exploring life in all its variety

July 21, 2012

On Violence

My heart goes out to the victims and their families, of the shooting in Colorado, as well as to the family of the shooter.

So many of us in the face of something like this try to find the answer. But is there an answer? Is it possible to end all violence, to make complete sense of our world? To make it perfectly peaceful?

I’m put in mind of the film “Serenity,” in which a controlling government becomes convinced it can create a world without sin, and in the end the only world “without sin” is one in which everyone has been killed, or transformed into a monster, by that same government, in a misguided attempt to control completely.

We are human, and we do horrible human things. It’s horrifying.

We are human, and we do wonderful human things. We can take heart.

My family experienced a violent tragedy many years ago, and I know there is nothing but time that heals such wounds, and one is lucky if time does. Revenge doesn’t, the death penalty doesn’t, getting rid of guns doesn’t, trying to control people even more doesn’t. Frightening people and imposing even stricter security doesn’t. Marginalizing the significant portion of the population who are “quiet” or “loners” or who don’t socialize on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t. All these things serve only to separate us even more.

Everyone has something to say about this tragedy. Does anyone have an answer? A solution?

I could take a guess at the cause, just as everyone else is trying to do. A brilliant student who was fascinated by how we behave and by neuroscience, who in the past month collected weapons, chemicals, booby-trapped his apartment, bought some 6,000 rounds of ammunition. It wasn’t that he bought a gun, or a chemical, but the accumulation of these things that might have been a red flag, had anyone known of all of them. It wasn’t that he was a loner or “too quiet” but that there was this big thing on his mind that he didn’t discuss with anyone, and perhaps that big thing wasn’t just planning a shooting, but an accumulation of symptoms he was smart enough to recognize and yet not smart enough to overcome, some paranoid schizophrenic delusion or fantasy that had been stewing for sometime. One that, because he never felt safe sharing it, festered inside him to the breaking point, and shocked and surprised us all.

But I don’t know any better than anyone else.

President Obama: “I’d like us to pause in a moment of silence for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover, and for all the victims of less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities every single day.”

Mitt Romney: “I stand before you today not as a man running for office but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American. This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country.”

Mayor Bloomberg of New York: “Maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re going to do about it.”

What are they going to do about it?
What are we going to do about it?
What am I going to do about it?

For myself, I’m going to do what I try to do every day since my sister’s death. Live, love, be myself, understand myself. I’m convinced that there’s nothing to do out there in the world, but only in my own heart and mind.

Carl G. Jung: “This problem cannot be solved collectively, because the masses are not changed unless the individual changes… The bettering of a general ill begins with the individual, and then only when he makes himself and not others responsible. This is naturally only possible in freedom, but not under a rule of force, whether this be exercised by a self-elected tyrant or by one thrown up by the mob.”

While violence is as old as humanity, so is nonviolence. So is love. So is family. So is sharing. The early hunter-gatherers shared everything among the tribe. They buried their dead with flowers. Neanderthals are now known to have buried their dead with flowers.

Mohandas Ghandi: “I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems…The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.”

File: — Barbara @ 8:00 am PST, 07/21/12
July 7, 2012

Red Dragonfly

Yesterday a dragonfly visited.

Not just any dragonfly. A Red Dragonfly. It flew into my side yard yesterday while I sat idling, taking a break from the internet and my dependence on it, thinking about spending the rest of the day knitting. I sat there looking at our avocado trees, which currently include three new, young ones, two in the ground, one in a pot, the smaller trees staked with bamboo sticks.

On one of those bamboo sticks, this Red Dragonfly landed, took off, flew around, and came back again to sit on top of the bamboo. It did this a few times before I realized what it was doing, using the top of the bamboo stake as a vantage point from which to hunt the tiny insects it kept flying up to snap out of the air. (Photos at bottom of post.) (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 1:28 pm PST, 07/07/12
June 25, 2012

Saving Captain Kirk

Ever since all the reading I did about journal writing recently, I’ve been fascinated with diaries and letters (again – as a teen I soaked up collections of Anne Morrow Lindberg’s letters as well as several memoirs by others, the most unforgettable for me being Jane Goodall’s account of life with the wild chimpanzees, In the Shadow of Man).

Today I almost missed a small treasure for a Star Trek fan like me. I accidentally opened my feed reader page, and just as I clicked off it, the words Star Trek popped into view, so I clicked back to see what the mention was about, and found this post at Letters of Note about an exchange of letters between Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov regarding the original Star Trek series. It appears Isaac Asimov had written an article for TV Guide about SF on television and had some criticisms of the show that Gene Roddenberry felt a need to respond to. The result, a helpful exchange that led to improvements in story lines intended to expand on Captain Kirk’s character and take advantage of William Shatner’s creative range.

Two of the results of this exchange that I remember distinctly were the episode in which Captain Kirk had his personality split in two by a transporter accident, and another in which a woman used a contraption to switch her personality into Kirk’s body and his into hers.

File: — Barbara @ 8:28 am PST, 06/25/12
May 6, 2012

Eternity’s Sunrise

Review: Eternity’s Sunrise: A Way of Keeping a Diary
by Marion Milner
ISBN-13: 978-0415550741 (I read an older edition printed in 1989)

This was a satisfying read in that the author was aging at this point and became if possible even more introspective, and it was fascinating to follow the delight she took in seemingly simple things but on a much deeper level. Internalizing experience can happen at a lot of levels, and it seems to me that as one ages one seems to see eternity more easily in the mundane. I think that’s what I’m trying to get at as what I found in this book.

Marion Milner also wasn’t just any aging woman. She was someone who’d explored her inner workings from the time she was young, had spent years helping others do so as a psychoanalyst, and had never stopped growing and learning and considering that there was something deeper she needed to get at. So many people seem to decide that they’re “finished” at some point and become more know-it-all than questing. I feel that it’s our quests that really define us and make us wise rather than just knowledgeable.

The book is organized as a kind of internal travelogue. It follows her on four different trips to Greece, and a visit to Israel, paying attention only to what stood out for her, observations if you will that she identifies as “beads” as if she were putting together a string of prayer beads, each one special for its own (and her own internal) reasons. This isn’t what one expects from a travelogue. There isn’t anything that a casual tourist looks for. It will appeal only to the tourist of the psyche, playing with the images that stand out for the author in her travels, viewed as one might read the images in dreams.

Some early passages that stand out for me:

“Now I knew what it was I had missed in the other two visits, when there had been no time to climb the mountain, knew that it had not been that I had wanted just to see what flowers and birds were there, nor to get to the top, nor to find the Bacchantes’ cave (we really knew we’d never reach it), but rather to achieve something of what arriving at a holy place by mechanical transport deprives one of, the sense of spending, not one’s money but one’s self, to get there.”
(See the Greek play, Bacchantes by Euripides, “O hidden cave of the Curetes!” (http://classics.mit.edu/Euripides/bacchan.html), which the author had been reading while on an earlier trip to Greece.)

“I had certainly found that the whole idea of turning one’s attention inwards was deeply threatening to some people.”

(Contemplating the Daphni monastery Christ Pantrocrator mosaic) “… could this be a glimpse of a new vision that the artist who made the mosaic was speculating about, perhaps not even knowing that he was, a secret doubt whether the wholesale rejection of the body which had become so embedded in the way Christianity had developed since the days of Christ really was what Christ had meant? Could it be showing the mosaic maker’s own intuition that to be truly human did not mean denying the body but redeeming it from the body-mind split that practical life in the world so often seems to demand, redeeming it by a recurrent resurrection, not after death but in this life? And, therefore, not retreating from bodily love but going deeper into it, finding richer and richer possibilities in relationship, in psychic and physical creativeness, bringing the full inner body awareness into being together?”

All of this was of course the author’s personal musing, reflecting on her Christian upbringing and coming to terms with her early rejection of that teaching and her interest in nature and in paganism – and later in psychology. Although the author was a Freudian psychoanalyst, she occasionally referenced Jung and skirted around Jungian ideas. In fact throughout her four books that I’ve now read she made reference to what she called the “inner gesture” and an “Answering Activity” or “the sense of something other that lives one.” All these I found leading to or similar to what Jung referred to as the Self.

I’ll stop sharing passages here and leave the rest to be discovered by those who choose to read the book, as I think I’ve made clear by now that this isn’t so much a travelogue of Greece and Israel as it is a travelogue of Marion Milner’s unique vision of life, and an invitation for others to find their own unique visions of life.

There are some passages that refer to her earlier books and are likely best understood if one has read them, but I don’t think any lack of familiarity with those books will detract too much from understanding this one. I just feel lucky to have read them and feel as if I know the author better to start with. This was almost like finding as yet unread letters from a dear friend.

File: — Barbara @ 9:02 am PST, 05/06/12
March 7, 2012

Books about diaries or personal journals

For many years I’ve kept personal journals. I don’t mean blogs (though I’ve kept a few of those as well in recent years), but paper journals that I write for me alone. Journals (or diaries) have been an important outlet for me since I was a teenager, though I’ve kept them more regularly at some times than at others.

In the meantime, since I first started journaling, I’ve read a lot of books about writing, because I had a dream of being a published novelist. But I’d never read a book about keeping a journal until now. The other day someone posted a quote by Tristine Rainer about journaling. I looked up the name, found that she’d written a couple of books, and one thing led to another. (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 2:15 pm PST, 03/07/12
February 11, 2012

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

If you’ve ever wondered what happened to the Goddess in ancient belief and myth, why She vanished, as well as why women have been treated so abysmally at certain times in history in nearly every culture, this makes fascinating and disturbing reading.

According to the author, in nearly every culture that has a phonetic alphabet, there was a kind of culture shock that occurred, first when the alphabet was developed and a lot of people became literate, and later when printing became common. These culture shocks came in waves accompanied by violence and/or oppression, especially against women. These periods of time, at least in the West, also coincided with the growth and spread of monotheistic religions that banished images as “graven” or evil, and reformations of those religions, particularly those that renewed the idea that images were bad and the written word was good. (Confucianism apparently arrived with similar shock waves in the East.) In addition to these effects coinciding with the spread of alphabetic writing and monotheistic religion, they also coincided with the spread of Cartesian ideals that put science and rational thought above faith, nature, irrational thought and the arts, and again with the rise of both atheism and Marxism.

I won’t go into much detail, because really the details need to be read as they’re presented in the book in order to make the most sense, and I feel that I have a loose grasp on them. This book bears rereading, for me at least. But I recommend it. Any tiny inaccuracies are excusable considering the amount of information the author sifted through to draw his conclusions.

Overall, the conclusions drawn make sense to me. The book doesn’t promote illiteracy or a return to a more “backward” culture, as one might conclude before reading it. It promotes balance, much like what Jung would no doubt encourage, between rational and irrational, masculine and feminine, Logos and Eros, science and belief, and nature and civilization. It’s easy to see how the spread of the written word and the banishing of images occurring at the same time created an imbalance that people didn’t know how to adapt to. One hopes that our increased understanding of human psychology and our need for balance will help us to adapt better to the similar shock waves that occur as we continue to evolve.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess
Leonard Shlain
Penguin 1999
ISBN-10: 0140196013
ISBN-13: 978-0140196016

File: — Barbara @ 8:47 am PST, 02/11/12
December 29, 2011

Why I won’t tell you my New Year’s resolution

I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions, with one exception. In January 1995 I was determined to do two things: 1) lose a lot of weight and 2) take on and complete a large, intense creative project, one with depth, one that I felt passionately about, one that was personally risky, emotionally and in the time and energy I needed to invest in it.

I don’t consider myself high in the willpower department, and though I was never sure exactly what set me back the other times that I failed to carry through with something, it never surprised me. I thought of myself as an underachiever. What I’ve found most years is that if I set a resolution, it doesn’t pan out. But in 1995 I accomplished both my big goals.

Why? First, they were goals that were both important to me, things I felt strongly about at the time, and they’d been on my mind for months and even years before the point of crystallization that caused me to go for them.

There was one other secret that I’m now convinced got me through that year.

I didn’t tell a soul about these two goals. (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 4:29 pm PST, 12/29/11
December 23, 2011

Winter in Yellowstone

In spite of it freezing up Firefox on me (hopefully a problem unique to my computer setup), I’m sharing this awe inspiring video from PBS of winter in Yellowstone. The wildlife footage is some of the best I’ve ever seen, including a pack of wolves taunting a herd of elk stags, and a red fox diving into the snow after voles or mice. I’m a fan of nature documentaries, and this one is astounding. Stark evidence that there’s a reason they call it “Wild Wyoming.” Enjoy! (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 1:55 pm PST, 12/23/11
December 22, 2011

Painterly advice that can help with all creative efforts

I’m not usually a painter, though I love the medium, admire great painting, and can’t help dabbling now and then. You wouldn’t think advice for painters would help me that much to nurture my whole creative self. But then I saw this post at JanasJournal.com: (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 2:53 pm PST, 12/22/11

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess

I’ve been reading The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image by Leonard Shlain (ISBN-13: 978-0140196016 Penguin), which explores changes that took place in various ancient cultures when alphabets and writing became common. (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 9:50 am PST, 12/22/11
August 23, 2009

2009 Tarot Study – The Fool

The Fool asks — Am I in control of what’s happening? Or are other forces at work? Does it matter?

Modern tarotists sometimes relate the Fool to the planet Uranus, but in the era in which we first know that Tarot existed, this was impossible, since no one yet knew Uranus the planet existed. Only seven planets were named. Back then it’s believed the Fool may have corresponded to the Air element.

While the mental or airy nature of the King of Swords may be seen as the mastery of, or complete focus of the powers of the mind, as the ultimate in mental discipline, in fact ultimate mastery of the mind may very well belong to the Fool. Not only is the Fool so focused, on one hand, that he’s oblivious to the dangers around him or to the possible folly of his path. He’s also, on the other hand, able to let go of instinctive control, of his survival needs, just as a mad man or an innocent child might. He may also do this with full conscious intent, in order to let go, fall, create, risk, imagine, and explore inner and outer realms with absolute freedom. He embodies conscious and unconscious focus, as well as conscious and unconscious abandon. He has few attachments to the material world — only the ragged or comical clothing he wears, his knapsack, and possibly an animal guide. He could conceivably be a shamanic kind of healer, willing to enter another plane of existence without fear, with his trusty animal guide there to pull him back into our reality when his work is done. At his most powerful, the Fool can be all these things or none. He can be an error in thinking, a blunder. He can be a surprise.

He’s one aspect of the Trickster.

While many tarotists place the Fool at the beginning of the major arcana, as number zero, in fact zero isn’t a beginning at all. It is no thing. In some of the earliest known Tarots, the Visconti, none of the major arcana were numbered. When they later were ordered and numbered, the Fool remained unnumbered. Where in the series of 22 cards would one place this being who seemed to exist out of time, outside the material world, even outside the social classes? On one hand he’s a beggar, an idiot, a mad man. He matters not to the ordered classes. On the other he’s the court jester, the only one who can make fun of the King or Emperor without fear of losing his life. He also has the King’s ear and might sometimes whisper words of wisdom of the kind only a child might utter, or deliver news that no one else dare. He’s a truth teller, for isn’t that what makes a good joke, a humorous illustration of truth? So he must remain of no account, as one who will never be taken seriously.

The Fool may be a “natural fool” or a “licensed fool.”

Today, instead of court jesters we have comedians who point out the flaws of our leaders — and who don’t seem to take sides in their truth telling. Every leader seems to fall subject to their jests.

Many a family has a child like this, one who will tell family truths, truths the family doesn’t want told, who is therefore cast into the role of no-account by becoming the family scapegoat. In a dysfunctional family this role is sometimes relegated to one child. In some families the role is shared. It gets changed off from one member to another, from one time or circumstance to another. Perhaps even a parent takes a turn at being the scapegoat/truth teller.

The Fool is also the Child in all of us, the Child archetype that Jung and others have sometimes called the Divine Child and considered important as a symbol in dreams.

The Fool can be seen as both the beginning and the end of one’s journey. One starts life as an infant, a child, an innocent who knows no good or evil. Vulnerable, unlearned, unconscious, the child looks at the world and life with his eyes wide with wonder. Toward the end of life, if one is fortunate, one may reach the other end of the journey with a new kind of Fool-like awareness, an ability to see beyond good and evil, to recognize them as merely light and shadow, both necessary for balance. The Fool may have a sage-like wisdom that knows no boundaries and sees beyond our material existence. The Child Fool may be fearless because he’s innocent of danger. The Sage Fool understands danger and realizes he need not fear it. He moves through his fear with awareness.

File: — Barbara @ 11:56 am PST, 08/23/09
July 2, 2009

Seeing Tarot with new eyes

Every now and then my cat Tara decides to look for new sleeping perches and hiding places. It’s as if she sees the whole house with new eyes, and notices things she never has before. Dark shadows open up into cozy corners. Vast heights are brought down to her level. Everything morphs into a new scene, which she traverses or manipulates (sometimes including her people) to suit her purposes.

It sounds an awful lot like creative work, doesn’t it? But it also reminds me of Tarot reading.

In our dreams the same thing happens. Our unconscious presents things we’re familiar with, but they appear in new ways. Home furnishings that wouldn’t in waking life survive a flood are sometimes submerged in dreams, and so are we, able to traverse the depths in our own houses without drowning. Sometimes we fly. In my flying dreams I often need to move my limbs a little, just as if I were dog paddling, but in the air rather than in water.

If we can view Tarot cards with these same dreamers’ eyes, bending the rules of reality a little, we can read them in a whole new way, the way we look at abstract artwork or find shapes in clouds.

The ability to see the same old cards with fresh eyes brings a depth to my readings that I don’t achieve any other way. That’s essentially how intuition works. It skips over the logical steps and paths that our mental processes usually take, and arrives at an answer anyway, sometimes a surprising answer that is equally surprising in its accuracy.

In each reading, I can retreat back into traditional or learned meanings if I choose, or I can see the cards with new eyes. Sometimes I find that a combination of the two works for me. I also sometimes see multiple layers of meaning in one card.

Next time you look at a Tarot card, pause for a moment to see it with new eyes. I’ll bet you can if you try. Tara is certain you’ll like it. And by the way, will you move your stuff off that shelf up there so she can nap on it sometimes?

* * *

You can read my article, “The Interdependent Language of Tarot,” in this month’s Association for Tarot Studies Newsletter.

File: — Barbara @ 2:41 pm PST, 07/02/09
May 25, 2009

World Tarot Day

Today is World Tarot Day, and I blogged about it on my fiction-writing blog, over at Mystery of a Shrinking Violet: World Tarot Day. See you there, I hope.

File: — Barbara @ 3:01 pm PST, 05/25/09
May 2, 2009

2009 Tarot Study – XIII Death

This past week’s card was the Death card, number XIII. In many older Tarot decks, the Fool wasn’t numbered, and card XIII was never named.

Many Death cards depict a skeleton wielding a scythe as it mows down kings, clergymen, rich and poor, powerful and lowly alike, thus portraying La Mort as the great equalizer. In some decks, Death is portrayed as a cloaked figure with a scythe riding a pale horse through fog, storm clouds, or a desolate landscape. Again, the dead strewn across the landscape are people from all ranks of life.

In movies, the Death card usually predicts an actual death, much to the disappointment of Tarot users who’ve tired of that stereotype. While XIII Death can indicate physical death, several other Tarot cards can too, and that’s not the Death card’s usual interpretation. The image in the card is a symbolic representation of an archetype, a typical process that humans experience in many forms besides physical death. But the stereotypical meaning, taking the symbolic representation as literal death, is what many people think of when they first see the Death card. It’s scary to them because they’ve learned to fear death. It makes Tarot appear to them to be full of evil portent and curses, when in fact it’s a great tool for introspection and self-understanding.

XIII Death reminds us that all things come full circle, much like the hands on a clock, from beginning to end — and in the end is an inherent fresh beginning. Death as a physical transition from this life is natural in that it comes to all living things. We fear it because of its unknown aspects, such as when it will happen, how, whether we’ll be prepared or feel that we have too many loose ends left in our lives. We may fear that we’ll have tasks, lessons, goals, or adventures left unfinished — or relationships we don’t want to split apart, even temporarily. We may have regrets that haunt us and remain unresolved. Then there’s the inevitable question of an afterlife. Is there one? What will ours be like? We also fear it because it’s out of our control, and in our modern world we like control. We insist upon it.

Some of us resist death as if we could cheat it, or be the one person it somehow passes by. Some seem to do the opposite and rush toward it by courting danger. Others unconsciously invite death by way of dangerous habits, or apathy. We sometimes borrow a little death by fearing it.

In Tarot, the Death card rarely indicates the end of physical life, so its appearance in a reading shouldn’t be frightening. It usually indicates other kinds of transitions. It’s the inevitability of these changes that seems to be most consistent, with this card, and that’s how its meaning most resembles physical death. One is faced with the inevitable. One must change.

There are many kinds of change that are as inevitable, irresistible, and irrevocable as death. A few examples are the end of childhood, the end of pregnancy in the relentless throes of labor, the need to move on from a spent relationship, leaving a job that no longer suits us — or no longer exists. It’s usually an expected change, one that on some level we knew would come eventually. Perhaps we’ve put off preparing for it, hoping it wouldn’t. Resisting such change is futile, and in many cases will make matters worse or prolong someone’s suffering. It’s best to let go as gracefully as possible, allowing the remains to feed the future and the resulting emptiness to be filled with something new and perhaps better, fresher, more vital, more timely. We can’t see what that might be, and that makes it all the harder to let go. In this regard it’s more like a stalled or prolonged grieving process than death itself.

I sometimes think of this card as the Tarot’s recycling center, or compost heap, because it represents the kinds of endings that are also beginnings, whether we can see or believe in them or not. The remaining energy is best put to other uses.

As each day ends and we retire for the night, most of us do so in the knowledge or faith that a new day will soon dawn. But worry can make the dawn seem a long ways off. It’s in resisting the unknown and inevitable change, in worrying over them as if that worry could somehow thwart them, that we kill ourselves, by refusing to move forward in life, to be present as we meet our future.

The Death card is as much about internal change — life lessons or phases, and how we process them — as it is about external matters. The change might take place inside us, completely unseen by others except as it alters our outlook and behavior. It can be as mundane a change as, “Vacation’s over; time to get back to work.” Although the Death card always requires an adjustment, it’s never a reason to panic. What good would panic do, even if it was an indicator of death? There are more constructive ways to meet the future.

Copyright © 2009 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved.

2009 Tarot Study Index

File: — Barbara @ 8:10 pm PST, 05/02/09
March 28, 2009

2009 Tarot Study – Twos

The Twos in Tarot can be dualistic, bipolar, two-faced, and filled with conflict or tension. They can push or pull in two directions, or unite somewhere in the middle in a tense, semi-structured and semi-permanent balance. Their energy can also build to a release point that will occur in the Threes.

Three of Wands Three of Cups

Three of Swords Three of Disks

Going back to Gail Fairfield’s geometric analogy, Two is two points connecting to form a line. Remember back to Geometry class, the abstract notion that a line extends into infinity in both directions, and you have an idea of the potential of the Twos in Tarot — especially the most prominent Two in the deck, the Papess or High Priestess. (more…)

File: — Barbara @ 3:17 pm PST, 03/28/09

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