Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Green Muse

In the beginning all creatures were green and vital.
They flourished amidst flowers.
—Hildegard of Bingen


The world has gone green and blooming. “The Green Man” has returned. He lives in the time beyond time, dies and is reborn in the cycle that returns green to us after a long hard winter. I was getting worried, what with the drought turning California yellow and brown and the Polar Vortex in the Mid-west and East leaving snow on the ground into April.

I used to wonder why old people take up gardening. Now I understand. As one’s body goes dry and brittle one lusts for “The Green Man”—the young sap rising, the bud and blossom that promise that life will go on even if we ourselves must face our mortality.

At our house, it’s Dan who tends the roses. I am giddy with the bounty he keeps bringing in from the garden—gorgeous red, yellow, pink, and white blooms bring joy to tables and bureaus, celebrate gods and goddesses, express the wisdom of Hildegard, who married two words—“green” and “truth” to coin the word “veriditas,” describing the moment God heals you with a plant.

Lakshmi with Roses

My 93 year old mother in Indiana, who is confused about who she is and where, understands the miracle of “veriditas.” She tracks the weather, tracks the state of the trees, tells me in our weekly phone calls about the snow, the wind, the cold that kept her trapped indoors for weeks. She describes the winter trees, how bare they are—no leaves, no blossoms. And yet she muses, they are beautiful, doing their naked dance in the wind. Last Sunday she told me she could see green leaves emerging. There was joy in her voice.

Wild Grass and Cherry Blossoms 

Twenty-five years ago when I was working on my first book, The Motherline, I stumbled across the work of Robert Lifton, a psychiatrist who argued for a new psychological paradigm of “biohistorical continuity.” His ideas were informed by his study of survivors of the atomic blast in Hiroshima. I quoted from his book, The Broken Connection:
Immediately after the bomb fell the most terrifying rumor among the many that swept the city was that trees, grass, and flowers would never again grow in Hiroshima. The image contained in that rumor was of nature drying up altogether, life being extinguished at its source, an ultimate form of desolation that not only encompassed human death but went beyond it. The persistent and continuing growth of wild “railroad grass”…was perceived as a source of strength. And the subsequent appearance of early spring buds, especially those of the March cherry blossoms, symbolized the detoxification of the city and (in the words of the then mayor) “a new feeling of relief and hope.”
I wrote: “It is fitting that those who survived the atomic bomb would be the ones to remind us of the simple and profound truth that we are children of the earth, participants in seasonal cycles, dependent upon the continuity of plant and animal life for our own lives.“ We are approaching Earth Day three generations since the bombing of Hiroshima. Our fears have shifted from nuclear war to catastrophic climate change. As a culture we’ve come no closer to honoring the essential truth which Lifton named. Psychologists have been busy inventing new terms to express the wounds we suffer as a result of our dislocation from the natural world. Here are a couple:
Solastalgia is a term coined by Glenn Albrecht, an Austrialian environmental philosopher. A mash-up of “solace, “desolation, and “nostalgia,” it describes the inability to derive comfort from one’s home due to negative environmental change. 
Nature Deficit Disorder refers to a hypothesis by Richard Louv that human beings, especially children, are spending less time out of doors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
If you recognize these disorders in yourself or those you love, please save the date, Nov. 5th 2014. My fellow writers Leah Shelleda, Patricia Damery, Frances Hatfield and I will be doing a writing workshop, Wounded Earth, Wounded Psyche, at the Jung Institute in San Francisco. We will address the need to find language to express our experiences of climate change, our grief, fear and hope for our mother earth.

The Green Man

The Green One

There is a danger that we can become so paralyzed by our “Solastalgia,” so trapped in our “Nature Deficit Disorder” that we don’t take in the beauty of the trees leafing, the roses blooming, don’t experience the earth as fragrant and alive, don’t hear birds singing or bees buzzing, don’t feel the joy the survivors of Hiroshima felt at the sight of wild grass and cherry blossoms, or the joy I heard in my mother’s voice describing the greening trees. We need the truth of green and the green of truth that Hildegard called “veriditas.” We need that vegetative god the pagans call “The Green Man” or “Jack’o Green.” We need “The Green One” of Islamic Sufism, who is a ‘mediating principle between the imaginary and physical world and a voice of inspiration to artists.’ We need to be healed by plants.

“The Green One” needs our worship, our love, our joy, He leaps into poems, demanding my attention, taking me out of historical time and into the “time before time” or picking me up on his camel, and bringing back my toddler self to feel the joy of spring. Here he is in a section of my poem, “A Creation Story,” about Mesululu who created the world, made mountains, made valleys, made oceans, made children, made bear eagle coyote whale, but was still lonely:

What was it she needed?
What would made her glad?

She played with her hair
She played with her own sweet spot
Til she shimmered and flowed and lo!
A Green Man appeared. He had leaves

For hair and leaves for clothes
And shimmer and glow for his eyes
His name was Abradabra…
It was he

Who tossed his shoe
Into that big old empty
Who stirred life into Mesululu
Sang her song to the stars

Made her laugh
Which flowed her hair
Into rivers and hills
Which shimmered her breath

Into flickering fire and the children
Sit round it and laugh, remembering
How their parents would argue about
Who came first, who made whom

You who’ve forgotten the fire
You who’ve forgotten the hair of your Mother
Her shimmer her flow
And the glow in the Green Man’s eyes

You who belong to your cars
To your hand held devices, your face book wall
I wish you the Green Man’s spell
I wish you the web of the Mother

May he fill your dreams with whales and coyotes
May she braid herself into your breath
May you sit round a flickering fire
And remember how lonely you are
For shimmer and flow
For forest and river
For bobcat and salmon and snake
For Abradabra and Mesululu

For the magical time before time
When you came from below the beyond
                                 (published in The Faust Woman Poems)

The Sufi Green One leapt into my poem when I was reading Rumi. He is associated with Khidr, which means “The Green One,” an inner figure in Islamic mysticism, a kind of spirit guide. The poem took me places I did not expect to go, which is, I guess, the nature of “The Green One.” I was further surprised and pleased that “The Green One” found its way into a literary magazine, Minetta Review. May “The Green One” take up residence with you.

The Green One 

has taken up residence
in my garden     bursts out
of the pruned roses    tosses laughter
into the fountain     flings hummingbirds

into the shimmering        He disdains
the clock      insists it’s time
for me to learn his dervish whirl
in the meadow after rain     He has no patience

for my aching joints      forgetting that I’m no
excited toddler      reaching for the bright
beyond the trees          He refuses to distinguish
between this life

and the ones I have imagined
the ones I’ve dreamt
in which I wander ancient lands
hand in hand with    The Green One

who lets the sun into my winter cave
who whirls me out of time’s confines
who makes the sap rise
who makes the lilies of the valley speak

in their forgotten tongues      He’s crow
on a branch above my head    He laughs
because I don’t know how
to ride the rapture currents

to the thunder world    He leaves me dazed
confused and soaking wet    then rides by on a camel
scoops me up     carries me off to his tent     his hookah visions
of a garden with a fountain laughing

among roses    a humming bird that hovers
in the shimmering     and I am
an excited toddler
reaching for the bright beyond
                                                   the trees


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Find your Muse in Santa Fe

On April 25 & 26, 2014 the New Mexico Society of Jungian Analysts presents a lecture and workshop by Naomi Ruth Lowisnky

Lecture: Self Portrait with Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption 
Workshop: Speak, Muse: A Day with the Sister from Below

About the Presenter
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky, Ph.D. lives at the confluence of the River Psyche and the Deep River of poetry. Her book, The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way tells stories of her pushy muse. She is the co-editor, with Patricia Damery, of the new collection Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way. She is also the author of four books of poetry, including the Faust Woman Poems. Her poetry and prose has been widely published and she is the winner of the Obama Millennium Award. She is an analyst member of the San Francisco Institute and has for years led a writing circle there, called Deep River.
April 25 - Lecture: Self Portrait with Ghost: The Art of Lament and Redemption

"Let us build the bond of community so that the living and the dead image will become one and the past will live on in the present…." C.G. Jung                      

"Often I have such a great longing for myself. I know that the path ahead still stretches far; but in my best dreams I see the day when I shall stand and greet myself." Rainer Maria Rilke

When you lose three children, your home and your country, how do you go on? If you are Emma Hoffman, a gifted painter in the impressionist tradition, you paint. Those paintings continue to speak of the redemptive power of art to Hoffman's granddaughter, Naomi Ruth Lowinsky. Years ago, when she was in analytic training at the San Francisco Institute, Lowinsky had a dream in which she was told: "On your way to Jung's house you must first stop at your grandmother's house and gather some of her paintings."

Lowinsky was the first child born in the New World to a family of German Jewish refugees from the Shoah. She had a special tie with her only surviving grandparent, whom she knew as Oma. Oma taught her that making art can be a way to transmute grief, a way to bear the unbearable. A series of self-portraits, portraits of family, landscapes, interior scenes of the houses in which she lived, reflects her lamentations, her wandering, her search for redemption. Lowinsky understood her dream to mean that she had to follow the path of her own creativity. She did not know then that the dream would turn out to be literally true as well. She would need to put her art - her poetry - at the service of her grandmother's paintings. Her grandmother's spirit would demand it. Her opus would need to intersect with her Oma's, and together they'd make their way to Jung's house.

This presentation is the result of an ongoing dialogue between Hoffman and Lowinsky's art. She will weave together Emma Hoffman's story and paintings, her own poetry and prose, and her reflections on Jung's Red Book as an example of the "art of lament and redemption," a form she calls "Jungian Memoir."

April 26, 2014 - Workshop: Speak, Muse: A Day with the Sister from Below

"The spirit of the depths forced me to speak to my soul, to call upon her as a living and self existing being." C.G. Jung

In this writing workshop Naomi Ruth Lowinsky will introduce her muse, the shape shifting Sister from Below, and invite her to inspire your writing practice. With the Sister's help she will facilitate an imaginative encounter with the stuff of your inner and outer life - your own Jungian Memoir.

The "Sister from Below" is a fierce inner figure. She emerges out of reverie, dream, a fleeting memory, a difficult emotion - she is the moment of inspiration - the muse. This Sister is not about the ordinary business of life: work, shopping, making dinner. She speaks from other realms. If you'll allow, She'll whisper in your ear, lead your thoughts astray, fill you with strange yearnings, get you hot and bothered, send you off on some wild goose chase of a daydream, eat up hours of your time. She's a siren, a seductress, a shape-shifter . . . Why listen to such a troublemaker? Because She is essential to the creative process: She holds thekeys to the doors of our imaginations and deeper life - the evolution of Soul.

Lecture and Workshop are open to those who write and those who want to - bring pen, notebook, and a brown bag lunch.

Friday, April 25, 2014
7:00 9:00 pm
$10 2 CEUs

Saturday, April 26, 2014
10am 4:30pm
$80 6 CEUs

Center for Spiritual Living
505 Camino de los Marquez
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505

For information contact Jacqueline Zeller Levine 1-505-989-1545

Fisher King Press publishes an eclectic mix of worthy books including 
Jungian Psychological Perspectives, Cutting-Edge Fiction, Poetry, 
and a growing list of alternative titles. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Butterfly Muse

“the world hangs on a thin thread, and that thread is the psyche…”
—C.G. Jung

Ice Magic 1
Ice Magic 2

Psyche in the Wake of a Terrible Winter

The Polar Vortex in Patty's World

Most of America has suffered a brutal winter with extreme cold and fierce storms. Patty Cabanas, my publisher, took photos of her frozen world in Oklahoma. In California we’ve had unseasonably warm weather and almost no rain. We are in a serious drought. We feel shaken and uneasy, like Psyche emerging from the underworld, though the fruit trees are blooming and it is warmer than spring. Our climate is changing so rapidly, so dramatically. But on my walk the other day I saw a Monarch butterfly. This raised my spirits.

Monarch in Flight
The butterfly is an ancient symbol of the soul, or the psyche. This is because of its dramatic transfiguration from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to winged glory. Small and fragile as they look, butterflies are amazingly strong and resilient. The Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles from Canada and the United States to Mexico, dying and being born over several generations as they travel. However they are not strong and resilient enough to withstand climate change and the loss of habitat. Their numbers are in steep decline. This represents a devastating rip in the great web of life.

Monarch Migration

Monarch larvae feed on milkweed. Thanks to powerful herbicides and genetic modification they no longer have enough milkweed to feed on, according to And the California drought doesn’t help either.

What does that say about the thin thread we all hang on? When Jung wrote that phrase he was thinking about the danger we faced in the mid 20th century due to nuclear weapons. Now we’re facing another catastrophe—climate change and the extinction of species. It’s exhausting to look into the dread face of annihilation several times in one lifetime. And yet, as the life cycle of the butterfly demonstrates, transformation happens. I felt my capacity to hope fly free with beating wings when I saw that Monarch and when I learned about a project to help butterflies.

City of Butterflies

Butterfly on Buckwheat

According to multimedia artist Ann Hadlock, Los Angeles is a City of Butterflies. She has worked hard to make this happen through her art and her devotion. Hadlock is raising consciousness about the plight of butterflies, and urging anyone with a patch of garden or an outdoor pot to plant milkweed and other native plants that attract butterflies. She has created pieces focused on California butterflies which will also take form as a documentary entitled Los Angeles: City Of Butterflies. City of Butterflies sounds like an oxymoron. But Hadlock has become an advocate who seems determined to make this happen. Look at her web site and you’ll see her offer to meet you in Silver Lake and bring you a milkweed plant. She posts a list of other endangered butterflies and the covers of books about sustaining wildlife by growing native plants.

She quotes an article in Conservation Biology which argues that,
homeowners are a hugely influential group, locally and nationally, for conservation of plants and animals in this country. This should be empowering and validating for those interested in native plant gardening and wildlife gardening for conservation values…
Collectively, homes across the landscape create an ecosystem. Though it is a highly managed ecosystem, it has the tremendous potential for conservation of our regionally-unique flora and fauna.
Celebrate Spring with a Butterfly Garden

Monarchs in Milkweed

My butterfly wings are all aflutter with this revolutionary idea. It’s the kind of thinking outside our usual boxes that we all need to cultivate. I’m one of those who can get overwhelmed, paralyzed with grief and fear, about our environmental crisis. The thought that there is some small thing we can do that will make a difference to butterflies makes a difference to us humans as well. If we take a break from our distracted driving, e-mail, facebook and twitter, if we go outdoors and plant some buckwheat, or ceonothus, or milkweed, we literally touch the ground of our lives, the earth on which we depend and reconnect with the spirit of the place we inhabit. We nourish our own souls, our own psyches, as well as the larvae of butterflies. As I wrote these words a hummingbird appeared outside my window, the first I have seen this season.

Hummingbird Visitation

Hadlock says she plans to visit Northern California in late May. If any of you are or know butterfly enthusiasts, or have photos of butterflies, she’d love to meet with you. You can contact her at

Spring is the perfect time to plant natives that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. Dan and I went to our local nursery. We were told that it was too early for milkweed. We should plant that later in the season. But we bought some red buckwheat and dark star ceonothus which are host plants for several kinds of butterflies. Planting them was so good for my butterfly soul.

Butterfly on Ceonothus

Psyche Emerging

May we all have butterflies in our gardens as well as in our psyches. As I worked on this blog posting I suddenly remembered a mysterious dream which became a mysterious poem. I think I understand a little better what Psyche was trying to tell me—butterflies are the stuff of life, as essential as words and cloth.
Psyche Emerging
This Wild Rush of Wings

A woman you have never met     though maybe in a dream
is weaving butterflies into sari cloth     soft piles
of black and yellow monarch wings she’ll wind
around your waist     drape over your left shoulder

And wasn’t there a time when words were stuff to you
the soft stuff of summer dresses
of floating curtains at an open window
the hard stuff of bone and stone tablet

the cut
           of jagged line
                                           the scat of vowels
                                                                       across white space

Such pleasure in the measure of the dance

So why now this late life blast
your one small body barely holding the charge
        given your bird bones
        your fly–away hair
        the necessity of earth holding tight to your feet

Why this long–line longing    the unknown weaver’s head bent
over six yards of butterflies      this demand
from the land of the ancestors     earth’s magnetism
                                         transporting you

(Published in The Faust Woman Poems)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Muse of Community

The Muse of Community must have chosen the little fishing village of San Pancho as her favorite creative project. “Let’s see what would happen,” says she, “if we throw together an ‘olla podrida’ —a spicy stew— of interesting people in a tiny fishing village on the West coast of Mexico. Take a handful of artists, hippies, environmentalists, a bunch of retired folk and snow birds from the U.S. and Canada, some young families from South America, four solid local families with deep roots in the land, a love affair between an American woman and the daughter of one of the local families who is related to everyone, throw in one young American mother with a gift for creating community. Stir.”

This is a recipe for an amazing community. Dan and I have been coming to San Pancho, whose official name is San Francisco, in Nayarit, Mexico, for ten years.

We have had the joy of watching the town transform and of feeling, for our brief winter sojourn, part of the excitement and the pleasure. Community is fostered by our hosts at Casa Obelisco, the small B & B we frequent. We have been hearing San Pancho stories from Barb and Bill, John and Judy every morning over delicious breakfasts. We heard the story about the lovers, Gloria and Trini, who opened a great Mexican restaurant, Ola Rica, with a shrine to Frida Kahlo by the table Dan and I consider ours.

Trini and Gloria
In recent years Gloria and Trini have added a beach restaurant, La Playa, where you can indulge in the best Mango Margarita known to human kind. We’ve heard about Turtle Frank, who has created a hatchery to protect the vulnerable turtle eggs and help the hatchlings find their way to the sea. Sometimes we’ve been lucky enough to be part of this event on the beach. We are drawn into community with other guests and into the vibrant life of the town. Of course we also hear about the feuds, the bad blood, the struggles over ownership of land and bad feeling over disappointments and betrayals. But there is a remarkable sense of possibility in this town that we don’t experience back home in the U.S. of A these days.

Nicole and Naomi
Many of these stories are about that young American mother, Nicole, who came here with her eleven month old son ten years ago, had another child, a daughter, got divorced, and found herself wondering about community. Bill, one of our hosts, who is very involved in Nicole’s organization, Entre Amigos, arranged for me to spend time with Nicole and hear her story.

She told me that when she came to San Pancho it was very small. She suspected it would grow, but was concerned about the lack of connection between the local people and their visitors. There was distrust between the two groups. She could feel people withdrawing behind their walls. The Muse must have come to her and whispered:” All you need is a little bridge.”

Dan and I remember the small store front she had when she began Entre Amigos, offering after school programs for kids. Nicole put it this way: “I just put my kitchen table out on the street and began teaching what I learned in Girl Scouts—sewing, cooking, gardening. I asked others to teach—the locals, foreigners. Everyone has something to teach. Everyone has something to learn, from tamale making to computer skills. It’s a walk of faith,” she told me. “It’s all about mutual giving.”

“Entre Amigos” has grown dramatically since those early years. It is now housed in what was the ruin of a fruit drying factory. It is made entirely of recyclable materials. I asked her about her environmental work—recycling, tree planting. “Oh” she said, “that’s not me. That’s Endira.” Endira, a Chilean, came early to work with Nicole. Her passion is the environment. She created San Pancho’s recycling program, and created a marked for recycled products.

Toys like this get sold in the little shop at Entre Amigos. Endira has also created an environmental curriculum for children. Twenty lessons in a box which anyone can teach. You just “read the card and teach the class,” Nicole says. “Why teach kids who have never seen a glacier about melting glaciers? Why not teach them to pay attention, to observe and imagine the life of the birds and the butterflies they know in their own landscape?” Her curriculum has been picked up by Hawaiian educators and by biology students in Mexican colleges, who use it to fulfill their social service requirement by teaching it to school kids.

Nicole walked me around the large spacious building with its open floor plan and differentiated areas—the shop, the library and computer center, the separate area for kids under five where local moms meet foreign mom and their kids play together with an assortment of wonderful toys.

I watched a boy careen in through the front door on his skateboard, pick it up and head for the library. This was clearly his place. I watched boys on the floor playing happily with a wooden train set. I watched boys reading. “So many boys” I commented. “They all look happy.”

“That’s Jasmin” said Nicole, and told me about the local woman who is a magnet for troubled kids, kids who aren’t going to school, who live in horrific family situations, who are abused. “Jasmin wanted to tutor them here. So we set up a tutoring program.” She pointed out Ramon, a young man working with four boys between eight and ten years old. They all looked attentive and engaged. She told me these were boys who hadn’t been going to school, didn’t know how to read. Now they’re in school, and reading. They come after school to Entre Amigos. Ramon, she said, “used to work construction. When he came here it was clear he was very bright, and a good teacher. We said, ‘Ramon, what are you going to do next?’ He has decided to go to college.”

Nicole pointed out a boy who is regularly abused at home. “There’s no Child Protective Services here in Mexico,” she told me. “He comes here. Of course, he’s difficult. He hits other kids. So we consulted with a retired psychologist from Canada about how to handle him. He helped us develop a system to empower the kids to run the building. They have to do social service—water the plants for example. Kids are in charge of the rules. If they do well they get a reward—a trip or a movie. Most of them haven’t been anywhere. Going to the movies is a special treat.”

Nicole is eloquent on a subject close to my heart—how essential creativity is to learning and teaching. She hopes these kids, who may not ever get to college, will learn to think outside the box, learn that all kinds of things are possible, because they have been exposed to so many different creative approaches, classes on everything from English/Spanish to screen printing and art making. She highly values creative expression. “There’s that moment when you see their eyes open to a bigger world. It’s amazing.”

Our friend Bill has been involved with the scholarship program at Entre Amigos, which invites folks to sponsor a child. In Mexico the schools have no money for supplies—books, paper, pencils, even toilet paper. So they charge parents fees. This is a hardship for poor families, as is buying school uniforms. For $600 a year you can sponsor a child, take the financial load off a family, assure that a child can remain in school, and support Entre Amigos.

At breakfast I learned that all of our fellow guests at Casa Obelisco, including the guy who swears by Fox News, had committed to sponsoring a child. Community seems to grow organically around Entre Amigos

But friends, I haven’t even told you the half of it. The Muse of Community has thrown some wild ingredients into the San Pancho ‘olla podrida.’ She has thrown in Cirque du Soleil, which, for reasons I couldn’t quite follow has decided to teach circus skills like acrobatics to the children of San Pancho, and is partnering with Entre Amigos. Nicole showed me the circus room, with its Olympic quality trampolines and equipment. I’d wondered where all the girls were. They were here, a few boys among them, in bright leotards, excited and adorable, training for a big children’s circus to be held on March 23rd.

The Muse has also thrown in some wandering muralists, who have covered several walls with colorful, often surreal imagery.

The Muse has thrown in Manny and Joe, who are music producers from Seattle, now mostly retired. They organize events around town, including a fabulous fundraiser Dan and I attended at the golf course, which for years, was off limits to everyone but the owner. He’s had a change of heart and allowed a big party to happen in his clubhouse at the top of the world, with views of ocean, jungle, mountains.

In the magical way that communities come together in San Pancho, “suits” and “creatives” gathered (though of course no one is ever seen wearing a suit in San Pancho unless he’s the groom or the father of the bride at the wedding). Entre Amigos, we learned, is in an alliance with a group called Les Fabricas des San Pancho to turn the old shells of factories into green buildings that will house workshops for artists and space for environmental groups. A group of architectural students at Mexican universities has agreed to help. We were there to raise funds for their bus fare to San Pancho.

Dan and I sat among the well heeled and the wildly creative, drinking wine, eating fajitas, and listening to the fabulous jazz of Bandieros de los All Stars. They were led by a small intense flautist who doubled as a Sax player. The bass guitarist was wild, experimental. We could be in New Orleans. The flute played the sun down—long holy sound of human breath.

The last and wildest ingredient so far the Muse of Community has thrown into the stew is, believe it or not, the Dalai Lama. Nicole has just received an award from him in San Francisco del Norte, on Feb. 23rd. Nicole is one of a group of “Unsung Heroes of Compassion” [link:] whom the Dalai Lama chose to honor.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Piano Teacher Muse

I saw “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” recently at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. This one woman performance piece is a variation on the Jewish refugee story I have told so often about my own family in poetry and prose (The Motherline, The Sister from Below, Adagio & Lamentation). Mona Golabek tells her mother’s story of escape from the Nazis as a child via the Kindertransport—a British program organized by Quakers and Jews to save Jewish children and bring them to England. Golabek is a pianist from a potent Motherline of pianists. She tells her mother’s story in music as well as in words.

Mona Golabek

Her mother, Lisa Jura, was a brilliant pianist—a prodigy. When we meet her she is a child of fourteen, played eloquently by her daughter. We’re in Vienna, 1938. She is dressing up to go to her piano lesson. She is excited. She loves her piano teacher and has been practicing a difficult piece in preparation for her concert debut—Greig’s Piano Sonata in A Minor, op. 16. Her teacher turns her away. The Nazis have annexed Austria and it is forbidden to do business with Jews. Her mother, Mona’s grandmother, offers to teach her herself. That is until it becomes clear that the Jews are in terrible danger. It is difficult to get a child on the Kindertransport but Lisa’s parents manage to find a place for her—the oldest of their three daughters—hoping that her musical talent will protect her. In miraculous ways, it does.


Mona Golabek is a marvelous pianist, accomplished in the lush late Romantics—Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Grieg. The family story she tells is in many ways my own. It is the story of how music can hold people in unbearable times, how music was a religion for high culture German and Austrian Jews—a way to access divine ecstasy without uncomfortable questions about religion or ethnicity. That is until that terrible moment dramatized by Golabek—Lisa’s rejection by her piano teacher. For my mother, it happened when she was 12, in the German woods with other school children, lighting a Christmas tree and singing carols. Hitler was invoked, and everyone looked at her. Suddenly she knew she was an outcast— a Jew. Being Jewish had never before been an issue.

In Golabek’s story and mine, classical music is a vessel that carries refugee Jews back to the familiar, the beloved—their lost worlds. Music lessons were essential, initiatory—a way of transferring cultural memory and values to the next generation. Ambition, creativity and drive found their outlet practicing difficult passages over and over until the passion flowed out of one’s fingers and one crossed one’s left hand over the right and back again in a crescendo of emotion, tossing one’s head and striking the final chords with bravura. This was Lisa Jura, Golobek and also my father, who was well on his way to becoming a concert pianist as a young man, until he injured his hand. He played the piano all through my childhood, played like Mona Golabek plays, though he was more likely to play Bach’s Well Tempered Klavier than Grieg or Rachmaninoff.

adagio and lamentation

when my father’s fierce fingers made Bach flow
our dead came in and sat with us     a ghostly visitation
and my grandmother sang lieder     of long ago

this is how prayer was said in my childhood     solo
piano     arguing with god     adagio and lamentation
when my father’s fierce fingers made Bach flow

music accompanied us into the valley of the shadow   and lo
Bach was torah    Mozart was our rod     Schubert led us into contemplation
my grandmother sang lieder     remembering long-ago

my child’s soul was full of glimmerings     the glamour of the gone   the glow
of candles borne by children into the dark German woods     the illumination
of the evergreen   all this I saw and more     when my father’s fierce fingers made Bach flow

my mother’s dead sister    my grandfather in a cattle car    woe
permeated shadow      stirred the curtains     took up habitation
in my grandmother’s body     filled every song she sang     with how she longed for long ago

long gone now     my grandmother      my father      although
sometimes I call them back     by villanelle     by incantation
come    my fierce father     play for me    water my soul in Bach’s flow
sing      my sad grandmother     your song is my covenant with long ago

In other ways my story is different from that of Golabek or her mother. I never looked forward to a piano lesson, as Lisa did. I never got dressed up to see my teacher. In an author’s note Golabek writes:
My mother…was my best friend. She taught my sister, Renee, and me to play the piano. We loved our piano lessons with her. hey were more than piano lessons—they were lessons in life…Sitting at the piano as a child, I would close my eyes and listen to her lilting voice and imagine her world. 
The child in me can’t imagine feeling safe with my piano playing parent. My father tried to give me lessons. He yelled at me. I didn’t practice. I didn’t take this seriously. Why couldn’t I remember what he had told me about the fingering and the phrasing? I don’t remember whether it was my tears or his frustration that ended that chapter. My mother began taking me on the subway from our home in Queens to Manhattan for piano lessons with the formidable Frau O who yelled the same accusations at me and slapped my wrists.

They were both right. I didn’t practice enough. I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t want to remember the phrasing and the fingering. Looking back I realize my father was sending me to great piano teachers, master teachers who would have been appropriate for a Lisa Jura or a Mona Golebek. No wonder they were so infuriated. No wonder I was so traumatized. Nobody was interested in what I wanted.

Luckily for me Frau O had a lovely daughter who was my dear friend. Sometimes I got to spend the night, and we cuddled together under her big red comforter. This daughter became a renowned concert pianist. I always wondered how lessons went for her. Was she as scared of her mother as I was? How did she manage to practice and practice until she became a master of her art? Many years later, when our paths crossed as adults, I asked her. She loved music, she said. But she had to carve out her own niche which separated her from her mother. She became a proponent and performer of new music.

Watching Golabek’s performance it was clear to me that her love of her mother and her love of music were the same thing. Now, I love music. I feel lucky to have been raised in a family that taught me that love. I loved hearing my father play in the next room while I drifted off to sleep. But it is a revelation to me that a girl could feel loved and held by her mother who was also her piano teacher. The child in me has had a belief that Hitler came to live in the breasts of refugee Jews, that loss and agony got locked away in internal concentration camps, only to rise up screaming in the privacy of family life.

Golabek’s piano playing evoked the warm glow, the gold and red velvet elegance of her mother’s lost Vienna. Frau O also came from Vienna. It occurs to me now that it was not so much Hitler in her, but her longing to keep the tradition alive, that made her so angry with this stupid American born girl who refused her beloved vehicle of transport. As for me, did I refuse to practice, refuse to take music lessons seriously because I got yelled at? Or is it that my creative libido took another form?

Years ago I remember a colleague telling me about her ecstatic experiences singing classical music in a chorus. “You really have to do this” she said. I was surprised at the hot flare of anger that rose in me, and heard the sharp edge in my voice when I responded: “I don’t want to sing other people’s music.” That flare of anger became the beginning of a poem, which became the beginning of my first book of poems, “red clay is talking."

Anger, I’ve discovered, is a great opening to creativity. It is how the piano teacher became my muse.


       life after life
       I stand by the road
       and look for a home


she had been raised to sing
other people’s songs
but in the third morning of the new time
with the wisteria blooming outside her
kitchen window
and the shadow of the earth
about to fall upon the moon
she looked at the sky
the comet had inhabited
saw four geese fly east
toward devil mountain

heard the telephone ringing
the man in her house running
up circular stairs
calling her name

and suddenly remembered
the lips of the one who had sworn her
to silence
in dark waters
                                              wait for me
                                              one morning when the children are gone
                                              I’ll call
                                              put on your brown sandals
                                              wrap yourself up
                                              in your tree of life shawl
                                              come walk with me
                                                                 to devil mountain
                                                                         singing the song
                                                                         we were singing
                                                                                   before          you
                                                                                   were born

An Invitation from the Earth Muse

The San Francisco Institute is beginning an exciting series of eco-psychology programs. The first on is Saturday, February 22, 2014, 9:30 AM – 1:30 PM at the affordable ticket price of $35.00.

Indwelling: Our Human Participation in the Dream if the Earth
A workshop emphasizing the role of transformation in consciousness as an essential factor in addressing the environmental crisis. (With Barbara Holifield, MFT & Carol MCrae, PhD)
What Jung intuited nearly a century ago has never been more relevant: Western culture would become lost if we were not able to sustain a connection to nature and learn from the wisdom of the indigenous people, whose stories are deeply woven with the land. We have developed a split between ourselves and the earth.

Just what do we do as concerned citizens? What are our individual stories and what might be a more conscious collective guiding myth?

We will allow what emerges to build on Thomas Berry’s idea that hope for our future lies in our human participation in the dream of the earth. Check out Patricia Damery's blog for more on environmental issues.

Bragging Rights

The Sister from Below is proud to announce the publication of 2013’s Featured Poet: Frances Hatfield in Psychological Perspectives. Hatfield is a sister Jungian analyst and a sister poet from the mystery realms. Read six amazing poems by Hatfield and an introductory essay by Naomi Ruth Lowinsky in Psychological Perspectives (v. 56 Issue 4.)

Also, please consider subscribing to Psychological Perspectives.