Christianity.

Until the Council of Nicaea, ordered by the Emperor Constantine in 325 CE, Christianity was an extremely diverse amalgam of various beliefs and theories about the nature and meaning of Christ.  The council created the Nicene Creed, still recited today in most Christian churches, as a form of agreement among the various factions.  It marked the beginning of an era of anti-heretical polemic and bitter in-fighting to establish control over the doctrine and dogma of Christianity.  During that struggle, the books of the New and Old Testaments became canonized.  What was in became sacred; what was out became, not only profane, but also dangerously heretical.  Books were burned, people were killed and those whose faith differed from the party line began to hide their precious suspect manuscripts, in the hope more liberal times might come again.  Sadly, those times took centuries to arrive.

During that early troubled era, a group of cruel and misogynistic bishops gained control of the nascent Catholic Church.  As a result, women were stripped of leadership roles and tainted with the curse of “original sin.”  Tertullian has been called “the father of Latin Christianity” and “the founder of Western theology.”  “Woman,” he proclaimed, “you are the gate to hell.”

The founding fathers of the Christian church did their best to expunge any tantric elements.  In the process, Mary Magdalene went from the role of disciple to penitent whore.  Except for certain whispers and legends, she remained firmly ensconced in that role until the mid-twentieth century when women began looking around for new ways to relate to spirituality; ways that allowed them the dignity and respect due their gender.

I first became aware of the Gospel of Mary while studying with Christine Payne-Towler in 2005 and 2006.  I went on to become an ordained priest in the Gnostic Church of Saint Mary Magdalene and created my own liturgy, The Mass of the Hieros Gamos.  The year of training leading up to my ordination included studying The Gospel of Mary in various translations by such scholars as Karen L. King, Jane Shaberg and Esther A. De Boer.  To me, Mary Magdalene became a symbol of reclamation and reconciliation with my Christian roots.  Eventually, she appeared to me as the main character of my novel Magdalene A.D. Magdalane Cover USE

The book describes Magdalene’s journey, twenty-five years after the crucifixion, from Jerusalem to the South of France.  Along the way she spends a year in the Temple of Isis on the island of Pharos in Alexandria, Egypt, writing The Gospel of Mary.

karen KingKaren L. King’s claims for this gospel include “an intriguing glimpse into a kind of Christianity lost for almost fifteen hundred years … it presents the most straightforward and convincing argument in any early Christian writing, for the legitimacy of women’s leadership; it offers a sharp critique of illegitimate power and a utopian vision of spiritual perfection … and it asks us to rethink the basis for church authority.”  ~ Karen L. King., The Gospel of Mary of Magdala

Though the gospel is fragmented and missing large chunks of text, what remains is fascinating.  It underscores the jealous and aggressive personality of the disciple Peter and validates Mary Magdalene’s status as a favorite pupil of Jesus; one empowered by him to interpret his words.  Our small group spent many hours studying the text and made a images4G6K6TBCbreakthrough interpretation of our own when we began to see a correlation between Magdalene’s seven steps for the ascent of the soul to the Indian chakra system of energy centers in the body.  It was one of those Aha! moments that can arise out of collaborative intent.  The insight we gained was valuable in and of itself, but the real benefit for me was the gratification that comes from successful collaboration.  That feeling echoed the kind of intimacy and mutual understanding implied in the text as having taken place between Jesus and Magdalene.

The possibility of a state of mutual appreciation and respect that transcends personality, creed, gender and race seems to me to be at the very core of Jesus’s original message – it is the golden rule in action.  To achieve that state while studying Magdalene’s text seemed to me a great validation of both her reality and the course I was on.

One of my intentions in writing Magdalene A.D. was to show the female characters acting in this manner with one another.  I think this has always been a part of the way women interact.  Anthropology teaches that females build relationships horizontally rather than vertically.  Our evolutionary predilection is to cooperate.  False models of bitchy competitiveness have been culturally superimposed on femininity in the same way that Magdalene’s portrait as a prostitute was falsely imposed on her.

In my experience, women seem now to be throwing those falsehoods off, washing them away and reverting to the sisterhood that is our true birthright.  It makes the companionship of women precious and infinitely rewarding.  I’m thrice blessed to be numbered in their company.

*gospel: an account describing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth to include canonical, apocryphal and Gnostic texts

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