Who is your Tla Twei?

Well, I didn't quite imagine myself like this!

Well, I didn’t quite imagine myself like this!

Tla Twei?  What’s that?

In my book, Journey to Ninas Twei, Book One of the Earth Woman Tree Woman Quartet, a mystical world exists – Ninas Twei – where the grandsouls of all the species on earth meet to dance the Dance of Life.  Here they are able to understand each other’s needs and form the compromises that make life on earth work.

Well, almost all of earth’s species.

Homo Sapiens have lost the ability to form this grandsoul and cannot join the dance.

But some humans do know about the Dance.  Among them is a small group of people from the country of Uhs (the name of the country has been changed to protect the “innocent”). Many years ago an indigenous group living on the northwest coast of what is now Uhs found they could travel to Ninas Twei and observe the dance if they transformed into a mystical, but corporal, form – a kind of avatar – called a Tla Twei.  As the years passed they included other sympathetic Uhseans and now the small group is a very bonded, diverse community.

In our daily lives we frequently identify with characters who could be our Tla Twei.

Sometimes we choose a “totem animal.”  When we read folk tales or see super hero movies we choose characters that are our favorites, and children have no problem pretending to be these characters.  When I was a little girl I played Robin Hood with my friends in the nearby woods.  There are gods and goddesses from various traditions that speak to us.  (I’m very attached to Kuan Yin, myself.)  And real heroes from the past, like Harriet Tubman whose courage continues to inspire me.

Why do we find ourselves pulled toward these characters?

In Journey to Ninas Twei when the characters transform to their Tla Twei they don’t become the real thing.  Luhanada MoonMother, for instance, has become the physical form of a cougar, but the characteristics of courage and wisdom that the cougar represents to the local indigenous people are what she has taken on.  She is drawn to the cougar because she wants more of these qualities.

I think every time we choose a Tla Twei, an animal totem, a folk hero, etc., we are really drawn to a characteristic that we want more of.  Practicing being our Tla Twei is a way of growing the qualities we want in our life.

This is much like the spiritual practice of Charya Nritya a mental process of seeing oneself as having the appearance, ornaments, inner qualities, and awareness of the deity one is envisioning” practiced by the Newar Buddhist priests of Nepal and brought to this country by Prajwal Vajracharya.  You can find more about Charya Nritya at  http://www.dancemandal.com/dance-mandal-offerings/

Want to find out more about your own Tla Twei?  Watch this site for a free book on Finding and Becoming Your Own Tla Twei coming soon.  You can download Journey to Ninas Twei as an ebook from Smashwords and Kindle.

Recognizing Racism in Ourselves

 hard-to-see

Racism permeated our childhood
A muddy stream constant through our lives
Crying out to our innocence with its painfulness
Interfering with our friendships
Seen clearly in our child-eyes as the wrong it was
Murdering the purity of our souls

I’m going to tell three stories, two about myself, and the other told me by a friend who heard it from a friend. All of these story tellers are opposed to racism and trying very hard to eliminate it from our lives, and yet…

I was walking down the street. Some neighbors were planting drought resistant plants in front of their house. They were Latino. My first thought? Wow, they know how important it is to plant drought resistant plants even though they’re Latino.

It took me a moment, but then I recognized the subtle racism of my thought. They’re Latinos so they won’t know about these things – won’t be educated …

Wrong!

One day I was standing opposite the side door to a church where I would be attending an event in the evening. A black man came along and moved back and forth in front of the door, reading the sign on it and looking around. If he’d been white I’d probably assumed he was trying to figure out if this was the place he was looking for, but the first thought that flickered through my head was, Is he looking around to see if anyone is watching him — planning to go in and steal something?

Fortunately, I erased that thought almost immediately in a wave of shame, my face turning hot with embarrassment. My face got hot again that night as I recognized him. He was the pianist for that night’s event.

It is impossible to avoid the rampant racism around us. What we can do is be alert for it, recognize it, and name it when we find it floating through our heads.

The other day someone told me a story her friend had told her. The story was really about the reaction of the friend to being suddenly and without cause punched in the face. The friend was proud of himself – and rightly so – for not responding violently, instead saying, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”

But the story I want to tell is about the descriptive language used in telling this story. The person who told it to me said, “My friend was walking down the street and all of a sudden this big black man jumped up and punched him in the nose.” She told of her friend’s non-violent response, and then said, “The black man’s friends came running up and pulled him away apologizing to the victim. Another man – a client of my friend’s – ran up and helped my friend.”

After hearing this story, what do you know of the race of the various characters? Only that the perpetrator was “black”. Why did the story teller tell me this and not the race of the others? Because it made the big man sound scarier. There was no other reason race was important in this story at all. Of course, my friend, who works hard at not being racist, was not really aware of having done this. This kind of language is so prevalent in our society that it slips out without even the most conscientious of us realizing it.

We in the United States are still seeing “black” as synonymous with “scary”. We must consciously weed this concept out of our minds and our language. Were the guy’s friends scary? No, they were helpful, reasonable. How about the “client”? Was he scary? No. But all of these people were also African American…

Oh, do you notice the difference? Not black, but African American. Not so scary.

We need to get beyond this. Describe someone as black or white if it’s relevant, but not as a stereotype – in this case the stereotype of the black male as violent. Being black or white doesn’t make a person scary. It’s their actions that are frightening whether they are “big black men” or “big white cops.”

Did you notice that? If you’re African American the big scary guy is white. As history shows, not an unreasonable fear.

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part Three

 

To Be or Not to Be

The Lion and the Cougar

Recently a lion was lured out of a wildlife refuge in Zimbabwe in order to be killed by a trophy hunter. The lion was well known by the keepers and others who frequented the refuge. People all over the world were horrified at this senseless killing.

But a Zimbabwean man, Goodwell Zou, told a different story in his opinion piece in the New York Times.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/opinion/in-zimbabwe-we-dont-cry-for-lions.html?emc=edit_ty_20150805&nl=opinion&nlid=50342746&_r=1) In his village lions were a frightening threat. His uncle was attacked by one, others were killed by them. He was glad this lion was killed.

When I was a child one of my favorite books was Man-Eating Tigers of Kumaon, by Jim Corbett. This was an adult book, but the stories Corbett told of his years in India hunting animals that were threatening people in small villages were captivating. Why? Not because of the thrill of the chase, but because Corbett was able to see both sides of the conflict.

Corbett’s compassion for both the animals he killed and the people who were endangered by them was what drew my attention. I remember the story of the Thak tiger, a very young mother, who had been shot by buckshot causing her inner and outer skin to grow together. Think of your cat and its loose outer fur. When Thak’s inner and outer skin grew together she could no longer hunt her regular prey. She couldn’t move fast enough. Instead she killed a six year old child and a grandmother.

Corbett did believe in human exceptionalism. Making the decision on whether or not the tiger or the humans should survive, he didn’t see any choice. Humans came first. Today we are beginning to see things differently. Steven Shaviro  says in The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism (Posthumanities), “Indeed, human exceptionalism is even less tenable today, now that we know that not only chimpanzees and parrots but also fruit flies, trees, slime molds and bacteria communicate, calculate, and make unforced decisions…”

Corbett was a British colonist. I wonder what his choice would have been between a “white” man and one of the villagers? We are still struggling with “White man exceptionalism”, much less human exceptionalism.

Goodwell Zou says, in his article: “Don’t tell us what to do with our animals when you allowed your own mountain lions to be hunted to near extinction in the eastern United States. Don’t bemoan the clear-cutting of our forests when you turned yours into concrete jungles.” White man exceptionalism sometimes sounds like ‘do as I say, not as I do.’

Actually, I’m willing to guess that Europeans and Westerners had a great deal to do with the clear-cutting of his country’s forests – as they (we) did here.  For the villagers, the defense against the lions has to do with survival, but the exploitation of African, and of our own, forests has more to do with greed. The destruction of habitat is the biggest killer of nonhuman species all over the world. It probably has killed more lions than trophy hunters have. (I am not excusing the trophy hunter. Anyone who kills a living being so he can hang its head or skin on a wall is reprehensible … and disgusting.)

But does Goodwell Zou really want Zimbabweans to make the same mistakes we made? Does he really want Zimbabwe to be a “concrete jungle?” I can’t imagine that he does.

Recently, outside of Los Angeles, a cougar (mountain lion) was killed on a freeway. The freeway runs in a mountainous area right through the middle of the cougars’ habitat. Advocates are trying to get a “wildlife bridge” built across this freeway to allow passage for cougars and other wildlife. This will protect both the animals and the humans in cars who might hit animals dashing across the freeway.

Cougars have been known to attack humans, although rarely, and they are not as powerful an animal as the African lion. In my community of Berkeley, CA, twenty minutes from San Francisco, we have had cougar sightings, mostly in the less populated hills, but at least once on the main downtown street.  Some people, of course, called for killing the cougar, but most of the town just wanted her relocated to a more rural environment.

As for the one sighted in the hills around the large complex of the Lawrence National Laboratory – the three thousand plus workers were just warned to be alert, and all of us were told to keep our distance since she might have cubs.

Mostly, I think we were delighted that these magnificent wild creatures were going to be living near us.  And that’s the way I feel about the skunk, the opossum – even the raccoons in my back yard. I’m working on the ants.

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part Two

The Cat, the Skunk and the Possum

We’ve been feeding a very young feral cat (Zelda) and have finally lured her into the house worried about her vulnerability to the raccoons.

She is now hiding in my office, terrified.  I can’t touch her.  I feed her.  I try to soothe her with my voice, and I wonder – was this the right thing to do? I think she’ll be better off if she’s fixed and given her shots, even if she can’t be tamed and is released back into a wild cat world.  But what about her?  What does she think?  Do I have the right to make that decision for her? Do I have a right to keep her from having babies?  People worry about the cats and the birds, but more likely the babies are food for other critters, like raccoons.

Before we managed to bring Zelda in, when I fed her on the back stoop and didn’t pick up the food right away, a little skunk (hereafter known as “Flower”) would come quietly up the steps and finish it off.  Even when I had brought the food in, the little skunk would search the steps for fallen food.  One time Zelda was eating and Flower came quietly up the other side of the steps.  The kitty glared at Flower and she went back down.  Another time Flower was eating and a little opossum (Pokey?) snuck up as far away from Flower as he could. This time it was Flower who stared Pokey down.  The little opossum turned and slipped back out into the night.

The dogs have barked at Flower through the glass door.  She turns and walks slowly away with her beautiful big fluff of tail waving like a flag, but she has never sprayed the dogs, the cat, the opossum or us.

Why is it all right for me to feed the feral cat and not the skunk and the opossum?

I’m very aware that humans have run over the habitat of other creatures all over the world.  The biggest sin of humans against the rest of the earth is the destruction of habitat.  Knowing that, what is my responsibility to the ants, the skunk, the opossum, even the raccoons whom I chase away because they are a danger to my pets?  Whose land is this that I claim as my own?

(Not that the raccoons chase very easily.  They’re bold fearless creatures … like humans.)

The Rights of Humans vs. Others, Part One

Ants

The ants have been invading our house on a regular basis.  California is in drought.  The ants are thirsty and hungry.  I do my best to keep them out by spreading turmeric or cinnamon over the cracks where they’re coming in.  We’ve set the legs of the little stand that holds the cat’s food in plastic containers of water, but Magic the Cat is a messy eater and whenever he drops a small piece of kibble on the counter (yes, his food is on a counter in the bathroom so the dogs won’t eat it…) the ants swarm in from some new place after that tiny piece of kibble.  I spread turmeric over the new place, and then… then I proceed to wipe out the ants.  At the first awareness of me they scatter in every direction like humans in a Godzilla film.  I can almost hear them screaming.  In my head I hear a whisper – “murderer.”

Wikipedia says, “Ant societies have division of labour, communication between individuals, and an ability to solve complex problems. These parallels with human societies have long been an inspiration and subject of study.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ant

You can read about their pretty advanced communication skills there, as well. And that they teach each other things!  Wikipedia says, “Many animals can learn behaviours by imitation, but ants may be the only group apart from mammals where interactive teaching has been observed.” (Ibid)

Ants have set up an aphid ranch in my artichokes.

Yes, they’re herding the aphids like cattle.

Wikipedia says, “Aphids… secrete a sweet liquid called honeydew, when they feed on plant sap. The sugars in honeydew are a high-energy food source, which many ant species collect.  In some cases, the aphids secrete the honeydew in response to ants tapping them with their antennae. The ants in turn keep predators away from the aphids and will move them from one feeding location to another. When migrating to a new area, many colonies will take the aphids with them, to ensure a continued supply of honeydew.” (Ibid)

Brings to mind covered wagons with cows tied behind them…

Ants have also been used for the benefit of humans.  Somewhere in Africa they’ve been used as sutures holding wounds closed with their mandibles.  Once the wound had been sutured, the ants were beheaded.

But the ants, too, can be brutal.  Sometimes colonies attack each other, steal from each other, and take slaves. Yes, slaves!

I get a very strange feeling when I kill ants.  What don’t we know about them?  Am I killing one of their greatest poets?  How could we possibly know whether or not ants have art forms that are important to their culture?

How does my right to an ant free home balance with their individual rights to life?

Overpopulation? Or the Needs of the Poor vs. the Needs of the Earth.

One day in one of my InterPlay classes, a fellow student said, “If you ask me, the problem is there are too many people.”

Well, maybe. But which people are the “too many”? Is it the poor of Africa or South America? Their actual population numbers are high, but their carbon footprint on the earth is very small. They are not the ones causing global warming. If left to live life the way they have always lived it, they live more than sustainably.

It’s those of us in the industrial nations who are living way beyond sustainably. We are causing the problem, we are denying the problem, but we are not the ones dying. Drought has been a problem in Northern Africa for a long time. We barely notice except to be surprised when boatloads of people who are trying to escape the drought die on the Mediterranean. We can’t be bothered to see the connection between the rise of groups like the Boko Haram and the exploitation of the natural resources of Africa by the multi-national corporations. Really, Africa is the step-child of the earth. We have allowed terrible destruction of the people and the environment without a blink of the eye.

Now in some parts of India the temperatures have risen to about 120 degrees. Thousands have died.  Who are these thousands? The elderly, the homeless, people who work outside. The poor. The innocents.

How do we change this? How do find a way not to feel helpless (and therefore frozen in action) faced with the power of the multi-nationals?

Our approach must be multi-faceted.

  1. We have politics, of course. We must continue to back progressive candidates, sign petitions, etc.
  2. We must get out and organize against drilling in the Artic, fracking anywhere, for the rights of human beings being exploited, poisoned, pushed into the oceans, everywhere.
  3. We must rise up for alternative energy sources.
  4. We must insist on regulations for multi-national corporations and not allow trade agreements like the TPP that would undermine our ability make these changes.
  5. And, we must curb our own excesses. We must go off the grid.  Stop funding the big corporations by refusing to buy from them.
    1. Begin with clothes. Let’s stop supporting slave labor in poverty stricken nations. It’s not easy to find the things we need without going to the big box stores, but there are lots of good used clothing stores. Search for fair trade on the internet and you’ll find some surprising things! Email companies that have things you’d like to buy and ask them who makes their clothes, how are they treated?
    2. Buy locally produced food.
    3. My husband and I haven’t gone solar yet.  We don’t have the money, and suspect our old house doesn’t have the structure for it, but maybe we can cooperate with our neighbors to bring solar to our neighborhood.

And more, and more.  How about adding your ideas and “finds” in the comments?

Wrung Out

Wrung Out

I feel wrung out.  First a balcony collapses here in Berkeley killing six young people – five from Ireland – and injuring seven more. In my town – a building approved by my city. The full inspection information is not in, but the suggestion is that the balcony was full of dry rot.  This was a fairly new building – luxury apartments.  Full of students. Might this be a case of corporate malfeasance – someone taking a shortcut to amass more profit?

And then almost immediately after comes the news of Charleston. A boy the same age as the young people on the balcony murders nine people, accusing them – some women – one 88 years old – of “raping our women.” A young man infused with hate who thinks what he has done is morally correct..

Should I have been so surprised by either of these things? The roots of both are in our “profit first” society. Chattel slavery is the epitome of “profit first.” Kidnap innocent people, load them like logs on a ship to come to the “new” world, where sixty million of them died before even making it to the slave market. Sixty million! We’re horrified by the six million Jews killed in Nazi Germany.  Why are we not horrified by the sixty million thrown overboard like chaff? The ones who survived were beaten if they did not work hard enough to bring in the cotton; they were bred like cattle and their children – an extra profit beyond the profit from their work – were sold.

For some reason many people in this country think we are beyond all that – our ugly past is past.  But I believe it is our refusal to recognize our guilt, to acknowledge the horror of what our country did that leads to the kind of act that happened at Mother Emmanuel Church Wednesday night. Rather than recognize our own racism, rather than owning our past and working to make amends for it, we blame the victim. “It happened because something is wrong with them. They rape our women.” Or, “they’re lazy, welfare cheats,” “criminals”.  We make up stories about the people we’ve hurt, who we don’t want to face, and then go on hurting and hurting and hurting them.

Some of these stories are being propagated by pundits on the so called news presented by the corporate media and seeping into the impressionable brains of young people like the murderer, Dylann Roof. Why? Where is the profit in promoting racism?

Divide and conquer is certainly part of the strategy.  We cannot unite to make sure we have safe working conditions, safe emissions from factories, safe drinking water, safe food to eat if we are busy blaming our problems on black people. It’s a sleight of hand.  While one hand is stealing our commons, polluting our land and water, sending jobs overseas, etc., etc., etc., the other is pointing at “those folks” (black people, immigrants, and more) suggesting that it’s all “their” fault.

It’s time to open our eyes.  It’s time for reconciliation, for studying our true history, for recognizing that our country’s history has not been all goodness and light.  It’s time to see each other in all our complexities, good and bad. It’s time to embrace each other and care – really care.

Thug

Thug

What do we mean when we call someone a thug? If you google it, you find the meaning of this word is all over the place these days.

The urban dictionary says:

As Tupac defined it, a thug is someone who is going through struggles, has gone through struggles, and continues to live day by day with nothing for them. That person is a thug and the life they are living is the thug life. A thug is NOT a gangster. Look up gangster and gangsta. Not even CLOSE, my friend.

“That boy ain’t a gangsta, fo’sho’. Look at how he walks, he’s a thug… That’s the saddest face I’ve seen in all my life as a teen.”

Historically the word “thug” has been used to mean people who gang up and beat up others.  It originates in India – a group of robbers who attacked people, beating them up and killing them in the name of Kali, the defeater of demons. Did these people think the people they attacked were demons or is this just another of the many examples of people taking the name of some god or goddess or religion and twisting it to suit their own personal needs? (I’m tempted to segue into research about these original “thugs”, but I’ll refrain and bring the discussion back to today!)

Until recently I associated this term with fascism.  The historically earliest use of the term that I remember reading about was when “thugs” hired by companies attacked labor organizers.  In some historical accounts the Pinkertons and other hired militias were referred to as “thugs”.

Before World War II there were “fascist thugs” who attacked labor organizers, Jews, and others in Italy and in Germany.

Even today the words “anti-union thug” can be found in articles on the internet although they are talking about a metaphoric “beating”, rather than a physical one.

But mostly today I see the word used by white people on elists and comment sections as a code word for “black or brown man” (sometimes women, too).  I guess these people think they can claim not to be racist because they never identified the people they’re talking about as black or brown – even though it’s clear to everyone.

I do understand what Tupac was talking about in the quote above. I see young black men in my neighborhood looking lost. I had a conversation with a young black man in a class I was taking who said a third of his high school classmates were dead. Where are these young men to find grounding when we both haven’t prepared them for adult life in our society, and even when they are prepared, there are no jobs for them – where those hiring take one look at them and turn them down because they’re black.

But I have a hard time referring to these young men as “thugs”, even using Tupac’s definition.  I want us to stop using this word and start seeing each person in front of us as a complex human being whose life might be awash with fear, with violence, neglect, and the low self-esteem that comes from being immersed in the values of a racist society.

Please, no more name calling!

A Return to the Blog!

I can’t believe it’s been three years since I posted on this blog! Many things have happened in the world since then, some good, some bad.

(If you don’t want to read the following partial list of the bad, skip to the next paragraph!)

  • Global warming has progressed faster than we expected. Huge cyclones have devastated the Philippines. Indians are dying by the thousands from 120 degree temperatures. Glaciers are melting.  Some of the climate change refugees are now from our own Alaska and Texas.
  • Shell oil, having caused havoc in the Gulf, is preparing to go to the Arctic and bring destruction there.
  • Extremists in Africa have kidnapped and raped, sometimes killed, thousands of women.
  • Refugees pushed out by the powers that be in Burma (Myanmar) are floating in boats in the Indian     Ocean, pushed back into the sea by some countries they go to seeking refuge.
  • Refugees from drought and civil war in Africa are drowning in the Mediterranean.
  • In 2011 we were excited by the Egyptian revolution and since then it has come full circle back to the original repressive regime.
  • American elections have been weird, to say the least.
  • Our “liberal” president – who has done many good things – is promoting a trade agreement that will help corporations undermine our safety legislation, is intimately involved in sending drones to murder our perceived enemies, is locking up whistle blowers at unprecedented rates…

We might think that the world is cycling into destruction.  And it might be, but…

  • Los Angeles just voted in a $15 minimum raise.
  • The Black Lives Matter organization – created out of murder and despair – is bringing the rampant racism in our country to the forefront.  Many, many white people who did not believe racism still existed now can see the truth.  This is bringing reform to the police and justice systems, we hope.
  • Every so often one of the many petitions we sign fighting a particular oppression sends out an email saying, “We won!”
  • An organization in Seattle has built their own alternative energy platform floating next to the one Shell plans to send to the Arctic. Several local political entities are making it difficult for Shell to dock it’s platforms in Seattle.
  •  Idle No More, an organization of indigenous peoples founded in Canada, has organized huge protests against Shell in Seattle, surrounding the platform in kayaks.  They feel that Native American treaty rights might be the last stand to stopping environmental disaster.
  • People are organizing around many issues. I get email about demonstrations occurring about this or that need for change happening several times a week.  Many of them represent a coalition of organizations.
  • More and more people are turning to alternative news sources, recognizing that news sources owned by large corporations are distorting the news, leaving out important information, sometimes even lying.
  • We have a candidate for president who is truly totally unconnected to global corporations – a real Progressive.  Hurray, Bernie Sanders!

Some small wins, some big wins. We are beginning to understand that all these different problems are interrelated, forming coalitions to attack them. People are beginning to sit up and say, “We can do better than this.”

We can!

 

Nurturing Darkness

(An interlude before we go on discussing constant change):

One of my readers commented on the use of the term “dark” to describe “dark energy” in my last blog.

The term “dark energy” is a scientific one, not my own term.  We can see “light energy” so the energy we cannot see must be “dark energy”.  Scientists’ mathematical calculations say it’s there even though we can’t see it.  There is nothing negative about dark energy.  It is neither good nor bad.  It just is.

However, I am disturbed at the suggestion that darkness might imply evil.  Darkness as a symbol of evil has been used allegorically a lot, but this use has had some very bad consequences.  Much of the racism in this country is enhanced by this false allegory.  Are dark people evil?  No.  Is night evil?  Is winter evil?  No.  These are very important parts of the natural cycle of life on this earth.

I once wrote a song on this subject.  The words are:

In the dark of winter
the bulbs and the seeds
lay deep in the nurturing earth.
It’s a time of renewal,
a time of sleep
awaiting the promise of birth.

In the dark of night
we go to our beds
gather new strength in our dreams.
Its a time of rest,
a time to sleep
awaiting the sun’s morning streams.

In the dark of her womb
she carries her babe
who grows in life every day.
It’s a time of growth,
of nurturing hopefor our children will show us the way.

Come new life
come out of the dark
rise to the promise of spring
Come new life
come out of the warmth
see what the new life will bring.

Awaken my soul
come out of the dark
rise to the promise of  dawn.
Awaken my soul
come out of the warmth
see how the day is reborn.

Nurturing darkness is where we are renewed.  It is the silence, where, if we listen, new ideas, aha moments come dropping in.  It seems to me, if  “dark energy” is indeed the connecting force between us (and, again, I leave this idea to my Don’t Know Mind), it is well named.

Next week:  Back to finding an anchor in this constant change!  Or “Don’t fence me in!”

My book, Dancing the Deep Hum, goes into this concept of dark energy in a touch more detail.  You can learn more about the book and my other writings at www.deephum.com.  You can purchase Dancing the Deep Hum online at Lulu.com, Amazon, or Powells, or order it from your local bookstore.