Monday, December 24, 2012

On Grief and Gratitude

During the longest night of the year I heard myself say in a dream, “It’s my job to hold the center.” It’s a hard job, tossed between the poles of grief and gratitude as so many of us have been during this past winter solstice.

There is so much I grieve. We lost my children’s father this year—a loving and supportive father, a devoted Zaide. His passing leaves a big hole in our family.

We lost our dear friend Lou, a devoted healer who magically blended Jungian, psychiatric and shamanic approaches to the psyche.

We are slowly losing my mother, who still walks in her body, but is losing her orientation in the realms between life and death.

We grieve the principal, the school psychologist and teachers who gave their lives to protect the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School. We grieve the precious children. We grieve for the survivors and what they must carry.

Newtown, CT Shrine
We grieve the children who are being terrorized and killed daily in senseless violence all over our land. As President Obama said in Newtown:

There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose -- much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We grieve little Hiram Lawrence, an adorable baby boy, killed in cross fire while in his father’s arms during a gangland shooting in Oakland.

Hiram and his father
We grieve his father, who was also shot and is recovering. His grief is unimaginable.

We grieve the sixteen year old boy Frederick Charles Coleman, who is being charged as an adult in the shooting. We grieve Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the massacre at Sandy Hook and his first victim, his mother. We wonder what their stories are.

We grieve for the weeping grandmothers. Their suffering is incalculable.

We grieve for our country, which has lost its way, confounding gun rights with freedom, shooting “Explosive Entry” bullets into the soft underbelly of our body politic.

* * * * * * * 

And at the same moment, as the earth begins its return toward the sun, we are so grateful.

We are grateful to our country for re-electing a president who can hold the center, who can speak for the massacred children of a sweet affluent town as well as the massacred children of the mean streets of Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Oakland and so many other cities.

We are grateful for a president who has the capacity to feel and articulate our collective agony, and the integrity to insist: “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

After all, that is what the solstice is about, the cycle of change—the longest night ends and the light returns. This particular solstice has gotten much press because of a misunderstanding of the Mayan calendar. Those of us who know it is our job to hold the center understand that the Mayans see this recent solstice as the end of a 5,125 year cycle and the beginning of a new one. We are in a time with great potential for catastrophe as well as for renewal and transformation of what it means to be human and to live responsibly on our mother earth.

I am grateful for my inner life, for the access to dreams and inner figures cultivated by my Jungian analyses and training. I am forever grateful to my first analyst, who gave me a safe place to begin to become myself. I am grieved that he has been seriously ill. May he return from the underworld to flourish among us again.

I am grateful to the Sister from Below— my muse—who insists on time from me every day: she gives glow and flow to my life and helps me understand who I am and what I mean.

I am grateful to my sweet husband Dan, who helps me translate my musings into this blog. I am grateful to Patty Cabanas who knows how to reassure technophobes and who helps us get the News from the Muse out to all of you.

I am grateful to those who publish my work, especially to Mel Mathews of Fisher King Press who gave the Sister a life in print. Publishing is magic. It transforms what was inner, private—held in notebooks or in Word documents—into an object that belongs to whoever claims it in the world, where it develops a life of its own. Who knows who will read it and what they will make of it?

I am grateful for a recent harvest of publications, many in forms new to me. These are my gifts to you—family, friends, colleagues, fellow followers of the Muse—I am so grateful for your companionship in the dark and in the light.

I. Clinging to the Axis Mundi: The Poetry of Politics 

Tree of Life by Aloria Weaver 
I suffered a fit of technophobia when I learned that I’d need to do a Power Point presentation as a participant in A Citizen’s Dilemma: Four Voices, a pre-presidential election conference held at the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco. I’d never done Power Point before. But as I played with the dialogue between images and my political poetry I got high on the process of illuminating words with images and images with words. I was lucky to have the competent help of Dan and my daughter Shanti.

My fellow presenter, Tom Singer, Co-Chair of ARAS Online, asked me to submit my piece to ARAS Connections: Image and Archetype, a beautiful online newsletter. I was honored. You can read my piece and see the images at You can receive this newsletter for free by clicking on "Receive this Newsletter for Free" at the top left or by emailing at

II. “Self Portrait with Ghost”

"Self Portrait with Ghost" is a new poem of mine, which has just been published on line by DecomP Magazine.

There is an ancient tension in poetry between the oral and the written traditions. My poems are highly musical. I chant them aloud as I compose them and they love to be read aloud. But I am also obsessive about crafting them for the page.

So it was a gift to be published by DecomP, which includes audio recordings of poems as well as the written text. "Self Portrait with Ghost" is part of a sequence of poems based on my close relationship with my maternal grandmother, the painter Emma Hoffman. She painted many portraits and self portraits. They are full of grief and gratitude. In the poem I imagine her returning from the dead to paint me now.

III. “Spacious Enough to Receive What Came to Me”

Robert Henderson's interview with me was published in Psychological Perspectives.

For years, Robert Henderson has conducted a series of what he calls Enterviews with Jungian Analysts and writers. These have been published in a three volume collection called, Living with Jung. I was flattered when he asked to meet with me. His questions engaged me in a different way than does the Sister. I found myself sharing how I do Active Imagination, how I talk to the dead, how a terrible dream catapulted me into my first Jungian analysis. I hope you’ll check it out in Psychological Perspectives 55:3.

IV. “Heart Work"

I recently reviewed In the Image of Orpheus: Rilke:A Soul History, Wilmette, Illinois, Chiron Publications, 2011 by Daniel Polikoff in the Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche.

I grew up with Rilke. My father quoted him in German. He was as familiar as a dear family friend. I thought I knew him well until I read Polikoff’s marvelous soul history, which brought a spiritual sensibility, informed by the works of Jung and Hillman to the life of this beloved poet. I am grateful to Polikoff for deepening and enriching my feeling for Rilke, such an important ancestor of mine. Here is my review, published in Jung Journal: Culture & Psyche 6:4/Fall2012.

Heart Work
Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

Work of the eyes is done
Now do heart work
on all the images imprisoned within you
                                                    Rilke (Polikoff)

I grew up with Rilke. He was a revered ancestor in my German Jewish family. Rilke is my kin, my familiar, part of my identity in the way that early impressions shape one. I can see my father now, bowing to a particularly lovely tree and reciting Rilke’s first sonnet to Orpheus by heart, in the German:
Da steig ein Baum. O reine √úbersteigung!
O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!
                                             (Rilke, 1985) 
A tree rose up. O pure transcendence!
O Orpheus sings! O tall tree in the ear.
For my father, a musicologist, that tall tree in the ear expressed his calling. For me, Rilke’s imagery was mysterious, incomprehensible and yet deeply true. I would learn, later in life, what that tree in the ear means to me. Rilke was to be my spirit guide—a major influence on my work. I would hear his cadences, get high on the wild flow of his images, his poetic music. I would come to understand that it is Rilke himself who is the tall tree in my ear. I thought I knew him well.

What a surprise then—and a gift—to meet a deeper, more psychological and spiritually complex Rilke than I had dreamt of, in Daniel Polikoff’s magnificent In the Image of Orpheus: Rilke: A Soul History. Polikoff gives us an ambitious and profound 700+ page amplification of Rilke’s opus. Reading it has been a pilgrimage—a hajj to my own poetic Mecca. Polikoff is a brilliant guide and companion, leading the reader into the rich world of his associations. Like the Muslim who traces the path of the prophet, Polikoff traces Rilke’s life process of “soul making,” how he worked his way out of his native Catholicism into a “poetic spirituality centered upon the soul—qua anima.”

Amplification is a method that ties together strands of meaning by association. It is not necessarily history or fact. It is about resonance. Polikoff leads us into Rilke’s life not to give an accounting of events and dates, but to invite us into us to walk with him and his companions as he follows the path of the poet.

Polikoff is himself a poet, and a fine translator of Rilke. He understands the mysterious realm in which a poet can change his or her life with words. In my experience this process is similar to working regularly with one’s dreams. Something ineffable happens as a poem comes to life—space opens, images that have been imprisoned leap free to become guides and signifiers, the texture of experience shifts, colors deepen, heart opens. In what realm does this happens?

Polikoff introduces us to his companions on the pilgrimage: James Hillman, C.G.Jung, Richard Tarnas, Henri Corbin, among others. He weaves a rich tapestry of associations out of threads from Hillman’s Archetypal Psychology—his credo that “Soul is imagination,” from Jung’s work on the anima and his belief that the feminine must be brought back into collective consciousness, from Richard Tarnas’ argument that monotheism has contributed to the desacralization of the cosmos. Following Hillman and Rilke’s interest in Sufism Polikoff associates to the work of Henri Corbin on the Sufi master Ibn Arabi, whose compelling writings on the creative imagination open doors to the heart of Rilke’s poetic religion and enable us to understand the confluence of poetry and prayer. He quotes Corbin: “Creation is epiphany…It is an act of the divine, primordial imagination.

We follow Rilke to Russia and to his profoundly religious text, The Book of Hours, written in the voice of a monk, an icon painter. Influenced by his lover, Lou Andrea Salome, Rilke takes us out of what James Hillman calls “that soulless predicament we call modern consciousness.” The icon painter knows that his God depends as much on him as vice versa. We’ve heard this before, from Jung. Suddenly sacred space opens and we realize we have entered the imaginal realm. That is where the poet changes her life. That is where Rilke undertook his great project of reconnecting “matter with spirit in and through the speech of the soul.” The Book of Hours “makes a case for the essentially imaginative and creative function of prayer.” In these poems Rilke’s God is down to earth, located “in the dark, invisible, densely material underground of the earth…not…a single centralized source, but… a spreading network of roots….” Doesn’t this sound like Jung’s rhizome?

Beginning in The Book of Hours and working through the cataclysmic crisis of The Duino Elegies, coming to the fruition of a mature religious orientation in the Sonnets to Orpheus, Rilke writes “out of a keen awareness that the ongoing life of God…depends upon the rejuvenating force of the human imagination. This resonates with Jung and the Sufis.

It is also Rilke’s mission to bring the feminine back into consciousness. Polikoff, leaning on Jung, focuses on Rilke’s anima fascinations in life and in poetry. He traces Rilke’s soul development as he separates from Lou Andreas Salome, who has been a maternal figure, and meets the lovely young artists Paula Becker and Clara Westhof in the bucolic landscape of Worpeswede. Clara would eventually become his wife. Rilke’s understanding of the sacred shifts “away from the name and spirit of God toward the soul of nature experienced in and through the eyes of two enchanting maiden-artists.” Following Hillman, Polikoff understands the power of anima as enlivening more than the personal realm. Anima is “the archetype of soul coming into its own by way of creative imagination.” In a great poem like “Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes.” Rilke brings the dead maiden to life: “Like as fruit ripe with sweetness and night/she was filled with her great death.” Later in his life the death of a maiden will become the inspiration for his Sonnets to Orpheus.

I found Polikoff’s tracing of Rilke’s theme, that “God can be truly known only in and through the deed of creation itself,” one of the most compelling aspects of his Soul History. The reader follows the development of Rilke’s “poetic religion” from The Book of Hours, which is written “out of a keen awareness that the ongoing life of God…depends upon the invigorating force of the human imagination, to the Duino Elegies, which “sound out of his soul’s dark night” to the Sonnets to Orpheus whose “Orphic voice…moves freely through the world…reflecting the hidden imaginal reality inhering in all visible and invisible” things. In the Elegies we taste the heights and depths of “the initiatory experience itself.” The Sonnets are the fruit of that descent, the suffering of divine absence transformed into divine presence by the poet’s song, that tree in the ear which connects underworld, world and heaven. The Elegies, Polikoff argues, are monotheistic, in contrast to the polytheism of the Sonnets. For Polikoff, as for Hillman, this is an important spiritual development away from dualism and into the anima mundi.

I did not expect, when I began this pilgrimage—this hajj—with Polikoff, Hillman, Corbin and the others to be led to El Greco’s angel—one of the inspirations, Polikoff says, for the terrifying angel of the Elegies. Synchronistically, El Greco’s angel had recently given me goose bumps in a church in Toledo. Nor had I expected to be led to the Sufi poets, who have been tugging at my heart for years. Rilke mentions Persian place names in his Sonnet II #21: “Fountains and roses from Ispahan or Shiraz.” Shiraz, Polikoff points out, was the birthplace of the Sufi poet Hafiz. He goes on to write that Sufism “construes the heart…as the primary organ of the imagination.”

Rilke, this pilgrimage has taught me, is more than kin, more than that “tall tree in the ear.” He has revealed himself, through Polikoff’s superb reflections, as the angel of “heart work”—a prophet of my own poetic religion.

Note: The reference to Rilke’s sonnet in the German is taken from the Stephen Mitchell’s translation, New York: Simon and Shuster,1985. The translations of Rilke’s poems are by Polikoff.

Christmas Tree as Axis Mundi
Holiday Blessings
from the Muse

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Muse of Friendship

Musings on The Book of Now

[Cover Art by Bill Fulton]
There are times in a life when the threads of one’s tapestry are illuminated—one can see how one’s passions, obsessions and relationships are tied together. I had such a moment recently when I first held in my hands my friend Leah Shelleda’s beautiful anthology: The Book of Now: Poetry for the Rising Tide. The back of the book describes the contents: “Seven lyrical women poets, each accompanied by a study of their work…travel to the depths of the psyche, experience exile, rhapsodize on the beauty of our planet…write courageously about what threatens us: climate change, war, mountain–top removal, loss of species…” I am privileged to be one of them.

Leah and I have been friends and poetry buddies for over forty years. We met in an authentic movement class. What’s that, you wonder? It is an expressive art, a form of active imagination, a practice in which body and psyche are free to explore inner and outer worlds, to play with music, images, limits and wild permissions. Back in the 70s I was breaking out of my conventional identity as a wife and mother. Authentic movement was a great liberation for one who longed to move, who had taken a bit of ballet and a bit of modern dance and always felt too womanly, too voluptuous for the straight and narrows of dance.

Leah and I met each other playing on the dance floor, and soon became muses for one another. Our passions and obsessions overlapped—feminism and the feminine, psyche and the underworld, the mystic and the mysteries, poetry and prophesy, art and culture, the natural world and the world of the ancients. We became one another’s first readers, editors, consultants on all things creative. We supported one another’s authentic movement in words. We nourished, critiqued, deepened, broadened and enlivened one another’s work, listened to each other’s life stories unfold, held each other during times of suffering and loss, celebrated each others loves and accomplishments. To find myself among the amazing poets whose work Leah has gathered here is at once a harvest and an offering to the storm gods—the gods of the rising tide.

In a short essay introducing each section Leah engages eloquently with each poet’s work. Some of these poets are well known to me—Jane Downs, Frances Hatfield, and of course Leah herself. Some of them I’ve never read before and they are a wonderful discovery.

Anita Endrezee writes a poem about the “drunk on Main Avenue” who dreams “of pintos the color of wine/and ice, and drums that speak the names/of wind.” This is a deep cry from the lost world, lost music, lost authentic dance of the Native American Shaman.

Anita Endrezze

Another poet—also new to me—is Dunya Mikhail. She too has lost a world. As Leah writes she has “witnessed dictatorship and war in Iraq…[She] is a witness- and a Courier.” Mikhail’s biting irony and plain speech are sharp tools to carve memorials to the unbearable. Her poem “The War Works Hard” begins with these lines:

How magnificent the war is!

How eager

and efficient

Dunya Mikhail

Crystal Good, who writes from West Virginia—Land of Coal and Mountain Removal—is also a discovery for me. Her plain speech and irony about the world that is being lost as she writes comes in a different idiom, but she writes in a striking and compelling voice.

Crystal Good

Her poem “Boom Boom” is devastating on the subject of devastation:

Them boys come back ‘round after all the damage

is done. After all her long hair is gone. They grin/admire

what’s left of her hips–just

checkin’ on you.

Frances Hatfield

Hatfield’s first published book
of poems, Rudiments of Flight

Frances Hatfield is a colleague of mine at the San Francisco Jung Institute. She writes gorgeous, mind bending poems out of worlds much like the ones I inhabit—myth, dream, the underworld, strange happenings in the process of “The Talking Cure”:

the locked gate to the forbidden

room gapes open

the snarls of the guard dogs

hang like icicles in the air…

I’ve admired Jane Downs’ poetry for years, and have written about it in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Perspectives. She can evoke the sensual world of Now, while at the same time invoking the mythic world of Forever. Takes my breath away:

Marie Dern and Jane Downs

Our tender mouths,

our tender arms,

How could

we know that beneath

us a god roams

with dirt

in his mouth

Jane and book artist Marie Dern are the founders of Red Berry Editions where they create beautiful, often handmade, books. Jane’s collection of prose poems, Adirondack Dream, is forthcoming.

Leah’s poems continue to amaze and delight me. She can leap about in all the strata of being. She is inspired by dreams, travel, family, myth, art—all the wonder and grief of a deeply lived life. She understands shape shifting; she knows metamorphosis from the inside out:
Leah Shelleda

I saw a woman born of a doe

I saw a woman step out of the body of a wolf

There is return

Here’s some of what I wrote about Leah’s beautiful book of poems After the Jug Was Broken:

Shelleda's poems play at the edge of the wild and the forbidden; they dive down to the depths, bringing up treasure from the collective unconscious and the wisdom traditions; they enchant, seduce and bless…

I was especially pleased that Leah chose my poem Where the Buffalo Roam to be in this anthology. That’s because it’s so weird—a vision of the lost world of the Native Americans that came to me while driving on Highway 24. It’s been a long process of breaking the taboos of the conventional mind for me to own my visions and ghosts. This liberation began in that authentic movement class where Leah and I met, and of course, in years of the subversive practices of Jungian analysis and reading and writing poetry. We’ll need our visions, our weird other worldly experiences, our fierce love for the worlds of Now and the worlds of Forever— where the ghost dancers still stamp and beat their drums—if we are to navigate the Rising Tide.

Where the Buffalo Roam

A sky herd of buffalo stampeded the moon—I saw it
driving on 24. The radio said

the shadow of earth would steal the moon—
our only moon—but I tell you

It was a thundering ghost herd of buffalo
that shouldered the moon out of her sky

The moon disappeared in her deerskin dress
The ghost dancers stamped and beat their drums

They chanted the world before Highway 24
when earth was home to the buffalo

when the people followed the dance
of the sun, when they knew each story of rock

each spirit of mountain, of tree
what flowered, what died, what came back

as the moon came back in her deerskin dress—
our only moon—

in her radiant light
I looked at the sky over 24

but the buffalo were gone…

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Muse of Politics Reborn

Reflections on the 2012 Election

Trouble is in the land; confusion all around…But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period in a way that [people], in some strange way, are responding. 
Martin Luther King

Before the recent election, during the long and rancorous campaign season, the Muse of my Politics was having conniption fits, anxiety attacks, paroxysms of fear about going backwards to the bad old days, when we were owned by the company store, our bodies controlled by The Man. The Muse of my Politics remembers the days of back alley abortions. It’s easy for Her to morph into a Lament, one of those grieving, keening women in black weeping for all we have lost.

My Muse of Lament could see it all clearly, how the promise of Obama’s election four years ago would be squandered, how we‘d lose Obamacare, Medicare, Social Security, Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Voting Rights, Abortion Rights, Minority Rights, Supreme Court seats, our chance to address Climate Change, to improve education, to reform immigration policy, to address the immense inequalities between the 1% and the 99%; She could foresee the loss of the great pragmatic spirit of America to rigid idealogues, see how we’d lose our souls, our shirts, our only Mother Earth.

In California She lamented how sad it would be when Governor Brown’s courageous Proposition 30—going against the “No Taxes” absolutism of the times—lost and the public schools my grandchildren attend, the high school in which my step-daughter does her devoted best to get young people talking and reading French, were slashed beyond viability.

O She of little faith. In the sweet glow of rebirth the Muse of My Politics laughs at Herself for so vastly underestimating:
The Youth Vote
The African American Vote
The Hispanic Vote
The Women’s Vote
The Rust Belt
The Democrat’s brilliant campaign
The storm-battered East Coast
The jubilant West Coast
Our common sense and sense of fairness—Our Selves!
Long lines for the 2012 Election

O we of little faith. In the sweet glow of victory we realize that we underestimated the enthusiasm for Obama, people’s determination to vote even if it meant standing in line for hours, the outrage about economic inequality, climate change denial, racial, sexist and homophobic nastiness, voter suppression, and the attempts to dismantle the New Deal and Obamacare. Now the sick will not be denied health insurance because they are sick. What’s health insurance for, if not to take care of the sick? My stepson can breathe relief that his daughter, who was born with a heart problem, will now continue to be covered. Ruth Bader Ginsberg can retire, can claim her well–earned peace and quiet. And Obama can become the great President we know him to be. 

In his election night speech the president said, “I have always believed that hope is that stubborn thing inside us that insists, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us so long as we have the courage to keep reaching, to keep working, to keep fighting.”

Barack Obama November 6, 2012

We did keep reaching, working, fighting. We did have hope. But though the pollster Nate Silver kept telling us, Obama would win, though we hoped he was right, we bit our nails and obsessed about the Electoral College. Why were we so fearful?? I think it is because we have been so traumatized. Our golden moment, four years ago—electing our first African American President—was shattered by what happened next. We were stunned by the utter intransigence of many Republicans, their refusal to work with the president in a time of terrifying economic crisis—their only goal to destroy him, which seems to me a kind of treason, a betrayal of the purposes of representative democracy. Al Sharpton made one of his searing remarks about those who don’t like the captain, so they kill him, are also bringing down the ship and everyone on board. The racist undertones were not lost on us. We were shocked by the Supreme Court's decision that said “Corporations are people,” by the empowering of the rich to buy even more political clout than they already have. Were we losing our democracy? The 2010 elections brought the climate change deniers, the women rights plunderers, the New Deal dismantlers to power in the House. We saw the possibility of losing everything we and our forebears had struggled for.

Dan, my son and I went to the Oakland Museum some weeks ago, to see the exhibit “1968.” We watched a film clip of Robert Kennedy’s casket being taken by train through the country, and everywhere there were crowds of mourners, of all races, all cultures—all devastated by the loss of the man they had hoped would be president. A young black man, watching with us, saw the tears in our eyes. He told us he was two when RFK was assassinated, but that he had been his hero. I saw the through line of legacy, from RFK and Martin Luther King—who had been assassinated a few months earlier to Obama, and prayed that Obama would have the chance to create his legacy, which is our legacy and that of our dead.

Image from RFK’s funeral train

It is my father’s legacy. He was an immigrant from Nazi Germany, who became a passionate American liberal and supporter of civil rights. 

It is the legacy of my ex-husband, my children’s father, who died a half year ago, praising Obama on his deathbed. He was a public health doctor, very politically engaged. He was concerned about voter suppression and dirty tricks. It’s so unfair that he didn’t live to glory in Obama’s reelection, but I think his spirit is dancing among us.

It is the Kennedy’s legacy—Jack, Bobby and Ted’s—especially Ted’s— since that brilliant and outspoken proponent of economic equality, Elizabeth Warren, just won his senate seat. Especially Bobby’s—he understood the civil rights movement as few politicians of his time did, and had the terrible task of telling a crowd in Indianapolis, on April 1968, about MLK’s assassination. This is part of what he said in that agonizing moment, just a few months before he too, was killed by a white man: 
For those of you who are black and are tempted to…be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My …favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote: 
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

It is Martin Luther King’s legacy—just before he was assassinated, he said:
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!
It is the legacy of my generation. We came of age in the 1960s, were gripped by the civil rights movement, by the women’s movement, by the expansive social and spiritual consciousness; we were traumatized by assassinations. It is the legacy of many I knew in India, when I was there with my first husband, who was the Peace Corps doctor in Hyderabad. I wrote about this time in The Sister from Below:

We opened our house…to Peace Corps volunteers. There was always someone sleeping on the floor, always several of us around the dining room table talking American politics, Indian politics, philosophies of life. We were there when Martin Luther King was assassinated. We were there when Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
India held us young Americans with curiosity and compassion and deep kindness. She mourned our fallen leaders with us. Sheela, who washed the floors every morning, and sat in the kitchen deftly removing rocks one by one from our daily rice, had lost three of her five children. She asked me about Rose Kennedy—how many sons had she lost. Three I told her—one by war, two by assassination. “Abah!” Three grown sons!” And she wept with me. She told me she had a photograph of JFK in her home, next to her photograph of Mahatma Gandhi. Now she would add photographs of RFK and MLK. (p. 100)

It is the legacy of Obama’s mother and father, of his Kenyan and his American ancestors. After his first election the Muse of my Politics came to me in the form of the ghost of his Hawaiian grandmother, the one who helped raise him and who died shortly before his election. She demanded a poem in her voice. Here it is, in honor of her legacy:
Image of Madelyn Dunham and
her grandson, Barack Obama

Madelyn Dunham, Passing On

A wind blows when we die
For each of us owns a wind
                         /Xan poem

I never knew I’d be wind, when I died—a warm wind
on my way home from the islands—a light breeze

off the lake—breath in my grandson’s lungs
as he speaks to the crowds on this—

his election night. Does he know this is me—
touching his face and the faces of those who never believed

they’d see the day. Who’d have thought I’d be breath
in the bodies of so many strangers; who’d have thought I’d be music,

sweet as the sound of the slack key guitar, or that I’d become
an ancestral spirit in the land where they know how to feed

the dead—they’re roasting four bulls, sixteen chickens,
some sheep and goats, to feast the one

who belongs to us all—to the Kenyan village
of his grandmother Sara, to the spirits of his father and mother, his black

and white grandfathers, to the ones who are laughing and crying in Grant Park.
In the land of the dead— nothing is over—we still wander, still worry

take pleasure, make trouble, demand our portion
of beer, of drumming, of dancing all night. I say to you living—

though I’ve drifted away, though I’m only a sigh—an ex–
halation—I can feel your whole world shift—

though I’m only the faraway sound
                    of a slack key guitar…
                                    (first published in New Millennium Writings)
Election Night

Note: I am grateful to Steve Zemmelman for the reference to RFK’s Indianapolis speech and the quotation from Aeschylus.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Citizen’s Dilemma: An Invitation

Aloria Weaver's Axis Mundi

Are you a troubled citizen, suffering from election anxiety? Are you experiencing violent mood swings in response to the news of the day? Are you having trouble holding on to your center, to the spirit of the depths in these rancorous and polarized times?

The San Francisco C.G. Jung Institute is taking on this difficult historical moment with a one-day event— The Citizen’s Dilemma in Divisive Times.

I hope you will join us on Oct. 27th from 10-4 to hear:

Thomas Singer: The Presidential Elections 2012: Surfing the Emotions and Complexes of the Collective Psyche

Richard Stein: Love in the Time of Cacaphony: An Introvert’s Guide to Political Extremism

Naomi Ruth Lowinsky: Clinging to the Axis Mundi: The Poetry of Politics

Richard Tarnas: Cosmos, Psyche and Polis: An Archetypal Astrological Perspective on Our Time

The Institute is located at: 2040 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94109. Additional information about the Oct. 27th program can be obtained at or (415) 771-8055.

If you can’t make it in person, you can hear the event as a webinar, presented by the Asheville Jung Center

For a preview of a poem I’ll be reading and discussing, check out "When I'm Gone" on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Muse of Politics

In this overwrought political season I have been musing about politics—what a devil it is, what a muse it is in my life and creative work. The power of the political to shape and destroy lives came into focus for me around two recent experiences: seeing the theater piece Party People at Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival this summer and hearing an interview with Seth Rosenfeld, the journalist author of Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and the Rise of Reagan.

Party People is a stunning piece of theater—a musical, multimedia drama using song, dance, hip hop, jazz, salsa, chant, rant, shouting, whispering, introspection, retrospection and video. In the beginning we meet two young creatives: Jimmy, engrossed in his Macbook Air is editing Malik’s video of former members of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords—a Puerto Rican nationalist organization. We see the video projected on the wall while in the stage area of this theatre-in-the-round actors portray the young revolutionaries with raised fists, slogans and guns. On video the former party members speak of the impossible conditions they were working to change—cockroach-infested apartments, terrible schools, hungry children, unavailable medical care. The Black Panthers provided free breakfasts to poor kids in Oakland. I remember this well—I had Panther kin. A close friend’s lover had been married to a Black Panther. They had two children—“Panther cubs.” My children played with them. I remember the pride with which their mother spoke of the breakfast program.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Invitation

Please join us in celebrating the publication of “Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way” event at the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco! This is a donor event. Anyone can become a donor. Your donation supports the Institute's work of the psyche, making it possible for people to have Jungian analysis through the low cost clinic, for candidates to be trained in analytical methods, for international students whose countries do not have Jung Institutes to study here, for public programs to be offered to the general population, including the programs of the Friends of the Institute and to ensure our international Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche continues to reach around the globe.

The Donor Event will be on Sunday afternoon, October 7, 2012, from 2-5 pm at the C. G. Jung Institute, 2040 Gough Street, San Francisco, CA 94109.

Three contributing analyst authors will read from their highly personal and unique stories: Karlyn Ward from Mill Valley, California; Chie Lee from West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and Jacqueline Gerson from Mexico City.

Chie Lee
Jacqueline Gerson
Karlyn Ward

Come join us and hear these powerful stories of three women from three countries whose lives were changed by the teachings of C. G. Jung.

For more information, contact Collin Eyre at 415-771-8055 extension 210 or e-mail Collin at to make a donation and reserve a seat at this exciting Donor Event.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Muse of Crater Lake

"Marked by Fire"
A Story of the Jungian Way in Geological Time

What does a “story of the Jungian way” have in common with a quiet lake in Southern Oregon? I find myself musing about this as I sit in a rocking chair on the terrace of Crater

Lake Lodge looking out at the mandala of Crater Lake—a jewel of a lake with constantly changing hues of blue—a mystery of a lake cupped in a rocky rim, without slopes down to its beaches, without streams bringing it water, without the look and feel of most lakes—and yet it is so lovely it takes one’s breath away.

What created this astounding beauty? The collapse of an enormous volcano: 7,700 years ago Mount Mazama erupted—blew its top—fell into itself leaving an enormous hole—a caldera. Mount Mazama was a powerful and sacred presence to the native peoples who lived in its vicinity—as imposing as Mount Shasta still is to this day. Its fall must have been a catastrophe for the world around it, for the people and the animals. There are Indian legends about the battle between the Chief of the Below World and the Chief of the Above World, which culminated in the fiery explosion of the Above World Mountain.

The origin of this magical lake required a later eruption, which created Wizard Island and sent lava to seal the bottom of the caldera. Because of this wizardry, thousands of years of snow and rain created the deepest lake in America, with the purest water in the world and the most amazing vicissitudes of blue.

In our human lives we have our own versions of this archetypal pattern—one world’s catastrophe is another world’s birth. An illness, a death, a wounding in love, a divorce, the loss of a homeland, a war, a financial disaster can be the catalyst that collapses our known world—it seems like the end of everything. We are in crisis, beside our selves, lost in the void, destitute, desperate, in agony, sick to death. We can’t imagine a future.

If we are lucky and mindful, if the gods are with us, a surprising turn of events may create a new space for our lives—a caldera for our deepest nature. What this enchanted lake has in common with many stories of the Jungian way are its fiery origins and the unexpected magic of its becoming. In the stories told by the contributors to “Marked by Fire” you can read many versions of this pattern of devastation and transformation.

As I rock and muse on the terrace of the beautifully renovated Lodge, I consider the fiery spirit of the political times we are in: bitterly divisive battles over the governance and future of America, destructive and dangerous firestorms lit by the climate change deniers, women’s rights repealers, New Deal destroyers, immigrant harassers, public education desecrators. American values I thought most of us shared are threatened; the earth itself is at risk.
What a relief from all the rancor and the rage it is to hang out with the spirit of the depths in this most American of institutions—a National Park. On this terrace there are at least 20 rocking chairs and people line up waiting for their turn to sit and rock and contemplate this mystery—the bowl of the sky touches the bowl of the lake and one feels held in a perfect circle, enraptured, enchanted.

The Muse of Crater Lake has many things to teach us. For example, it takes the craggy fire blasted walls of the world that was to cup the fluid waters of what dreams within us. What remains of the Old Chief of the Above reflects on itself in deep waters.
The soul of America can be seen in these waters that mingle ancient rains and snow falls with the latest arrivals. The spirit of America can be heard in the stories told by the ranger about the eccentric and fixated William Gladstone Steel, who saw the lake in 1885 and understood its spiritual power. He made it his life’s work to transform this sacred spot into a National Park. He was a gadfly on the body politic for 17 years before he achieved his goal. As the Park Ranger said to a little boy named Abraham, “You too can make your dreams come true.”

The muse of Crater Lake reminds us that the word caldera is Spanish for cauldron. In the heated cauldron of our own lives and in the geological life of the earth amazing changes are possible. A drive around the rim of the lake shows us many vantage points from which to marvel at how the old and the new, the hot and the cold can co-exist, how on a warm summer day you can still see banks of snow tucked in among the lava rock.

You can join your fellow Americans on bikes, in cars, on the trolley sent out by the Lodge, among those who need canes and those who are lithe and buff, to marvel at the cerulean lake, the azure lake, the baby blue lake, the turquoise lake, the deep indigo lake. You can hear a father tell his young son the story of the life and death of Mount Mazama and the genesis of Crater Lake, and ask, “Isn’t that crazy amazing?”

In the booklet, Crater Lake: The Story Behind the Scenery, put out by the National Parks about Crater Lake, from which I gleaned science, history and legend about this place, there is a dedication, “to all who find Nature not an adversary to conquer but a storehouse of infinite knowledge and experience linking man to all things past and present.“ If you change the word Nature to Human Nature you could say the same things about the human dimension we call the Jungian way, a worldview we need to cultivate in our dangerous times.

If you’d like to contemplate the geological story of a place that’s been profoundly “Marked by Fire,” I highly recommend a visit to Crater Lake. The Lodge is a lovely hotel right at the rim of the lake.

* * *

An Invitation
 October 7, 2012
2 - 5pm 

If you’d like to contemplate the human version of the story please become a donor and attend the “Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way” event at the C. G. Jung Institute of San Francisco! Your donation supports the Institute's work of the psyche, making it possible for people to have Jungian analysis through the low cost clinic, for candidates to be trained in analytical methods, for international students whose countries do not have Jung Institutes to study here, for public programs to be offered to the general population, including the programs of the Friends of the Institute and to ensure our international Jung Journal: Culture and Psyche continues to reach around the globe.

The Donor Event will be on Sunday afternoon, October 7, from 2-5 pm at the C.G. Jung Institute in San Francisco. Three contributing analyst authors will read from their highly personal and unique stories: Karlyn Ward from Mill Valley, California; Chie Lee from West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, and Jacqueline Gerson from Mexico City.

Come join us and hear these powerful stories of three women from three countries whose lives were changed by the teachings of C. G. Jung. For more information, contact Collin Eyre at 415-771-8055 extension 210 or e-mail Collin at to make a donation and reserve a seat at this exciting Donor Event.