A Dream for the New Year

I went to sleep not having written a blog and this dream woke me . . .

I was in a room and it was time. My mind was clear and present. I agreed to have the injection that would end my life. But when a tall man with a black suit and white shirt arrived with a syringe ready to plunge the needle through my skin, I freaked. “No! No, no!” I shouted as I pulled away. He was determined and latched on, but I was thrashing wildly and ripped free of his grip. I would not give in easily, I wanted to live.

With every particle of my being, I fought back. Then I said, “Please, if I am to die now, I must tell my Zen teacher and community.” He agreed to let me go make a phone call if afterwards I would return for the needle.

I ran out of the room, ran as far and as fast I could. I was on the lam. Up and over bridges, staircases, down alleys, and across lonely boulevards. In an area with small shops I saw some boxes of biscuits and thought of snatching one, but resisted.

Then I saw my daughter. I called, “Ariel!” and again, “Ariel, come with me, please!”

She came over, I grabbed her hand, and we sprinted until we arrived on a grassy plateau. I was about to tell her what was happening when the tall man with the black suit and white shirt arrived waving the syringe. He grabbed my arm and said, “You will not escape me, now!” He jerked my right hand towards his body to plunge the needle into my wrist. He injected the fluid with great glee and strode away. But I had seen the needle catch on my sweater’s knitted cuff, the poison had not entered my body.

I had outsmarted death. I didn’t know how many more times I would be able to avoid him, but I secretly hoped for nine lives like a cat — and that when the ninth time came — I would be ready. I want no regrets, I want to go with grace.

You might wonder why such a strong dream at this turning of the year. A few days ago, I had breakfast with a friend who lost her partner to a re-occurrence of breast cancer. I have a friend struggling with depression, another paralyzed by the political turmoil in the world, and another beside herself with grief because of the destruction of the natural world. Many of us carry serious fear, and even terror.

Confucius told his followers, 'Bring peace to the old, have trust in your friends, and cherish the young.' And he lived during turbulent times. The message I received in my dream is to live life to the fullest. I am grateful for my Zen Mountain Monastery community who helped me survive in my dream as they have through difficult times. I am grateful for my daughter who brought her angelic presence to the dream as she so often does in daily life.  

Ariel and I on a Hike, Selfie, 2016

Ariel and I on a Hike, Selfie, 2016

Dreams have a lot to offer us. I tried to go deeper into sensing this ‘being alive’. I felt each thing awake — the singular blade of grass, the snowflake, the pink salmon. We shape the world with what we do, what we see, and what we think. Mind is what I cherish because it connects us all — each person born and unborn — each tree and star. And just maybe, the poison to my body had no effect because it will never have power over mind.

I wish you happiness and well-being in the coming year!

May you receive and offer gifts of kindness, generosity, and creativity.  

Canyonlands Many Hands.jpg

Many Hands Blessing Earth

Happy New Year 2018

 

 

Cutting Off a Leg

I started writing a follow-up to the blog, All about Art, from two weeks ago in which I unintentionally wrote about six women artists and did not mention one man. I thought about the fact that this would never happen in an issue of ARTnews or Art Forum, despite the work of the Guerilla Girls, a nonprofit organization that since the early 1980s has been raising awareness of the lack of equal representation of women artists in major art museums and galleries. Then I proceeded to write about some of the male artists exhibiting at Old Frog Pond Farm this fall.

Where I Get My Water , Ray Ciemny 

Where I Get My Water, Ray Ciemny 

Ray's piece is a commentary on the scarcity of clean water for many people on our planet. Made of scrap steel and rubble, the girders were salvaged from the old Fitch’s Bridge above the Nashua River in Groton, MA.

Then I changed my mind, because it is the opening of apple picking and I felt I should write about the beautiful diversity of apples ripening in the orchard.

Then I had a dream where I had to cut off the lower half of my leg.

Cutting off one’s leg is a major life altering event. In my dream, I wasn’t upset about it, but was calmly trying to decide when would be the right time to do it. I wasn’t considering the challenges or the healing or the rehabilitation—it was a dream after all, a symbol.

Losing a leg in a dream is fairly easy to analyze. Our legs are what we stand on, what supports us, and having two legs gives us balance. To dream that I was about to cut off a significant part of one leg seems to indicate that something in my life is out of balance. Or is it a way to take control of what is out of control? Or, maybe, I saw myself as split in two, two legs, and was trying to become one. I agree, there are other, better ways to make myself whole, but my unconscious did find the imagery to express itself and get my attention.

When I wake up with an image from a dream that is very clear, I like to contemplate and write about it. This cut off my leg dream was giving me a clear signal of the need for radical change, though what exactly it refers to remains opaque.

I could be anticipating the craziness of harvest time. Yellow, red, green, scarlet, and striped fruit orbs weigh down the flexible apple branches. There is an abundance of ripe fruit out in the orchard, but there is an angst that comes with it. Apple-picking time is when both my husband, Blase, and I feel like we have absolutely no control over any moment of our lives. We interact with hundreds and hundreds of people, through emails, phone calls, and complete strangers knocking at the back door. You might call it the downside of success, and sometimes it feels overwhelming.

It’s also possible that I was disturbed by Freedom Baird’s haunting sculptural installation, Graft. She has used the cavity from a once twin-trunked oak tree and created a prosthesis of sorts.  

Graft , Freedom Baird       Photo:Robert Hesse

Graft, Freedom Baird       Photo:Robert Hesse

Freedom Baird writes,

Like so many I’m preoccupied with environmental stewardship (this preoccupation has ratcheted up to acidic alarm under a Trump administration). Recently I’ve been experimenting with ways to catalyze a reconsideration of humans’ relationship to the “natural” world. Specifically, I’ve been inventing objects that push against the construct that man and nature are separate. Projects have included synthesizing plastic utensils from food, grafting milled lumber onto a living tree, designing prosthetic limbs for amputated trees. . .

I’ve been horrified by recent government proposals to cut back the boundaries of protected land. Specifically, the acreage around the Bears Hill National Monument in Utah that President Obama protected honoring the request of tribal nations before he left office. It’s enough to make anyone who cares about our environment feel out of control.

But the truth is the next seven weeks are much too busy for me to spend time thinking about other places and possibilities. Dream or no dream, I need to focus on what is right in front of me. I need to have two feet firmly on the ground.

The Myths of History

I’ve been reading the book, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. The author’s broad lens, an overview of our species from early man to the present time, is helpful as my focus has been so closely fixed on the daily headlines. Our brothers and sisters, members of our same genus, Homo, like Neanderthal man, Homo erectus, Homo soloensis, Homo floresiensis, among others, lived on this planet for millions of years. Then, Homo sapiens (Wise Man so we defined ourselves) evolved in West Africa, and spread throughout the Asian landmass, and all of the other members of our genus disappeared. Theories abound and no one really knows whether we were responsible. However, we do know a little about early sapien ways.

Ancient Turtle, Sculpture, LH

Ancient Turtle, Sculpture, LH

Homo sapiens, not content to stay in any one place, forged ahead. The first place we colonized was Australia, quite an undertaking considering the distance over land and water, but Homo sapiens did what we had been evolving to do. We stepped onto the landmass of what we call Australia where there were no other human beings, and changed it forever. Sapiens encountered great animals like 450 pound kangaroos, giant koala bears, and dragon size lizards. However, within a few short millennia, twenty-three of the twenty-four mammals weighing over one hundred pounds went extinct. Large animals have only one or two offspring and the gestation period is long. If the animal’s young are killed, even as few as one every month or so, in a few thousand years, they die out. As hunter and gatherers, we were not necessarily aware of the changes we were causing, but science points to the irreversible transformations we triggered.

Homo sapiens evolved extremely quickly. Unlike Homo erectus, for example, who used stone tools and remained essentially the same for two million years —  Homo sapiens wielded the hoe, the pen, and the brush, becoming farmers, and then, artists, politicians, scholars, scientists, and philosophers in a relatively short time. We developed a sophisticated language. Language, the big differential between us and other species, is how we shape our world. With language we decide collectively what to believe in, and how we envision the future. Harari makes the case that so much of our culture is myth anyway — it’s what we collectively believe. Sapiens became powerful because we learned how to collectively believe in myths—the myth of our economic system, the myth that there are countries with borders, the myths of religion. There is no scientific basis for any of these. From an historical perspective, you could say that religions developed and became dominant in a particular area for no more reason than a particular butterfly has blue wings. Perhaps we need to start dismantling some of our myths — especially the ones that separate instead of seek our commonality.

The assumption is that we have evolved from our wild and wooly ways, and developed and believe in sophisticated ideologies that we hold to be true and enable us to live peacefully and cooperatively with each other. But we don’t live peacefully or cooperatively with other sapiens or other creatures on the planet and we haven’t for many years. It’s almost as if our shadow side is finally coming forth and demanding to be seen and heard. It’s not this one election — nothing arises without a cause. On our planet millions of acres of forests are gone, our topsoil is disappearing at alarming rates, our biodiversity is shriveling, and climate change is going to make large areas inhabitable because of high water and high temperatures.  Greed, intolerance, and ignorance have all played their role.

This week I’ve been pruning the apple orchard with Denis Wagner who first taught me to prune the trees over a decade ago. We prune in silence until one of us asks about a certain branch. Sometimes we both stand back and gaze up into the crown of the tree wondering if there are some branches that need to be pruned out to encourage growth. We confer amiably and respectfully. We both know that there are multiple choices, and no one knows exactly what is best, but each cut changes the course of the growth of the tree. In the orchard it’s easy; we both want the best for the tree.

Does this analogy translate to the world? Not easily. Denis and I usually agree, and it takes very little for either of us to back down and harmonize with the other. But it does make me think that we need to talk, we need to stop building walls, stop filibustering, and stop being right. History has proved that unless we live compassionately and empathetically, we all suffer.

Apple Pressing, LH, 2016, Collection: Madeleine Lord

Apple Pressing, LH, 2016, Collection: Madeleine Lord

Hunters and gatherers related to their world with an early form of religion, what today we call animism. Animists believe that humans and animals can communicate — that we can and do have relationships not only with animals, but with trees, and even rocks. We share the world with these other creatures, both animate and inanimate. As we developed, we seemed to have forgotten that relationships are important. We have been focused on the power and the rights of the individual. Perhaps it’s time to throw out this notion of the sacrosanct individual, the one who signs executive orders at 4:42 pm on a Friday afternoon and changes the lives of thousands of people. But that means each of us, too, must loosen our own hold on our individual identity and join the fray – the messiness of living with all of our brothers and sisters, animate and inanimate, no matter what they do or do not believe in. 

Above all, we must enter the dialogue, speak up, loudly, and compassionately. We need to tell new stories that inspire and shed light on our earth, our home, our commonness. We are all Homo sapiens. We all have a beating heart.

Family Photo: My son, Alex, and his Dada, 1988

Family Photo: My son, Alex, and his Dada, 1988