(Still from the film ‘The Wisdom to Survive’)
“God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand.” – Rilke
The following are excerpts from an interview Joanna Macy did with Krista Tippett on her radio show ‘On Being’ where she discussed her life’s work, her love of the poet Rilke and the implications of this moment in history.
“I realized that we were, through technology, having consequences with our decisions — our decisions had consequences or a karma, as we could say, that reached into geological time. And that what in industry and government choices that we make under pressure for profit or bureaucratic whatever, that we are making choices that will affect whether beings thousands of generations from now will be able to be born sound of mind and body.”
“…grief, if you are afraid of it and pave it over, clamp down, you shut down. And the kind of apathy and closed-down denial, our difficulty in looking at what we’re doing to our world stems not from callous indifference or ignorance so much as it stems from fear of pain. That was a big learning for me as I was organizing around nuclear power and around at the time of Three Mile Island catastrophe and around Chernobyl.”
“Then as I saw it, it relates to everything. It relates to what’s in our food and it relates to the clear-cuts of our forests. It relates to the contamination of our rivers and oceans. So that became actually perhaps the most pivotal point in, I don’t know, the landscape of my life, that dance with despair, to see how we are called to not run from the discomfort and not run from the grief or the feelings of outrage or even fear and that, if we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world, our absolutely inseparable connectedness with all life.”
“I’m ready to see. I’m not insisting that we be brimming with hope. It’s OK not to be optimistic. Buddhist teachings say, you know, feeling that you have to maintain hope can wear you out, so just be present.”
“The biggest gift you can give is to be absolutely present, and when you’re worrying about whether you’re hopeful or hopeless or pessimistic or optimistic, who cares? The main thing is that you’re showing up, that you’re here and that you’re finding ever more capacity to love this world because it will not be healed without that. That was what is going to unleash our intelligence and our ingenuity and our solidarity for the healing of our world.”
“Now something else is going on too, which is the great unraveling under the pressure of the destruction caused by the industrial growth society. And the awesome thing about the moment that you and I share is that we don’t know which is going to win out.”
“How is the story going to end? And that seems almost orchestrated to bring forth from us the biggest moral strength, courage, and creativity. I feel because when things are this unstable, a person’s determination, how they choose to invest their energy and their heart and mind can have much more effect on the larger picture than we’re accustomed to think. So I find it a very exciting time to be alive, if somewhat wearing emotionally.”
“We are all hungry ghosts in this society, we all have this emptiness and so many of us are trying to fill that emptiness from the outside and the addiction is all about trying to fill that emptiness from the outside.”
A renowned speaker, and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development.
Rather than offering quick-fix solutions to these complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories, and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them.
For twelve years Dr. Maté worked in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with patients challenged by hard-core drug addiction, mental illness and HIV, including at Vancouver’s Supervised Injection Site. With over 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience and extensive knowledge of the latest findings of leading-edge research, Dr. Maté is a sought-after speaker and teacher, regularly addressing health professionals, educators, and lay audiences throughout North America.
As an author, Dr. Maté has written several bestselling books including the award-winning In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction; When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress; and Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder, and co-authored Hold on to Your Kids. His works have been published internationally in twenty languages.
“In this society we have a massive emotional shutdown. And you can see it in the increasing violence in the culture. You can see it in the increasing violence in the media culture. That gory movies have to be more and more gory. Sports have to be more violent. People now have to beat each other to a pulp on television. Because we are so emotionally shut down that it takes more and more to titillate us and the sex has to be more and more objectified and more and more salacious really because what used to excite people decades ago is no longer sufficient. Why? Because we are shutting down and why we are shutting down because we are hurt so much. And the more we shut down the more we need external sources of stimulation to make us feel anything at all.”
(Photo by Spencer Davis)
“Performance is art in motion; in the moment; both enactment and embodiment. This is exactly what nature herself is.” Gary Snyder
Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker has said of Meredith Monk that
“Her intricately planned theatrical spectacles awoke buried memories of primordial wailing, Neolithic rituals, Greek bacchanals, inscrutable medieval entertainments, and the folk songs of extinct peoples. More disturbingly, they prophesied the shattered culture of a post-apocalyptic future. Monk’s many-side art was rooted in her voice—a ruggedly beautiful, piercingly expressive, ever-changeable instrument, which cut to the core of emotion while largely bypassing language. She spoke of the “dancing voice,” of a “voice as flexible as the spine.” In passing moments, she could evoke an elderly sage, a wide-eyed child, or a shaman.”
“…she shapes her ideas to the grain of the voice and the contours of the body. For all the disparate elements that go into her work, she can’t really be described as eclectic or interdisciplinary: her acts of fusion are too organic, too logical. She harks back to a time before disciplines existed and categories were set in stone. Richard Taruskin, in his monumental “Oxford History of Western Music,” relates Monk to the very origins of the art form, the intermingling of oral and written practices in church music of the late Middle Ages. She represents a kind of reboot of tradition. She may loom ever larger as the new century unfolds, and later generations will envy those who got to see her live.”
Monk’s newest work, ‘On Behalf of Nature’ is “a poetic meditation on the environment.” In this program she creates an
“expansive sound world of different musical realms. Within this world, Monk evokes the Buddhist notion of the existence of different realm categories—the idea of joining heaven and earth by way of human beings.”
“Drawing additional inspiration from writers and researchers who have sounded the alarm on the precarious state of our global ecology, Monk and her acclaimed Vocal Ensemble create a liminal space where human, natural and spiritual elements are woven into a delicate whole, in order to illuminate the interconnection and interdependency of us all.”
In her artist statement for this performance she states that
“One of the early inspirations for On Behalf of Nature was an essay by the poet, Gary Snyder, entitled, “Writers and the War Against Nature.” In it he writes about the role of the artist being that of a “spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song.” This act of compassion, of “speaking on behalf of nature,” embodies and gives voice to those forces that often go unrecognized. On Behalf of Nature is a meditation on our intimate connection to nature, its inner structures, the fragility of its ecology and our interdependence.”
Here is an excerpt from Snyder’s essay
“Last year a study was released describing the sudden decline of albatross numbers worldwide. It even prompted an editorial in the New York Times. This sharp decline is attributed to much death by drowning. The long-line fishing boats lay out lines with bait and hooks that go miles back, dragging just below the surface. An albatross will go for the bait, get hooked, and be pulled down to drown. As many as 100,000 a year are estimated to perish in this way, enough to threaten the survival of the species if it keeps up. What have the albatross, “Distinguished strangers who have come down to us from another world,” ever done to us? The editorial concludes, “The long-line fishing fleet is over-harvesting the air as well as the sea.”
“Out on the South Pacific in 1958, watching the soaring albatrosses from the stern of a ship, I could never have guessed that their lives would be threatened by industrial societies, turning them into “collateral damage” of the affluent appetite for ahi and maguro tuna species (my own taste, too). Yet this is just a tiny, almost insignificant example of the long reach of the globalized economy and the consumer society into the wild earth’s remote places. A recent book on global logging and deforestation is titled Strangely Like War. What is happening now to nature worldwide, plant life and wildlife, ocean, grassland, forest, savannah, desert—all spaces and habitat—the non-human realm of watersheds and ecosystems with all their members, can be likened to a war against nature.”
“Although human beings have interacted with nature, both cultivated and wild, for millennia, and sometimes destructively so, it was never quite like “war.” It has now become disconcertingly so, and the active defense of nature has been joined by a few artists and writers who have entered the fight on “the wild side,” along with subsistence peoples, indigenous spiritual leaders, many courageous scientists, and conservationists and environmentalists worldwide.”
“Art survives within modern civilization rather like little islands of wilderness saved to show us where we came from.”
“There is a tame, and also a wild, side to the human mind. The tame side, like a farmer’s field, has been disciplined and cultivated to produce a desired yield. It is useful but limited. The wild side is larger, deeper, more complex, and though it cannot be fully known, it can be explored. The explorers of the wild mind are often writers and artists. The “poetic imagination” of which William Blake so eloquently spoke is the territory of wild mind. It has landscapes and creatures within it that will surprise us; it can refresh us and scare us; it reflects the larger truth of our ancient selves, both animal and spiritual.”
“The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss once said something like “Art survives within modern civilization rather like little islands of wilderness saved to show us where we came from.” Someone once said that what makes writing good is the wildness in it. The wildness gives heart, courage, love, spirit, danger, compassion, skill, fierceness, and sweetness—all at once—to language. From ancient times, storytellers, poets, and dramatists have presented the world in all its fullness: plants, animals, men and women, changing shape, speaking multiple languages, intermarrying, traveling to the sky and under the earth. The great myths and folktales of human magic and nature’s power were our school for ten thousand years. Whether they know it or not, even modern writers draw strength from the wild side.”
“How can artists and writers manage to join in the defense of the planet and wild nature? Writers and artists by their very work “bear witness.” They don’t wield financial, governmental, or military power. However, at the outset they were given, as in fairy tales, two “magic gifts.” One is “The Mirror of Truth.” Whatever they hold this mirror up to is shown in its actual form, and the truth must come out. May we use that mirror well!”
“The second is a “Heart of Compassion,” which is to say the ability to feel and know the pains and delights of other people, and to weave that feeling into their art. For some this compassion can extend to all creatures and to the world itself. In a way, nature even borrows the voices of some writers and artists. Anciently, this was a shamanistic role where the singer, dancer, or storyteller embodied a force, appearing as a bear dancer or a crane dancer, and became one with a spirit or creature. Today, such a role is played by the writer who finds herself a spokesperson for non-human entities communicating to the human realm through dance or song. This could be called “speaking on behalf of nature” in the old way.”
“Song, story, and dance are fundamental to all later “civilized” literature. In archaic times these were unified in dramatic performance, back when drama and religious ceremony were still one. They are reunited today in the highest and greatest of performance arts: the grand scale of European opera, the height of ballet, the spare and disciplined elegance of Japanese Nô theater, the almost timeless dance-and-story of Indonesian Gamelan, the wit and hardiness of Bertold Brecht’s plays, or the fierce and stunningly beautiful intensity of Korean P’ansori performance. Performance is of key importance because this phenomenal world and all life is of itself “not a book, but a performance.”
“Poems, novels, and plays, with their great deep minds of story, awaken the Heart of Compassion. And so they confound the economic markets, rattle the empires, and open us up to the actually existing human and non-human world. Performance is art in motion; in the moment; both enactment and embodiment. This is exactly what nature herself is.”
(Live excerpts from On Behalf of Nature, performed at UCLA in 2013.)
(Bjork performing Meredith Monk’s ‘Gotham Lullaby’)
On the Pacifica Institute tribute page to James Hillman it describes Hillman as one whose
following includes an eclectic group of painters, poets, actors, dancers, filmmakers, philosophers, musicians, magicians, scholars, activists, and athletes. The composer Meredith Monk says: “As artists we’re bringing to life the invisible, and so are always working with something that’s nameless. I think that’s what James Hillman is also mining from.”
(Photo by Jesse Frohman)
This is Meredith Monk. As an artist her website describes her as someone who
creates works that thrive at the intersection of music and movement, image and object, light and sound in an effort to discover and weave together new modes of perception. Her groundbreaking exploration of the voice as an instrument, as an eloquent language in and of itself, expands the boundaries of musical composition, creating landscapes of sound that unearth feelings, energies, and memories for which there are no words.
In an interview with Krista Tippett, she explains what she is trying to accomplish
“See, for me, well, there are the wonderful songsmiths and wonderful people that do put words and music together in such a beautiful way. You know, it is very enlightening to hear that music, but for me, the words get in the way, actually, of the heart-to-heart kind of expression that allows for each person to hear it and hook into their minds and hook into their hearts and hook into their memory”
“I think emotion or feeling, you know, we have so many more shades of feelings that we can’t label. And I guess ultimately as an artist I’m so interested in uncovering the invisible and uncovering, you know, the mysterious and uncovering, what would I say, [is] the inexplicable. So the things that we actually can’t label, that’s the kind of mentality.”
She describes how she came to collaborate with another artist to create ‘Songs of Ascension’, an attempt to combine music and space as a setting for worship. It took place in a 78ft tower with dual spiraling staircases.
“I think for many years, I’ve been trying to think how do I really keep on affirming that my Buddhist practice or meditation practice and my art practice are actually one? There’s no difference at all. There was a certain point — it was the early ’90s — that I did a piece called Facing North, which was very inspired by being up at Banff, Canada, and the silence in the snow and, you know, just this incredible environment. And I was very aware that I was making a very meditative piece and that it was like making a piece about sacred space. So that was, you know, what I was aware of at that point.
But when I started working on Mercy and I was collaborating with a wonderful visual artist, Ann Hamilton, we did a lot of talking about this, I started becoming aware of the fact that actually I wanted to spend the rest of my life working on pieces that I — it was basically making pieces about something you can’t make pieces about. So there was never going to be like a definitive statement about anything, but it was much more that the act of making artwork was also the act of contemplating something. So Mercy was the first, second one was Impermanence, and then the latest piece that I’ve been working on with this way of thinking about things is called Songs of Ascension.”
Impermanence is another important theme for Monk
“I lost my partner of 22 years, so that was a very — in a sense, that was the biggest wake-up call that I ever had in my life up to that point and probably from that point on because I think that, when you have that kind of loss, nothing can ever be the same. It was a blessing. I also saw the blessing, not the blessing of the loss, but the blessing of being part of life and the blessing of being aware of the billions of people that go through loss all the time.
So what happened that was really interesting was that, about two months after she died, I got an email from a group in England. They called themselves Rosetta Life. What they do is they go into the different hospices in England and they work with the people that have had the diagnosis of terminal illness and they say, “Well, is there any kind of artwork that you would like to do? You know, would you like to write a poem about your process or about anything? Would you like to make some music?” Then they’ll get an artist to go in and help them. So if somebody wants to make a painting, but they’ve never painted in their lives, but they feel that that’s the way they’re going to express this process, somebody comes in and helps them. A painter comes in and helps them to make a work.”
She worked with the hospice patients to try to create a music project for them to participate in.
“So what I ended up coming up with was that the piece began with hearing them sing a melody called “Mieke’s Melody #5,” which was a melody that my partner — she used to like to just improvise in the studio even though she was not a singer. And I happened to come upon a tape of some of these improvisations. So what I did was I notated one of them and then I actually changed it a little bit and, you know, made it more into a form and added some of my own phrases. So it was a little bit like a collaboration through time and space.
So I wrote out the melody because they said, “Oh, we love to sing.” So I wrote the melody out for them and then they sang it, but they couldn’t really carry a tune that well. But each of them sang it, so the melody goes like [singing]. You know, that was the melody and then they’d be like [singing], so each of them had a different way of doing it. So when the audience came in, they heard their voices and then I had a film of just their faces just looking straight out at the camera very, very, very close.
And so when they came to see it, the ones that were still alive by the time we did Impermanence, it just meant so much to them and then also their families for the ones that had passed before we ended up doing the piece. It meant so much to them.”
(The melody starts at the 90 second mark)
“I think that making art is actually about questions and that you never take anything for granted and you’re in this slightly dangerous situation, which I think is really good. Then I always say that I’m scared to death and I think, you know, what we learn in Buddhist practices to tolerate the unknown, you know, because that’s reality. The reality is that we don’t know anything, and we really don’t know what’s going to happen in the next moment. So you learn to tolerate that discomfort of not knowing and fear. I mean, I really — I think, every time, I’m just terrified. I’m actually terrified. I realize this even now working on this piece.”
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet
My last two posts have been about walking meditation:
I thought it would be appropriate to end this particular series on walking mediation with the “Zen poetry,” so to speak, of my heart teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh. There are so many dharma teachers I love and appreciate, in every single school of Buddhism, but I’ve never had any teacher speak to my heart the way Thây does.
Thây (his students’ affectionate name for him) is a wonderful poet, and his poetic way with words is always reflected in how he talks about and explains Buddhism. I think that’s why his books and teachings have proven so accessible to so many people, whether or not they are Buddhists. He speaks to all our hearts; he speaks to the very heart of humanity with total compassion and wisdom…
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