"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Friday, March 30, 2012

Brutality and the Network of God

I have trouble watching nature shows. While I love to learn about the animals and their ecosystems, watch with awe the subtle and not so subtle maneuverings of majestic landscapes found here on this relatively small planet hurdling itself through space, I cringe at the brutality of nature.
The camera follows a male polar bear swimming for hundreds of miles to find an ice patch or an island where he can hunt. Exhausted, he hurls himself up onto the sand where there are walruses. The walruses sense his arrival and huddle together. He goes at them with claws extended, tearing at their leather-gray skin, trying to bite their necks. They retaliate with their tusks, mar him and he is noticeably wounded with streaks of blood on his creamy white fur. I don't know whether I am rooting for the walruses or the polar bear. I have the thought of maybe one of the walruses sacrificing himself to the polar bear so that he could eat. But the polar bear is too exhausted from his swimming to effectively kill and the last we see of him, he is settling himself down into the sand to die.
There is this internal figuring going on inside me regarding the brutality of this world. It hums underneath my daily thoughts. I am looking for clear evidence of God; because if there is a God, the brutality would be somehow eradicated. I check boxes in my head, yes, there is a God because of this. No, there is not a God because of this. I think a lot of people do this, use logic and reasoning to find God.
In the evenings I listen to “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook. One of the shows this week covered the Travon Martin case. Ashbrook played the 911 tapes. “Sensitive listeners beware,” he advised. You could hear the anguish in Martin's howling before he was killed. Here was a boy with nothing in his pockets but a cell phone and Skittles; he was hunted down by a man whose killer instinct was suddenly activated. I was affected. A check went into the “no” category.
Carl Sagan talks about the reptilian brain in his book The Dragons of Eden. This is the part of our brain that dictates aggression. Scientifically we can account for brutality because of it. When a murder like Martin's occurs, we can say it was due to the reptilian brain gone haywire. It's the same for the polar bear, only the reptilian brain is justified here due to the survival of the fittest.
What would Emerson and Thoreau say about the reptilian brain? For some reason, the wolf stalking and killing a fawn has gone unnoticed by the transcendentalists and I wonder why.
Yahweh, the Hebrew patriarchal god would be fine with it. He demanded blood, sacrificial lambs, etc. When I was a child, someone bought an illustrated Bible for my brother and me. I loved to look at the colorful renditions of the biblical stories and remember one in particular, the story of Abraham and Isaac, where Abraham takes his son Isaac up into the mountains to sacrifice him to Yahweh. Just as Abraham lays the knife over Isaac's throat to prove his love and allegiance to his god, a ram shows up in the thicket and Yahweh tells Abraham to sacrifice it instead.
The Buddhists would say, why must there be any sacrifice at all?
In two weeks, Easter will be upon us; this is right about the time I will be giving birth. So there is the brutality of the crucifixion and the brutality of the birthing process looming. When I think of the crucifixion, I often think of Gibson's film “The Passion of the Christ”. It was a barbarous film of Christ's death, and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably at the end of the movie. But I wasn't sorry I watched it; my sobbing was more catharsis and I felt as if my spirit had gone that barbaric road with Christ and had every right in celebrating as the illuminated, resurrected Christ took his first step out of the tomb. Brutality was a necessary part of the journey.
I can only hope I will feel the same after the birthing process.
And with that, I think of Tom Robbin's Skinny Legs and All where he parallels the conflict and killings in the Middle East to the contractions of labor. Robbins believes there will be a time when the contractions/conflicts will end and there will be a new nation, peaceful and unified.
What would the Buddhists say about brutality? They would say it is a part of the spirituality of reincarnation. Brutality is a part of the process and the only way to find peace with it is to see beyond it. Yes, the wolf does kill the soft, delicate, helpless lamb, but in the devouring, the lamb becomes part of the wolf life-force and in this way, no longer lives in fear of it. It has crossed over from the feared to the fearless. It has ascended in the hierarchy. Christ, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed at the hands of men and this too was a transformation, from mortal to god. It too was an “ascension” in hierarchy.
Therefore we must view brutality not as an end, but as a means particular to transformations. 
I'm still stumped with regard to the Trayvon Martin case however. Where's the transformation there? We've seen killings like these all of our lives. Is this a contraction as well, prepping us for a new awareness? Was this awareness the dream of Martin Luther King Junior? That dream is obviously still being realized; it has not been brought to fruition as Martin's and many other murders imply. Or was this case not one solely of racial tension, but one of hubris, as well? It was through hubris that Zimmerman believed he could handle this issue himself. Enter Greek tragedians and Shakespeare and the brutality brought upon by the flaws of humankind. We are indeed hopelessly flawed and sometimes brutality is the result of that flaw, to fall victim to our chemical and biological make up, that reptilian brain, without taking a breath, a moment to question our actions.
I have to believe, however, for humans with “fully” evolved neocortexes (the part of the brain that cultivates nurturing, love, awareness, intelligence) there is a way around brutality and its various forms (murder, addiction, suicide, etc.) and that is through compassion and meditation.
Unfortunately the garden I cultivated through meditation seems to have shriveled up and died since I've become pregnant. I seem to be too uncomfortable to sit still. But there's always that spark of hope, everyday that I could get it back. Maybe if I can dig at its soil and plant something, I won't be so concerned with brutality and my logical search for the higher power. I would know it's not something one finds in the world, but in the recesses of the spirit. And that spirit acknowledges and responds to other spirits and therein lies the network of God. And that God looks not through a telescopic lens when he views the world.
He sees everything.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thoughts on Impending Labor: the Balance between Science and Nature

I wake up on my back, the weight of the twins pressing into my organs. I can't breathe. I swing my legs over the side of the bed, attempt to push myself up. It takes all my strength and I feel the exertion in every ligament and bone. Sometimes I writhe back and forth, moaning from the pain, from that clutch of fear grabbing at me and I wake Richard up. He knows to give me a push, to help me out of the bed so I can go pee or pace the house, place myself in various positions to get the babies to drop away from my diaphragm.
A few months ago I met a woman who had just given birth and she strongly advised me to do perinatal massage. So I set myself up with a pamphlet from the childbirth class and tried it. I felt around inside the petals of the flower down there and tried to pull them apart. The petals resisted and a stinging pain ricocheted down my legs. I consulted the pamphlet and it emphasized how it was imperative I relax (it's always imperative I relax); there were pictures of women resting with their eyes closed, enveloped in an aura of calm, one in a tub of bubbles, the other in a bed. I tried again, feeling the flesh resist, the stinging pain. I panicked, struggled with the belief my body would open up on its own and told myself I have to make a regimen of this to avoid tearing, pull these petals apart until they loosen up enough to make room for their heads. I looked at the diagrams of circles, 1 cm, 6 cm, 10 cm; I could not, cannot fathom passing a head, shoulders, hands, knees, feet through this gate and then repeating the process again.
When my friend Susan was dying of pancreatic cancer in her hospice bed, I peeked at the journal she had left for visitors to read. In it, she wrote about having faith in her body, in its healing processes. And yet, ultimately, these were defunct. At the end, she wrote, I want to forgive my body.
I too seek that same faith, but I am skeptical.
There are women out there who are not skeptical. They write books, have websites, shunning the use of science in the birthing and postnatal processes (breastfeeding, etc.) and champion the natural way. They believe that “progress” has eclipsed the feminine power and spirituality that comes with labor; we are allegedly robbing ourselves of a transcendental experience, becoming soft. They cite the ancients, midwife/herbalists who practiced mysticism and herbal alchemy; they cite statistics on C-section babies, how they are more likely to become obese, and have other ramifications.
So there is that lingering guilt; you are not a whole woman if you opt out of a strictly natural birth and perhaps you are putting your baby at risk, as well. While I do wonder about these, I know first and foremost I want my babies and myself to be safe. Let's not forget that years ago, that transcendental experience was often death for mother or child or both. Also, the ethos of the herbalist, the midwife/healer is over; our world has changed. Those ancient women lived in a period when nature was less harnessed by mankind and there were less distractions. It was easier to get close to it and its rhythms, its elixirs for this and that. Nowadays, if you want to become a Thoreau-type and live in the bosom of nature, you'll need to develop an extremist attitude and extricate yourself from society; that's nearly impossible for most of us. We tend to take the easy road, embrace this hybrid of science and nature, often happily.
But that's the point, to figure out what's right for the time period you live in. Science/ technology has already infiltrated every aspect of our lives. Personally, I embraced it to get pregnant in the first place through IVF. The issue is not to eradicate science or nature, but find a harmonious balance between the two. This is the ethos we live in.
So I intend to initiate my own balance, opt for a vaginal birth for the twins if the opportunity presents itself, but I won't forgo the epidural.
I may give a nod nature's way, but I'm not stupid.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Secret Garden of Flesh and Heat

Morning. House. Plants grow wildly at the baywindow sill. Seraphim and cherubim writhe, ready themselves as my body steadies, blinks. It holds the weight of water behind its floodgates. There is the future beating above my head; its incessant, subtle motion sends a shimmer through my thoughts and bones.
Here, a foot. An elbow. You, little hub of life, you thump against me. Thump, thump. We await your faces.
Wait. I have more to say. Don't shut the door. Don't close the light. Don't forget me. There are snowdrops out on the lawn, delicate, forthright harbingers that speak the language of white. Remember this when the sky is bleak and the trees, leafless.
My nephew, bundled in fleece, perplexed by the world, turns his head toward the light, a resplendent pool where the fern dips its curled toe. I am overcome, gleefully observe his countenance as it regulates itself and morphs into sadness, anger, relief, ecstasy. Where did you come from little boy-face? What do you know of the place where my children unfurl? Hush. We have long forgotten this secret garden of flesh and heat.
Remind us.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

That Internal Record

There exists a place in our minds where records play. That is an obsolete term, I know. I could say internal itune, but somehow record seems to fit, perhaps because of its rotational motion. I've just finished revising the novel for Calyx Press and now I've got nothing to do but wait for the delivery of my twins. I am at this gray place again; it is March and I am in the house alone. I always seek this downtime and then when it comes, all I do is play the same record of worry, insecurity and discontent in my head. I'd rather not indulge myself in the lyrics. So, in order to pull the needle off the record, I've decided to spend lent rereading Rilke's Book of Hours (Love Poems to God). 
I have discovered, within the last year, that my spirituality is more transcendental than dogmatic. This blog has helped me do that. Although I respect and miss the traditions and ritual that go with religion, it seems the bad outweighs the good. Religion for me, seems to be patriarchal, confining, perfunctory, and political. I find more inspiration from a poem than I do a prayer. The link to God exists when I create or walk the woods, not when I piously bow my head in a pew. When I read the following poem by Rilke, my spirit soars. This is different from the confinement I feel at Church where I am a follower and a repeater, repeating the words I am told to repeat, executing motions I am told to execute.

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world
I may not ever complete the last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon
a storm or a great song?

Joanna Macy, a renown Buddhist scholar and social activist writes about her discovery of this poem in the preface to the centenary edition of Rilke's Hours:

I felt a sense of release, as if I had been let out of a cage I had not known I was in. Rilke's images lent some pattern, even meaning to a life I thought had failed in its spiritual vocation...Rilke reminded me that if my spiritual appetite was greater than the tedious, cramped theorizing of the theologians, so was God. I could almost feel again the sense of belonging and purpose that I had thought I had forfeited.

I wholly agree with Macy about being “let out of a cage” and feeling “again the sense of belonging and purpose,” but it is a solitary effort. There is no sense of guilt to keep you in check, no demands of a community to keep you going back. You must go back by your own convictions and sometimes the record that plays in your head convinces you otherwise. It's doing that right now as I write this. I cannot, however, deny the line “I live my life in widening circles”; this speaks directly to the spirit and its maneuverings. It is a truth; the spirit is a seeker. And it is such a truth that parts the needle from the record, that sets you back on the creative/spiritual path. I need to remind myself now of my own words:

The purpose of being a writer is to rid yourself of the ambiguous, the gray, to pronounce your words with clarity and conviction. To crawl up from the void. To achieve the miraculous voice of unique self despite all the other amalgams of voices speaking in your ear.

Rilke himself told a friend in one of his letters that the process of writing “strengthened and stimulated the inspiration.” I agree with this entirely; the work of writing is itself inspiration. When I don't do it, I feel as if I have failed myself in some way. This is why I am somewhat conflicted about raising babies. Over and over again I ask, How do I keep this allegiance to myself?