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.
Rothko - Untitled Red and Black
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.