Tears and Tectonics

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.

Slippery Solstice

She contains in her darkness the sun of “masculine” consciousness, which rises as a child out of the nocturnal sea of the unconscious, and as an old man sinks into it again. She adds the dark to the light, symbolizes the hierogamy of opposites, and reconciles nature with spirit” (Jung, CW 11, par. 711).

Today is December 21st, the Winter Solstice. While many, I suppose, are preparing their ceremonial fire circles and dusting off their drums, I decide to take a morning bike ride along the coast. The waves are smooth and well shaped, and the melacon is abuzz with antsy surfers. I feel elated as I slip through the salty air, effortlessly dodging surf boards and dog walkers. At this moment, there is no other place I would rather be.

The world solstice comes from the Latin and means “sun stand still”.  This is due to the perception that during the days preceding and following the solstice, the sun becomes fixed along its southerly route. If the sun gets trapped, or refuses to turn around, we would be doomed to short days and long nights. Or, worse yet, the sun just might disappear altogether and we would be seduced into an endless sleep.   Frankly, this might not be so bad. Sleep is easy. Being awake takes much more effort.

Which brings me to another dream that came a few days ago. In this dream, I am driving along the Southern California coast between Ventura and Santa Monica. Along the way, I spot an old wooden outhouse and decide to stop and relieve myself. I get out of my car and step into the small box-like structure and, as if walking through the Narnian wardrobe; it magically opens up into a beautiful cavern. The earthen ceiling is circular and high and the walls are covered with multicolored Tibetan mandalas.  The beauty is so overwhelming that my knees buckle beneath me and I cannot move. I want to stay here forever. After some undetermined amount of time, the minister of this place, a woman, looks over her balcony and says to me, “Betsy, it is time to leave”. I tell her I don’t want to leave. And in a stern, but loving voice, she says “It’s time”.  I make a few feeble attempts to free my legs from their frozen position, and eventually manage to head back to the old wooden door with its crescent moon carved into the center (what is behind these moons on outhouse doors, anyway?).

The cavern, turned cathedral, propelled me into a state of ecstasy, and like the solstice sun, I stood still. I did not want to turn around and reenter the light of day. I did not want to go back into the world. I needed some help.

For the ancients, the winter solstice represents a moment of rebirth; the sun having descended into the underworld, the land of the dead, now makes its way back to the realm of the living to revive crops and regenerate livestock. It is a hopeful time, indeed, and one to be celebrated. But, the old ones must have also known the risks involved. The Chumash, for instance, stayed indoors while their shamans summoned the sun back to life. They knew that the sun’s strength could consume them.

In my sideways view of things, I kind of wish the sun would remain in its cushy state of unconsciousness. I could follow the sun as it dives even deeper into that ocean of bliss, never to return.  I could sleep my life away.

But I’ve left the Cathedral. I’ve turned the corner. Ready to start the day more than ever.