Friday, November 15, 2013

Mind Matters — Weddings Go Deep

 I’ve never liked brides’ magazines and all the sentimental advertising fluff that seems to accompany American weddings. I was an iconoclast even as a bride myself forty-three years ago. However, this column arrives on the heels of my daughter’s wedding and so I am “re-specting,” that is, “re-viewing” what may lie hidden beneath the frills, fancies, and high finances.

For one, weddings are one of the few times that the feminine is allowed to flourish and be acknowledged. There she is, the bride in white with all eyes upon her. The psychoanalyst Carl Jung may say that the bride connects to something larger than herself, the symbolic archetype of the purity of the divine feminine. Perhaps then, the bride in her luminosity carries for those present to witness, all that the feminine archetype brings to the world—compassion, nurture, the carrier of new life, receptivity, care. Remember that when I say this I refer only to how the bride carries the archetype for the community in that moment. In her everyday life, she may carry that along with much more. Or perhaps in her everyday life she eschews any connection to the feminine archetype at all.

The crux of the matter is that when we look deeply into the meaning of the wedding itself, it is an honoring of the feminine that must withstand the joys and hardships of married life and the bringing into the world new life.

As my husband and I walked our daughter to the chapel’s threshold, I watched her footing as well as mine. I will always remember a broken stone step—mind the gap, I say to myself. My daughter with sure footing reached the threshold steady and solid to walk down the aisle in solitude to her joyous groom. I hope for them a way to marry the best qualities of both the masculine and the feminine archetypes that dwell in all of us.

Meanwhile, we who witness weddings can remember how with every change there is a loss. Even when the change is magnificent, we need to let go of the past. When I say to people, “In every wedding, there is a funeral; in every funeral, there is a wedding,” they usually gape at me puzzled.

Let me try to explain. There will, I think, at every wedding, be sadness at what has ended, a letting go of what has been to make way for what will be. Surely, there is a twinge of grief to this which we need to honor. There is also the awareness, if we are not in denial, that marital bliss contains struggles and obstacles, as well as rapturous moments.

I actually find it easier to ponder the funeral in the wedding than I do the notion of wedding in the funeral. Certainly, the wedding aspect is not readily comprehended when in the throes of grief. However, eventually, even in our grief we need to find new meaning in life, and a new relationship with the loved ones who have died. And that is the wedding! There is a Jewish proverb which says: When the heart grieves what it has lost, the soul rejoices in what it has found. This proverb seems to be apropos to both weddings and funerals. May we rejoice! That’s hardly sentimental fluff.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Patriarchy is Sooo Passe

Patriarchy is so passe , yet so pugilistic and pushy. The patriarchs are not giving up their antiquated ways of being and thinking without a fight. I consider that narrow minded  thinking to  be the downside of patriarchy's desire for structure and clarity. It has been said  in psychotherapy that psychological health is determined by a tolerance for ambiguity. Certainly, patriarchal institutions and perspectives are hardly tolerant of ambiguity.

Taken to its extreme, this lack of tolerance devolves into prejudice against people for  any way they are "different" and not in the "patriarchal tribe."Hence the patriarchal mind can demean others for their religion, color, nationality, socioeconomics, gender: Any way to set people apart as other. The patriarchal flaw is lack of inclusivity and the need for absolutes and exclusivity.  Dictators are exclusivists to the nth degree:Hitler claiming the "Aryan race" to be exclusivley human; Stalin murdering millions who did not fit his warped notion of what is human.

However, we fool ourselves if we believe we have to be that extremely evil to err in the service of the patriarchy. Laws that are deigned to  thwart citizens their right to vote, laws such as "stand your ground" in Florida that  give carte blanche to  the guys with guns to "deputize" themselves  are prejudicial and patriarchal and flagrantly unethical if not immoral, even though they may be "legal."

Irony of ironies, the patriarchy loves to determine what is legal for women's bodies, claiming an outraged sense of morality there. But then, the patriarchy fears the feminine both in body and in principle. The feminine represents ambiguity as well as earth and body. The patriarchy in all its forms desires control of both the earth and women. Rape of the earth and rape of women are two sides of the patriarchal coin.

Right now, at this moment, the patriarchy is revving up  in its assail against both women and the earth not because  patriarchy is truly vigorous but because it is  in its death rattle.Even though it is loud,how long will its last gasp be heard?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Karma and Psychology

I have been away for a conference called “Creativity and Madness.” Why have an academic meeting stateside when traveling to Thailand, Hong Kong, and Bali is an option?

I presented on the “Rise of the Wounded Feminine in the Media,” using examples from various TV shows and movies, such as The Hunger Games and Whale Rider. Others presented on the culture of Thailand and psychological issues in Bali.

And where does this all converge in a Mind Matters column? I was interested in the psychological stressors and ways of coping the people had in these countries. I can only report anecdotally about the few people I spoke to—especially women. It seemed to me that men in Bali, for example, were more satisfied with life than were the women. So I wondered about the rise of the wounded feminine in the place that tourists call paradise.

While the male tour guides waxed on about how much they loved their life in Bali, for example, despite the fact that no one had any vacation time, the women I met talked about having to juggle child care with work hours. One massage therapist noted that she and her husband worked different shifts so that they could care for their three-year-old son. I asked her, with all the beaches around, if she got to go swimming much. “Oh, no,” was her reply, “we are busy with work and our rituals.” Yes, there are many religious rituals to follow each day. Every Bali home has a small Hindu temple and every day little baskets of offerings are made to place in various corners of homes and shops—these little trays of flowers and food are ubiquitous.

Rituals that support one’s spiritual beliefs aside, everyday life in Bali seemed less paradise, more hard scrabble, to me. Another woman reported that she had three daughters and no sons. That meant that she and her husband would have no one to care for them when they got old.

In Bali, the wife joins the husband’s family in their little compound. This woman I spoke to only got to visit her parents once a month, and in the event of their being disabled, she was hard pressed as to what to do. She was an only child and relied on a cousin to come to her parents’ aid from time to time. She also noted that there was little opportunity for anyone to further their education to become a nurse or a physician unless they had money. Hence, some women masseuses choose to leave Bali to work in Turkey or Russia—they then marry and remain there. Another young sales clerk I met was looking forward to settling in Finland and witnessing snowfalls with her Finnish boyfriend (whom she met in Bali) beside her.

In both Bali and Bangkok, karma and destiny constituted a psychology of acceptance of the way things are. The upside to this is that these people know full well the line of the AA prayer of “accepting what I cannot change”—and they do that with patience and humility. On the other hand, there may be a lack of “changing what I can.” We of the Western World commit the sin of hubris and entitlement, thinking we can change and control and dominate whatever we please. Yet the East may err on the side of accepting their “karmic” lot in life. Both Easterners and Westerners may need a little more wisdom to know the difference between what we can and cannot change!
Meanwhile, I would introduce the West to the Asian patience of driving sans road rage and the ability to smile and be polite in all public places. Throughout Asia we were met with politeness—Thailand is indeed known as the Land of Smiles.

Ah, but we received our literally rude awakening when we arrived at the San Francisco airport. From the United Air ground employee yelling at us to the Americans angered in the passport corral line that my husband had the audacity to want to stand next to me, we were reminded we were home. Stress up, smile and patience gone. What is our psychological or karmic story here, I wonder?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Hidden Hunger

February 23, 2013 (3/20)

Hunger in America

Recently I attended a county mental health advisory Board meeting. I did not like what I heard: that there is a rising population of the homeless hidden among the affluent. A school administrator reported on how he encounters children every day in his suburban school district who are in need of food and shelter.
 When we hear the word "homeless" we, unfortunately, need to expand our images from the lonely man, chronically mentally ill, who has been discharged from the state hospital 10 years ago.

 Include now working families living out of their cars or hopping from acquaintance to friend for shower and bed. These are real cases in our community. We used to have strong safety nets but with the tea party tenor of the times those safety nets are being ripped asunder.

After the meeting as I drive back to my office I turn on NPR. Synchronistically, I hear being interviewed two documentarians, Lori Silverbush and Kristy Jacobson discuss hunger in America. They have just directed their film, A Place At the Table which airs in March, 2013. They noted that 80% of  the families receiving food stamps (the SNAP program) are working fulltime. In other words, many hard working Americans are not earning a living wage. These researchers also report that there are children in the schools who can't concentrate for lack of nutrition. Our brains do funny things to us when we are hungry, actually starving for the nutrients we lack even if we appear "well-fed". One little girl in the film says she is told to focus but when she looks at her teacher she imagines her to be a banana... She is malnourished. Silverbush and Jacobson cite the term "food insecurity" because the hunger may be invisible hidden in the bodies of those who are obese due to lack of proper diet and nutrition. Cheap and filling food is not usually healthy food.

Meanwhile the expectation is that churches will do it all.I am a Red Cross volunteer and I know how difficult it is to recruit volunteers. Volunteerism can be inconsistent and spotty, and we are all busy! So we expect the homeless and hungry to be cared for with stop-gap emergency measures in the basement of the non-profits. Yes, these are great assets to a community but they depend on volunteers and cannot serve everyone. Moreover, the fact that we need them in the first place is scandalous!

That the need for food banks and shelters is  on the rise is a disgrace in an affluent, developed country.The greatest nation in the world we are wont to say.

We may think, what, whoa, not in my neighborhood! I live in a prosperous county of Pennsylvania, yet on my drive from that mental health meeting, the story of homelessness and hunger was being played out before me. I noticed in the coffee shop I visited, there was a woman sleeping in the corner, big bags at her feet. I thought, hmm, this may be her safe place of refuge for a few hours. Not 15 minutes later, I noticed a man with a burlap sack on his back, other scruffy bags in hand, walking along the road. My guess is that  he is holed up somewhere in the woods between the Mc-mansion housing developments.

Meanwhile, blind to the common good, the Republicans have morphed into the most belligerent and obstinate of patriarchs, aligning only with the plutocrats. Between the wall of gilded plutocracy and the wall of leaden patriarchy, humanity is being crushed.

Remember Wonder Woman? There is a story where she and her male cohort are trapped between two  monstrous steel walls that are closing in on them. Wonder woman, of course, saves the day. But it is not the archetype of one strong goddess we need here to power away the smothering walls of patriarchy and plutocracy. What we need here is the power of the feminine principle infused in all our actions no matter what they are. The patriarchy in its rigidity is sterile callousness; the plutocracy in its greed is inflated hubris. Both can be transformed when the feminine principle of relationship and care and connection is invited in.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Diffuse Awareness or Single Focus?

Recently, I consulted at a local bank to do crisis intervention  with the employees after a robbery the day before.My experience at this intervention was not unlike others I have facilitated, particularly one where the young woman assistant manager was considered vulnerable, especially by her male colleagues. However, what I discovered  was that she was the most perceptive and aware, competent and courageous of the team.It was she who safely handled the robbery incident, picking up cues even before the event occurred.Meanwhile the men had sat at their desks unaware of what was occurring.

Again, in the more recent robbery, the assistant manager, another young woman, displayed insight.She too went on the alert early on, as she observed through the floor to ceiling windows of the bank,  two men walking towards the door.She noted her concern to the female colleague stationed at the counter with her. Her colleague agreed with her assessment.As the men entered, the assistant manager pushed the panic button. And then the robbery began with at least one of the men brandishing a gun, demanding money.Another teller, who had been working behind a wall at the drive-through window, entered from the side. The gunman pointed his weapon at her as well.The three women followed the protocol in which they were trained. During the event they were calm and competent. Their traumatic response of crying, tremors, anger, etc, arose after the  robbers left with a  small amount of money and ,fortunately, with no one harmed, at least physically.

While the robbery was in progress, the manager was present and was at a desk focused on some project.Just as in the earlier incident where the men were unaware of  the robbery, so was this man  unknowing of the events that were unfolding.

Two stories do not a truth make, but there is a trend here. And that is about how men and women may meet the world differently. Where women have a diffuse awareness,an open focus, taking much in at once, men seem more focused on one point, one goal at a time.Stereotyped as this might be, it does behoove us to see value in both modes of meeting the  world. One of my father's favorite maxims was"your virtue is your vice." In other words, without balance and moderation , virtue is handicapped.

We have lived in a goal-oriented,"blinders-on"  "man's world" for eons and it has achieved much.However,lost in lopsidedness,there is a dark side to this narrow focus.The feminine principled diffuse awareness brings enhanced perception of the world around us  and allows for the inclusion of care.

Interesting to note that  the women  I interviewed, who have experienced various bank robberies, report worry and concern for the other people in the vicinity of the gunmen. They recounted that they were concerned  for the safety of  co-workers and customers during the events. This concern was integral to their decisive responses to these incidents.What might this imply? Perhaps that feminine principled diffuse awareness  allows us to see the bigger picture of connection and relationship--even in a bank.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Wounded Feminine rises in a den of patriarchs

January 23,2013

I admire the stamina and grace of Hillary Clinton. She is a woman of heart who needs to be --and is-- heard. She is a vigorous example of the rise of the feminine principle which has been wounded for so long.

On January 23rd, she has faced the Congressional patriarchs who questioned her for many hours about the tragedy at the Libyan consulate where state department officials were killed.While she appeared grounded, straight and direct in her reporting, the patriarchs attempted  to politically stone her with  a barrage of  whisper down the lane hearsay gleaned (too lovely a word for it) from that bastion of (un)truth in journalism, Fox News.While the patriarchs blustered with erroneous "facts,"Hillary Clinton courageously and clearly articulated how we need to learn from our mistakes, questioning what the US could do differently. Of course this question reflects directly on  Congress itself.It was Congress who denied three hundred million dollars to the state department for more security.It is these same rigid patriarchs who don't get the need for diplomacy to protect democracy.

Mixing metaphors,Hillary Clinton, unlike Joan of Arc, did not get burned at the stake at this hearing. It was she who flung the fire back at yet another set of myopic men (and women). Any fire she takes away from this hearing is the torch she carries that brings a little more light to the world.And all those rocks hurled? Will they come in handy to build  a new foundation of feminine principle?