Without a nature center engagement this morning, for the first time in 4 days, I allowed myself to sleep in and have some pillow talk with Steve. Basically, that amounts to an intimate conversation about where I’ve been emotionally and philosophically while I’ve been active socially. And now, we’re heading off to Madison to fete my oldest daughter for her birthday. So, this is it for today’s post. More anon…..
Are human beings the only animals that weep?
Charles Darwin noted that Indian elephants weep. There have been many books written on the subject of animals’ emotions, and I haven’t read any of them, so I’m not going to venture an answer. What I do know is that I weep. And Steve weeps. When we weep – not cry, but weep — it seems to come from a sacred place in our soul, a place that has been stirred by something far greater than our selves. Of course, we can make efforts to wall off that place, if we want to. Bombarding ourselves with distractions often works to activate those shields. We can also choose to be curious and try to understand that feeling better.
“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.” – Mark Rothko
Tears can be a sign of “religious experience”, then. Fair enough. Something spiritual is going on there. What?
“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know, that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.” – Mark Rothko
That loneliness, that “pocket of silence where we can root and grow” resonates deeply with my partner, Steve. He calls it being moody or refers to his “Slavic melancholy”. It’s not a sorrowful thing only; it is just as brightly tinted with joy, like some of Rothko’s paintings. The combination, the totality is what hits home with him. He says, “The deeper story is to face all of life. Jesus and the Buddha are heroes of that story.” They are not conquering wartime heroes interested solely in winning. They do not struggle and strive. They embrace all dimensions of life equally: the suffering, the love, the sacrifice, the elation.
In the book The Power of Myth based on Billy Moyers’ interviews with Joseph Campbell, I read:
Campbell: “The images of myth are reflections of the spiritual potentialities of every one of us. Through contemplating these, we evoke their powers in our own lives.”
Moyers: “Who interprets the divinity inherent in nature for us today? Who are our shamans?”
Campbell: “It is the function of the artist to do this. The artist is the one who communicates myth for today.….”
Steve weeps when listening to Mahler. And “Puff the Magic Dragon”. Slipping into his cave, searching for that place to root and grow, he feels the poignant essence of life, the crescendo and decrescendo, and resists exerting his will against the flow. I think that I have a different sensibility. Maybe not so expansive, maybe more interior and visceral. I identify with a lonely pocket of silence for rooting and growing…the womb. I feel womb-love, the ache, the swoon, the exchange of life blood. I see colors inside my eyelids, sunshine through membrane, the tragedy and ecstasy and doom of flesh. Okay, I am in the grip of my biology this week, so this makes a lot of sense. I have given birth four times and dream of my grown up children regularly. The story that trips my tear ducts is “Homeward Bound”, anything with a reunion. The deeper story for me has something to do with connection. Maybe that’s the Gaia story. I think she’s like Jesus and Buddha in that she also embraces all of life without struggling or striving, but in her own way. Perhaps I feel more in my Sacral Chakra, Steve in his Heart Chakra.
The deeper story of being human is told from inside this skin. It is not the only story in the universe, however. There is the elephant’s story, the asteroid’s story, more stories than we can imagine. I would hope to know many more, and to weep at all of them.
There’s one question that keeps coming up, begging for my attention. “Who am I?” Perhaps this is a Socrates Cafe revolving door.
How much do you identify with your body? Or your gender? Or your ego? How much do you identify with your Big ‘S’ Self?
What’s a Big ‘S’ Self as opposed to a small ‘s’ self (or what I call the Big Ass self)? Steve describes it like the tip of a pyramid. It has a base, but sits on top of a much, much bigger base - The Big ‘S’ Self – which is all about simply recognizing the world as it is without trying to impose any ego imprints on it. My question today is “Where does my biology fit in?” At almost 50 years of age, I certainly recognize how my biology has impacted life as I experience it. It seems intrinsic to my being. I couldn’t possibly imagine being a man. My reproductive cycles, my hormonal moods, my childbirth experiences, my posture of surrender, my physical life and psychological attitudes that arise from that seem to be very much “me”. And yet, all of that is in flux, changing all the time, even while The Change is looming in my not-too-distant future. So maybe there’s a Big ‘S’ Self that isn’t affected by all that. Would that be my soul?
How do I bring my Self and my self into a relationship? How do I interact with someone else’s Self and self?
Sometimes it seems like it would be so much simpler just to have a body without such a brain dominating it. Eat, sleep, have sex, die. Nothing to philosophize about. Sometimes it seems like I’m trying too hard to live well. Morally. Conscientiously.
Steve surprised me. He bought me a picture book about a baby elephant. It came in the mail today. Sometimes the simplest thing is just to accept a gift….like life.
I was at the Wehr Nature Center this morning with a group of 11 first graders, looking for ingredients to cook up a batch of soil. Soil. It’s one of the two most precious substances on this planet (along with water). We wouldn’t have anything to eat if it weren’t for soil. So why not teach first graders to appreciate it? We went out on the trail to find the living and non-living ingredients in soil. It’s been raining pretty heavily and steadily this week, so all the trails are soft with soggy wood chips and all the leaves are damp. Suddenly, I noticed something: silence. The cloud cover and the moisture and the dropping temperatures are keeping people away, I surmised. After waving goodbye to the kids, I decided to spend an hour on the trails alone, relishing the quiet.
There is a graciousness to quiet. It’s very hard to cultivate in an urban setting. Noise pollution is ubiquitous, so mostly we deny it. I am particularly aware of this functional denial because I employ it every moment. I have a cyst on the arachnoid membrane beneath my skull. I discovered this about 6 years ago when I went to the doctor with tinnitus and got an MRI. My hearing was tested, and I got a follow-up image 6 months later. Basically, the cyst has put some pressure on my auditory nerve and caused the ringing in my right ear. It’s not growing, and I don’t get headaches, so I opted to leave it alone. I have ringing in both ears now, but it’s not usually a recognizable tonal ringing, more of an ‘ocean sound’ that causes some hearing difficulties. It’s very easy to ignore. When is life ever so quiet that you’d hear the blood rushing in your ears? The only time that it bothers me is when I am lured by the elusive possibility of complete silence. Sort of like light pollution. When does light bother you except when you are lured by the elusive possibility of a perfect starry night? Or when you’re trying to fall asleep? And when is it ever a good time to have elective brain surgery?? Certainly not while my husband was dying, and certainly not now when I don’t have medical insurance. So I’ll skip it.
But stillness and quiet at the side of a pond is a magical gift. I did startle some mallards who were hiding by the reeds. Two flew away, but the other two just paddled a few feet out and then turned around. I came quite close to a fat, male cardinal and a red-headed woodpecker. I got the feeling that everything was in a subdued mode. The colors were muted, the sounds were muted, animal activity was less raucous than usual. A holy hush, perhaps.
The Lord is in his holy temple, let the all the earth be silent before him. (Hab. 2:20)
That reminds me of my Dad. So did the cardinal. Dad could whistle the cardinal’s song and used it to call us to attention. I learned to do it, too. (My kids probably hate the sound, but it works.) Who do you think of in silent moments? What calls to you out of silence?
On August 21, 1962 at about four in the afternoon, my mother gave birth to her fourth daughter and named her Priscilla Grace. That was me. Imagine growing up in the cool and hip 60s & 70s with a name like Priscilla. Well, Mrs. Presley may have helped me out a bit, but since I was born in Massachusetts, my name sounded in my ears with all the Puritanical pizzazz of a rusty shoe buckle. It wasn’t until I was naming my own children that I bothered to find out what the name means. Of course, I knew it came from the Bible. I knew it was Latin. I didn’t know it meant ‘ancient’. How flattering. I am ancient in a dead language. And my middle name, Grace, is intentionally theological but also implies 15 other definitions in dictionary.com. For a little kid, it was a lot of name.
Well, I am no longer a little kid. I am beginning my 50th year of life and will be celebrating it daily in this blog until its culmination, and possibly beyond. I am thrilled to begin with naming a blog and a domain. My parents never gave me a nickname. I didn’t acquire one until a 3 year old who lived at a camp where I was employed as a college student started calling me “Scilla”. It sounded so much more like me than “Pris” or the cringe-inducing “Prissy”. So this blog is dubbed scillagrace to symbolize ancient elegance of manner, action, form, motion and moral strength. It is my goal to post entries worthy of the name. It is my goal to avoid being dogmatic and prissy. I want to challenge myself to go deeper into subjects that explore the ancient grace of life. It is a lot of name and a lot of subject, to be sure. We’ll see how it goes.