The First Noble Truth is that life is suffering. To live, you must suffer. – Buddhist teaching.
As long as we are on earth, the love that unites us will bring us suffering by our very contact with one another, because this love is the resetting of a Body of broken bones. – Thomas Merton
This blog has been thin. Not that I don’t think about writing. It is just that I haven’t given myself the time to drop down far enough below the surface of my thinking to retrieve anything worth writing about. And it distresses me when I realize just how quickly time can pass when living on the surface; especially on the flat surface of a computer screen. The distress intensifies along with the awareness that just outside my office window, along the garden wall, the shadows are lengthening, creeping over the day lilies, zinnias, marguerites, and finally darkening the Buddha sculpture that sits at the west end of the backyard. After a day of sitting in front of my computer, I step outside and feel the chill of the setting sun. Before I even discern the beauty of it, the day is gone.
Let me get this straight. I don’t want to appear as another “wanna be” writer, writing about writer’s block. Nor, do I want to drag my readers into my own dark hole of self-loathing. How boring is that? But, the best way I know how to make sense of this crazy life is to write about it; by pulling out the shards from the pit of these ambiguous feelings and piecing them together. It is a painful alchemical process of creating meaning out of chaos. And, for me, it doesn’t always come easy.
Thankfully, I’m not expected to do this on my own. When it looks as if that there is nothing left to piece together, when my libido has run dry as a desert wash, gracefully and auspiciously, a dream pays me a visit.
But in this case, the dream is horrifying and sad. It is about dolphins. In my “day life”, I often see dolphins off the coast of Ventura or on my frequent trips to and from Catalina Island. Their playfulness always makes me smile. But, the dolphins in the dream are not playing or swimming; rather, they are suffocating, crammed tightly into a small stone pool of water. And to make matters more tragic, right outside the pool is the endless ocean. Freedom so near, yet so unattainable.
Suddenly, in the dream, I hear a cacophony of cries and high-pitched screams followed by the sound of gun shots. I look down at the pool and see a few men with rifles killing off a number of dolphins in firing squad fashion. The pool darkens with blood. The sound and images of murder send warning signals up my spine setting off an instinctual fear that I rarely encounter. Later, I am told that the killing is necessary. Some of the dolphins are diseased and the only way to control contamination is to kill off the sick. But I know the disease is caused by the fact that there are too many dolphins crammed in too tight a space. Overcrowding and confinement foster disease.
So, I spend time with this dream. I hate it. I hate everything that it reminds me of: Over population, global warming, the devastation of our forests, the polluting of our water and the overwhelming daily bombardment of newly listed endangered and extinct species. Not to mention my own feelings of suffocation as I crawl my way through the demands of daily life.
How do I piece these shards together? How do I create something whole out of something so utterly broken?
Any solution that might mitigate the dream’s tragic ending feels ridiculously superficial. The dream does not indicate my need to free myself of psychological oppression or inner disease. No. Rather the dream invites me to participate in every image and aspect of the story: To cry with the dolphins as well as to partake in the shooting. Both sides deserve attention. Both sides suffer the split. It is a matter of psychological tectonics.
And as far as I can tell, nothing brings about wholeness more than the tears that flow from the streambed of suffering this split. As Robert Romanyshyn recently mentioned during his presentation on Antarctica, perhaps the one saving grace of global warming is that it is melting our hearts and opening us to the awareness of our suffering. Tears add moisture to those dried up pieces of broken shard, making them malleable.
A few days after the dream, perhaps serendipitously, I found a small dog on the road that had been hit by a car. I had just spent an hour in some nasty, finger flipping rush hour traffic when I came across the helpless creature, bloody and limp. It was after dark so I took the dog to a 24 hour emergency vet where I was told it would cost over $800 just to determine if the dog should be euthanized or not. No go. The vet then directed me to the local shelter where they would do the diagnostics for free. Once I arrived at the shelter and found my way through the night security gates, I handed the dog over to what would most likely be its death. I sucked it up and gave the dog to the receptionists who carried him away before I could even say goodbye. OK. I am a death dealer.
Soon enough, the sobs blew open like an uncontrollable geyser. For once, I could not minimize my feelings. “It is just a small and nameless dog”, I told myself. Yet, the tears could not be contained and, at last, the dolphins swam freely.
The Red Prawns of Fiji
Once upon a time. There was a beautiful Fijian Princess who lived on a jewel of an island in the South Pacific. One day, a handsome Prince who was returning from a fishing trip with a small group of his best men happened upon this island. They were still many days by canoe from their home, and they hoped that they would be able to replenish their supplies of fresh water, breadfruit and yams by bartering some of the fish they had caught. As the Prince was carrying out the negotiations with the chief, a beautiful Princess walked by accompanied by six maidens. The prince was immediately taken by her beauty. Their eyes met briefly and then the Princess, blushing ever so slightly, continued on her way. When their transactions were completed, the young prince and his men boarded their canoes and continued on the journey home.
The Prince however, could not stop thinking about the beautiful Princess, and shortly after returning to his home , he ordered 300 of his village maidens to return to her island with a gift of 300 banana leaf bundles of cooked prawns. A large flotilla of the Prince’s finest canoes were assembled and his men paddled the maidens back to the island of the Princess. Upon arriving, the 300 maidens placed the bundles of prawns on their heads and walked along a jungle path to the village where the Princess lived. The Princess however, flew into a rage when she saw the maidens and in a fit of madness, ordered all 300 maidens with their bundles of prawns to be thrown off a high cliff to their death amongst the jagged rocks and surging waves.
Once this foul deed was done, the Princess walked all alone out to the edge of the cliff. Gazing down at the carnage, she suddenly realized that she had destroyed a gift of love that had been sent by the handsome Prince. She began to weep. Her tears fell amongst the bodies of the maidens and the prawns, and her sorrow mixed together with the incoming tide. For a moment she thought she heard a song rise from the chaos but then she realized that it must have been the sounds of the wind and the waves playing tricks. Filled with sorrow and remorse over what she had done, she lived out the rest of her days alone and in mourning over the love that she had spurned.
Time beyond the reach of history passes and then one day in class, my Fijian students tell me the story of the Red Prawns. In fact, they said, “If you would like, we will take you with the distant daughters of those poor maidens to the pool that still remains where their song will cause the red prawns to rise and dance.”
I, of course, am very curious about this claim and so arrangements are made for me to travel to this sacred island. The island as it turns out, is hollow and we descend into it along a spiral staircase of large stones polished by the feet of many. We reach the bottom and there is a small, dark pool of water. Four of my female students gather along the edge of this pool and start to sing a chant that they repeat over and over again. It is in Fijian, but it roughly translates as this: “Listen to our song, oh sacred maidens who guard the portal to the mystery of the Red Prawns. Let our songs join together so that the prawns can hear, and once again rise from the dark depths of the pool into our sight so that we might watch them dance.” For several minutes, they sing this little chant over and over and just at the point when I am getting ready to admit that I might have been duped, I see a flicker of movement in the pool. My students stop singing. I kneel at the edge of the pool in order to get a closer look and, much to my surprise I see a large cluster of “red prawns” rising up from the darkened depths of the pool. In fact, it actually looks as though they are dancing as they swirl upward into the light. I reach out with my cupped hand into the water and a single red prawn swims onto my palm. Science has told me that there are no living species of red prawns, but now I am holding one in my palm. I stand up and bring my hand closer so that I can see more clearly. On the outer edge of my senses a song arises, a sad whispering, but then I realize that I must be ensnared in the power of the myth.. Nonetheless, the red prawn that does not exist continues to dance in my palm. RFF
There is also a morale to this story! Its called “Dance of Life”
I have enjoyed your writings!
Thank you for the story of the Red Prawns of Fiji. Interesting, how the story is told in layers – one being the myth itself and the other, the writer’s experience of the myth. Makes me aware, even more, how tears and grief – and joy too – give life to that which we thought could never exist in the so called “real world”. It is quite beautiful. – betsy
Can I make three, quite separate, points:
1) Writing (and blogging) is a form of ‘active imagination’. It does form part of our half of our dialogue with the unconscious. Writing about things helps to bring them into consciousness.
2) Carl Jung says that, although dreams are very important, it is almost impossible for us to unravel the meaning of our own dreams. We need extra clues, and the unconscious MAY give us those clues. It requires an act of grace.
3) Dogs are very important in dreams, and they can be in real life, as carriers of messages.
“Yes” to all three points! Although I am not familiar with the notion of dogs as carriers of messages. I find this intriguing.