Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Relative Illumination

It requires a certain sense of inner peace to sleep in the light. I mean relative illumination... when the moonlight peers in at your eyelashes or the streetlight presses it's way through your un-curtained window, or the hallway lights seeps beneath the door to you. I used to cover every last ounce of light in the room, so microfocused on the darkness that I couldn't shut my eyes and relax. Now I briefly appreciate the earliest hint of sunrise and go back to sleep.

It requires a sense of inner confidence when you do not meet someone's expectations for you. So when my grandma asked me if there was anyone "special" I was spending time with, I answered, "Nope! Just you!" And I really meant it.

It requires a sense of inner beauty to give yourself permission to reinterpret your own body, and then to live into that interpretation. So I think of the slight convex curve of my tummy as sexy and move like it is.

It requires a sense of inner love to enjoy a sunset by yourself. So I gathered a blanket, a beer, and a chocolate bar and watched the color wheel in the sky spin the day into night on the western horizon.

These inner senses are neither gifts, nor merits. They're somewhere in between. Their cultivation is effortful, but we are able to contain them only by grace. Therefore only by grace do we know the inner strength and serenity that illuminates our lives in this world.

Until next time,
Sovereign Lady

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Chronicles of Ovarian Fortitude: I

I've decided to begin a weekly series entitled "Chronicles of Ovarian Fortitude." What I hope to do with these weekly posts is to lift up the names of inspiring women who've made a change in the world. I want to honor some women who you've never heard of, and also give tribute to a few of the greats who must always be remembered. Hopefully this will be inspiring reading for you, because I find that I am never quite as energized as when I consider the great and positive work of some of the most humble and wise women who have come before me.

I'd like to begin with Helen Thomas. Born August 4, 1920 in Winchester, Kentucky, she was raised in Detroit at a time when she and her family faced discrimination for their Arabic ethnicity. Helen served on the White House Press Corps for almost sixty years and covered U.S. presidents Eisenhower through Obama. She completes the phrase "First Woman to...." in many respects. She has also written several books including her memoir and a children's book.

What's most remarkable about this woman is that she asked the toughest questions of the highest ranking leaders of this country for almost sixty years. She was dedicated to getting real answers and to keeping people informed. A legend in terms of the White House Press Corps, she was referred to as 'the Dean.' Throughout her career and her life she has been a beacon of boldness... of Ovarian Fortitude. Earlier this month, Thomas was forced to retire after receiving violent backlash for some comments she made in an interview. I take a risk in writing what I'm about to write, but I'll choose to be encouraged by this intrepid woman. On May 27th Rabbi David Nesenoff asked Helen Thomas, "Any comments on Israel?" She answered, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine." She went on to explain that the people of Palestine, who have lived there for centuries, are being occupied.

I can see how the entire interview could be read as abrasive, particularly to the Jewish population in Israel/Palestine; however, I think that Thomas speaks truthfully and rightly. The U.S. has been politically and militaristically aligned with Israel since WWII, but I argue that this country has turned a blind and even dismissive eye to the injustice and ethnocide committed by the Israeli leadership for over half of a century. It's also important to keep in mind that in almost every other country in the world, Helen Thomas' bold statement about Israelis in Palestine would be lauded and acclaimed. BUT this is the United States of America and diseased, poorly informed, and desperate media ignites and explodes comments like Thomas' and she was forced to retire and apologize for her words. I include her apology here, because like Helen Thomas, I understand the experience of speaking too caustically up front and I understand that it's sometimes important to clarify your truest hopes and impulses. She said, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

I'd just like to say that I believe that speaking out and speaking honestly as Helen Thomas did for her entire life is an appropriate approach to peace and conflict resolution. Even in the final moments of her career, this woman was still informing the country about important world news. The final message we can take from this? Listen to opposing view points and seek to understand their meaning; then we can work together to foster tolerance and mutual respect, and eventually peace.

Thank you Helen Thomas for your dauntless quest for answers,

Your student and your sister in social justice


I heard about Helen on the June 8 "Democracy Now!" podcast and I read more about her life on these sites:

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Essential TED talk...

Do you like jazz?
Do you break rules?
Want to get paid for doing good?
... then please listen to this talk.

If you're obsessed with TED talks perhaps you've already listened to this podcast, but I'm just discovering this wonderful resource and this particular podcast ("The real crisis? We stopped being wise" by Barry Schwartz) strikes me as relevant and important.

I may eventually comment on the content of this talk, but right now I'm still soaking it up and I just want to share it as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"What's your spirit animal?"

... a popular question I've been posed several times in the last five months, and I still don't have a definite answer. I'm not writing out of frustration though because I'm still wondering, 'what is a spirit animal?'

Are our spirit animals somehow one with us? Like, in times of trouble will the owl or the hawk come swooping in to assist its 'spirit human'? Or is the connection like he or she was a raccoon in another life? Or is a spirit animal more of a teacher/mentor/patron saint? I've also wondered, do we look like specific animals and that's how our spirits are discerned? (That would be pretty silly to interpret the 'spiritual' purely from the physical, but... I digress.)

At first, this seems like a New-Age, peace-loving jab at personality psychology which offers a creative way to imagine our traits as the characteristics of another being on earth. Naming a spirit animal also gives us an opportunity to fabricate some kind of connection with a fuzzy/slimy/majestic friend, thus giving us some sort of animal-sibling that we mysteriously embody. Perhaps we long to do this because we lack connection to nature in our daily lives; we symbolically turn ourselves into animals in order to re-enter the natural world. What's strange about the "natural world" we create is that it knows no ecological boundaries; when we select a spirit animal we can chose from the entire animal kingdom--bunnies, wildebeest, iguanas, stingrays--you get the picture. We can even chose animals we have no first-hand experience with! I'm guilty of this. I recently suggested that my friend might be a zebra, but what the hell do I know about zebras?! The closest I've been to one was at the Como Zoo in St Paul, MN last summer. So no, I don't understand zebra psychology at all, but I also don't mean to diminish the whimsical, and Noah's Ark-ish quality of Spirit Animal Science.

Actually, I love the image of walking into my workplace in the morning only to find: an ocelot, a ferret, a beaver, a beluga whale, a bison, and an armadillo toiling away at their respective desks. This notion is very much like Isaiah 11: 6-9--"The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea." I've always loved this verse for its utopic and peace-drenched portrayal of a place and a time that is so difficult to imagine right now.

Maybe we use animals to represent our spirits because we believe they are more noble and pure than humans; HOWEVER, briefly allow me to recall the earliest anthropological work which referred to indigenous peoples as 'exotic others' who purely exemplified human desires and impulses. Indigenous communities were seen as laboratories in which to study the basics of human psychology and sociology unsullied, as it were, but the industrialized West. Yes, animals are animals. Humans are humans. But I still cringe to think of the way we anthropomorphize wild creatures by assigning specific virtues to them and simultaneously elevate them as noble not-humans, and then claim the rights to those creatures as spirit animals.

I also want to recognize that naming spirit animals can be a part of friendship/relationship formation; people help each other discern their spirit animals and this indicates how well they know each other. A group of my friends recently chose spirit animals for each other and it has given them a whole new conversation to continue as they live and work together. Again, this is a fun and whimsical activity and no one means any harm by it, but I think it's important to take a very close look at the implications of this fad.

I have no concrete idea about who, or which community, was the first to talk about spirit animals, but I'm willing to bet it was not the small liberal arts college I attend. So let's imagine, just for a paragraph, that spirit animals are a very sacred idea/practice for a group of people with a very particular history and a very sovereign culture. Here we are, taking this belief out of context and stretching/morphing it to fit our personal needs. I cannot condemn too harshly though (Afterall, this is the age of mash-ups, rampant borrowing, and BLOGGING for heaven's sake!), but it seems to me that this sort of plagiarism and contortion of other peoples' cultural beliefs is definitely disrespectful and even violent.

So now I've said my piece. I don't mean to ruin anyone's fun, but I also think it is important to be aware of the roots of notions like spirit animals and the complicated layers of a, seemingly, simple game.

Until next time,
The Rookie Anthropologist