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Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Valuing of Human Experience

I was sitting in a day-long training on Friday and a concept that had been floating around the periphery of my brain suddenly fell into clear relief. But, let me go back a bit:

The training was for lay persons on how to recognize and respond to suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, and (in a very limited way) addiction. I expected to be thoroughly bored, having been trained and educated countless times on these same basic concepts; and teaching most of them in my own classroom.

Instead, I was quite engaged. The two gentlemen who conducted the training were dynamic and interesting speakers.** But, more than that, as a connected concept often does, it triggered some existing ideas to gather and gel.

It has always been my belief that, as a culture, Americans have an odd way of looking at things --

  • if you cry, you're weak
  • it is your responsibility to pull yourself up 'by the bootstraps' and move forward
  • people with addiction, anxiety, or depression CHOOSE to be that way; if they just got up and DID something, they'd be fine, because its not really a disease
  • the strong survive while the weak do (and should) perish
  • people who are victims are somehow responsible for their victimization
I inwardly cringe every time I see those awful Facebook memes that tell you to just 'keep going' as if your experience means nothing. They say that you must become a 'survivor' instead of a 'victim,' 'powerful' instead of 'empowered.' Why? In our society, we blame the victim and glamorize the perpetrator. It is more important to be powerful than to be kind. Again, I ask why?

And, I realized, in a short moment that this has all come about because we grossly devalue our present, human experience. We're taught to live so thoroughly in the world of the future, planning for and moving toward imagined and yet unimagined goals, always ten (or two hundred) steps ahead; that we've become completely detached from our own experience. When we're victimized, injured, or otherwise hurt, we race to call ourselves 'survivors' by transcending this experience, distracting ourselves, and disregarding it. Why? 

EVERY experience forms us as people. We aren't formed only by those experiences by which we were successful, or those which are pleasurable. Research does, in fact, indicate that we are more highly impacted by those things that are challenging. Our society, as a course of its future-orientation, has created a world in which any and all life transitions are seen as merely inconsequential steps on the rung of the ladder which always climbs into the sky, beyond our sight, until the day of our death. 

Don't misunderstand. In no way do I suggest that we have no goals in life. Goals give us direction and allow us to determine our current behavior and path. Goals can be good. But, we aren't all goals. Our conscious cannot constantly live in the future and allow us to be healthy and well. When we devalue our current experience, several things happen:

  • we will repeat the same errors because we've failed to learn the lessons associated with them, therefore, plunging headlong into the abyss, time and time again. (If you disagree with me on this, I'll show you any person who cannot maintain a job, relationship, etc...If we look closely, there will be common patterns and themes in their lives that impact them, repeatedly, and unconsciously, always undermining their progress without their awareness.)
  • we will have a consistent sense of discontent, discomfort, and inferiority, because we've not taken the time to celebrate and grieve the transitional parts of life -- all transitions hold both positive and negative aspects which deserve equal attention
  • as a society, we will behave in ways that demonstrate a lack of compassion, because our belief is that we must move continually forward without rest; that those who do rest are weak, foolish, or without value and should be left behind, labeled as 'lazy' and undeserving
  • we will glamorize aspects of human behavior that we also punish (ie: violence, drug dealing, sexual deviance, etc.)
These things are so prevalent in our society and cultural norms that I'm saddened by them. I advocate for the following alternative:
  • celebrate and grieve all life transitions, no matter how small. Take note of the inherent difficulty in moving from one expectation to the next. Find a circle of people to do this with you. There are lovely, but relatively unknown, movements in society who are trying to recapture this. The Red Tent leaps to mind. 
  • try to be 'in the moment' whenever possible. Honor and recognize your own experience in this life. You are valuable. Feel what is. Allow yourself permission to process what is happening. 
  • Educate and explain to others what you are aiming to do, so that they may critically consider this approach. 

But, most of all, live in a way that allows you to feel whole, complete, and present. Isn't that the point of it all? I will not race for the future so that my present is nothing but a blur. I will live where I am, a resident of my own mind, body, emotion, and soul, in the moment in which I stand. 

Blessed Be. 

**Please check out their organization. It is a worthy and valuable cause. If you need a seminar done on any of their topics, I would recommend them. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sea Hag

Mythos and the elements have been extremely heavy on my mind, lately. And, I've only really wanted to paint aspects of the elements which exist in popular myth. The canvas, this time, gathers the Sea Hag...

Sea Hag stories range from the Old World to the New...New Haven, CT, in fact, has quite a local history of their own sea hag. For them, the hag is a spectre that draws unsuspecting sailors to their death, pretending to be a damsel in distress upon the rocks. When the ships draw in to save her, they perish upon the jetty. 

The Celtic deity, the Morrighan, was said to appear as a crone, washing clothes in the river. The clothes she was washing would be those of the soldier about to die in battle. 

The Welsh had the Muilerteach, or the water hag. She was, in this persona, the goddess of the sea, but -- more so -- a personification of the sea, itself. Scottish mariners were quite frightened of her and often made sacrifices of their catch as tribute. 

And, of course, we know the stories of the Greek Sirens -- creatures with beautiful voices, who appeared to be stunning women, but were actually man-eating beasts. 

And, how could we leave out the Mermaid -- half fish, half woman. The sea creature who is often portrayed in art as beautiful and pale skinned. Unlikely. We all know what happens to our fingers and toes when we stay in the bath too long! I suspect the mermaid would be far more like a translucent ethereal being than a woman, but who am I to guess?

What does all of this tell me about my pondering and swiping of the brush on the canvas -- another side to water has become awakened for me. The dangerous side. The deadly side. The ancient side. Water holds the last truly unexplored place on our planet in its depths. The utter truth is that we do not know what it hides in the places we cannot go. 

The femme fatale lives in the depths -- a woman untamed, purely instinctual, entirely elemental, incredibly self-sustaining, dangerous, capable -- a FORCE of nature. This is what the Sea Hag represents for me. This beautiful, fearsome creature that does as she wills, with no regard. She is a part of me.