The Bug at Karma Dzong

I still regard my encounter with a bug at Karma Dzong -- a meditation practice center in Boulder, Colorado -- with wonder and awe. Up to a certain point, what the bug did might be interpreted as simple coincidence, having nothing to do with my presence, thoughts, intentions or projections toward it. What unfolded beyond that point, however, compelled me to question some basic assumptions about what's possible in humanity's relationship to nature and any individual being within that field.

Boulder_shambala_center_18-01-026The Shambhala Center at 14th and Spruce in Boulder, Colorado, known to me at the time of my bug encounter as "Karma Dzong". [Photo: historycolorado.org]

Here's my account of this experience:

In the fall of 1989, I entered the master's degree program in contemplative psychotherapy at Naropa University, and had begun to practice meditation at Karma Dzong as a way of connecting with the Buddhist community in Boulder and seeing if Buddhism was a path to which I wanted to commit more deeply. This bug event took place during an evening sitting meditation. On that particular evening -- after two or three others had left -- I was the only one in the hall.

As I sat, eyes open, with lightly-held gaze cast toward the row of mats six feet or so in front of me, I noticed a bug moving directly and steadily toward me. When it reached the edge of the mat in front of me, it stopped. My practice for many years had been to greet -- in speech or in silence -- any creature whose path I crossed, and so I sent a silent "hello" to this insect. This individual continued to sit motionless in front of me, and I found myself wanting to engage with it further.

At the time I didn't know what kind of bug it was. Pulling up image fragments still available so many years distant from the original experience, I'm guessing now that it was member of the soldier beetle family. Among gardeners, these species are considered friends to be welcomed: they do no harm to plants, they feed on aphids and other garden pests, and serve as pollinators as they move around through flowers. I did not know any of this natural history back then, so it's interesting that the first thoughts to emerge in my exchange with this little being was that of feeling out of place.

We continued to sit in each other's presence. In my own mind, thoughts continued to arise. What might it be like to be so small a being in this huge hall, kind of at the mercy of human feet or bottoms that walked or sat here? Not that any Buddhist would intentionally harm a sentient being such as this, but I could easily imagine accidental squishings of one so small.

From this thought, facing the still motionless insect, another thought arose and I sent it silently to the bug: "If you'll crawl up on my pack [which I'd placed on the empty mat to my right] and wait, I'll take you outside."

Podabrus brevicollis on dFleaBane_4May11 (2)-1000Another species of soldier beetle that I found here in Tennessee: Podabrus brevicollis. This looks a lot like the bug I saw in Karma Dzong, but I'm still researching the range of P. brevicollis. [Photo: Cathie Bird, May 4, 2011]

I had no expectation that the bug would respond. To my astonishment -- and this is the place in my experience that threw so much into question -- the bug immediately turned and walked to its left. When it was in front of my pack, it turned back to the right, crossed the gap between the mats, and crawled onto the pack, settling quickly on the narrow ledge made by the zipper of the smaller outer compartment. And there s/he sat for 15-20 minutes, until I was done.

My exit from the hall was not that quick. I retrieved my shoes, walked to head of the stairs, stopped to put my shoes on, walked down the stairs, then exited through a side door to 14th Street, making sure the door locked behind me. Through all of this bumping and swinging, the bug clung to its spot on my pack.

I walked a few yards north on 14th Street to some plantings along the outer wall of Karma Dzong. Carefully de-shouldering my pack, I held it near a leafy bush. Without hesitation, the bug crawled to the edge of my pack and onto a leaf. I watched for bit as the bug went on about its business, then got on my bike and rode home, greatly energized by this wonder-filled encounter.

In my study of contemplative psychotherapy at Naropa, I learned about exchange, defined as direct experience of another person. Such exchanges have happened many times in connection with people, both in my practice and out in the world. I think it's likely that some parts of my experience with the bug in Karma Dzong involved exchange between human and insect.

It has not always been the case that the way I want to share about such things is more rooted in the experience itself. Post-Naropa, and meditations at Karma Dzong, I'm more inclined to let thoughts emerge, form, then dissolve, though they can, and often do, come back up in future reflections.

I happened across a wonderful piece in the New York Times this morning that led me to reflect further on this. In her article, Hard Knock Life: What Are the Turtles Telling Me?, Nashville author Mary Laura Philpott writes of her desire to make sense of her encounters with an Eastern box turtle:

It’s just that assigning meaning to events is so satisfying. I want themes, threads, a plot that proceeds toward resolution. I want people to learn their lessons and change their ways and for the moral of every story to make us better as a species. But look at the news — full of arbitrary injustices and disasters, human beings treating each other with cruelty. The part of my brain that wants the world to conform to a story that makes sense crashes against the rock of reality again and again. My soul sometimes feels as battered as Frank’s head must after banging on my door.

After sharing some of the wonderful speculations that came to her mind, Philpott concludes,

"This is the story of turtles who came and left for reasons of their own. They’re turtles. It’s not their job to teach me anything."

For me, the question of whether and how we can know another being directly -- beyond empathy, beyond manifestations of our own desires, histories and preferences -- is still worthy of full and openhearted exploration. It may not be a bug's job to teach me anything, but I do think all sentient beings are wired to relate to each other, and it's in the relating that we'll come to discover what's possible.


Exchanges with other species

Sooner or later I turn a psychoanalytic eye toward just about everything, if only for a moment. I've been doing this since high school, though I didn't know that's what I was doing until much later. On my about page, I list exploration of human relationships with other species and our shared environments as a major area of of interest in the larger psychoanalytic field.

I have intended to write a lot more about this here, but it just hasn't happened. Yet. A recent experience, however, gave me a little shove that might put some fire under my intention.

A few weeks ago, one of the crescent butterfly species came to my window sill and stayed there for 2-3 hours. He -- I'm pretty sure it was a male -- allowed me to get a number of photos, to get right up in his face (literally) for a closer look, trying to figure out if he was a pearl or northern crescent, or silvery checkerspot. I consulted my butterfly book and searched lots of images online at BugGuide and elsewhere. After all that, I still was not clear about his identity, i.e., how he is named according to human scientists. 

SCS_5Jul18 (5)500My butterfly friend on the window sill, 6/5/18. [Photo: Cathie Bird]

So, I asked him which one he was. I showed him pictures in my butterfly guide of each of these species. I told him that people science was concerned about such things as names, but that, deep down, I knew he was just who he was right there in the moment on my window sill. During this encounter he moved closer to me, millimeter by millimeter, and changed positions of his wings when I would change my position in relation to him.

At one point I went out to the kitchen to reload my iced tea glass. He was still on the sill when I got back. When I was ready to leave the room for the day, I told him I'd leave the window up and that he could sit there as long as he wanted to. Just before I left the room, I turned back to say goodbye. He was already gone.

The following day, I happened to see a link, posted on Facebook by a colleague, Renee Lertzman, to an interview of James Nestor, who (along with others) established the Cetacean Echolocation Translation Initiative (CETI), an independent research project seeking to study and comprehend the meaning of sperm whale clicks. Here's the quote from the interview that grabbed my attention:

By interacting with these animals face to face, which is what we’re going to be doing, you can really spur them to interact in a way that no hydrophone or person on a boat is going to be able to do. We have video showing that something magical happens when you approach them in peace face-to-face. They want to sit there and interact with you. It’s those interactions that we think are going to provide the best data.

Having had many interspecies encounters like that with the butterfly, this notion was not new to me. I have long believed that learning to communicate more directly with other species is not only possible but very necessary. Especially now, when Earth's living systems are so clearly in trouble, the human species needs to engage in vigorous exploration of our ambivalent relationship to the Earth, to revive the deep connections to nature that our heads may have lost but our hearts remember.

I have written quite a few posts about these connections, but they are scattered across several different blogs. I did that on purpose.

Back in February, to celebrate 10 years of data collection for Nature's Notebook, I wrote Seeing Forests, Seeing Trees, which I posted at my HollerPhenology blog. In that post I began to articulate the dynamics and world views that led me to corral my narratives in separate spaces rather than letting them all run free on one blog:

I grew up in the grip of scientific materialism. My undergraduate training as a naturalist in the late sixties/early seventies was rooted there as well, though I can look back and see shifts toward thinking about the world in terms of whole, integrated systems rather than a collection of independent, disconnected parts. This shift even led me to change career goals and pursue a graduate degree in contemplative psychotherapy, as well as certification as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist.

For many years I felt a kind of tension growing -- between seeing forests and seeing trees -- often feeling that I was, at heart, more of a forest person. The feeling of energetic oppositions came alive especially when I remembered the tree person of my childhood exploring the life and landscapes of the Flint Hills and the Rocky Mountains.

I see myself now with at least a toe-hold in an integral world view, appreciating multiple points of view, and enjoying the heck out of migrations between wild, non-local exploration of mind and spirit, and the feet-on-the-ground-dodging-poison-ivy collection of phenology observations.

 I really did enjoy writing that post, but hitting the publish button to send it into a space previously reserved more for observations of individuals -- rather than feelings about the forest, the relationships in which we all lived -- magnified the tension to a level that the psychoanalyst in me had to get curious about.

My experience with the butterfly and the synchronous encounter with the CETI project appear to have dissolved some resistance to writing more on these ideas. And I'm noting that it is In Hawk Space that I have decided to gather such a series.

Lots more to come, I hope.

 

Related video link:

 


Thoughts on DAPL and Siblicide

Yesterday I was in Knoxville all day for the Appalachian Psychoanalytic Society's fall conference with Jeanne Safer who spoke on Siblings -- the family members Freud forgot. Today I'm reading reports of ongoing over-the-top attacks by police against peaceful water protectors at Standing Rock. Mainstream media prefers to focus on Trump, journalists who try to document what's happening in North Dakota get arrested, and others at the camps report that they are under surveillance and that attempts to share reports with the world are being blocked. Many accounts of human and civil rights violations against water protectors who are being arrested -- 83 of them yesterday -- make some wonder why President Obama and the Department of Justice remain silent.

All of this has set me wondering today about parallels with sibling violence and siblicide. What connected me to Standing Rock news today was Dr. Safer's discussion on Saturday of siblings doing harm to other siblings, while, in some cases, parents make excuses for the abusive sibling or otherwise fail to intervene. (Sibling violence and siblicide have been studied in humans and animals.) Several times while writing this post I felt the undertow that taboos -- such as the power and influence of sibling relationships in our lives -- generate to keep us quiet about them.

When I see things happening out in the world that media, leaders and ordinary folks don't want to talk about, I sometimes forget to subject it all to a psychoanalytic lens. Such an omission is likely one way taboos work to shut me up, after all, psychoanalytic exploration has a pretty good track record for exposing what's unseen and unspoken.

I guess this brings up a question of how any subject gets to be taboo, and, understanding that, how to think about dismantling the ones that cause huge amounts of suffering by remaining hidden. These are questions that, when I can remember to think about them, have sustained my interest in social and environmental justice work, and using psychoanalytic thinking out in the world.

I read two books this past year that have significantly expanded my thinking about collective engagement to change oppressive systems, and, in this blog, I hope to write more about what they brought up for me: Toward Psychologies of Liberation (Watkins and Shulman) and Environmental Melancholia (Lertzman).

It's Lertzman's work that I'm especially connecting with today as I consider the situation at Standing Rock with the Dakota Access Pipeline as a siblicide-in-progress. While Lertzman uses psychoanalytic ideas to explore human response to environmental degradation, I suspect that many of her discoveries can inform new ways to think about human responses to oppression of other humans based on race, gender, class and a host of other -isms and -cides.

What's going on at Standing Rock is one of those all-of-the-above deals -- ecocide, siblicide, genocide. We, the people, need to break the taboos and bring to light all processes now operating in the shadows of psyches and systems that sabotage love and justice.

 

More stuff to read on this:

Protest Response Puts North Dakota on the Wrong Side of History (Grand Forks Herald, 10/22/16)

Human Rights Abuses Escalate at DAPL Prayer Services in North Dakota (Huffington Post, 10/21/16)

"It's time for a grand jury" (Tom Isern, Facebook post, 10/21/16)

Obama's Legacy Rests on Whether He Stops the Dakota Access Pipeline (Indian Country Today, 10/17/16)

Why Psychology Should Be Part of the Fight Against Climate Change (Huffington Post, 1/18/16)


Sharing Atoms in the Fire of Light

"So many millions of info-bits on the Internet," I'm thinking, and then wondering, "what led me to this one?" Maybe a more important question: what made me zero in on this one and let all the others move in and then out of focused attention?

Japanese artist Isao Hashimoto's time-lapse map of the 2,053 nuclear explosions that shook the Earth between 1945 and 1998 certainly set off a lot of thoughts, feelings and questions for me this morning. None of them were things I had not thought, not felt, not questioned before. (See my August 6, 2010 post: "The Bomb"s at 65.) In a way, perhaps, Hashimoto's art has brought it all more profoundly into my body.

 

 

A couple of experiences with this video today stand out.

The flashes of light and sound representing each detonation evoked the feel of a gaming arcade, or maybe a casino, pure entertainment in the zone of things imaginary. At the same time, the connection of the flashes on the map to another human being's home place was not lost on my heart. The white-light flash on the screen beneath the cross-hairs over Hiroshima sucked time, along with my mind, into a six-decade implosion. For a second I was simultaneously in the rooms where generals gave the destruct order, in the cockpit of the Enola Gay, and on the ground with WTF-amazement at my fiery ascension into the poisonous mushroom.

A few years pass in the upper right hand margin of the video before I can make sense of the flags, beeps, tones, pulses, flashes and numbers emerging in front of me.

My mind reorganizes. It occurs to me how far some of the flashes on the map are from the capitols of the countries that exploded them. How foolish to think that a nuclear explosion in a sparsely populated area would not have consequences.

What is the source of this privilege, this arrogance (or pathetic mindlessness) that could possibly endorse such destruction inside or outside of its own boundaries, against its own (or other) species? It would have to be people who are totally disconnected from laws of nature, people who, blinded by the superpower of fear and loss, have forgotten that what we do to others, we do to ourselves.

Perhaps it's not that Hashimoto's art brought my nuclear thoughts, feelings and questions more profoundly into my body, but that his interpretation put me more profoundly in touch with something that was already there. After all, the atoms in the bombs and the atoms in my body are the same, all connected, all communicating, all the time.

When the US dropped that bomb on Hiroshima, it dropped on me, though I wasn't yet born. The cells that would grow and develop as a vessel for this local self I know as "me" already held the memory of that nuclear holocaust, and have no doubt reverberated with every explosion since, though well beyond conscious awareness...until now.

WhiteSandsSunSet_1000BlogEd
Sunset at White Sands National Monument, south of the "Trinity" site in New Mexico where the United States detonated the first atomic bomb in 1945. [Photo credit: Cathie Bird]

And so I renew my questions with a louder voice: Who is really the scariest bomb maker? I think a case could be made that it's the folks who have exploded the most bombs, the people who dropped the first ones on unsuspecting citizens of someone else's country.

But here in this first week of 2012, another question comes to mind: What if we as a species misread the impulses that led us to build such things as bombs in the first place? What if the seed of the bomb is our own atomic not-yet-conscious memory of the life-giving Big Bang? It wouldn't be the first time that humankind misunderstood the cohesive evolutionary forces of love, light and life and chose instead a path of undoing.

What if the explosion of light we are driven to seek and give form on Earth is the spiritual fire, the atomic essence of our true Selves?

 


Resistance to Change: a key from cognitive neuroscience (and psychoanalysis!)

I got some links from Joe Brewer at Cognitive Policy Works today that included this video presentation on what needs to happen in order to bring about change in behaviors that are harming people and nature. Joe focuses on some key ideas from cognitive neuroscience that I'll be weaving in with whatever I write about my earth and psyche research project. I decided to post this so I can link back to it in future posts.

Joe's video is brief but has some really fundamental info that, sooner or later, activists, healers, policy makers and just about everybody else I can think of will need to be aware of:

 


Cross-posted from Earth and Psyche


George Lakoff: Untellable Truths

Here's one of the "untellable truths" -- the one about our dependence on carbon-based fuels -- listed by Lakoff in his recent article on political psychology and the science and art of framing:

Carbon-based fuels - oil, coal, natural gas - are deadly. They bring death to people and animals and destruction to nature. We are not paying for their true cost because they are being subsidized: tens of billions of dollars for naval protection of tankers; hundreds of billions for oil leases; hundreds of billions in destruction of nature, as in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska coast. Death comes from the poisoning of air and water through pollution and natural gas fracking. And global warming pollution destroys nature itself - the ice cap, the creation of violent storms, floods, deserts, the blowing up of hilltops. The salesmen of death - the oil and coal companies - are profiting hugely from our payouts to them via subsidies and high prices. And with the money, ordinary citizens are giving to them in subsidies; they are corrupting the political process, influencing political leaders not to deal with global warming - our greatest threat. We are dependent on them for energy, to a large extent because they have politically blocked the development of alternatives for decades.

via www.truth-out.org

Read the full article for broader discussion of why material policy questions depend on "how the issues are realized in the brains of our citizens." According to Lakoff, how Americans understand the issues "is what determines political support or lack of it in all its forms, from voting to donations to political pressure to what is said in the media."

via my Earthbytes blog at tennesseehawk.typepad.com


Your Brain Unleashed – Outdoors and Out of Reach « Neuroanthropology

Here's an clip from interesting post that challenges some of the ideas in the New York Times article linked in my previous entry (read the whole article here):

Ah, rafting the San Juan River in southern Utah, camping and hiking for a week – for most people, a vacation. But for a select group of brain researchers, and some accompanying journalists, it was “serious work.”

It was a primitive trip with a sophisticated goal: to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.

The whole technology vs. nature theme is a hit, as the NY Times article, Your Brain on Computers: Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain, is the most popular article there right now. But that dichotomy of technology as bad and nature as good is a false one. Worse, the prism of the brain proves to be dangerous rapids rather than a river of explanation.

via neuroanthropology.net


This is your brain on air pollution

The evidence keeps coming in: If we're serious about reducing health care costs, we need to stop blaming sick people and start cleaning up our land, air and water.

Back in April, stream ecologist Nathaniel Hitt, and epidemiologist Michael Hendryx published an article that examined the relationship between human health in coalfield communities and the health of Appalachian streams. This month, Science News reports on a study by Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas on air pollution and human health risks:

Scientists have known that air pollution can impair airways and blood vessels. The emerging surprise is what it might do to the brain. Increasingly, studies have been highlighting inflammation-provoking nanopollutants as a potential source of nerve cell damage.

Calderón-Garcidueñas has been correlating Mexico City’s stew of air pollutants with a suite of symptoms in people of all ages. In March in Salt Lake City at the annual meeting of the Society of Toxicology, Calderón-Garcidueñas unveiled some of her latest data.

I was especially interested in findings related to an area of the brain that is of interest to me as a psychoanalyst:

Brain scans and screening for chemical biomarkers in the blood pointed to inflammation affecting all parts of the brain, says Calderón-Garcidueñas, of the National Institute of Pediatrics in Mexico City and the University of Montana in Missoula. On MRI scans, white spots showed up in the prefrontal cortex. In the elderly, she says, such brain lesions tend to denote reduced blood flow and often show up in people who are developing dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease.

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) has a huge role in what are generally termed executive cognitive functions of the brain. Insight (in the neuropsychological sense of it), for example, represents a complex process that requires us to be able to observe ourselves, to evaluate what we are doing and to know whether the consequences that we experience because of what we're doing are consistent with what we wanted to happen. An intact and well functioning PFC helps us stay focused on a task and to hold all the information in short term memory that we need to process a task at hand.

Lesions of the prefrontal cortex are known to interfere with these functions. There are lots of other things that can interfere with function of the PFC as well. Evidence suggests that environmental pollution should be on that list.

For me, this issue of the interrelatedness of human and environmental health is both fascinating and unsettling. By polluting ourselves, are we literally risking damage to those functions of the brain that we'll need not only to recognize the consequences of our actions on the environment, but to think and feel our way out of the mess we've created?

via tennesseehawk.typepad.com

This is a cross-posting from Earthbytes.

Is There an Ecological Unconscious? - NYTimes.com

About eight years ago, Glenn Albrecht began receiving frantic calls from residents of the Upper Hunter Valley, a 6,000-square-mile region in southeastern Australia. For generations the Upper Hunter was known as the “Tuscany of the South” — an oasis of alfalfa fields, dairy farms and lush English-style shires on a notoriously hot, parched continent. “The calls were like desperate pleas,” Albrecht, a philosopher and professor of sustainability at Murdoch University in Perth, recalled in June. “They said: ‘Can you help us? We’ve tried everyone else. Is there anything you can do about this?’ ”

via www.nytimes.com

A fellow coalfield citizen in West Virginia sent this link around today. I found it just after I posted some thoughts about President Obama's ideas on the future of coal in West Virginia on my Earthbytes blog. The notion that people are traumatized by coal mining activity in their community is explicit in my post, but implicit (as evidenced by the Freudian slip that I made and left in the piece) is the idea that unconscious processes are at work in our lives as individuals, and in our relationships as leaders and followers, or fellow citizens of one world or one nation.

These ideas represent an intersection of my professional work and my work as a grassroots activist for social and environmental justice that have inspired much contemplation over the past few years. I have much more to write on this idea but, for now, I'll simply express my gratitude to my coalfield brother for the synchronous cross-validation.


Freedom to Speak and Power Struggles in the Coalfields

Lots of email today about the inspiring rally to save Coal River Mountain held yesterday in West Virginia. If you were able to see or hear any of it, you may also be aware of a counter-rally aimed at disrupting those speaking against mountaintop removal by repeated blasting from coal truck horns.

Janet Keating of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) sent the following message and photo:

"Those of us who attended the Save Coal River Mountain rally on Dec. 7 were "treated' to the blaring coal truck horns throughout the time we were there.  When one coal truck decided to come down the alley adjacent to our speakers' podium, OVEC's Vivian Stockman saw what was about to happen, and stopped him.  I didn't know this had happened until after event and thought you might want to see this non-violent act of courage.  The police finally intervened and made the truck leave."


DSCN0343

Vivian Stockman Just Saying "No" to a Coal Truck (Photo by Linda Frame, West Virginia Citizen Action Group)

I heard some of this honking as I listened to an audio stream of the rally via Head on Radio Network. Perhaps even more awesome than the noise was that fact that one or two of the speakers used the opportunity to interrupt their own speech to say "Honk if you love mountains!" into the mike. It kind of reminded me of various martial arts that teach students to use an opponent's own aggression to disable the attacker.

Thinking about these noise attacks at the rally, I was reminded that many of my coalfield allies -- including many there yesterday -- had suffered similar attempts to prevent them from speaking at public hearings on the proposed suspension of the Nationwide Permit 21 by the US Army Corps of Engineers in October. And beyond the coalfields, of course, we had a whole summer of attacks against freedom of speech in shout-a-thons at town hall meetings across the country.

Reflecting on all of this, I was struck with a fair amount of fascination and curiosity that so many people are choosing to cut off another person's ability to speak and be heard as a primary tactic of opposition these days.

In this moment of questioning, a door seemed to open briefly upon the depths of humanity's collective soul, and I understood that what we're seeing here has very deep roots, and speaks to an ancient fundamental fracture in ways of relating to each other and to the Earth. I know it will take much more time for me to explore this idea, but I have a couple of thoughts to get myself started -- inspired by speakers I heard yesterday and by Vivian's act to defend a space to speak for other citizens gathered at the rally.

In my spiritual tradition, our capacity to speak (as well as our capacity to move) is said to be connected with the throat chakra, our energetic or spiritual center of power. It's no coincidence that when people find their voice and can speak out to others about their life experience, they say they feel empowered. When some people try to shut other people up -- with truck horns, threats of violence or whatever -- what's being enacted is a power struggle of some kind.

This is not some big mystical secret: if you have ever had the experience of being silenced by another, you know in mind, body and soul that it feels like all your power was sucked right out of you. Fortunately, nobody can ever really destroy our spiritual power, and we learn how to protect ourselves or reconnect or recenter ourselves in it.

Power, of course, can be horded and misused. Humankind has a long sad history of this. Part of our collective healing process, I think, will be rooted in development of our capacity not only to speak the truth but to hear all other voices.

Power struggles are interesting. Things are often not what they seem. Ultimately we may discover that it's the folks yelling, screaming and blasting their horns to shut us up that were the most disempowered of all.