On a barren desert highway in the Karoo, South Africa, a reinvented roadside store invites us to consider what sexuality means.
I am delighted to introduce my latest project of YouTube videos where I reflect on matters of healing, integration, motivation and clear thinking.
The project is named after Hugo Simberg’s 19th Century painting (more here) I first saw the image on a study text titled “The Healing Spirit” by Paul R Fleischman and ever since, I’ve seen it as symbolising my therapeutic work.
I do hope you will enjoy the videos and should you subscribe to the YouTube channel, you will be advised of future posts as they are uploaded.
Please click here to go to the Wounded Angel Network playlist and please hit the red subscribe button when you get there.
You have heard of slow food?
It started in Rome in 1986, as a protest to McDonald’s opening a branch right on St. Peter’s square in the Vatican. Now Slow Food has spawned an entire Slow Movement.
Norwegian philosopher Guttorm Fløistad sums up the Slow Movement well:
”The only thing for certain is that everything changes. The rate of change increases. If you want to hang on , you better speed up. That is the message of today. It could however be useful to remind everyone that our basic needs never change. The need to be seen and appreciated! It is the need to belong. The need for nearness and care, and for a little love! This is given only through slowness in human relations. In order to master changes, we have to recover slowness, reflection and togetherness. There we will find real renewal.”
The Slow Movement doesn’t imply conservatism, it simply advocates a return to an appreciation for the simple and artisanal,the hand crafted and home grown.
Part of the Slow Movement is Slow Thought. An important skill for mental health.
When our parents taught us to count to ten before responding, they were onto something.
We now know that the amygdala, our oldest and reptilian brain is a hot responder with fight or flight reactivity. Our prefrontal cortex is our newest brain and seat of creativity and our best thought. The wait to ten allows the impulse to be processed by the whole brain rather than in a knee jerk reaction.
So what are some of the hallmarks of Slow Thought?
Slow Thought is Ponderous. Not usually a positive word, pondering allows whole brain consideration of all aspects of a situation. One could call Slow Thought contemplative. It takes its time to find clarity and wisdom.
Slow Thought is also Playful. It is not committed to being right at the cost of relationships. When one is too serious about anything, playfulness is sacrificed and so is the ability to not take ourselves so darn seriously.
Slow thought is also Porous, like a sponge living in the ocean. Sponges are multi cellular organisms that have bodies full of pores and channels allowing water to circulate through them. They also have unspecialised cells that can transform into other types which can migrate between the main cell layers and the jelly like spaces making up the organism. Sponges do not have nervous, digestive or circulatory systems and rely on maintaining a constant water flow through their bodies to obtain food and oxygen and to remove wastes.
These ancient aquatic animals are a wonderful metaphor for Slow Thought which allows ideas and information to flow through it and filters what is most important.
Slow Thought makes no fixed and dogmatic judgments for all time, it simply allows the nourishing of our life in each moment as we ponder and play with creative ways to be.
Slow Thought, like slow food can really nourish our lives.
Don’t hurry, be happy!
In these days of liberated sexuality it’s quite acceptable to openly discuss previously taboo subjects. Feminism has liberated women especially in the area of sexuality and has brought fascinating information to light. In one survey it has been shown that up to ten percent of men and women admit to having faked an orgasm at some time during their relationship. Psychology Today reports that this may not be as sinister as it seems, and may serve the purpose of making a partner feel secure by assuming they have been able to completely satisfy them.
But at what point does this “fake it till you make it” behaviour become nothing more than lying.
Don’t misunderstand me, I completely agree with Dr Gregory House, the rude and brusque lead character played by Hugh Laurie in the series “House”. Dr House’s favourite saying is, “Everybody lies” and he is correct.
At some point we all lie. Particularly to our doctors. How much alcohol do we drink? How many cigarettes do we smoke? Everybody lies.
We lie on Facebook by creating what psychologists now call our “Facebook Self”. A falsely happy, successful, person in a fulfilled relationship who never has anything go wrong in their lives. And what is worse, our Facebook “friends” affirm the carefully curated self we are presenting. If you don’t believe me try posting, “Having a really epic and awesome day!” then count the likes and comments that post gets. Now wait a few days and post, “Having a really pissy day and am feeling suicidally depressed.” Even if you were faking happy at that point, the lack of likes and comments will certainly depress you!
Of course, we want to make each other happy with posts of grandchildren, puppies and cupcakes, but what if House’s aphorism has invaded all aspects of our lives? What if “Everybody lies” is pandemic?
What if even our religious and spiritual journeys have become infected with the “fake it till you make it” virus, accompanied by carefully curated appearances in our spiritual practises where no one ever really knows what is happening inside ourselves?
We speak to each other in religious language about all the blessings and bounties of life,we hear direct messages from God, usually about how great we are in God’s sight and how much better we are than other losers who don’t share our creed.
Now please don’t misunderstand. I know that life is good and blessed.
But what if our over emphasis and curation of what I call our “picket fence spiritual life” creates a false impression of perfection and divine preference that makes people who are really battling to make it through the day feel even worse?
How can all that positivity which denies the fact of our own shadow and humanity, even be helpful to anyone? Worst of all, why lie to ourselves?
Of all the words Jesus spoke, some of the most powerful were, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” and when he wept publicly.
Life is very old and tenaciously fragile.
On a table that holds my precious things I have a small black ceramic disk I bought in India. Made from a black clay it has the imprint of a spiralled shell. These disks are common at tourist sites and are made by pressing wet clay into fossil beds thus creating a positive image of the creature that became fossilised millions of years ago. The disk has been fired to make it durable and is iconic.
It records a life that ended eons ago. A bit like the rubbings one can do on famous gravestones in English churchyards, it is a proof of existence similar to the forms pensioners complete each year to verify they are alive to receive their monthly payouts.
The original shell creature fossilised in the sediment of India, had no consciousness of its own existence. It simply went about its life absorbing food, transforming it into energy, moving forward and procreating itself until its life ended.
By the time it became a fossil it had probably been dead for millennia. Perhaps its species had already died out completely? Was this creature wiped out in one of the five cataclysmic extinction events that are part of the earth’s evolutionary history?
It’s strange to realise that until the 19th century we didn’t even believe in extinction. So in America, you had President Thomas Jefferson sending Lewis and Clark to explore the Northwest regions in the hope they would find mastodons roaming around. Mastodon bones were fashionable at the time. There was a very famous one unearthed in New York and displayed in Philadelphia so people assumed they must still exist somewhere.
It was the French naturalist Georges Cuvier who around Jefferson’s time came to the realisation that if no one was seeing the animals from which the bones came, they must be extinct. At the same time European colonists were sending all these bones of exotic creatures, that couldn’t be found alive, back to their motherlands . So Cuvier came up with a theory of extinction which preceded Darwin’s theory of evolution by half a century. We knew that some species were extinct before we knew how they originated and there is a significant consolation in that sequence of discovery.
To become aware of the extinction of life before knowing how that life came to be, is to put things in the right order.
It’s why in every spiritual tradition the contemplation of death precedes the experience of what life means.
Ask any person diagnosed with cancer of the truth of this. They will confirm that knowing you have a disease that wants to kill you makes you appreciate every moment you are alive. Being made aware of our mortality enhances our daily living.
So my little black disk is a helpful reminder for me. This imprint of an extinct creature from millions of years ago remembers an extinct life. Gone forever as I will be.
But for me, not today!
We all enjoy a love story.
This one from medieval Italy is similar to a million others but is special because it happened to a great poet who recorded it in the most beautiful language. Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is famous for writing the “Divine Comedy” which shaped Christianity’s ideas of heaven and hell forever.
He describes how he began to write the epic poem while he was walking along in the afternoon of his life and fell into a deep hole. There is no better description of the midlife crisis than going along with your life when suddenly you fall into a hole. These crises are usually about our unfinished business or unlived life. For Dante it was his incomplete relationship with Beatrice whom he had met when he was only nine. Years later as an adult Dante was standing near the Ponte Vecchio, a bridge that crosses the Arno River in Florence when he saw Beatrice as an adult and fell deeply in love. Dante did not speak to her that day. In fact he saw her very little, and then Beatrice suddenly died, carried off by plague.
Dante was stricken with the loss of his vision. She was the intermediary between his soul and Heaven itself. Dante went on to marry, and he and Signora Alighieri raised three children. Then, suddenly, at the midpoint of his life, he fell into a deep depression. Here his work began.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante is led down through the nine levels of hell by the poet Virgil, symbol of reason and intellect. Dante discovers surprisingly that the lowest level of hell isn’t fire, it is frozen. That arctic wasteland the intellect will bring us to. So he leaves Virgil behind and is led out of hell by none other than his beloved Beatrice. The message is clear. The soul, not the intellect leads out of hell to heaven. The moist, soft feminine soul, not sterile male logic is the way to salvation. Love not reason saves Dante, and us all.
Six hundred and fifty years later, during World War II, the Americans were chasing the German army up the Italian “boot.” The Germans were blowing up everything to thwart the progression of the American army, including the bridges across the Arno River. But no one wanted to blow up the Ponte Vecchio because Beatrice had stood on it and Dante had written about her.
So the German army made radio contact with the Americans and, in plain language, said they would leave the Ponte Vecchio intact if the Americans would promise not to use it.
The promise was held. The bridge was not blown up, and not one American solider or piece of equipment went across it. Crazy, isn’t it? Completely illogical. But life isn’t a rational story, it is a love story. Hardened warrior men were turned by creative feminine emotion. In a modern, ruthless war, the bridge was spared, because beautiful Beatrice had stood upon it.
(Many thanks to Robert A Johnson for the bulk of this from his Inner Gold)
There’s more to imagination that you imagine. In “A Midsummer-Night’s Dream”, Shakespeare wrote, “And as imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing, a local habitation and a name.” The passage illustrates how the idea of imagining something into reality already intrigued artists in late sixteenth century Europe. But despite the fascination with imagination no-one in the Elizabethan Age came up with a definition or explanation.
More than a century later it was Samuel Coleridge (1 October 1772 – 25 July 1834) who suggested there are three types of imagination. Well versed in philosophy, Coleridge had studied first Plotinus (3rd Century), then Locke’s (1632-1704) theory of sensory knowledge and finally Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) , even travelling to Germany to read Kant in the original. He wrote that Kant’s philosophy had grabbed him like a giant hand.
Coleridge came to understand the real meaning of our mental abilities namely
reason, understanding, and imagination using Kant’s philosophy. Reason is rational thinking and the way we think about things. Understanding is how we come to grips with the data received and exercise our judgement and decision making on that which reason has produced. That seems simple enough. But it is imagination that we really want to understand because imagination is the fairy dust of creativity. Imagination sparks all creativity.
One of the best modern books outlining the creative process must be “Art & Fear:observations on the perils (and rewards) of Artmaking” by David Bayles and Ted Orland. In a section on the topic they say, “Imagination is in control when you begin making (or writing) an object. The artwork’s potential is never higher than in that magic moment when the first brush-stroke is applied, the first chord struck. But as the piece grows, technique and craft take over and imagination becomes a less useful tool.”
Coleridge called that first creative impulse, “Primary Imagination” and believed it is bound up with the Exodus story where Yahweh (Jehovah) declares his name to Moses as “I am that I am”. What we see in the divine name is a dynamic image and imagination of God’s being. God has a circular name, a spiral, a dance, “I am what I am”.
These very words titled the final song in the 1983 Broadway hit “La Cage aux follies” about a gay couple. In the same year Gloria Gaynor made the song a pop hit and it is now something of an anthem for the Gay Pride movement.
How sad then that the religions of the Book who reverence this God named “I am who I am” do not honour the myriad forms of creativity, sexuality, and expression in which God takes form in human lives? We are all made in the image of “I am who I am”, yet we constantly live in fear of being judged for being who we really are. Imagine that powerful creative moment when God imagined you
If parenting has taught me anything it is never to make a rule that you cannot police. When a parent prohibits their child from taking cookies from the jar, that parent has created a lot of extra responsibility for themselves. Firstly, the parent will have to set up surveillance on the cookie jar to see if any are taken without being offered. This will mean video cameras and reviewing the recordings, or at least a regular stock check of the cookies.
Secondly, the rule regarding cookies has now criminalised the act of cookie taking because it has been prohibited. So the law now creates criminal activity where there was none. The Americans discovered this when they enacted the Prohibition Laws of 1920 making the production and sale of alcohol illegal. Prohibition did not reduce alcoholism but served to create a dark smuggling underworld of bootleggers and gangsters which created more problems than the legislation attempted to solve.
This negative impact of legislation is the argument being put forward in debates surrounding the legalisation of marijuana. Dagga users, who include an amazing number of professionals in this city, argue that decriminalising the production, distribution and use of dagga will remove criminals from the supply chain and ensure a safer and more regulated product. An added spin off would be the release of hundreds of law enforcement officials to address more serious crimes.
They argue that having tobacco and alcohol as legitimate drugs on the open market whilst prosecuting people for using “weed” is downright hypocritical. I am sure if alcohol was invented today it would be a scheduled and controlled pharmacological product!
The question I have though is what drugs should be decriminalised? Should Tik, Crack Cocaine and Heroin be freely and legally available as they are in some progressive European countries? I am not convinced.
All this discussion about laws and the need to police them is given further focus by considering a seemingly unrelated popular topic, the reckless driving of minibus taxis on our roads. Once again the reality of having rules that are not policed is the point. The growing impunity and arrogance of our taxi operators is driven by the reality that no one will stop and penalise them for their anarchistic disregard for the road code.
Assuming all taxi drivers are licensed, it means they have successfully completed the rigorous K53 drivers examination and despite all that training, flagrantly drive the way they do. Why? Because they can.
With the shortage of national policing resources and the hiccoughing implementation of the metro police, perhaps the decriminalising of marijuana is more pressing than ever?
If our traffic police cannot bring law and order to our roads, maybe a puff on a legal joint could bring calm to stressed drivers, taxi drivers and their hollering “guardjies” alike. Even the stressed out members of the police services might enjoy a bong?
Jokes aside, something needs to be done about the lawless anarchy, chaos and carnage on our roads.
It is unfortunate that myths are no longer are understood as “true stories”, but have instead been assigned the value of fantasy and unreality. Ancient cultures told stories to explain the mystery of the world they experienced. These myths explained natural phenomena and were also practical prohibitions to protect people from harm.
For Africa’s own Khoisan peoples, the sun and the moon were gods. Faces of a supreme deity. The cycle of religious observance was, therefore, carefully adjusted according to the cycles of the moon. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century observers in the Cape Colony noted the importance of ritual dances and prayers during the full moon each month. Khoisan legends and myths also refer to a “trickster” god, who could transform himself into animal or human forms, and who could die and be reborn many times over. The praying mantis, a predatory insect with large eyes and other features characteristic of animal predators, figures in San myths and folktales in a role similar to the clever fox in European folktales. Khoisan herdboys still use mantises to “divine” the location of lost animals, and in Afrikaans, the mantis is referred to as “the Hottentot’s god.”
Another trickster in Bantu folklore is Tokoloshe or Tikoloshe as his name appears in various forms in Sub-Saharan Africa. Originally a fertility figure (he carries his large manhood slung over his shoulder) this mischievous dwarf has been blamed for all kinds of malevolence.
He is most famous for stealing the souls of sleeping people and to this day many African people will not sleep on the floor. As further insurance they elevate their beds on bricks so that the short Tokoloshe will not see them sleeping above his eye level.
In an interesting nexus of science and mythology, this bed raising ritual coincides with the migration of people from rural huts and homesteads to cities like Johannesburg for industrial work. These newcomers encountered coal for the first time, replacing the wood as fuel for cooking and heating. No one knew at the time that coal fires can produce 20% more deadly carbon monoxide than burning wood. Carbon monoxide is heavier than oxygen and an open coal fire indoors creates a deadly layer of floor level gas that will kill anyone sleeping there. And so enters Tokoloshe, the soul stealer who superstitiously was blamed for these floor deaths. Ironically the word superstition derives from Latin which means to “stand over”, which Tokoloshe did as he stole the souls asleep on the floor.
When city dwelling traditional Africans elevated their beds however, they took themselves out of harms way by sleeping above the carbon monoxide zone on the floor. A scientific solution implemented through mythology.
Imitating the television series Mythbusters it seems that the myth of elevating one’s bed to avoid the soul reaping Tokoloshe is a true story.
The same is true for many of our religious narratives. They are absolutely true. They may just not have happened in the way we narrate them.
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country.When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.
It was Martin Luther King Jnr who concurred that the truth will set you free. But he added, “…but first it will make you very angry.”
There is something in this encounter between the Chief Priests, the Pharisees and Jesus which reflects just how the truth which Jesus had proclaimed to them in the metaphor of the rebellious tenants, made them very angry.
Matthew however, throws out another important detail that hints at the cause of their anger, namely their fear.
The Priests and Pharisees want to destroy Jesus, but he has the adulation of the people who think he is a prophet.
So the Priests and Pharisees, who are threatened by Jesus, are also afraid of the crowds. The fear is palpable, don’t you think?
I know what it is to get angry. I can literally seethe and seize up with rage! If I consider my anger rationally though, most times I am not angry for the reason I think.
I am enraged because a subconscious fear or insecurity is surfacing and my anger is a way to avoid dealing with my fear.
I have spent my life in South Africa, dealing with racism. By the way, not only white people can be racist. But having lived with racism in this milieux I recognise that the angry violence of racism is fuelled by the fear of those distinctively different from ourselves.
Witness if you will the Islamophobia sweeping the church at present and you will see what fear can do.
So let’s not deny our anger for politeness sake. But let us be clear from whence our anger is fuelled.