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As part of Learning Pool's #TheLongestDay team in 2022, Brandon Williamscraig read "The Spirit of the Woods" by Anushri Nair (Netherlands, age 12) from "Tall Tales Short Stories," the volume created by Learning Pool to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Dr. Williamscraig then lead a brief discussion about the nature of mythology and psychology, and offered brain health tips.
To donate to the Alzheimer's Association, please visit https://act.alz.org/site/TR/?px=20807047&pg=personal&fr_id=15144
Appreciating the people who have always helped me to be. This John O'Donohue was a gift from my mom this morning.
Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth.
Praised be your father and mother,
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.
Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school at your mind
In the art of disappointment.
When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the gray wall formed around you.
Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world's waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.
On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.
I believe deeply in the need to make information accessible that can allow human beings to learn about the forces that shape our world in order to govern them appropriately. Becoming global citizens in this way is part of the process of life-long education and likely the most meaningful way to help humanity both survive and become more humane. I believe Wikirate projects are a source of information enriched by understanding which in and of itself makes governmental and corporate propaganda less likely to continue dominating both local and global decision-making. The Wikirate community has made corporate information more open, accessible, and comparable. Each citizen is entitled to learn how they vote for a particular future through their purchasing and investment choices, as these are directly related to the bottom line of each company which plays a role in the world’s social and environmental challenges. It is time that every networked human being simply gets in the habit of rating company performance based on ESG data and explicit human rights-based metrics, and learns to make informed choices which push real corporate transparency. This can only occur at the intersection of research, open data, innovation, and collective action.
Check them out at https://wikirate.org!
An Introduction to the Process Arts, Radical Inclusivity, & the Guardians of Peace
Once upon a time, there was a City of folks who suffered strangely and often, to the point that living in pain, often with little sleep and difficult secrets, seemed commonplace. When conflict would arise between people, sides were chosen and losing would commence. Once one party had done significantly more losing and the contest drew to a close, the side that appeared to have lost the least became The Winner and claimed a portion of power apparently greater than seemed available without the conflict. The Loser would then react in various ways, most often by both abandoning certain directions in which will and power had previously been engaged, and cultivating a greater determination to be The Winner next time, guaranteeing the continuation of the cycle.
This process caused considerable consternation in the folks who felt unsatisfied with this way of living. Some objected but assumed battles would have to be fought to change things – thereby creating winners and losers again, an apparently contradictory position and manifestly depressing. Others felt that there were different ways to go about struggling, but chose to spend their time in life responsible primarily to themselves, trying to meet their individual needs. This way of going about things pervaded even the sacred places and led to feelings of isolation and deep despair.
According to the model, this way of being grew to dominate the known world, as the City and its people grew in power through numbers and influence. Children were drawn into the cycle before they could create sufficient protection for their spirits, and gave up parts of themselves to violence and the control of adults who did not know their names. Where might tender and mysterious hope live in a place where value is assessed according to the ability of anyone and anything to make one more able to seize power? The people of the City lamented, saying that nothing seemed to change when someone spoke of the pain all around. Neighbors with sullen faces noted cautiously that they didn’t know the names of the people living beside them. Children armed themselves before going to school.
In a place set aside for the purpose, a circle formed. In the circle sat both the old and the young, both warriors, and those struggling endlessly with their choices. Artists welcomed and were welcomed by those who listen to the language of numbers. Men and women from the City and beyond its walls drew within the circle. They brought the pain of the cycle and its very substance, often finding, woven into the tapestry of their time together, the threads of fear and despair. As they had hoped, the listening circle also found a place for both their true selves and their dreams to live. No matter who or what visited the circle, those within searched for the voice that welcomes the stranger, listened for the still, small sacred Movement within, and gave good gifts as they were able. They began by setting reegular time aside to be together to listen and speak. They came to know each other, began to work together, and discovered in each other partners in vocation and vision. They are together to this day at work and play.
Let us agree from the outset that this is a pitch. What follows is a thoughtful collection of published ideas and is written in an academic style, but these perspectives are before you in search of something specific beyond interaction with the author and various sources. More than an appreciation of the sentiments and fine, high vision, these words beg a portion of your time and creative energy in service of Life. Even that is often a hard sell in this world of over-commitment. Please grant an initial permission to continue since we begin by laying open what otherwise might have been cause for reservation. Since most readers sympathetic to appeals “in service of Life” already use a portion of their time and creativity to this end, it may be useful to note in what follows both what feels familiar and what seems innovative.
In his preface to Thoughts In Solitude, Thomas Merton offers:
In an age when totalitarianism has striven, in every way, to devaluate and degrade the human person, we hope it is right to demand a hearing for any and every sane reaction in favor of man’s inalienable solitude and his interior freedom. The murderous din of our materialism cannot be allowed to silence the independent voices which will never cease to speak: whether they be the voices of Christian Saints, or the voices of Oriental sages like Lao-Tse or the Zen Masters, or the voices of men like Thoreau or Martin Buber, or Max Picard. It is all very well to insist that man is a “social animal” – the fact is obvious enough. But that is no justification for making him a mere cog in a totalitarian machine – or in a religious one either, for that matter.i
For decades the pace and scope of the systems which we have created and on which we depend have increased exponentially. Businesses, governments, religious institutions, and other consolidations of human power seem always to aim for as firm and complete a grasp as they can possibly manage over anything within a potential sphere of control. In all likelihood, they may continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
As our societies grow in population and interdependent complexity, there is greater, widespread opportunity for both the encouragement and discouragement of life. Each person—each world citizen—participates, with a greater or lesser degree of consciousness, in organizations structured to deal as little as possible with the needs, identity, presence, and mystery of becoming more humane. Success, in our culture, is measured most in terms of deliverable quantity and realized income. Our most pervasive cultural value has been cast in the shape of selling more of a service or product to increasing numbers of consumers, because the result is an increase in available funds. Apparent wealth is equated with the ability to realize desire and, since that is at least one of our foremost values, ready money becomes a power fetish.
Devoting attention to individual needs can slow production and impairs the potential to compete more rapidly and with an expanding reach, unless, of course, the individual in question is a direct and significant contributor to the production cycle. Consequently, you and I co-create, work with, and live in huge organizations that do not value us as specific persons. There is no expectation to know you or me. We may experience the gathering of previously private information about our predilections or habits of consumption, but there is no ubiquitous, integrated mechanism today for the preservation and development of intimacy in addition to information. Masses of consumers have accepted that one cannot expect to be individually known and experience the daily process of life at the same time.
How can one person needing something specific compete for time and attention with groups willing to buy as much as possible as quickly as possible? Messages come down from the heights of power that workers must “get to know” their co-workers and customers, but those messages are preceded and followed by explicit and implicit directives to fill every waking moment with the increasingly complex expansion of production. These layers of contradiction create a global web of consequences. Merton decries our “right to demand a hearing for any and every sane reaction” to the “murderous din.”
Various reactions abound, both sane and apparently insane. Even the Unabomber Manifesto seems to echo sentiments also found in Merton:
The industrial-technological system may survive or it may break down. If it survives, it MAY eventually achieve a low level of physical and psychological suffering, but only after passing through a long and very painful period of adjustment and only at the cost of permanently reducing human beings and many other living organisms to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine. Furthermore, if the system survives, the consequences will be inevitable: There is no way of reforming or modifying the system so as to prevent it from depriving people of dignity and autonomy…We therefore advocate a revolution against the industrial system. This revolution may or may not make use of violence…we do outline in a very general way the measures that those who hate the industrial system should take in order to prepare the way for a revolution against that form of society. This is not to be a POLITICAL revolution. Its object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.ii
As a nation we have seen that it is possible to send bombs to begin dismantling a system “permanently reducing human beings and many other living organisms to engineered products and mere cogs in the social machine.” It is also possible, and much more honest, to pray, dream, write, travel, teach, or take several other paths with the hope that life will be encouraged rather than stripped bare.
The form of government we create by either bombing or our passive acceptance or resignation, by binary thinking and either action or inaction, in so far as there is no soul-filled consideration, operates along lines of political authority. Large organizations, even beneficent ones, move ever closer to exercising centralized control over all aspects of our life – by habit, even when that is not the obvious intention. Persons are progressively subordinated to the structures of power, and opposing cultural expression is suppressed, even if inadvertently. We seem to be further away than ever before from qualities that even the structure of our language attributes to “soul”:
An expectation of depth, familiarity with mystery and the necessity of paradox, the common use of layered imagery, and a sense of ourselves as both individual and inextricably joined beyond our ken. Thomas Moore suggests that our society is becoming progressively estranged from soul: “when a society loses its soul, it develops many neurotic behaviors, among them paranoia and xenophobia.”iii Using the Odyssey to introduce us as homo viator, he observes that we are not only vulnerable in our traversal of life, but in profound need of the hospitality and understanding of others. This is increasingly unavailable when we have hearts benumbed and unable to empathize due to our cultural loss of imagination and soul. “It is not enough to let down our defenses and overcome our xenophobia. An awakened soul requires more of us: not just and end to xenophobia, but the development of positive xenophilia – love of strangers and the unusual, an appreciation for cultures that are unlike our own, and a desire to know groups and individuals that have different ways of understanding and living…we need arts of xenophilia, constructive and habitual ways of welcoming the unfamiliar.”iv
The Process Arts are a way, a path, toward xenophilia. The cornerstone of loving the unusual must be a kind of radical (root) inclusivity to get beneath our fear of that which to us is mysterious. In a world that includes bombers and monks weighing in on the same dilemma, we must somehow become able to hear any voice “demanding a hearing for any and every sane reaction in favor of man’s inalienable solitude and his interior freedom.” Somehow we must also listen more deeply than our diagnoses of sanity currently encourage. Somewhere there are balanced, constructive, habitual disciplines that can open the process of our xenophobia without violating the individual segments of the Life on whose behalf we struggle.
James Hillman, in his book The Soul’s Code, requires of us a departure from moralism in general. As an example for his focus on the individual genius, he brings to consciousness the dynamics of individual criminality and speaks to the tendency in our culture to diagnose and cure, divide and conquer, and combat whatever threatens us. Like the Unabomber, we indulge in violently compelling abstractions of good and evil to feel clearer and more potent. For Hillman, there is a seminal principle in the world, including each of us, an autonomous Soul that calls us to a simple listening to its mystery, rather than to the fantasy of a completely moral way, or other mechanism for seeming in control in the face of the ineffable. “Love ... may be less an exercise of the will in an act of combat and more an exercise of intellectual comprehension of that daimonic necessity that calls above and beyond the world to the sinner as to the saint.”v This mysterious necessity demands a kind of behavior more like a naturalist in the wilderness than the righteous and clever surgeon excising what seems to threaten.
There is no end to the opportunities before us. At every turn, we are faced with fantasies of separation, for my protection or for yours, and we may choose to include whatever is present in a given coincidence. There is even a martial art, called aikido, which requires blending and an insistence that no one need become a casualty, especially an instigator of physical violence. Mediators, facilitators, and makers of peace are being called to enter into conflicts seeking a transition to open forums for reconciliation, previously unheard of levels of disclosure, and lasting forgiveness. There are foundations for the encouragement of community, schools for process learning and work, companions of the world dream flourishing and reaching into global arenas.
There are practices springing up all over that require the inclusion of a previously excluded but essential songs, stories, and voices. The goal of the Process Arts is the development of disciplines that involve the experience of radically collaborative inclusivity and guide human beings toward the celebration of life, providing a context for the survival and blossoming of culture. Familiar trades and services, for instance, may appear unexpectedly potent and necessary with the added dimension of being practiced as a Process Art, whereas before they simply provided an avenue for the accumulation of funds.
Our institutions need not and cannot be bombed back to Nature. Our basic, global expectations are in need of being made anew in such a way that local centers for the hearing of local stories and the development of community are as ubiquitous as City Halls. Let us hear from people where they live and provide for what is needful for the living of lives full of celebration. The Process Arts include both conscious and unconscious forms of engagement that nourish the systemic shift from “either/or” judgment to “both/and” curiosity.
One result is in the reframing of conflict in ways that are creative--Conflict Done Well. Another is in the determination that every individual has specific, often immediate, needs and that all voices must have an opportunity to be heard with care lest we fall so far apart that we cannot come together when our children are in need. This holding of needs and careful hearing requires preparation and the creation of specific expectations.
Organizations like Beamish Process Arts (now Association Building Community) exist to develop and advance the work of individuals and institutions that place a clear and evident value on radical inclusivity and the practice of Process Arts. We develop our Process as our “product”, and ask those already practicing radical inclusivity under various banners to include themselves in a common, enduring expression of this work. We include our selves both locally and globally to create a common, conscious expectation that the life expression of every creature is precious and necessary to our collective survival. Some dedicate themselves to this work as their primary vocation. They study ways of encountering all kinds of needs, conflict, and co-creation with a burning desire for the celebration of life, and go into the world to ask others to join this dance. These are the Guardians of Peace.
A benediction from Thomas Moore:
“In the best of monasteries the pursuit of beauty and spiritual practice go hand in hand. Music, architecture, decoration, language, gardens, and libraries flourish. Community life is the object of central concern. Learning, study, reading, and the preservation of books are all integral to spiritual practice. We get into trouble in the spirit when we give up any of these: when beauty turns into sentimentality or propaganda, when architecture and the other arts are unconscious or considered secondary, when we forget the importance of ongoing, lifelong learning in all areas as support for the spiritual life, and especially when we make spiritual practice the project of creating a certain kind of self.” vi
REFERENCES AND NOTES
Vol. I, Run to the Mountain: The Story of a Vocation, by Thomas Merton, ed. Patrick Hart O.C.S.O., © 1995 The Merton Legacy Trust, ISBN 0-06-065475-9
The Hero With a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell, © 1949 Bollingen Foundation Inc. NY, ISBN 0-691-01784-0
The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman, © 1996, ISBN 0-679-44522-6
Care of The Soul: A Guide For Cultivating Depth and Sacredness In Everyday Life, by Thomas Moore, © 1992, ISBN 0-06-016597-9
Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion, selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon, © 1991 The Joseph Campbell Foundation, ISBN 0-06-016718-1
Soul Mates: Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationship, by Thomas Moore, © 1994, ISBN 0-06-016928-1
i p. ix Thoughts In Solitude, by Thomas Merton, © 1956,58 by the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, ISBN 0-87773-920-X
ii http://www.ed.brocku.ca/~rahul/Misc/unibomber.html, excerpts, accessed 6May01 from Kumar, Rahul (http://www.ed.brocku.ca/~rahul/Pers/default.html)
iii p. 24, 25 Original Self, by Thomas Moore, © 2000, ISBN 0-06-019542-8
v p.245 The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, by James Hillman, ©1996,
vi p.29 Meditations, by Thomas Moore, © 1994, ISBN 0-06-017223-1
I recall a conversation with a Conflict Done Well student of mine who is also a professor of the liberal arts. I let her know that I had reached a point in my conflict practice where I felt that I was not executing well enough on the somatic principles I advocate and Martial Nonviolence system that I designed, and that I should probably end my teaching until I could take my next developmental step in mastery. She reprimanded me and explained that people who are good at being students do not expect their instructors to be able to apply what they are teaching comprehensively and with no discernable error, especially in the most difficult contexts, for instance, their own lives. She offered several examples of my helping other people to parse the concepts and practice the exercises involved, which she described as my job description and appropriate developmental stage, and suggested that it would be disservice to close the door of opportunity for my students, including her, just because I am "still embarrased by failure."
She went on to suggest that people who master something technically to the point that their error rate evaporates often become less interested in exploration and innovation because explicit leaps in skill are harder to come by and the project as a whole is less of a challenge. These people often become less adept at sharing their expertise with students and, as a result, less interesting themselves. This is to say nothing of the developmental benefits of assuming that there are almost always hidden levels of understanding on the other side of appearing to have achieved mastery. She allowed that, even if epistemological humility were not among my goals, persisting through ego-distress allows actual mastery that crosses domains to become possible.
It has been a while since this conversation, so I paraphrase. Another mighty woman who could have spoken similar words, my mother, just listened to the story-telling version of this and insisted that I write it down where others can see it, so here it is.
Thanks so much for your request that I respond publicly to this anonymous message! Whoever you are, you have inspired me to make a series of video responses to frequently asked questions and notions requiring clarification.
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