Wednesday, December 26, 2007


(Banda Aceh, Indonesia, before and after tsunami 2004)

For the people who lived around the Mediterranean, whose name means "Middle of the Earth", that sea was THE sea. The sun rose in the east over that sea and set in the west. And since in those days the world had finite boundaries, and the sun was a living god, they wondered how he returned back to the east every dawn to begin his westward journey again. They decided he plunged into the western sea (an act they witnessed daily) and traveled at the buttom of the waters, in complete darkness, all night long to surface again in the east, having made a complete circuit.

Leviathans and other creatures of the unseen ocean bottoms would see the sun stream by each night in a reverse orbit from what we observed each day. This compelling image was borrowed by Jung millenia later to represent a psychological state of depression: "The sun going down, analogous to the loss of energy in a depression, is the necessary prelude to rebirth. Cleansed in the healing waters (the unconscious), the sun (ego-consciousness) lives again."

On December 26th, 2004, I was driving to meet my friend Cheryl, visiting from Portland, for dinner at Threadgill's. I arrived early and sat in my van listening to a fascinating interview on NPR with Thomas Moore, who had just written a book called Dark Nights of the Soul. He read aloud the following passages from his book:

"At one time or another, most people go through a period of sadness, trial, loss, frustration, or failure that is so disturbing and long-lasting that it can be called a dark night of the soul.

"If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.

"A dark night of the soul may feel amorphous, having no meaning, shape, or direction. It helps to have images for it and to know that people have gone through this experience and have survived it. The great stories and myths of many cultures also help by providing an imagination of human struggle that inspires and offers insight. One ancient story that sheds light on the dark night is the tale of the hero swallowed by a huge fish. The hero, or better, antihero – he is the victim of circumstances – simply sits in the bowels of the fish as it carries him through the water. Because the story is associated with the sun setting in the west and travelling underwater to the east to rise in the morning, this theme is sometimes called the ‘Night Sea Journey’. It is a cosmic passage taken as a metaphor for our own dark nights, when we are trapped in a mood or by external circumstances and can do little but sit and wait for liberation.

"Imagine that your dark mood, or the external source of your suffering, is a large, living container in which you are held captive. But this container is moving, getting somewhere, taking you to where you need to go. You may not like the situation you're in, but it would help if you imagined it constructively. Maybe at this very minute you are on a night sea journey of your own.

"Sometimes in your darkness you may sense that something is incubating in you or that you are being prepared for life. You are going somewhere, even though there are no external signs of progress. I have sat in therapy with many men and women who had no idea what was happening to them, as they felt pulled away from the joys of normal life. All they felt was bland, inarticulate confusion. Still, most were willing to sit with me, week after week, as slowly, meaning began to emerge. Some from the beginning had the slightest hint that something creative was at work.

"The whale's belly is, of course, a kind of womb. In your withdrawal from life and your uncertainty you are like an infant not yet born. The darkness is natural, one of the life processes. There may be some promise, the mere suggestion that life is going forward, even though you have no sense of where you are headed. It's a time of waiting and trusting. My attitude as a therapist in these situations is not to be anxious for a conclusion or even understanding. You have to sit with these things and in due time let them be revealed for what they are.

"You may be so influenced by the modern demand to make progress at all costs that you may not appreciate the value in backsliding. Yet, to regress in a certain way is to return to origins, to step back from the battle line of existence, to remember the gods and spirits and elements of nature, including your own pristine nature, the person you were at the beginning. You return to the womb of imagination so that your pregnancy can recycle. You are always being born, always dying to the day to find the restorative waters of night.

"The great Indian art theorist and theologian Ananda Coomaraswamy said, ‘No creature can attain a higher grade of nature without ceasing to exist’. In the dark night something of your makeup comes to an end – your ego, your self, your creativeness, your meaning. You may find in that darkness a key to your source, the larger soul that makes you who you are and holds the secrets of your existence. It is not enough to rely on the brilliance of your learning and intellect. You have to give yourself receptively to the transforming natural powers that remain mysteriously dark."

(SriLanka, Kalutara: Whirlpool as tsunami hits 2004)

At that time in my life, I had finally found a job after being out of work and at the end of my resources twice in two years. My disability was steadily, slowly increasing, and my social network was just as slowly and steadily eroding. In the year to come, I would lose the remaining members of my family of origin to sudden death, become entirely physically isolated, and begin two novels. In some way, I knew I was about to begin my own night sea journey.

Right before I got out of my van to go into the restaurant, the news came on. There was a brief item stating an underwater earthquake, then rated as an 8.1, had occurred in the ocean "north of Australia". They stated minimal damage was reported or expected, and went immediately on to the next item. But I felt a chill strike at my very core, a chill that would not subside -- I thought "No, this is IT." I have some kind of sixth sense about earthquakes.

I went in to eat with Cheryl and have an extraordinary conversation and connection with her. But this is typical for us. During that talk, I mentioned the underwater earthquake and commented on the synchronicity of it with the night sea journey ideas I had just encountered.

When the news reports began trickling in the next day, the chill and grief in me grew about what was happening on the other side of the world, until I thought perhaps I could not bear it. On December 28th, unable to do anything else but pray, and driven to rage and grief by Bush's indifferent response, I considered again the meaning of bearing witness.

(Woman in grief after tsunami 2004)

The ability to bear full witness is one that I possess and carefully nurture. I made the decision to try to bear witness here, as much as is possible given that I cannot travel to Asia. I went on line and searched for first-hand accounts and, in particular, photographs and video of what was really going on in Sumatra, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, and other places. Over the next several days, I spent hours each day looking full at the dead and dying, the bereft, the scenes of destruction, and letting rise up in me all the feelings that came. Instead of "numbing out", I became even more sensitized and compassionate.

(Zulkifli Mohamad Nor, who lost five of his seven children in Pasir Panjang after tsunami 2004)

When I discussed my actions with a few people, they were either shocked -- "I could never do that, it's hard enough as it is" -- or not sure it was a good idea for me, given all that I was contending with in my own life. But, my loves, there is no limit to the potential for human connection. And perspective is everything.

It was also some relief to see that people around the world, but especially here, were choosing to stay connected to Asia however they are able, to give and care. I have a hunch that some of what Americans were feeling was a chance to, at last, connect with the larger world in a non-judgmental way, without their impulse being manipulated by Republican lies or being deemed unpatriotic. A process we started after 9/11 but then had aborted by Bush.

(Mullaitivu, Sumatra after tsunami: Woman who lost her two children)

By the end of 2006, patterns in response to the tsunami devastation were coming clear. America's governmental assistance was shameful, although individuals and groups within the U.S. were far more generous. The most significant contributions came from Europe, as nations, as individual, and from the EU. Asian and Muslim nations also excelled in their humanitarianism.

Below is a table showing funds pledged by the governments of developed countries for tsunami relief (as of September 30th 2005), reflecting per capita contribution -- how much was given per member of that nation's population. You'll have to scroll down to #20 to find the U.S.

Rank Countries Amount (top to bottom)
#1 Kuwait: 42.808 per 1 population
#2 Norway: 38.167 per 1 population
#3 Qatar: 28.967 per 1 population
#4 Luxembourg: 23.476 per 1 population
#5 Australia: 21.453 per 1 population
#6 Netherlands: 19.016 per 1 population
#7 Denmark: 14.175 per 1 population
#8 Finland: 12.502 per 1 population
#9 New Zealand: 11.896 per 1 population
#10 Canada: 10.515 per 1 population
#11 Sweden: 8.02 per 1 population
#12 Austria: 7.985 per 1 population
#13 United Arab Emirates: 7.803 per 1 population
#14 Germany: 7.691 per 1 population
#15 France: 7.32 per 1 population
#16 Ireland: 6.504 per 1 population
#17 Japan: 3.924 per 1 population
#18 Switzerland: 3.872 per 1 population
#19 Belgium: 3.281 per 1 population
#20 United States: 3.05 per 1 population
#21 Bahrain: 2.906 per 1 population
#22 Italy: 2.392 per 1 population
#23 Taiwan: 2.195 per 1 population
#24 United Kingdom: 1.588 per 1 population
#25 Greece: 1.406 per 1 population
#26 Portugal: 1.23 per 1 population
#27 Saudi Arabia: 1.136 per 1 population
#28 Hong Kong: 0.929 per 1 population
#29 Czech Republic: 0.879 per 1 population
#30 Singapore: 0.7 per 1 population

It seems likely to me that the Bush administration's reluctance to spend money is related not just to the fact that it was non-oil-producing, non-white nations primarily affected, but that the majority of those affected are Muslim. It's hard to imagine they would have been as disinterested if it had been white Christian populations who lost hundreds of thousands of lives. On the most direct personal level, George and Laura Bush, millionaires, gave only $10,000 to tsunami relief. I would cry "shame" but Dubya is incapable of comprehending the term.

On a strictly temporal level, our national night sea journey has another year to go. But I can feel the water beginning to warm, and a hint of light is starting to percolate down to us. Stay open, stay strong, and let's all stick together. Clean-up may feel endless but it never is, not once you stop making a mess in the first place.

(Candlelight service in Phuket, Thailand after tsunami 2004)


letsdance said...

You are a spiritual crusader, Maggie. To look into the face of death and destruction, to keep your heart open, to speak the truth to power is a blessing to the world. Thank you.

You are so politically aware, I thought you might be interested in checking out a book and some info I read while visiting my parents for Christmas. Here is a link:

My parents are very conservative so I was reluctant to read the book. It was not immediately apparent to me how conservative the author is....however, she may be speaking a truth the world needs to hear. I would be interested in your opinion, Maggie.

Maggie Jochild said...

Jan, the principles of the book you mentioned are readily available at the website, which I actually encourage people to NOT visit because it contains hate speech, ethnic and racist hate.

There is no such thing as islamofascism. It's a made-up term used by the extreme Christian right to scare people, take their money and their civil rights, while working to install a genuine religious-based fascism in THIS country.

There is only one government which has waged war in the name of religious ideology in the last seven years, and that is the Christian administration of Dubya. We are far more peril, as a nation and as a world, from the "Christofascists" than any other group.

Fundamentalism of any religion seeks to destroy modernity, minority rights, habeas corpus, freedom of expression, and the separation of church and state. The folks at American Congress for Truth actively seek to overthrow the U.S. Constitution.

Read Orcinus and the sources they quote if you want real information.

feminista said...

Hi there,
I'll be posting my comments on Ginny Bates after I'm back on my and have my editor's and fact checker's notes at hand.

Maggie Jochild said...

Looking forward to it, Feminista, your insights are delicious. And, once again, you're free to leave them on the website if you want, I don't think it will hinder anybody and might give others permission to comment about the novel itself. Up to you and your comfort level, hon. -- Maggie