Winter Solstice Reflections: Returning to Light, Swimming Against the Tide

Lately I have been feeling that I am constantly struggling against a strong current pulling me away from the work I want to be doing.

The current is composed of all the day-to-day chores of life, along with all the busyness of the holiday season, and the relentless tide of bad news about the state of our beloved planet and her living communities, from trees to fish to birds and bees.

The more I become aware of the dire ecological state of our planet, the more I want to devote myself to swimming against that current of devastation, trying to bring our planetary systems back into balance.

I want to do that work on the personal level, starting with my own life, and moving out into my community and the broader Earth communities in which we all live.

The climate issue, like no other in human history, has made our planetary connectedness clear. We must work together, from pole to pole, to solve the problem of climate instability that industrial civilization has wrought.

If we don’t get on in immediately, we may very well spiral into another Great Extinction, possibly soon enough for current generations of humans—me and my children and their children—to live and die through.

Faced with a negative reality of this magnitude, many of us tend to just turn away in numbed grief and try to ignore it because, sadly, “there’s nothing we can do about it.”

My own sense of being caught in a tidal current pulling me back from whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing may have a lot to do with the despairing feeling that whatever I try to do will not be enough.

But I have to do it anyway, and so do you.

Winter Solstice is the time of year when I try to retreat from the furious churning of life and recalibrate, retune, reflect.

How can I use the gifts I have been given to make a positive difference, moving outward from myself, my family and local community, to the larger circles of life I love?

My greatest gift and abiding passion has always been writing. As soon as I learned to write, I began writing stories and poems that celebrated the natural world and honored the spirits of the Earth.

As a 21st century writer, I have the ability to project my words and perspectives far beyond the confines of the old spiral-bound notebooks I used to keep as a child. I have the potential to engage in dialogue with people all across the globe, and if you’re reading this, so do you.

As a teacher, I have the ability to begin conversations with students about the difficult ecological crises that are already beginning to unfold, and the social and environmental injustices that they are spawning. I can offer students the tools and strategies for continuing these conversations across the globe through our amazing new digital technologies.

In the past year, without a great deal of focus on my part, my blog has been viewed more than 20,000 times by visitors from more than 130 countries around the world.

My little blog is just a very small drop in the great ocean of digital conversations, but even so, it is possible that some of those 20,000 readers came away with a new idea or an affirmation of their own thinking, or a challenge to their habitual perspectives, that could start a chain reaction among their friends and digital connections that could, seriously, change the world.

Rupert Sheldrake argues that “The fields organizing the activity of the nervous system are inherited through morphic resonance, conveying a collective, instinctive memory. Each individual both draws upon and contributes to the collective memory of the species. This means that new patterns of behaviour can spread more rapidly than would otherwise be possible.”

Sheldrake’s theory is exciting and controversial because if it’s true, it means that none of us has to be bound by the heavy burden of habit and cultural inertia, the industrial tide that seems to sweep us along so inexorably.

We have a choice. We can pick up our heads, think for ourselves, seek out others who also want to preserve the ecological health of the planet, and together use our great digitally connected human brain trust to steward and safeguard this planet, not destroy her.

Working together, we could, within a couple of generations, be swimming together joyously in an entirely different sea.

As the Earth wheels slowly back towards the Sun today, this is my steady vow: to keep my head above water, to reach out a hand to others who share my reverence for our beautiful planet and its magnificent life, and to give myself without reserve to the mission of building a strong interconnected movement dedicated to the shift into a sustainable, ecologically sound, joyful future.

Browdy de Hernandez 2013

c. Browdy de Hernandez 2013

A message from the wounded heart of our magnificent Earth

This week, as in the foreground Washington politics continued as usual, a remarkable animal came like a messenger sent to remind me of the state of things in the background, where what’s really important is going on.

I’m using Mary Daly’s terminology here: she calls everything that mainstream society generally focuses on part of the “foreground,” which distracts us from the deeper and more significant issues and events going on in the “background.”

Instead of worrying about how the “snools” are jerking the country around from their headquarters inside the Beltway, Daly urges us to pay attention to the bigger, deeper picture of what’s happening on a global level to the ecological systems that keep us all alive.

Sometimes it’s hard to wrench my attention away from all the grotesqueries going on in the foreground.  This week, I had help.

***

On Tuesday, as I was walking along a trail by a small river near my house, in the gathering gloom of dusk, I looked back to see my dog Loki standing stock-still near a large object that I couldn’t immediately identify.

Afraid it might be a big and potentially dangerous animal, like a raccoon, I hurried back, and was astonished to perceive that Loki was standing nose to beak with an enormous eagle-like bird.

osprey

Both animals were calm, and Loki came to me at once when I called.

The eagle, which I later identified as an osprey, turned and looked at me keenly, with a gaze I can only call commanding.  Its huge, hooked beak was intimidating; this was not the kind of wild animal I would consider going anywhere near.

And yet here it was, down on the ground, strong and well-fed, clearly in its prime, but immobilized by a badly broken right wing, which was hanging twisted and useless at its side.

A human being in that condition would have been writhing and crying desperately for help.

The osprey merely stood its ground, calmly and regally, waiting.

It was still there the next morning when I went back to check on it.  I had called the state Fish & Wildlife Service, and as I stood there by the eagle, a wildlife biologist called me to ask directions to the bird.  He was going to bring it to a veterinarian to have its wing set, and then bring it to a shelter.

Wild raptors with broken wings almost never fly again, but there are raptor rescue centers that maintain them as ambassadors for their kind, educating the public about the beauty and importance of these magnificent birds.

 ***

I don’t know how that bird came to break its wing. There was a house not far away from where I found it; perhaps it flew into a window at full tilt?

I do know that if it had come down elsewhere, away from the trail, it would have certainly died of starvation or been eaten by a coyote, which I have seen in those woods.

In this case, human beings could be of use to this osprey, and indeed I felt very strongly, when it trained its sharp, steely gaze upon me, that it was demanding my help.

More broadly, I take my encounter with the eagle this week as a reminder to keep my focus on the bigger, deeper picture of the continual wounding of the natural world.

For every damaged osprey there are literally millions of creatures I can’t see personally, who are wounded and dying all over the Earth.

I can’t afford to lose myself in the busy-ness and distraction of foreground concerns—the headlines of mainstream media outlets, the daily housework, the struggle to make enough money to pay bills and keep my family going.

Those concerns will continue and as a functioning member of human society, I have to keep my eye on them.

But my inner eye–my third eye, my most deeply aware sense of vision–must be ceaselessly trained on the slowly unfolding planetary tragedy that is occurring relentlessly in the background.  I must stay alert for opportunities to be of help to those who cannot help themselves.

I thank the beautiful osprey for this reminder, and wish it, most fervently, Godspeed.

IMG_4053 copy

Turns out “Crazy Mary” isn’t crazy after all: Homage to Mary Daly’s Green Philosophy

In my quest to drown out the drone of the mindless Republican obstinacy-for-its-own-sake that is currently taking up so much of our media bandwidth, I have been reading the work of Dr. Mary F. Daly, someone I’ve known about for many years, but never actually sat down and read.

You may have heard about Mary Daly too—she was a professor of philosophy and theology at Jesuit-run Boston College, whose first three books, Beyond God the Father, The Church and the Second Sex, and Gyn/Ecology, were runaway bestsellers among women readers, but so infuriated the powers that be at her institution that they mounted campaigns to discredit her, first trying to deny her tenure and then harassing her to step down from her tenured position.

Who was this oh-so-threatening gadfly on the flanks of the Church and Academia?

Mary Daly wielding the Labrys

Mary Daly wielding the Labrys

Daly called herself by many names—one of her projects was to take back the English language from the patriarchy that she saw used language as yet another misogynist weapon against women and the natural world.  She was a self-proclaimed “Radical Lesbian Feminist Philosopher,” a “Wild, Wicked Woman,” a “Postively Revolting Hag” who “proclaimed that Laughing Out Loud is the Virtue of Crackpot Crones who know we have Nothing to lose.”

“As an Offensive, Tasteless, Haggard Pirate,” Daly wrote in her 1992 memoir Outercourse, “I was inspired to acquire the Courage to Leave the doldrums of Stag-nation, Sailing off with as much loot as my Craft could carry.  I tried to foster in myself and in Others the Courage to Live Wildly, that is, to refuse inclusion in the State of the Living Dead, to break out from the molds of archetypal deadtime (a.d.), to take leap after leap of Living Faith, becoming Fiercely Biophilic” (198).

Biophilic as opposed necrophilic, which is how she described Western society—a society built on and organized around sucking the lifeblood from the planet.

Although the dominant feminist movement has resisted the eco-feminist tendency to link women and nature “essentially,” Mary Daly saw women as having a special role to play as bearers and defenders of life—not in terms of the conventional “right to life” type of discourse, but in terms of the right and indeed the responsibility to protect and nurture the planet and other life forms on it from the predations of patriarchal society.

“By being the originator of my own Green Philosophy,” she wrote, “which is the tabooed woman-identified/nature-identified philosophy, I have uttered a Great Refusal of the patriarchal prescription of Self-lobotomy for and by women” (326).

The truth is that most people I know automatically turn off and turn away when a woman dares to utter the word “patriarchy.”

It’s a word-bomb wielded by feminist terrorists, and “we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” do we?

Maybe it’s time to remember that one man’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter.”

Maybe it’s time to be honest about the fact that the rape and pillage of our planet has in fact been a male-dominated project.

To criticize the patriarchy as a system of knowledge and action is not to condemn any individual man.  All individual humans are free to choose how they will act in the world, and many individual men have acted honorably and with loving care towards women, animals and the planet as a whole.

Gilgamesh

Gilgamesh

But in general, I have to agree with Mary Daly that since the advent of patriarchal human civilization–say, around the time when Gilgamesh defied the gods and cut down an entire cedar forest to build his city—humanity has lived by extractive, exploitative, often cruel and extremely destructive frameworks of ideology, policy and praxis.

Women in power, or women close to men in power, have often gone along for the ride and enjoyed their entitlements.  For example, in education: education for centuries was the exclusive prerogative of men, and when women were finally admitted to the august halls of higher learning, they tended to conform to whatever it was the authorities expected of them.

A woman like Mary Daly, who was able to think for herself outside the box of patriarchal philosophy, and who dared to criticize the masters, would be undercut by whatever means possible—dismissed as a lunatic, ignored and disdained, exiled and excommunicated.

Mary Daly was gutsy enough to survive all the attacks that were lobbed at her, and come back swinging.  Each of her books is more radical and free-thinking than the last, and she never wavers from her central insight, which she credits to her interchange with a clover blossom at age 14, that every form of life on the planet has intrinsic value, meaning, and a purpose on the planet.

Unknown-1“There was the Moment…when one particular clover blossom Announced its be-ing to me.  It Said starkly, clearly, with utmost simplicity, ‘I am.’…The encounter with that clover blossom had a great deal with my becoming a Radical Feminist Philosopher.  If a clover blossom could say ‘I am’ then why couldn’t I?” (23).

Daly takes a great leap here away from the artificial structures of the kind of “post-structuralist” philosophy that I, for example, spent countless hours studying during my years in graduate school in the 1980s.

Like Derrida, Daly is interested in words and language and how the “binary oppositions” of Western philosophy, starting with the mother of them all, Good and Evil, have played out in socio-political frameworks that conspire to maintain the patriarchal status quo.

But she is not interested in staying in the labyrinthine worlds of textuality; she is very much engaged with how these linguistic issues affect real, flesh-and-blood women and other beings.  She not only dares to call out the patriarchy, she also dares to discourse with other species in her writing—not just clovers, but also cats, cows, and trees—and to raise what she calls “Fore-Sisters” of earlier times to engage in philosophical dialogue.

Daly was not afraid to call herself a Witch, and to reclaim the demonized power of magic to confront the necrophilia of dominant society.

For instance, in Boston in 1989, she worked with friends and students to create a multimedia performance called “The Witches Return,” which would “expose the gynocidal/biocidal atrocities [of patriarchy] and the connections among them.”

On Mother’s Day, 1989, the group acted out with intense emotion a Witches’ Trial that culminated in the symbolic beheading of those who were accused of “the massacre of women’s minds, bodies and spirits.” Daly wrote, “Our dramatic indictment was created with utterly Fiercely Focused Rage and Elemental, Creative Power” (398).

The performance was a rejection of what she called the “foreground,” ordinary day-to-day life so totally saturated in atrocity that people became numb to it—and a reaching into the “background,” the deeper truths that, if accessed, could light the way to real change.

Daly’s description of the difference between the foreground and the background makes so much sense to me, now in 2013 even more than in 1989.

In our media-saturated lives, it is so easy to spend most of our waking hours tuned in to someone else’s vision, listening to someone else’s insights, digesting information packaged for us by someone else.  And most often, that someone else is—let’s face it—a white man, or someone who is reacting to the dominant white-male patriarchal vision.

How often do we allow ourselves to simply sit down in a field and commune with a clover?  How often to we allow ourselves to listen to ideas that seem radical or weird or crazy?

Isn’t it interesting that radical ideas coming from white males get plenty of press time and are entertained with great seriousness by the entire world (I’m referring to the crazy, weird, radical ideas of the Republican Tea Partiers) while when a woman dares to utter the taboo word “patriarchy” she is immediately not only dismissed, but completely ignored and excommunicated?

In the last book she wrote before her death in 2010, Amazon Grace, Mary Daly called on women who understand the connections between gynocide and ecocide to come together and dare to, as she phrased it, “Sin Big”—dare to call out the patriarchy and insist that, as Arundhati Roy memorably put it, “Another world is possible. On a clear day, I can hear her breathing.”

Yes.

%d bloggers like this: