Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stewardship and the Western European Way

Tree Person and grafted valley oaks.

Vine Deloria, Jr., Sioux scholar, questions the concept of stewardship. It implies “taking care of” or “managing”, not being in dialogue with or balance, yet another version of western European “dominion over.” It is also a word I remember from my early childhood growing up on a small farm in the Midwest, a humble word, or so we thought, one we farmers understood. We were to care for the land, give to it, so that it, in turn, would grow our crops, a kind of a pact with God. We celebrated this on “Stewardship Sunday” in June.

How we western Europeans acquired our land was never discussed. History began, it seemed, with immigration, land grants, homesteading, staking claim. Anything before that was pre-history. The early cowboys settled the “wild west,” bravely fighting off hostile Indians who had lived there for thousands of years. This was only a hundred or so years ago, and shockingly, we are strangely ignorant about the impact of this aggression on all of us.

Our attitude, though, remains. The “God-given” right to “dominion over,” rationalized by mistranslations of the Old Testament, is reflected in how we relate to the non-human and the natural world, in our staunch claim to property rights, even in our granting rights to corporations to override the rights of the natural world in service of profitability.

Before Europeans arrived, the Napa/Sonoma/Marin County area was a sophisticated “cultivated agricultural preserve,” says Charlie Toledo, Executive Director of the Suscol Intertribal Council in Napa County, not a “wilderness paradise,” as the Europeans saw it. “It was so vastly different from anything they had ever experienced before, their eyes could not see it," she says. Greg Sarris, descendent of the Miwok of Rancho Graton in Sonoma County, says: “Wild is what happened when white man took over.”

Although there is evidence of this area being populated for at least 10,000 years, and some say as long as 60,000, most of the knowledge of how to live in balance with the natural world has been lost. First Peoples were killed by early settlers or by the diseases they brought along with invasive plants, animals, economies, and religions. It was illegal to practice their ceremonies into the 1990’s, ceremonies intimately related to nature and balance.

It gives one pause. My eyes rest on the stretch of meadow south of our kitchen, the one the bobcat and coyote regularly hunt and deer pass through. Hawk dip after their prey of gophers, and last year a pileated woodpecker built her nest in a dead tree on its edge. During the time that Goethe was writing his poetry and theories of metamorphosis, the meadow was sacred to the Mishewal Wappo (as all land is sacred, Charlie would say), but we no longer know what they did here. There is a knoll to the north on which old valley oaks are grafted together in ways that some say was done on the sites young couples spent their first night. The land is charged and stretches one’s heart to the fartherest corners of the universe; that remains. But the old stories and oral histories are gone, the ones passed from generation to generation— until General Vallejo received his land grant from the King of Spain, and history began.

But the stain is here. You can feel it. As an analyst I often have to encourage a patient to remember painful early experience and patterns which have formed neuro-pathways into the present. There is little hope of new choices, new ways, until we heal traumas evidenced in blocks and old ways carried forward. Trauma ignored seeks to replicate those circumstances in which it was first inflicted, an unconscious drive for healing and wholeness, perhaps. Yet sadly, most often such repetition only re-traumatizes.

This also happens in our relationship with the land. Our “dominion over” attitudes are moving us toward a sterile world. In the Napa Valley the battle continues: property rights advocates and vintners versus environmentalists. Meanwhile “conservation” is often equated with neglect, leaving an area alone to the forces of nature after a hundred years of non-tending, resulting, in the very least, in brush build up and the real danger of large and destructive fires.

It is in this context that, in the following weeks, I will post the video of a talk given by Charlie Toledo at Harms Vineyards and Lavender Fields Open House in June 2011. I was moved by a statement of the Suscol Intertribal Council that a focus is “to bring healing between the existing population and people who historically inhabited Napa Valley and nearby counties.” I suspect this is also key to healing our “dominion over” exploitive practices with the earth.

Charlie said, “Jim Big Bear King used to say, ‘Where’s my church? The sky is the roof. The Earth is the floor. The fire is the heart. Without these things, I cannot pray. Where’s my church?’” She continued, “The fire is like a telephone line to the universe. So the fire needs to touch the Earth and be open to the sky.”

May we let our hearts be this fire and, through this love, may we find our way into balance again with the spirits of those who came before, with each other, and with the earth.
Sacred meadow at sunrise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Naomi Lowinsky's Commentary on Snakes, A Novel by Patricia Damery

The Motherline Muse

by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky
Motherline stories evoke a worldview in which all beings and times are interconnected…They are as common as the repetitive loops made in weaving, crocheting and knitting. They are as powerful as touching a grandmother’s face in childhood, or seeing a daughter suckle her newborn child. --The Motherline p, 23
I’ve been reading Patricia Damery’s novel “Snakes” whose narrator is the breast–feeding mother of a plump baby girl. My body remembers the suck of my own babies’ mouths, the sweet breast feeding reverie, the intoxicating smells of baby skin and my own milk. I remember the pleasure and I remember the overwhelm.

The muse would come to me in those days—baby at my breast, on my hip, in the stroller. She’d say: “Why aren’t you writing about this? A mother’s experience is the foundation of everyone’s life? It’s so powerful. Where are the poems, the novels, the essays about this demanding, amazing and transformative experience?”

“When do I have time to write?” I’d lament. I knew the muse was on to something. I felt deprived by the lack of literature about this most profound human experience. This made me edgy and defensive. “The baby is hungry. The baby needs changing. There’s dishes to do, and laundry. There’s dinner to cook. My body belongs to the baby. So does my head. How could I even focus?”

All that has changed in my lifetime, I’m delighted to say. Many women, myself included, have written about the mysteries, joys and sorrows of mothering. I wrote a poem recently, about my problem.

Your Problem

In a peanut butter and jelly haze

in play dough and lego worlds

amidst unmade beds and Mrs. Dalloway

lost in a pile of laundry, all the edges

of your days unraveling, between baby cries

and dinner, between the earth spirit

who has opened you up, and the call

of that angel before you fall…

If there are rainbows

you don’t see them. If songs are singing

they don’t sing to you. If poems are forming

deep in the dangerous woods, you can’t hear them—

Poems are wild things, they’ll eat you up

just like the wolf, your grandmother has warned you—

but somewhere in a grotto, the witch

who has known you all your life, is busy

fermenting her brew…

(first published in Ibbetson Street)


If I could give my confused and disoriented younger self, just one book to read, it would be “Snakes.” Why “Snakes?” Because it would give her courage and hope. She would understand that her way of being and seeing has value and beauty.

Angela, the first person narrator and central character in “Snakes” does not suffer from the problem of my younger self. She is both mother and artist— a weaver. Weaving is her medium and her way of perceiving. Her voice weaves a rich tapestry of many threads: the bodily sensations of her milk letting down when her baby cries, the healthy smell of breastfed baby shit, the emotional trials of parenting two prepubescent boys, her ambivalent feelings toward her visiting, recently widowed mother, her spirited conversations with her dead father, her marital issues and lusty love for her husband, her memories of the small family farm she grew up on and her grief about the loss of that way of life, her meditations on her ancestors, her fear of snakes, her fascination with snakes and the myth she tells her sons about a shape-shifting serpent and his human bride.

“You mean you don’t have to write paragraphs that focus on one thing at a time?” my younger self marvels, remembering red marks all over her creative attempts in college. “You mean you can write about a woman’s gaze, her bodily response to a man’s nakedness? Listen to this:

“Let’s swim,” Jake said, pulling off his clothes. I stood spellbound. His body was lean and forbidden, yet I looked at every muscle, the tautness of his belly, the bulging of his thighs…I watched the curve of his buttocks as he hung midair and then ever so slowly, slipped into deep waters. 
p. 85

“You mean you can leap from memory to myth to talking with a ghost to funny family conversations in which big brother calls baby sister “the Leech” to philosophizing about the loneliness and grief of ancestral farmers in the Midwest while writing in plain speech that is accessible and poetic?” My younger self is amazed. “You can loop back and forth in the generations, remembering yourself as a child as you deal with your children and your mother’s response to your mothering? You can weave a Zuni myth about a beautiful maiden who marries the sea serpent Kolowissi into a dialogue with an eleven year old boy?”

“Lived with a snake” Trent used to say. “She married a snake?”

“Kolowissi is a god” I’d explain. “He can take any form. But his favorite is that of a serpent.”

p. 33

“Just like that she weaves the ordinary and the marvelous into one fabric.” My younger self is impressed. She has suffered under the fallacy of categories. I wish she could have known what Angela knows: that all the realms are interwoven. That is how her mind worked. Still does. But back then she thought there was something wrong with her mind, that modalities were supposed to stay in their separate categories like university departments, or milk and meat, according to Jewish Kosher law. This muzzled her, hobbled her, kept her in a mental strait jacket, denied the flow of her thoughts. I wish she could have known what Angela knows—that magic is always present, as surprising and as ordinary as a snake slipping through yellow grasses on a California hillside.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Book Review: Four Eternal Women: Toni Wolff Revisited: A Study of Opposites

Four Eternal Women: Toni Wolff Revisited - A Study in Oppositesby Patricia Damery

Four Eternal Women: Tony Wolff Revisited: A Study in Opposites, by Mary Dian Molton and Lucy Anne Sikes (Fisher King Press, 2011) amplifies Toni Wolff’s paper, “Structural Forms of the Feminine Psyche (1934).” The model uses Wolff’s quaternity of archetypal patterns of women’s development: the personally related modes of Mother (Mary, mother of Jesus), and its opposite, Hetaira (pattern Toni Wolff lived out with C. G. Jung); and the other pole of the impersonally related: Amazon Woman (Gloria Steinem) opposite Medial Woman (Hildegard von Bingen). Although some of these terms may be unfamiliar, the authors’ full treatment of these patterns brings them to life and the reader will find soon enough that they have relevance today.

Using case examples, interviews, film studies, and well researched biographies and writings of famous women, the authors have grounded the book in history and culture, giving perspective and depth to feminine development and differentiating archetypal patterns often unconsciously lived out. Not only are the positive aspects and characteristics of each pattern fully explored, but the shadow sides as well.

As I read, I found myself considering the authors’ amplifications of these patterns in myself and in women in my practice. How many times do we unconsciously retreat to familiar archetypal patterns rather than embrace what is unknown? The function opposite one’s primary function is the most undeveloped and least likely to be lived out, but those either side offer important alternative paths of development. How often does a woman whose primary pattern focused on nurturing her children (Mother), upon their leaving home, place her identity in Grand-Mother? Wolff, and then Molton and Sikes, suggest that she might more profitably develop Amazon interests of becoming independent and self-contained or, should psyche dictate, the non-rational ability of the Medial Woman to receive frequencies and material of the collective unconscious.

I was taken in by the fullness of the reading and the examples, gaining new perspective. Molton and Sikes’ Four Eternal Women is a contribution to understanding women and our relationships in the world.

Patricia Damery is an analyst member of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and practices in Napa, CA.