Winter Solstice 2009

SUBHEAD: : Working and waiting in humanity's back ward. The dark-and the light, are you carrying the fire?

By Carolyn Baker on 20 December 2009 in Speaking Truth to Power -
Image above: Detail of photo "Winter Night" from article.  

O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.  
The vacant interstellar spaces......  
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope  
 For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love  
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
  But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.  
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:  
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

 - East Coker from "The Four Quartets", by T.S. Eliot This afternoon I sit near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, reveling in the brilliant sunshine which pierces the dry, nippy air, knowing that in less than three hours, it will be dark. I count the hours until the shortest day and the longest night of the year signal that magnificent turning point of light and time when the days slowly become longer and the nights shorter.

I can think about spring as much as I like, but it will be a long time before I see any definitive signs of it, and even if I do, those could be deluged with a late season snow storm that reminds me that winter has not breathed its last breath and warns me not to become deliriously wistful for warmer days and nights. This winter solstice is particularly dark.

I watch the blood drain from the faces of my progressive friends, disillusioned by their "yeswecan" poster boy who has accomplished little in his first term but the escalation of a despicable war for oil and drugs, and with the stroke of a pen, opened the floodgates for troops and military contractors to rape and pillage yet another piece of the planet. "Welcome to the Golden Arches of Kabul. May I take your order?" The "Hopium" wears off, and we're reminded that it's still winter, and it's still very, very dark.

I contemplate the word "apocalypse" which originates from the Greek word that means "the unveiling". The poster child wins the peace prize, but just hours beforehand, he unleashes hell on earth. Did you see that? The veil was lifted for a few moments and we saw who really owns him. Humanity is committing suicide in a thousand ways. This week, they all shook hands in Copenhagen and agreed to throw a bone to the climate change militants while genuflecting before corporate capitalism as the supreme deity on earth.

The gods have been appeased, but the veil was lifted briefly. Oh my, did you see that? Corruption, scandal, and one climate scientist, Jim Hansen, not only boycotts the entire spectacle, but hopes it will fail because he was able to see through the chicanery even as it was being orchestrated. A Congress of solidly owned legislators shakes hands and agrees that healthcare has nothing to do with health but only profit for big pharma and the insurance industry. It's all there if you just look. You don't even have to read about it on an alternative news website.

Open your eyes because the veil has been torn off, and if you ever wanted to see naked people who can't even find their clothes-who aren't even trying, this is it. But beware because you are a walking pre-existing condition simply because you breathe air.

Over two decades ago as a psychotherapist in training, I worked in the back ward. I have the scars to prove it. I'm fortunate not to have been more severely injured, but more fortunate not to be living the hell I witnessed in the eyes of the patients inhabiting the so-called "mental health unit."

Yet unlike the inmates who run the current asylum that is empire, those folks, in that ward, really knew they were crazy. They wanted so badly to die, and they told you that, straight up. They didn't make delusional statements like "this is a necessary war" or "this climate deal was a meaningful and unprecedented breakthrough" or "hold your nose and vote for it."

What's really crazier than the insanity these statements blatantly reveal is the attempt to keep the veil in place. Let's all pretend that industrial civilization is temporarily limping along in some "rough patch" that will invariably, inevitably (because this is America) turn around and re-establish itself in the land of "normal."

I'll take a flagrantly violent and suicidal psychotic any day of the week who is excruciatingly aware of their anguish and begs to be allowed to end their misery. Please, I implore you, give me the certifiable schizophrenic who "knows" he is Jesus and that killer ants are crawling all over his body. No darkness is as dark as that perpetuated by people who insist they are living in the light.

So what's the real deal with the species that sits, as Tim Bennett suggests, like Thelma and Louise, at the edge of the cliff, about to punch the gas of the '66 T Bird into oblivion while taking everything and everyone else in sight with it?

Is it really all about hating the culture and its vacuousness that much? I keep coming back to the dark-and the light. I can't forget how they need each other-like the North and South poles-like every opposite we can possibly imagine that is only truly defined and appreciated by what it isn't. After all I've written here, how dare I talk about the light? Isn't that all just theory? Where's the experience?

Every once in awhile, one of those patients in that back ward would receive the kind of treatment that allowed him or her to walk out the front door with fear and trepidation, but nevertheless committed to staying alive and finding many reasons to contribute to the lives of others. And even more frequently these days, I find individuals and communities that are discovering a deeper meaning and purpose in their lives that they are holding alongside the horrors created by an inexorably suicidal human species.

 I encounter in the most unexpected places people who are not just sitting and waiting, but working - working hard to contribute to the well being of the community of life. They wish to minimize the suffering that the collapse of empire will entail, but even more importantly, they are doing their work just because-because it makes a difference to others, because it empowers themselves and all the lives they touch, because they can't not do the work, because in doing whatever work they feel called to do, they are finding and fulfilling their purpose in being on this dark and scary planet.

You see it isn't just about jumping off a cliff to end the anguish. It's about finding meaning, and even if we build communities that look like permaculture design on steroids, even if we return to steady-state economics and create burgeoning economies of scale based on cooperation, compassion, creativity-even if we fashion intentional communities that approximate heaven on earth, even if we were to forge a culture of nirvana, it is only by immersing ourselves in the inner transition process that brings emotional and spiritual transformation far beyond anything traditional psychotherapy has to offer-it is only there that we find the meaning and purpose that will move us through the evolutionary threshold on which we stand and make the current cultural nightmare a bit more bearable.

A new kind of human is possible, but it will be experienced only as the old paradigm definition of humanity breathes its last breath. The veils keep falling off the things they have been concealing for more than 5,000 years. Let's keep assisting the unveiling and call what's underneath exactly what it is.

One way to do this is to find and do the work we came here to do and which massive unemployment and underemployment, vs. greasing the wheels of empire, now gives us an excellent opportunity to discover. Our second job is to become in the indigenous sense of the word, elders of the community. The elder is not necessarily the older.

His or her job always was and will be not only the preparation of youth for initiation, but speaking truth and creating beauty. These may seem like contradictory tasks, but they are profoundly complementary. In indigenous cultures, elders are truth-tellers who are often disliked for their directness and candor. Yet they know that this is the job of the elder, and that to do anything less is to betray succeeding generations.

At the same time, the elder knows that the horrible truths unveiled must be balanced by the creation of beauty-poems, songs, stories, works of art, and music. In earlier definitions of the word "prophet", it meant not someone who tells what will happen, but what is happening and what is about to happen.

Thus the elder must be both a prophet and an artist, for one needs the other and cannot exist without it. I'm reminded of scenes from the recent movie and novel "The Road" in which "the man" teaches "the boy" that some individuals "carry the fire", and others don't.

As the ending reveals, this instruction, as much as the incessant heinous experiences they encountered, made a permanent impression on the boy, and we are led to believe, would be the litmus test on which he relied in a world which many found impossible to endure. Another poet who was roughly a contemporary of T.S. Eliot was William Butler Yeats.

Both lived the transition from the 19th to the 20th centuries, and both witnessed the global cataclysm of World War I. Yeats in particular was deeply troubled about where industrial civilization was taking the planet, yet he never relinquished his conviction that its horrors would ultimately bring forth that new kind of human. At this solstice/nativity moment, Yeats speaks to us of the light that attends the darkness and cannot be extinguished:  

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;  
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;  
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,  
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;  
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.
 Surely some revelation is at hand;  
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.  
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out  
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi  
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert  
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,  
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,  
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it  
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.  
The darkness drops again; but now I know  
That twenty centuries of stony sleep  
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,  
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 And so I ask, on this longest night and shortest day: What beauty did you create today? And in this very dark moment, are you carrying the fire?

See also:
Island Breath: The American Holiday Season 12/14/07
The Gobbler: Winter Crystal Index 12/21/00
The Gobbler: Iroquois Midwinter 12/21/95

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