Discover more from Gravity Humming
Another fracture in the narrative
As the smoke surrounds us, we are conjuring up new worlds
We’ve officially entered the annual smoke season and it’s not something to celebrate. The hardship of wearing an N-95 mask while watering the garden and keeping the air purifier on in the bedroom is minor compared to the misery being experienced by so many displaced by fires, floods, famine, and rising sea levels. The losses are immense, and sitting comfortably indoors, trying to imagine those who have lost homes and loved ones, and the discomfort and fears of those who have become refugees, may not be a useful process if one’s empathetic skills are already well honed. Sometimes, it seems that the best I can do is send healing energy out into the universe, and process the complexity of emotions arising with my creative tools.
How can one write in this moment without the literal and metaphorical haze of all of these colliding disasters affect how we respond to our muses? Well, one cure is to just write, yes, just write. I also have the medicine of being able to harvest strawberries, beans, tomatoes, grapes, eggplant, peppers, and squash this morning, and distributing the harvest among friends and neighbors. There’s always been multiple messes in our world, and while the ones we face today have consequences that involve a myriad of extinctions, including our own, feeling the depth of this particular discomfort, while cultivating attention to the beauty of the present moment can help us manage our suffering. Plugging into our creative gifts and sharing them with others can also be beneficial.
Part of one day’s harvest, early August 2023, Tacoma, Washington (traditional unceded land of the Puyallup people)
Like some folks with activist inclinations, I’ve been working on these issues since I first understood the impact of nuclear weapons as a child (after reading the book Hiroshima by John Hersey in 6th grade), so you’d think that by now, I’d have adjusted to the ever present threats, but “adjusting” involves numbing and shutting down some of the radar that has made me the artist/writer that I am. While I have some of that capacity to numb in my system, and truly need it to function, there’s always a moment when the harbinger of the next threat arrives - these days, not with subtlety - and then the shell of protection cracks. Since one of the visions that I’m carrying in the book that I continue to draft on my Substack, Gravity Humming, is to imagine something fruitful and nourishing beyond collapse, post-collapse, I must write about the thickness of the air on this late August day in order to arrive without pretense at the next chapter. And who knows whether we will arrive or not? This question and others are being pondered by many these days, including three thoughtful and passionate women who are using different lenses to examine this moment in the climate crisis. This series of talks from the Upaya Zen Center features a discussion about “Uncertainty and Possibility—Meeting the Climate Future” with Roshi Joan Halifax, Christina Figueres (climate activist and negotiator of the Paris Climate talks), and Rebecca Solnit (author of many books).
There’s also a posse of writers and creative folks trying to process what we’re navigating, using whatever tools are at their disposal. This missive by adrienne maree brown, arrived in my inbox this morning. It’s a poem that casts a spell, echoing like a keening around the flames while framing the odd light outside refracted by the smoke’s particulate in some kind of possibility.
Two days ago, as our air quality here became one of the worst in the world according to one of my phone apps, I noticed that my obsession with AQI and maps of the fires and smoke proliferating all over the globe was becoming an unproductive fixation. The suffering that these abstract maps obscure is immense, but compulsively checking the maps is not good for my mental health, nor does it relieve anyone’s suffering. This clutching pattern in my brain is definitely not helpful; it is a manifestation of a very anxious nervous system that just causes more suffering - this is the work of mindfulness. For the ability to access this insight, I must pay homage to at least three influences that have kept me sane by returning me to my breath, especially in a time when I could have gone off the rails, - one powerful influence is Joanna Macy who I have mentioned countless times in many pieces of writing and talks over the years, another is the late teacher, monk, poet, and activist Thich Nhat Hanh, and finally my beloved companion of 34+ years, the late Dr. Bob Spivey, a man with a deep meditation practice (he was an ordained lay monk) and a humble scholar & activist. Each one of these amazing humans introduced me to a practice that I continue to learn every day. Here’s a podcast episode that reminded me that I will be learning this practice for the rest of my days in this particular body: “The Way Out is In - Spiritual Journey: No Quick Fixes”
Parts of my life-long spiritual practice, frequently under the radar, have been the processes of working with dreams, synchronicities, intuition, quantum energy work, insights from different kinds of therapy, and rituals with the earth as part of my ancestor work. It has taken me many decades to fully claim these practices, although I was certainly OUT as an active dreamer as early as age 9 (at summer camp, I was encouraged my counselors to read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams). I don’t recall ever reading that book, but I took their feedback as encouragement. I started painting my dreams and nightmares in high school, as well as writing poems about them, and by grad school I was making installations about them. Many of the latter felt apocalyptic and prescient, as if my nervous system was ramping up for this time.
Over a decade ago, I was part of women’s “dream tending” circle on Vashon Island. The facilitators of the latter group were students of Stephen Aizenstat. I loved the techniques I learned for deciphering the riddles that arrive when our conscious minds are not in control. I went on to train with Robert Moss in his courses for dream teachers, and added some of what I learned from him to my course at UW Tacoma called, The Artist as Dreamer and Visionary. Students loved that course, and felt well suited to facilitate it.
I have never been shy about sharing the dream aspect of my spiritual life, but there are other aspects of this journey that have seemed more dicey to share publicly. Why? Because I was raised by an agnostic scientist who tried to steer me far away from using my intuition and anything remotely mystical, and then there’s my own critical thinking that made me suspicious of anything coated in crystals and rainbows. Yes, I know that this POV definitely is dismissive, but over the years, I’ve had trouble digesting a lot of what is considered “new age-y.” This wariness comes from seeing the frequent ignorance about systemic oppressions, the dangers of cultural appropriation, and the increasing social polarization caused by the epidemic conspiracy theories, strangely common in the “namaste” spaces.
The world of “woo-woo” was infiltrated by snake oil salesmen, during my youth, and has only become more commodified in the worst ways in subsequent decades, but the truth is, I probably would not have healed from my chronic environmental illness, had I not trusted in the miracles offered by alternative medicine, meditation, and my own art making. Now that I am outside of the more conventional world of academia, working as a free agent, so to speak, I feel that I can more fully embrace and synthesize many of the rich tools that have allowed me to fully step into my power, even in a time of great grief. I sense that I am stepping into this terrain tentatively, with a myriad of discomforts in my wake. I will share more in my next post about the complex layers of being a critically thinking, social justice-focused, queer-identified artist/writer who is stepping more fully and confidently into witchy-ness, not as an escape or a reactive stance, not as anti-science or anti-rational thinking, but rather because we need to use every tool we’ve got now, and spells, rituals, and visions, despite inspiring fear in so many ignorant folks, are necessary in this time.
Before I leave you today, I want to share an interview between adrienne maree brown (author of Emergent Strategy and Pleasure Activism) and Starhawk (author of The Fifth Sacred Thing, from a series of speculative fiction novels, as well as books about permaculture design, global justice and more).
Listening to this podcast may more fully prepare you for a more in-depth discussion about how social activism and spirituality can be woven together in fruitful ways. I won’t be tying together aspects of this topic neatly with a bow, but rather lifting up some of the difficulties and necessities of navigating this seemingly irrational cartography.
A Reimagined World (bnaidus 2023) after Claudius Ptolemy’s The World (1482)
I’m concluding this post on a day when the air is blissfully clean (thank you, Pacific Ocean air currents) as I sit writing in my garden, time traveling with some lovely writing buddies in Australia (where it’s 9 am tomorrow) and elsewhere. Until my next post is cooked and ready to serve, I will continue to try and ground in what is alive and thriving in the garden, and pray for all the beings who are suffering and losing their lives due to these fires.