I was born to understand the gift of “and.” It is an idea that changes a generation; that holds back the king tide of othering in all its forms; that expands an already proffered collaboration; that fosters cooperation between, within, and across species; that serves the good of the whole while sustaining and fostering unique expression.
“Both/and,” while a conceptual improvement on “either/or,” remains problematic because it emphasizes two – both – and may create further support for separation unintentionally, even though its intended goal is deepening connection.
The pull of the dyadic bond is powerful, and sociologist Georg Simmel considered the dyad the strongest and most enduring of all social relationships. Whether “either you or me” or “both you and me,” these constructs still constrain what is possible: they put a coda on belonging and on otherwise infinite inclusion. That is why cultures spend so much energy controlling a married couple to ensure they stay accountable to the broader community, the common good.
The value and limits of individuation…
There is an important value to individuation, which is not to be underestimated and ultimately enriches the whole. In the expression of the unique, the whole comes to know and appreciate itself fully. It is my personal belief that this process of venturing out and returning to the whole is endless – quite literally infinite. It seems to me that our goal in life – perhaps the goal of life – is to permit unique self expression without diminishing that which is not part of that expression. Without othering.
Unlike either/or and both/and, “And…” has no such flaws. It does not limit, compare, exclude, end. It allows unlimited expansion without ever going beyond All That Is. It adds configurations to the already possible, to the already present but unexpressed in other examples of personal and shared consciousness. How many words can you make out of seven letters? How many worlds can you make out of trillions of components, whether or not some elements are materialized, while others remain in the domain of the potential?
“And” is a way of saying “Oh, here’s one more! I hadn’t thought of that until just this moment! “
The power of and…
And: nothing that existed before is diminished or destroyed.
And: Nothing is taken away from anything or anyone else: no Peter is robbed to pay Paul.
And: No loss of space is required to make more of – anything!
And is contributive And is limitless And permits a continually expanding world and worldview And is open ended; just like the ampersand, just like the musical clef, the sound on which all creation travels
Infinity is implicit in the shape of the ampersand: instead of a closed loop, its ends are open and welcoming to the as-yet unexpressed, to surprise, whether positive, negative, or neutral.
Today was full of surprise for me. The specific content does not matter, but the act of individuated self-expression does, whether mine or another’s. Perhaps you, too, will play with surprise and contribute to the undifferentiated whole in your own unique way. See how far you can go with “And…” How far can you go, adding without subtracting anything from anyone else? What a playful, wonderful challenge!
20 February 2023. Lately, I have been working on my own “theory of everything” (often called My Big TOE), a simplified formula that could satisfy my curiosity as a metaphysician about the nature of reality. I am not an astrophysicist, yet I wish to honor the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. It can, however, be changed from one form to another. My developing notion has something to do with an expansive universe in which anything and everything is possible through the collaboration of all units of consciousness and energy, regardless of form. While working on this new material I came across an old blog post here from 2014 that seemed to hint at where I am heading with this many years later. I am posting the earlier one again now, while I continue to ruminate on the larger question. Perhaps, one day soon, I will arrive at greater clarity.
The search for world peace is ultimately based on a relentless yearning for the Singularity, the remembrance of complete synchrony in that moment just before all remembrance fades into oblivion.
Singularity is the siren’s sound that calls us home for dinner: home for alignment and attunement; home for repair and renewal of the universal heart of being. The universal heart is the synchronized breath of All That Is in unbroken, undifferentiated resonance.
The movement towards singularity is heralded by sound, that one long note held together exquisitely for a moment that can last a day or a million years. That note, that moment of complete synchrony is always followed by silence, by completion and the recognition that there is nothing more to be said or done, there is nothing misunderstood. It is the sigh of lovers spent after the deepest of embraces.
As soon as the piercing, universe-wrenching sound announcing the imminent fall into nothingness occurs, there is a moment of shimmering into silence, into the singularity of dark matter and soundless, teeming potentiality. In our terms, that moment can last a nanosecond or a trillion years, for in this place of being time has no meaning.
And then the cycle begins again: the breath, that single ray of light out of the darkness of singularity, when All That Is begins its next breath, its next inhale of expansion. Riding on the wings of sound, a ray of light emerges from the silence, the crushing silence of the singularity. There is thought, there is wondering. The “What if…?” of universal mind once again begins to differentiate within its undifferentiated Self. What beauty there is in that individualized expression, the unique blossom that can only twinkle and disappear!
The singularity differentiates itself partly because the search for that brief moment of synchrony just before the silence falls again is so exquisite, so unimaginably sweet, that we would separate again just for the pleasure of “making up,” of finding unmatched harmony, synchrony, and resonance in light structures, finding and returning to the brief moment of holding the breath of all potential being, between the cycle of inhaling and exhaling, the cycle of expansion and contraction, before the light goes out again into the deafening silence of the Singularity.
That moment is the song of the thorn bird, the sound it makes impaled and dying, the sound of having known life outside the inevitable and continuing Singularity; a life that clearly is, and yet ultimately can no longer be an individuated unique being. Its song of sorrow and beauty and pain makes the heart of All That Is, of the Singularity, weep with emotion it otherwise could never know except through the wail of the dying bird that feels alone, abandoned, and apart. But it is not….
The siren’s song is enough to make the ONE breathe again, and so another ray of light emerges from the darkness of the singularity that was completely and fully spent, enough to make it endure upheaval and war and disaster and extraordinary discoveries of the mind and heart, as each attempts to become its unique expression apart from the whole.
Then one more time, endlessly, just to experience the moment of resonance again, just for the beauty of the impaled thorn bird, just before the light and sound go out into nothingness, into All That Is, the universe lets out a loud and powerful wail, a song before dying into eternal being.
And so it goes, the cycle continues…
a million years
a billion years
a trillion years
Waiting to exhale….
[Thoughts upon waking, written by Helen on 26 February 2011. These thoughts followed and are related to a long conversation with a dear friend in Europe, Rachna in ‘t Veld, whose own poem triggered my musings.] Photo by Dawn Botha on Pinterest.
The last time I visited the Pacific Northwest before this past May, I witnessed a most disturbing event. These were pre-COVID days and the Trump presidency was in full swing. My partner and I were having lunch at what appeared to be a sweet little restaurant on the way to or from our vacation destination in the region. Having had some unpleasant experiences in Oregon in the 1990s I was thrilled and relieved at this newfound openness to us – an interracial gay couple – in this tiny town where no one looked even remotely like us. Apparently we happened to be there on a Saturday morning when the local Elks or veteran’s group was holding its monthly meeting. The owner gave us a heads up about this gathering, which I thought a bit unusual, but his comment was duly noted and I remained, as usual, on my best behavior.
The food was delicious and we were pleased with our meals and the warm reception. The men – yes, all of the customers that morning were men except for the server – seemed accepting and also a bit curious about us; perhaps this would become a teaching/learning moment. My partner and I were polite and gracious, appreciative of the food, interested in their sweet, off-the-beaten-track location, and their lives.
About forty-five minutes into our time there a young family approached to get gas, use the restroom, and order something to eat. This was a young Muslim family with a small child and little or no accent, but the wife was wearing a hijab, the now globally recognized head covering. Suddenly the business owner, who had been grilling meat outside in front of our window, went on a rampage and told this family to get out! They never even made it to the front door, being physically chased away while the husband was explaining in perfect English that they just wanted to stop briefly before moving on. I will never know if, had they remained in their car and purchased only gas, this scenario might have been different. I do know that I witnessed horror that day, a horror that felt even worse because I knew too well what they were enduring and yet had somehow escaped being the target of this unconscionable attack – this time. No longer living in the 1940s and 50s South, Western and Northern New England, or certain mid-Atlantic states where I was the target, I had actually benefited from being somehow not quite as “Other” as the woman in the hijab and that made me sad. Survivor’s guilt, perhaps? Compassion?
I was shattered, realizing that not much had really changed after all. The locals had simply shifted their vitriol from us to some new perceived threat that had kicked us one notch up from the very bottom of the pecking order, the untouchables.
Three years later, after the end of strict COVID lockdowns and near the end of the Trump presidency, I found myself in Oregon once more, visiting a dear friend on the way to Olympic National Park in adjacent Washington state. Through a series of unforeseen circumstances I ended up in the acute care wing of a preëminent Portland hospital for twelve days.
During my entire hospital stay I was treated with dignity and compassion. People up and down the medical hierarchy saw me, spoke directly with me, and engaged me as a fully functional human being. One of the physicians had apparently done some checking up on me and realized that I had a PhD even though all I looked like now was a broken old woman with a new titanium shoulder. That education factor may have helped considerably.
One young woman worked in food service and regularly delivered meals to my room. She wore a hijab, and I noticed that she would literally slink into the room if others were around and place my tray silently on the bedside table, careful to make herself as invisible as possible, folded over into almost half her normal height, covered so that it was almost impossible to see her face or body.
While in the hospital I made a concerted effort to learn and remember the names of people who waited on me in various roles. One day, toward the end of my time there, this young woman came in when no one else was in the room and I asked her name. She said her name was Asma.
The next day she returned with a meal and I thanked her by name: “Thank you, Asma.” The day after that this young woman returned, wearing a different beautiful hijab, standing tall. She was composed, educated, and smart. She was no wilting lily. When I thanked her by name again she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Thank you for remembering my name.” I smiled back and replied, “Thank you for remembering my meal.”
Those moments with Asma marked me. I see her in my mind’s eye and remember that young couple being treated so brutally before my eyes a few years earlier. I see her declaring that she will be herself, fully Asma, from now on. While it was touch-and-go medically for me in the hospital, it is recalling moments like these that remind me how glad I am to still be alive. Thank you, Asma, for helping me remember my name.
Oregon has not always been an easy place for me. As a black woman, I have felt unwelcome and even afraid for my life in years past as I drove through rural areas of northern California and Oregon. I was clearly an outsider, clearly an “other.”
Not any more. Three weeks ago, on my birthday, no less, I tripped and broke my shoulder, smashing it to smithereens. That fall shifted everything I thought I knew about Oregon from my personal experience, supported by recent negative news relating to the rise of the radical right and weeks of protests and counter-protests in downtown Portland. Initially planning to spend a couple of days with a friend who retired and moved there, following which we’d head northwest together, I did not make it to Olympic National Park again this year. But the trip I did take, the emotional shift that occurred during those two unplanned weeks in Portland, was nothing short of Olympian.
Hopefully, and following a series of most remarkable encounters with a steady stream of Portland locals, I will never again judge the whole by the part at any given moment in time. At the height of ugly national and local discord, I was shored up, even embraced, by person after person across various racial, ideological, and cultural spectra on my way to a reverse total shoulder replacement. When it was all over much more than my shoulder had been replaced: old wounds, even childhood memories were reamed, amputated, reversed, and eventually replaced to serve me in new ways. I did not make up these words for dramatic effect: they came verbatim from the surgeon’s detailed and graphic dictation of the medical procedure he used to replace my shoulder.
The Bionic Body: Rebuilt and Reframed
I am now a bionic woman. I embody in my very being the fusion of organic and inorganic substances that work together to provide me with new possibilities, just as they have worked together for billions of years to provide this special planet with the same. With hope. With endless exploration. With curiosity. With wonder. With inventiveness. While we humans fight endlessly over skin tone, eye shape or color, relative brain size, and ranking on the phylogenetic scale, the introduction of titanium into flesh makes it possible for me to type this statement on my non-human laptop a mere three weeks following surgery.
It is time to reframe everything we think we know
We love stratifying people, places, and things. We love determining what is conscious and what is not, what is intelligent and what is not, what is worthy and what is not. We love anthropomorphizing the universe. That is the old paradigm. And yet elements as alien to flesh as titanium and zinc and copper work together seamlessly inside this very human form to assist in its expression of ideas, emotion, and values, which may be ineffable but in no way artificial.
Our global family could use a little reaming, amputating, and replacing worn-out concepts and absurd divisions. While I would not wish what I have gone through over these past few weeks on my worst enemy, even now I am compelled to find gratitude for a most unexpected experience. What I could not accomplish incrementally over decades of inner and outer work was reframed in an accident in a most ordinary setting.
Should We Be Afraid? I Think Not.
I have read a lot lately regarding the possibility and fear that artificial intelligence will supersede human intelligence. What I wonder now is whether artificial intelligence will accomplish what we have been unable to do so far and recognize the interconnectedness of all things. ALL things. I wonder whether AI will ultimately outstrip human beings in qualities like compassion and ethical behavior because these values make imminent good sense. Logical sense. After all, logic is the foundation and language of AI.
For now, let us give the artificial a try. In the long run, it may teach us a thing or two about the interdependence of all forms of life and consciousness, organic and other. It may take us one step closer to understanding the underlying blueprint of literally All That Is: connected, collaborative, imaginative, filled with endless possibility. I think I could come to like that picture and trust I will find the perfect frame in which to place it!
I am honored to be invited to speak again, along with co-panelist Prasad Kaipa, executive leadership coach and well-respected author of From Smart to Wise, for a ConnectIONS Live! event on Friday, 24 June 2022. That’s tomorrow in the U.S. at 11AM Pacific, 2PM Eastern, 8AM Hawaiian-Aleutian. The topic is “Cultivating Noetic Wisdom for Personal and Collective Good.” Hope you can make it; however, if you cannot, but register in advance, you will receive the recording afterward. This is another in a series of IONS’ free weekly webinars.
In July 2016 I was invited to tape a segment for a Japanese television program, during which I was to surprise the series star who was visiting Honolulu with a psychic reading. The event was arranged by local event coordinator Fumiko Sato through Sedona Hawaii and business owner Malia Johnson, for whom I have worked part-time as an intuitive for several years. Initially intended to be a light and “fluffy” segment for Japanese television, the session turned into a free-for-all, during which I ended up reading for several members of the cast and crew. Filmed in Kapiʻolani Park across from the Kaimana Beach Hotel, we had a rollicking good time! Our interpreter, Sachiko Hosokawa, does not appear on camera but was right there with us the entire time. Sachiko also works as an excellent interpreter for Japanese clients who visit Sedona. You can see us all looking her way for simultaneous translations. While the segment is naturally in Japanese, you will be able to hear much of what I am telling the cast in English. Enjoy, and if you understand Japanese and can catch the entire show, so much the better! Fun afternoon….
Helen spoke on the subject of “Time Applied” at the California Seth Conference on April 2, 2022, and how we can thrive using the experience of linear time in daily life. Topics include simply reveling in being in a physical body, exploring recurring social and psychological themes, understanding interconnected personalities in various historical moments, and seeding change to achieve what Jane Roberts and Seth term “value fulfillment.” The conference was streamed on the conference’s YouTube channel with live questions following the presentation. Here is a link to that presentation and the Q&A period immediately following. When you have finished watching Helen’s talk, be sure to stick around and watch the other speaker presentations as well! California Seth Conference did a great job of connecting Jane/Rob/Seth readers from all over the world, each of whom experienced the event from different time zones and even on different dates – synchronously and seamlessly!
I was reminded recently that not everything can be fixed.
Not everything can be fixed by me. Alone.
I cannot solve world poverty. I cannot prevent or resolve childhood sexual trauma. I cannot absolve or rehabilitate perpetrators. I cannot remove unethical politicians or governments. I cannot make personal or global family do my version of the right thing.
I cannot make the world safe for others; I have barely made it safe for myself.
Fixing the World
And yet, for a long time, I thought I could fix the world. I could fix anything!
Eventually, gradually, I have come to understand that I cannot fix, but I can make a difference, and I have. In small ways. Here and there. Here and now. In my little corner of the world.
Making a difference is not the same as fixing anything or anyone, including myself. “Fixing” leaves no room for grace or for the agency of others in our shared reality. On the other hand, making a difference is easy by comparison: simply being in the world is enough. Fully being.
There is no getting around it; the world would be different without me. No one else replaces me; no one else can replace me. It is time for me to claim this fundamental fact, no more and no less, whether or not I do or “accomplish” anything. I am not diminished because I am no longer a fixer. Being a “be-er” is fine.
Sometimes it is hard to just be. It is hard to just be in the now. Past memories persist, past wounds persist, past regrets persist, past limitations persist. Tucked away in the cedar chest of my mind, limitations remain. But there is something else in there as well: unclaimed possibilities. Paths not taken. Decisions not made. Joy not acknowledged. Happiness forgotten.
Limits vs. Limitations
Some days I open my smooth chest of past limitations intentionally. Most often, however, it flings open almost by itself or is triggered by another’s actions. When it does open, much more than limitations fly out, even if I do not notice right away. Forgotten possibilities spill out as well, gasping for air. There they are, waiting for their moment to be remembered, to offer delight once more.
I look at all the neatly folded memories, some of which are moth-eaten in spite of the cedar. Others have weathered the years well, still pristine and lovely, their intensity undiminished. Especially undiminished are those harsh memories, the ones with limitations. Still as alive as interminable hurt. Still capable of intense emotion. Are there memories of joy tucked away in those folds that are at least as intense as the pain? Always. I am learning to look for the joys, now more than ever.
When I finish rummaging through my cedar chest, this is what remains with me:
I live in a world that is jointly created. Others help me make my world, even if the vision was initially my own. As a result, distortions are inevitable because we are looking through many eyes and multiple overlapping visions.
Only through shared imaginings does change occur. Thus, in keeping with my desire for change, I have concluded that:
Some things are better left unsaid
Some things are better left alone
Some things are better left unfinished
Some things may never be fixed in my presence or my lifetime
Sometimes I can offer wisdom or emotional support or money or time
Sometimes the only thing I have to offer is a healthy self, which can only remain healthy if I step away from the fray
The gift of my body is that it tells me things about limits and limitations I cannot otherwise hear:
This is too much
This is toxic
I have gone too far
If I insist on pushing I will make myself sick; meanwhile, everyone else may be feeling just fine
“Here I Stand; I Can Do No Other…“
I am tired. I am sad. I am angry. I am disappointed. I cannot do or fix another thing. I must set limits. Unilaterally. I must give up expectations for others to change. Period. I must be gentle with myself if I find that I cannot change.
Being is sufficient. Change is not essential for me to experience joy. Hope is present and possible.
It is time for a nap. It is time for a walk. It is time to write. It is time to feed a wild bird. It is time to photograph a flower. It is time to look up at the sky and smile, thankful for my limits.
I am finally learning to stop calling limits limitations. These are not the same.
The World Will Take Care of Itself
Not everything is about me. I must leave a bit of the world to itself. Leave a bit of it to others to explore their own limits and possibilities in their own way. Even to explore their own limitations. With their own resources. I can listen with compassion and advocate on behalf of others, but I cannot be them or replace them or create their world. This does not mean I have a free pass to be complacent; I just no longer have to manage everything. The kids are all right; the world is all right. They just have to find their way. I will offer myself when and where I can. Together. Within limits. Without limitations.
As for me, as for now, it is time to relax and smile.
I have written and thought a lot about intuition over the years. The time has come to settle on the fundamentals – at least from my perspective. Neither philosopher nor mathematician, yet immersed in the subject of intuition every day, I have come to the following conclusions:
Consciousness simply is
All that exists is imbued with conscious, self-aware, energy
Each unit of energy is inviolate and experiences consciousness in some way, not only of itself as part of the whole, but also of allother components of the whole, no matter how large or small, similar or different
Consciousness projected outward in any manner or form requires the synchronous or asychronous collaboration of unfathomably complex components.
Intuition makes collaboration possible because it connects the parts to the whole of all that exists or might conceivably exist in or outside of time, space, and density
Intuition makes manifestation possible because the component parts must communicate and work together seamlessly to realize any potentiality in any material or non-material domain
Intuition is the universal language of the cosmos, understood and embraced by all forms of energy and awareness at every outpost of All That Is.
Intuition is not everything in and of itself, but nothingexpressed is possible without the presence and support of intuition.
The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) has graciously granted permission to post here the full video of my recent guest appearance on their ConnectIONS Live series on 20 August 2021. Enjoy the video below, and explore the other remarkable events and rigorous research underway at this global organization based in Northern California.
I became involved with IONS in the late 1990s and have watched them grow bold and strong as mainstream science increasingly explores and affirms what their research has been demonstrating for fifty years about the nature of consciousness.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” John Muir
Applied Intuition for Business and Life
In August 2021 I was a guest presenter for a webinar offered by the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Based in California, IONS was founded by astronaut Edgar Mitchell fifty years ago when he experienced a transcendent moment viewing the earth while returning from the moon. My original plan for the webinar was to offer a suite of intuitive tips and techniques to serve as useful, ethical tools for the conscious business leader. But a question arose during preparation for the talk that took me far afield from the topic at hand into what I hope is more than an imaginative flight of fancy: “What is the source of intuition?”
What is intuition and where does it come from?
My immediate, direct, hopefully modest, and absolutely truthful answer to the question is, “I don’t know.” I am neither physicist nor philosopher and stake no claim in these exalted realms. I cannot even begin to know what I do not know.
That being said, I am compelled to venture into the unknown and uncertain, borrowing a line from a television commercial aired by Farmer’s Insurance: “I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two.” Based on my deeply personal experience, I am going to jump out on a limb and assert the following about intuition and its role in consciousness:
all consciousness is aware of itself and also of all other components of the whole – of literally all that exists –
in any form or dimension, material and non-material
instantaneously at “space-like distances”
within and outside the experience of time and space
consciousness, by its very nature, is collaborative
(and here’s the kicker for my particular purposes) intuition makes collaboration possible between undifferentiated and differentiated parts of the whole.
intuition is present at the beginning and nothing could be expressed without it. The question isn’t so much, “Where does intuition come from?” but rather, “What could possibly emerge or emanate from the whole, the singularity, without intention and intuition joining together as its propelling force?”
Intuition is the perennial partner of creation, large and small
I like to sum up the beginning of all creation using one decidedly non-technical term: “Hmmmmmmm….” Curiosity makes things appear. Thankfully, I do not have the burden of proving this mathematically.
When undifferentiated consciousness began to explore itself and its potentialities, in my view it was curiosity that started it all, or what Alison Gopnik calls “primal wonder.” (Thanks for the pointer, Thomas J. Jackson!) While she focused on the awe she saw in infants and children, I think such a term could describe with uncharacteristic simplicity the moment when the undifferentiated becomes differentiated, relying on the collaboration of interconnected portions of itself to go out and play with other portions and bring back all they learned to the whole. Starlings flying in breathtaking synchrony is the closest image that comes to mind from the physical world, or the mycelium network of fungi described by mycologist and Star Trek Discovery muse Paul Stamets. Whether that playfulness is starting an entire galaxy or a business on this tiny blue planet, all projects begin with collaborative consciousness. The difference between them may be a difference of magnitude rather than mechanics.
In my worldview, intuition is embedded in the very nature of consciousness itself and supports the emanation from the “no thing” to the anything. Classical physics describes energy as “the force that makes things move,” or “the ability to do work or cause change.” I am claiming that intuition is the force that makes things and non-things move in response to curiosity and wonder; it is the mover and shaker of all that exists into continuous, differentiated expression. Galaxies and companies are able to move through the use of this creative force.
By its very nature, intuition never ceases and change never ceases, even when any particular thing is perceived to be in stasis. Embedded in that apparent stasis must exist the constant holding together as well as the potentiality to move again towards yet another destination or quality of being. This holding and moving requires collaboration. Collaboration is going on at every level, whether or not we are conscious of that action. Furthermore, from my lay person’s understanding, it takes the constant motion of smaller and smaller, but measurable units of energy to make a material thing maintain its static form in the cacophony and chaos of motion within and all around it. I cannot say with any certainty that intuition is the whole of consciousness, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the whole of consciousness communicates to itself in whole or in part through the language of intuition.
The Importance of Framing the question
Back to IONS. I seemed to be dreaming with great intensity in the days leading up to the webinar. I woke up on the morning of the event with the realization that for years we have framed the question backwards. The question isn’t, “What or where does intuition come from?” but rather, “What comes from intuition?” In a sudden burst of clarity, the answer exploded in my mind: “Everything!! Everything we experience, including joy and horror, derives from units of consciousness freely and collaboratively giving expression to every material and non-material potentiality imaginable, to curiosity and wonder. Whatever we ultimately understand those units of consciousness to be, no individuated thing or reality could exist without the decision of every infinitesimally small unit of consciousness agreeing to join together in such a way as to give form to the thought of that thing and its desire and intention to be expressed in the material world. The same is true for dreams, emotions, light, colors, unexpressed probabilities, yearnings, and non-material “things.” Without intuition, nothing would escape the dense and infinite void of the singularity. To reiterate: I am offering intuitive conjecture here, not proof.
Intuition is that capacity of consciousness to understand, communicate, and connect the parts to the whole of creation. Intuition permits individuation and emanation from the formless whole. It renders possible the co-creation of our bodies, our minds, our worlds, and our infinite potentiality.
Collaboration, even among enemies
Individuation requires collaboration. Experience requires collaboration. Period. Emergence from the void of an undifferentiated All That Exists could not occur without the joining of unfathomable units of consciousness mutating on the fly and transforming themselves into – or at least into the appearance of – form. Animal, vegetable, mineral, thought, emotion, dream, intention – all require various units of ineffable, indescribable, perhaps unknowable energy jumping on the same train of intention at the same “time” to create a differentiated and identifiable “event.” For war to happen both parties have to agree. For peace to happen both parties have to agree. For battles in the workplace to happen both parties have to agree – on some conscious or unconscious level.
Without intuition’s linking all forms of consciousness and knowing which units to gather for some stated purpose in some probable moment of experienced time and space, the act of making would be impossible. Personally, I prefer to use the term “realm” instead of time and space because those terms carry with them so much anthropomorphic and three-dimensional meaning. For our purposes here, space and even spacetime are probably limited. Somehow all components and outposts of literally all that is – or could ever be! – must communicate seamlessly, effortlessly, and simultaneously outside of space and time to make emanation into our experience of space and time possible.
A glass of water
We think of collaboration easily on macro levels: nation states and cultural groups loving, hating, thriving, surviving together against all odds: friends and enemies, us and them. What is most extraordinary, however, is the infinite complexity and coordination required to accomplish even the most mundane of daily tasks. In these small actions – lifting a glass of water – lies the all-encompassing, ideologically neutral cooperation that permits the physical world as we know it to exist and persist throughout our experience of time. Given the scope of current formulations about the nature and behaviors expressed within a multiverse, even our little blue planet’s circumnavigating the sun is a relatively small action by comparison.
During the IONS webinar I used lifting the glass of water I placed beside my laptop as an example of collaboration, mentioning principally the cooperation of the cells of my body to do the lifting and drinking without lapsing into a coughing fit in the middle of a presentation or spilling water all over my keyboard. But there was so much more to that simple act than met the eye!
The particular glass I raised – my favorite – was manufactured in France. I like that glass because it is thick and angular and comes with a lid to keep beverages from spilling and damaging the sensitive electronic equipment on my desk. It is my go-to glass for staying hydrated during virtual conversations.
But that glass is not mine; it belongs to my partner. When I moved to Hawaii from California a decade ago I brought very few household objects with me. Instead, I held a colossal yard sale and sold or gave away everything that was not nailed down. In my former home in Santa Rosa I, too, owned a glass exactly like the one I raised during the intuition webinar. But alas, it was left behind.
Both my Asian American partner and I spent many years living abroad as children and adults; we share similar sensibilities when it comes to many household items, having been raised as what D. Pollock and R. Van Reken call “third culture kids.” When we met again after a thirty-seven year absence, we had each purchased the same French glass during the interim and she just happened to have hers still, purchased here in Honolulu. That is the glass I raised during that Friday morning webinar.
Now I want to take that simple example of the water glass one step further. Hawaii is a small island in the middle of a vast ocean thousands of miles from any mainland, an island never colonized by the French and thousands of miles from Europe. Some manufacturer or distributor in France – or perhaps New York or San Francisco – had to decide that there just might be an interest in a thick, geometrically-shaped French glass with its own lid on this tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, perhaps because it is a destination for tourists and settlers of all races and ethnicities. Someone figured it was worth the time, money and effort to ship a few of these glasses here; that there were individuals like my partner, who is not French, who would buy French water glasses; and that “of all the juke joints in all the world” (thanks, Bogey), she would find someone like this African American woman who would appreciate these glasses and use them with the same appreciation she held for their craftsmanship. This glass, this morning, for this webinar during which I mentioned as part of my presentation a deep connection to French language and culture. I chose that example on the flyand seemingly at random out of so many others I might have chosen as an example of collaboration! I had no inkling in advance that I would need such an example.
Oh, and don’t let me get started on the collaboration between the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in that glass of water that agreed to quench my thirst rather than blow me up in the middle of a sentence! My head is spinning!
All of these apparently disparate factors conspired – collaborated with a precision that would put a Swiss timepiece to shame! – so that I could sip and talk about a simple glass of water. No wonder I have easily adopted an aphorism at the heart of the Seth material produced by Jane Roberts and Robert Butts: “The universe leans in your direction.” I don’t know how this happens theoretically or mathematically, but my direct, persistent, and consistent experience can surely attest to the power and credibility of such a declaration.
While we are busy focusing on the disruptions and lack of global collaboration in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, and political and economic turmoil in every corner of the globe, we are completely ignoring the simultaneous unimaginable collaboration that brought us to the same synchronous moment across dates and times and geographical boundaries to talk about intuition for an IONS webinar on consciousness. Some of us were not even attending on the same date from our idiosyncratic geographical locations and yet we were all there, right on time! Can you imagine what it must be like to hold the totality of all that is and ever could be expressed in its undifferentiated form in the singularity of a fully aware consciousness? Nope. No way. Not even close. What I do know intuitively, however, is that there is so much more that joins us than separates us, and it is intuition that makes the joining possible, even when we are joining in battle. I do not know how I know, but I trust without a doubt that I do know… at least this.
The language of the cosmos
I am daring to assert that consciousness, by its very nature, is collaborative and that intuition is the language of the cosmos. The question is not, “What is the source of intuition?” The real question is, “Is there an experience that does not have intuition as its foundation, that does not have the jabbering between and among parts of the whole in order to be manifest?” Here is an excerpt from my earlier writing on the subject around 2003:
Intuition is a continuous signal from the environment – exterior or interior environment – that provides information about the nature of the world, the universe, or any of its component parts, of All That Exists, the whole.
It is as if the unified whole were held together by a matrix, a colossal membrane that conducts signals instantaneously to any outpost of literally all that is. It records the flapping of a butterfly’s wings, the travel of a photon, the heartbeat of lovers locked in ecstasy or battle, the rotation of suns and moons, the birth of stars and galaxies. Each particle, quantum, whatever that unit ultimately is determined to be, has its own signature and is aware of its own existence and the existence of all other units of the Whole. It does not matter whether these units are identified individually or collectively as they change form and expression; their identity is inviolate and known by all others.
Intuition is the non-verbal language of the soul of the cosmos. I call intuition language because its purpose is communication within, between, and among parts of the whole, whatever the parts look like, act like, or become.
It is intuition that holds the whole together, in unison and in perpetual motion like a flock of birds flying south for the winter, dipping, diving, turning in mind boggling synchrony, heading sometimes for a destination they have never seen, but know exists.
The knowing is intuition.
The pattern of flight is maintained through intuition.
The maneuvering is possible because of the shared language of intuition that calls out commands instantaneously.
The destination calls to them through intuition.
The sun and moon and weather talk to them and prepare them through intuition.
They arrive at their breeding ground or sanctuary, knowing it is time to land, where they rest and prepare for the next journey into the unknown, carrying with them at all times a deep trust that somewhere in the bosom of All That Is fulfillment awaits them.
Intuition is the call of the wild untamed heart, the raging river, and the precise movement of a sophisticated timepiece. It is consciousness itself, part of all that is, organic and inorganic, elemental, biological, emotional, divine. Intuition is the language of HOME.
Helen will be a guest at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) on Friday, 20 August 2021. The subject is business applications of intuition. Here’s the link to get more information about this free webinar:
I recently read Caste by Isabel Wilkerson for our local book club. Much of what she wrote about was not new to me: I have lived with caste my entire life and have become intimately familiar with its emotional and social ramifications. But seeing everything compiled and laid out in gruesome detail in one place – in Wilkerson’s book – broke me. It broke me the way Princeton professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. described being broken when he watched the interminably long and callous murder of George Floyd.
During our book group’s Zoom meeting the sudden swell of emotion surprised me when we began discussing Wilkerson’s “Eight Pillars of Caste.” We didn’t go into great detail or depth during that conversation, but two personal revelations bowled me over. The first was realizing the unfathomable privilege of my own experience; the second was grasping fully the extent of individualized violence that persists in the African American psyche in contemporary everyday life, over one hundred fifty years after formal emancipation.
As Wilkerson recited the endless horrors of the slavery experience, during which slaves had to pretend to be happy and perform for potential buyers while they were being publicly humiliated and prodded in every orifice and on every inch of their bodies, it struck me how that primal violence persists within our communities and our families to this day. This is an existential cruelty inflicted not only by others as expected – we are prepared for this our entire lives and flinch almost reflexively in anticipation of physical and verbal aggressions every moment of every day. In addition, there is that cruelty imposed by our own on our own and by us privately on the intimate self, even when no one else is around. We participate in the horror because we remain untouchables in perpetuity, regardless of any external accomplishments or distance from the auction block. Even those of us descended from freedmen – the never enslaved – carry the slavery framework because we find it necessary to distinguish ourselves from the others who were not free.
Mixed Messages: Color
Don’t get me wrong: we have our sayings, such as, “The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice.” But for the most part colorism in our community – shades of black and brown – still carries as its reference point our proximity to the violence of involuntary miscegenation. We do not honor those families which have maintained their own version of African purity and continue to be very dark. Rather, and paradoxically, we honor those who are most decidedly the result of race mixing across the generations: those with lighter skin. I still recall one of the light-skinned leaders of the Black Power movement declaring with pride that his white-looking girlfriend was indeed black, purring about how hard it was to tell and that he had to announce it so she would not be ostracized and would be welcomed into our activist company. This is another form of internalized violence that has remained largely unaddressed until quite recently.
The Violence Within
I began to make a mental list of what I had until now considered idiosyncratic quirks in my family of origin, only to discover in reading Caste the extent to which these behaviors were the direct result of our antecedent slavery past not only in my family but in others as well: • Obsessing about cleanliness, bad breath, body odor • Stepping out of the way for just about everybody on sidewalks and in public spaces • Hoarding and sharing to the extreme • Using humor and parable to make pointed statements or criticize so as not to invoke wrath or physical retribution • Smiling through pain and wearing a “high pain threshold” as a badge of honor • Making excessive self-deprecating remarks • Surveilling self and others constantly – especially the children – for any sign of inappropriate behavior, dress, language, insubordination, or attitude in general. The surveillance is even more pronounced if there is a sense of responsibility for others: “You’ll ruin your father’s work.”
Then there are those behaviors in our larger family, our community: • Spanking and “cussing out” children in front of their peers. While I did not witness this public physical behavior much in Massachusetts, I witnessed it repeatedly when we visited family and spent summers in North Carolina. When getting a spanking we had to pick the switch taken from a tree branch ourselves and make sure the switch would hurt. If we held back, the “spanking” would be even worse. Straight out of Wilkerson’s stories. Most of us were actually not traumatized by these public humiliations because they happened to everybody. The more traumatic experiences – often psychological as well as physical – were the ones that occurred when there were no public witnesses.
Because I was the child of a Methodist pastor and army chaplain, comeuppances were frequent, private, and quiet. Deadly quiet so the neighbors wouldn’t hear. In the north most familiar to me violence usually came at the hands of the church and state: the sexual and physical abuse of truant and orphaned children. From the many stories I heard directly and witnessed through their consequences in the bodies and minds of my two foster brothers and others, these acts occurred behind closed doors: it was important to maintain the appearance of propriety – maintain the lie. • Insisting on silence about incest and physical brutality. Refusing to turn our men over to the police when they damage our women and children, female or male. We look the other way and stay silent during the brutal spanking and beatings of our own offspring. The sexual violence is most often done by men and adolescent boys; the harsh beatings by both men and women. We embrace without question the adage, “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” It is my personal belief that these behaviors are the direct result of our slavery past, during which we adopted dominant caste and slaveholders’ interpretations of scripture. Those selectively chosen biblical interpretations were meant to keep us under control, in our place, and they did just that. In my professional life, I lost close friendships with other black administrators because I tried to turn in a black student who had raped another black student. My colleagues and I never reconciled. • Engaging in brutal fraternity hazing: branding, beating, humiliating pledges in front of each other and in front of women publicly. As during slavery, branding was the mark of ownership and coerced loyalty. Once initiated, the fraternity owned its members for life, the way slaveholders owned their property. And yet in the twentieth century men sometimes volunteered to be branded, even over the heart. No woman would ever receive the kind of fealty offered to the brotherhood. Unlike slaveholders, the fraternity took but also gave, supporting its members for life no matter where in the country or the workplace they might land. I have personally seen fraternity brands, and even recall one acquaintance who had been voluntarily branded twice over his heart: he was a true believer and literally belonged to his fraternity above all, even if God, country, and family were somewhere in the mix. It wasn’t until the 1990s that efforts were made to reduce violent Greek hazing, and yet I am told these practices continue to occur away from campus and prying eyes. Let me be quick to add that hazing is not the singular attribute of black fraternities; white ones engage in hazing as well. But the particular methods of initiation seem to be directly tied to the slavery experience for most black fraternities. What I do not know is how these practices might have changed as fraternities spread to the north and the rest of the country. • Being more demanding of each other than we are of white people: we expect nothing from them and everything from each other • Shunning individuals who do not conform; quite literally turning our backs to them for social violations (dress, sexual orientation, refusal to attend church)
The Black Body As Toxic
During my career I was teased often about my obsession with chewing gum and the way I would cover my mouth and lower my head if someone approached me for close conversation. The behavior was so dramatic others would have a difficult time deciphering what I was saying; I mumbled. On the one hand, to chew gum in polite company was considered unladylike and frowned upon. But for me, having bad breath was so much worse! I could suffer being teased about the gum as long as chewing it prevented me from having bad breath, which would render me foul smelling and even toxic. I was already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of my caste position and certainly did not consider myself in the running for a mate or for being well dressed in comparison to my bosses, peers and subordinates. Poor class behavior, however, was much less important than what I now recognize as unforgivable and immutable caste behavior: smelling bad was framed as a biological trait of black people as race mythology would describe it. Interestingly, black folks would regularly joke about how bad white people smelled and how poor they were with their personal hygiene. Those who worked as domestics would regale their friends and family with tales of the filthy houses they had to clean and the unbelievably ugly behaviors of the homes’ owners.
No Shame for the Dominant Group
From the white person’s viewpoint, however, one I had not fully considered before reading Wilkerson, the dominant caste might have figured they could leave their dirty clothes and dishes lying around for the untouchables to clean because their black servants were already immutably dirty and it was their job to handle the dirty objects of those above them. For whites, therefore, leaving dirty things strewn around did not make them feel dirty or ashamed; rather, it solidified their standing as members of the privileged caste. Conversely, no matter how fastidious, starched, pressed, bathed, and fragrant the domestic help were in their clothing and demeanor, they were perennially and existentially dirty. I am still wrapping my mind around this conundrum, even though I have witnessed this dynamic firsthand more often than I care to remember, not only in the United States but in neo-colonial Africa as well. Wilkerson nailed it.
Managing As a Black Military Officer
As my parents moved up in rank and my father became a field grade officer in the military, we had occasion to have servants of our own, especially when we lived abroad (that’s another entire conversation). My mother would insist on our helping to clean the house thoroughly before the maid arrived! By the time she got to our house, there was relatively little to do – primarily washing and ironing my father’s dress shirts and our bed linens. We would never leave our intimate items to another to clean. So my mother spent most of her time chatting with the “help” and taking advantage of this time together to learn about our housekeeper’s culture and to have her teach us a bit of the local language. When my brother and I would question why we had to clean the house before the maid came, my mother would respond with strong statements about her having been a maid herself before she became an officer’s wife; how important it was to make the servant’s life easier than it had been for her and how, since the maid was probably working in several other white officers’ homes in the neighborhood, there would be no negative stories to tell about those “dirty Negroes.” I am still not certain whether racially biased stories ever got back to her, but I am certain that my mother was vigilant, always on the lookout for feedback that might “ruin your father’s work.”
When we moved from one post to another, we had to make sure to leave the house in better condition than we found it: scrubbing, shellacking the hardwood floors until you could see yourself in them, washing walls and windows and eaves until we couldn’t crawl, then driving all night to the new location if we were on the mainland. We drove at night so our car would be harder to spot as one containing black passengers, thus reducing the likelihood of our being pulled over just because highway patrol wanted to have a little fun or make its monthly quota of stops, arrests, and fines. Most often my mother would do the driving since her driving would reduce the chances of my father’s being detained, with his Boston accent that could be problematic. It was also easier to pee on the side of the road at night since there most likely would be no hotels, motels, restaurants, or gas stations willing to serve us. We took everything we needed, camped out as often as possible as we could in safety, and got where we were going before daybreak if at all possible. That’s just the way it was. And my dad would often wear his Boy Scout uniform so that in case we were stopped we would be viewed as camping for fun, not moving everything we owned, lock, stock, and barrel. We were not fugitives on the run.
Once we got to the new place we’d have to clean that house as well, ceiling to floor, just in case the prior occupants left their own dirt behind. We washed and ironed and bathed incessantly. My uncle, born and raised in North Carolina, still does all of these things today, changing clothes sometimes multiple times a day and sheets almost as often as hotel service. We are all fastidious to a fault, but that deep-seated fear of offending by being existentially dirty never goes away. These habits border on obsession and Wilkerson helped me understand my family’s quirks in new ways. I now add a hefty dose of compassion and understanding and gratitude to this complex mix.
My Own Demons
Even now – especially now – my partner spends countless moments waiting for me to go through the interminable ritual of finding something to wear when we leave the house. No longer living in an all-black household but with someone who can trace her noble lineage twenty-nine generations to before the common era, I go into panic mode, trying on various outfits, tossing clothes all over the place, freaking out, just to take a trip to the market. Exceedingly modest and casual, she rarely mentions her family history and I have to pull hen’s teeth to get the full story. I never know when we might run into a relative or someone she knows from work and I don’t want to embarrass her or myself. At all costs, I cannot afford to bring unwanted notice or shame to this interracial, intercultural relationship.
The Land of Aloha Doesn’t Get a Pass
Living in Hawaii I am reminded daily how prevalent racial and ethnic stereotypes are here. Not just the usual black/white ones, but also those of various Asian, Polynesian, and Pacific Islander groups as well. My getting-dressed behavior is exhausting, not only for me but for my partner, who is forced to wait endlessly while I face my demons of caste. It is almost as if I go into another mental place, channeling my omnipresent, omni-surveilling mother, looking for the slightest flaw in my dress or comportment that might ruin my partner’s work. No wonder I am an introvert: playing by the rules is overwhelming, whether my playing is in compliance or defiance of caste! Reading Wilkerson made me comprehend this compulsive behavior more deeply than I ever had before and suddenly made my cancer diagnosis a few years ago all the more understandable. Fear and self-loathing can make anyone sick!
Why cancer now? I realized that I am not only more happy than ever, I am also more afraid than ever. I am afraid that I will upset the apple cart, will embarrass my partner, will violate some unfamiliar taboo of caste in what remains principally a plantation environment. As in some areas of the deep south, whites may be in the numerical minority here, but structurally – in the classic markers of power structure research – they still control almost everything, especially when it comes to land, tourism, military, and interstate or international business.
The land of Aloha is simmering in the toxic stew of caste and no one is calling it out. I feel it, I see it, but I dare not speak it for fear of threatening the delicate balance of my idyllic life. Hawaii may no longer be an iconic paradise if I rip off the scab and expose its underbelly in ways that only a black person can witness and name, through the voice of the perpetual untouchable.
The deep wounds here are different from those in Alabama and Mississippi, but minimally so. Original Hawaiians know it and feel it but their tongues have been largely silenced. They are not untouchables like me because they can lay historical claim to the land and a pre-colonial monarchy. I, on the other hand, have nothing to claim; my white ancestors whose Scottish-English names I bear have no meaning here. The mainland antebellum south has little currency here and yet I feel its tentacles reaching even these secluded islands in daily life, typically through its plantation history, the voice of the Christian church, and conservative talk radio. Caste is alive and well in Hawaii; make no mistake about it. And caste is denied as vociferously here as it is in Virginia.
I am a black Stewart and Hampton, not a white or mixed Campbell or Bishop or Castle or Cook. Even here I am Dalit, as Indian outcastes are called. I am nothing. I have nothing. I am worse than invisible: I am untouchable. Furthermore, like few others, I see clearly through the denials that caste does not exist in Hawaii.
Reclaiming the Sidewalk
Now that I recognize the illness of caste, I can heal my own melancholy. I can write and speak the unspeakable because in this world I am largely overlooked. Like the wind, I can be felt but I can no longer be contained. At last, through understanding the unbelievable scope of Wilkerson’s work, I am free.
Tomorrow, perhaps, I will go to the market without wearing earrings. And this time I will even use my side of the sidewalk.
This first and second business is really quite old: Cain was the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, who were farmers, already ejected from the Garden of Eden before he was born. Second-born son Abel comes along, a shepherd, and pleases God. Cain can’t figure out why God prefers Abel’s offerings, gets jealous, and kills Abel. God punishes Cain by making him work hard and struggle for sustenance that used to come with ease. He also forbids anybody to kill Cain, because Cain must endure his punishment for a very long time.
Bad Guys May Be Punished, But Good Guys End Up Extinct!
Abel, Adam’s second son, is pleasing to God but Abel is also, well… dead. Annihilated, along with any offspring he might have produced. His was a line cut off forever. Murderous Cain gets to rule and populate the world, to continue being first, but at a very stiff price: God puts a mark on him. Some perceive the mark as requiring Cain’s descendants to wander the earth as perpetual outsiders, tolerated but not embraced. Others, especially in modern times, perceive the curse as having dark skin, but that doesn’t fit the rest of the domination narrative: Cain prospers, something people with dark skin are not expected to accomplish.
More often dark skin is associated with the punishment of Noah’s son, Ham, who appears on the historical stage later on and is punished because he sees his father naked and talks about it. Now that the innocence of Eden is no more, nakedness is a source of shame and the body must be covered. In these early days long before the flood, God does not seem to be in the least obsessed with domination: there is no one else around, His dominion is assured, and He is quite comfortable with First Man for company. Apart from that bit of serpent drama in the Garden, things don’t really get complicated until there are more and more of Adam’s progeny on the scene.
The Price of Victory
Over the centuries the descendants of surviving brother Cain go on to rule the known world, but they also carry the stigma and dread that others will eventually learn of their ancestors’ wrongdoing and eject those descendants from the family of humanity. Perhaps in this story lies the true foundation of another great and powerful American fear, the fear of annihilation. More about annihilation later in the series.
The First Sinner Was First Man
Cain is actually the second sinner in our creation story. The first sinner is none other than his primal father Adam. Adam disobeyed God. He ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. He blamed his weakness on Eve.
Eve, the second sex, is taken from Adam’s own rib: an intimate part of him but also separate from him. Somehow that projected portion of the once undivided self becomes responsible for Adam’s fall from grace because Adam is too weak to resist Eve’s powerful feminine wiles. Subordinate, lesser, dependent on Adam for her very existence, yet possessing some mysterious power over him. In her own way, Eve could be as seductive as the snake! Ah, woman!
The Second Sex
To be fair, the sin of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree was not really Eve’s fault: in her innocence and subordinate status, she was seduced by that wily snake who was an old hand in the Garden and apparently preceded both Adam and Eve in this earthly paradise. Although fashioned from Adam’s strong body, Eve was perceived from the very beginning to be congenitally weak and a lesser being. The truth, however, is that Eve’s very existence was the result of Adam’s weakness, his inability to hide from God his deep sense of loneliness. How could Adam know that God had created him, Adam, because God, even in His perfection and infinite completeness, was also lonely? Who would tell Adam that it was compassion, not judgment, that prompted God to create a companion for him? That it was divine loneliness that prompted God to create the entire physical universe, including Man? It is possible that Adam felt weak on his own, forgetting that he was made in the image of God. Forgetting that “God don’t make no ugly,” as my grandmother would say.
Eve was lesser, and yet she must have been pretty powerful for the fall from grace to be all her fault because it was she who offered the forbidden fruit to Adam. Adam accepted and ate the fruit, of course, but he blamed Eve. The snake, on the other hand, was just being itself: a snake. The snake belonged to another order of consciousness, held to a different standard. While also punished – made to crawl on the ground – the snake was not judged as harshly by its maker as humans were judged. It was Adam’s and Eve’s awareness as human beings that caused our primal ancestors to be summarily ejected from the Garden of Eden and thrown into an exterior world of perpetual suffering and struggle. This was a peculiar quality of consciousness offered uniquely to humans: the ability to discern, to label behavior good or evil. Most importantly, this human quality grants its creatures the capacity to choose freely between seemingly irreconcilable opposites.
Meanwhile, those ancient women – Eve first, and later Sarah and Rebecca – all resort to cheating to manipulate tradition. They steal the firstborn son’s birthright and give it to the second born instead, ostensibly following both prophecy and God’s command. She who is the second sex is Adam’s companion but God’s handmaiden; she offers God’s blessing and grace to one who is the second-born son. The women don’t steal for themselves, mind you, but for their younger male children. Nevertheless, such action is still their fault, not God’s. Woman is a conundrum and the subject of a much longer conversation; she is far too much to tackle here. Gender will take a while to unravel for sure!
The Sins of the Father
So in the second generation, Adam’s eldest son Cain kills his younger brother in a fit of jealous rage. This is the second major sin, another very long story, and conceivably the antecedent of what may be a universal fear, not just an American one: the fear of annihilation.
Centuries later, the Protestant Ethic is born, a worldview that acknowledges an eternally sinful self, but also offers a get-out-of-jail-free card: financial success. One can demonstrate God’s favor by signs of outward success and wealth: domination of markets and people and creatures and things. There is no fixing original sin, but grace and the right lottery number will save the lucky few from the jaws of eternal damnation. What begins as Jewish success and patrimony is now co-opted and embraced as Protestant Christian favor.
Eventually, Cain’s progeny embraces the Protestant ethic and makes it to the New World, where the mark of Cain gets interpreted through the lens of America’s peculiar institution of slavery. Not only did God give Abraham all the land he could see before him six thousand years ago in the fertile crescent, but God also gives him now – the Christian patriarch this time – land he could not see or imagine across vast oceans and centuries as well. As before, it doesn’t seem to matter that these lands are already inhabited by others who have been there a long time: God is fulfilling his promise to Abraham of old, patriarch of several peoples who believe themselves to be the chosen ones with a divine right to rule the world.
In the New World, the mark of Cain gets shuffled off at last – or so it seems – onto others whom the settlers deem unworthy: indigenous peoples on every continent and every island; African rulers and African slaves; Asians, Pacific Islanders, Micronesians and Polynesians; indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Caribbean, as well as on the Australian subcontinent; lesser southern, eastern, and Catholic Europeans; and Middle Easterners from the Levant or ancient Fertile Crescent, including the very Jews and Arabs from whom the narrative was taken. Here white Europeans, preferably Protestants, can begin anew; they can leave the old curse behind and create that “shining city on a hill.”
Cain Was Not the Only Bad Boy
For some reason, Americans love bad boys. We revel in our successful rebellion against the British crown, but we also need to prove ourselves to be as good as, or better than our Anglo-Saxon ancestors and cousins. We eschew monarchy, but we strut like peacocks in our veiled attempt to establish a new one with a distinctly American flavor. Our version of dominance establishes divine right through massive land ownership and awesome technology retrieved from endless colonial exploits and cultural expropriation.
Our “America First” narrative obscures the fact that the land was taken from others who were here thousands of years before we “discovered” it. Artifacts reveal that highly structured civilizations preceded ours. Consequently, fear surrounding the great lie of being first becomes even more entrenched, while the subsequent arrival of competitive nonwhite immigrant groups activates the peril of white extinction. There was no human in the Garden of Eden before Adam, but that was the last time Man could claim a pristine habitation free from preceding cultural expression.
Here we create new bad boys: Paul Revere, John Brown, Davy Crockett, Generals Patton and MacArthur. Some were praised, some were vilified, some were both. Each represents and shapes a fierce independence of spirit, ignoring the bad stuff for now. Each was fearless in his own way, each distinctly American. Each was larger than life and yet the fears persist. We still have something to prove.
Modern-day descendants of Cain in the U.S. remain petrified of being discovered to have been linked to that ancient fratricide involving Cain and Abel. Contemporary lingo would probably call this emotional dysfunction “imposter syndrome.” Men rewrite history to project their own weakness and disfavor in the sight of God – their mark of Cain – onto any “other” whom they encounter. The new narrative promotes their favored status instead. The larger and more diversified the world, the more opportunities for projection. Yet in our hidden places, in the cave of the eternally sinful self, we feel and fear that the status of being first is fundamentally undeserved: that Cain only got to dominate because Abel – good Abel – was dead. We got to be first because we wiped out the people already here.
Adam is riveted with questions and so are we: “Would my first place gain have held if Abel were alive?” “How can I truly know how I might have fared had I not stacked the deck and killed off any kind of competition?” Since my competitors are dead in most cases – clearly by my own hand in the case of Abel and many colonized peoples – I can never know for certain. I can never rest on my laurels and take my success for granted. I must prove myself over and over: collect more territory, dominate more creatures and cultures, build exterior signs of my having been. I must demonstrate that Kilroy is here and here to stay!
And so we have it, Cain’s personal lamentation: “As a founding member of the Being First Club, the most I can ever get is contrived fanfare and praise among those I have created or dominated or favored. What began as the source of my joy and pride has become the setting for my worst nightmares. I am caught in an infinite loop – my own form of ‘Groundhog Day®’ – where the same events play over and over until I go mad. I have destroyed the only true source that could have told me how good I am or helped me prove my skill. I could have ended the nightmares and stood on the podium proudly, pointing my finger at those lesser mortals who claimed to be first. Alas, I killed them all.”
We come right back to the beginning. Abel is good and Abel is meek and Abel is dead. Cain is angry and a few generations later Esau is angry because what is rightfully theirs goes to a younger, goody-two-shoes brother! They are betrayed by God, but it is woman who is blamed and thrown under the bus. She does God’s handiwork and fulfills His prophecy yet she is the damned, the eternal second, the one who wreaks havoc and turns the social order on its head by subverting the rule of the firstborn.
To make things even worse, Jesus comes along and turns the spiritual order on its head in addition to the political one. “The meek shall inherit the earth. Love thy neighbor as thyself. The last shall be first and the first last. Welcome the fallen like Mary Magdalene. Heal and embrace the leper. God is love, not retribution. Throw out the money changers. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into heaven. My kingdom is not of this world.” Oh my!
The Modern Expression of Cain
So what do I accomplish by claiming my need to be first? How does my admission change the narrative, if indeed it does at all? Why do I feel shame when I claim my desire to be first, to win, to succeed? Because it goes against the other part of the biblical narrative, the New Testament; it goes against the grain of being a good Christian. Because I would no longer be meek and modest.
Abraham and his progeny did all right in the Old Testament, proclaiming divine right and divine punishment; but then along comes Jesus and turns that pyramid on its head: “… the meek shall inherit the earth.” I am done for. Furthermore, the farther I move away from my founding principles of the separation of church and state and towards the establishment of a theocracy, the more my very own religion showcases my flaws. “I say unto you, Inasmuch as yehave done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” KJV Matthew 25:40
Is the U.S. Playing Out a Modern Version of Cain and Abel?
Is there a difference between the simple desire to be first and the more complex sins of imperialism, colonialism, or white supremacy? Can we distinguish what makes our desire to win any different from any other country’s? We declare as a nation that we hold to a different set of values, but are we fooling ourselves? Is our declaration that we are first and best a device to help us feel better about our behavior? Finally, has the special history of the United States solved any of the problems that plagued European settlers? I think not. The sun has indeed set on the British empire; are we next?
Truth be told, secretly we believe that Asians are smarter and Africans are stronger and Arabs are more ruthless and determined to rule the world. We cloak our fears and declare that we must get them before they get us. China has become our current bogeyman; before that ISIS; before that Communism; before that miscegenation. Are we actually helping to manufacture and strengthen our enemies by the labels we sling around and the policies we enact to avoid our deep-seated fear of the other – any other?
Where does the truth begin, where does it end, when does the story we tell no longer look like the truth? When does the truth that we are no more nor less than any other part of teeming and varied humanity release us from our almost psychotic fear of being second? When will our declarations of freedom actually set us free? When will we learn that being second is not the kiss of death, but the embrace of life at its fullest? There will still be mountains to climb, visions to manifest, connections to make, peoples to know. There will be endless potentiality!
Being first means that we wait for the inevitable: we wait to be toppled by one, then another, in an endless succession of challengers. Being first means being consumed by fear: not only the fear of being overthrown but the fear of extinction. The only way to assure that we continue to live in the hearts and minds of the world is to discard the fear of being second. Unless we do this, there will be no one left to praise us. We will find ourselves again facing existential loneliness, a yearning so deep that nothing short of creating an entirely new world outside ourselves will suffice. In this authentically brave new world, Abel lives and so does the United States of America.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 KJV
In the mainstream scientific community we rely on rigor and proof to showcase the material world. In the noetic scientific community we rely on rigor and proof to showcase the nonmaterial world. By noetic, I mean qualities of inner knowing and awareness that are outside the domain of reason, but not necessarily in contradiction with it. If we are tied to rational methodologies alone to prove the ineffable qualities of consciousness, we face daunting problems before the research even begins. Yet our need to prove the noetic persists in traditional scientific terms. We like instruments and control groups and double-blind studies and measurable outcomes. We like dissecting consciousness so we can discover its component parts, just like we like dissecting animals who must be dead in order to discover their innermost workings.
We believe, perhaps rightly so, that it is we who are on the cutting edge of science, hoping and praying that eventually the materialist worldview will catch up with us and realize that consciousness creates the material world and not the other way around. We claim that our goal is to understand, but I think more often that goal is to prove, as wayward adolescents do when they try to impress their older, more established parents. My hunch is that as long as we stick to understanding, without necessarily proving, we may make some headway in communicating the noetic, the lived knowing to which we struggle to ascribe shared words and meaning.
As a professional intuitive I am particularly interested in the thorny issue of replicability, a key component of rational methodologies. I have lots of stories, hundreds of clients, and remarkable successes to report from what my clients tell me, but not a single one of my stories is replicable. There is no control group, no exact circumstance, no dispassionate observer of our interaction, no machine measurement of brain waves or respiration pattern, and there may be no immediate result. Does that make my work any less interesting or valuable? Probably not. Is there a way to make it fit the scientific model and rational method? Also, probably not. Is the work less rigorous? I think not. What to do? I am coming to the conclusion that taking a phenomenological approach and describing the lived experience of intuition, rather than what should be or is expected to be, may be a good place to start.
Is rigor possible without replicability?
I like to think so. I believe that it is possible to access intuition on demand and to access it in a rigorous way. For me, an intuitive session involves my meeting one-on-one with an individual, occasionally with a couple. While each session is different in substance and sometimes style, I have adopted certain practices that occur each time, whether I am reading for an individual, a couple, or a business when there are multiple people in the room.
• I ask to know nothing in advance. • I begin by taking a single breath. • I state the name of the client and the date: “This is a session with on the .” • I state my own name “…and I am Helen Stewart.” • I ask the clients to say their own name the way they think of themselves. Even if they are inquiring about someone else they must say their own name first. This helps me focus primarily on that aspect of the other that is relevant to this particular client. • I anchor the time together with an initial scribbled intuitive statement that comes from “out of nowhere.” Even if I have worked with the individual before, each conversation begins the same way without my asking or wishing to know why the individual is contacting me in this particular moment. Each statement is unexpected and often holds surprise. • I read the statement back to the client verbatim. • I begin speaking first to flesh out the statement without information or feedback from the client. Each statement is different, each based on intuitive information, usually a sentence, sometimes two or three. I have no stock phrases that I repeat to every client. Once finished with the introductory ritual, I let the client know that now it is permissible to make specific comments or ask specific questions about what I have said, about him/herself, or another individual or the company or project. Sometimes the information appears to be strictly personal, sometimes professional. Sometimes what I say surprises the client. Most often the response is, “Interesting. That’s why I’m calling you.” • Each time the client asks about someone else I ask for the name of the someone else. These questions and answers are shorter than the first but the process is the same, eliciting a phrase that anchors the other individual for the client. • Sometimes I ask the client to make a list. Initially I ask only for the number of items on the list, rank order them before any content is filled in, and then tell the client my rank ordered list of priorities, which we now fill in one at a time. For example, the client has five items in the order written down; however, I have ranked item number three on their list as my priority number one for them. Here, the making of a list, where relevant, is replicable; the content of each list is not. • Typically I return to the original intuitive statement from time to time throughout the session as details emerge and make sense out of my original remarks.
That’s it. That is all that is “replicable” in the hour or so that I spend with the client. The rest is unstructured and depends on the flow of what is essentially a directed conversation, not a protocol. There is no control group and no external observer. What is replicable and comes with mastery is the expression of customer satisfaction at the end of our time together; the sense of wonder and joy.
This pattern of conducting an intuitive session seems to permit rigor in one sense: there is no information provided beforehand and I always begin each session in the same way, with a breath and an intuitive phrase. In a manner of speaking, we are both “flying blind” since neither of us knows what I will say to kick things off.
To make one session replicate another, however, seems impossible to me. I could replicate the physical sense of betrayal via a throbbing in the back I feel that is repeated from one client to the next who is facing similar issues. That sensation could perhaps be documented. Could the throbbing be measured by an instrument? I do not know. I cannot predict in advance that a particular session or client will trigger a betrayal issue, so I cannot set up instrumentation in the expectation of a particular outcome. Such preparation would, in and of itself, preclude the element of surprise that I depend on so much for accurate intuition.
Replicable methodology, not replicable content
There is nothing about content and, truthfully, very little about process that can be measured or controlled. Some information may be subject to immediate corroboration by the client and some may take months or years to to confirm. The mechanical process described above relays nothing about the extraordinary event that takes place within the confines and corners of a single hour of shared time.
Both client and intuitive are interested parties
Most often the client comes because there is a pressing personal or business issue and certain decisions are already overdue. What I say matters and both the client and I have a keen interest in making the time spent worthwhile. Detachment from the outcome is possible, however: the single breath that shifts me into intuitive mode helps assure that my rational mind and tender ego move out of the way appropriately.
If the client is dealing with an issue that reminds me of similar events in my own life, detachment is critical. This is tricky because my personal experience may be useful and offer a deeper understanding of their situation; on the other hand, I am likely to interject bias and unwarranted judgment. If I project my experience onto the client’s the person will feel that I am coming out of left field and will likely dismiss my commentary. And they won’t call back. Again, replicability is more difficult since the number of variables has increased exponentially when my past experience is added to the mix.
Detached from the outcome, but not dispassionate
I have cried in sessions with clients, whether or not they are crying. I have felt unspeakable love, unspeakable loss, unspeakable beauty of potential that will only be expressed in their future. In these circumstances I am personally detached from the outcome and yet I am feeling deeply with and for the other; I am anything but dispassionate. Willingness to feel, name, and express intense emotion is one of the most rewarding features of my work: love, fear, sadness, anger, all of it. I see it, I feel it, I name it, I help them transcend or achieve it. I am personally disinterested but metaphysically deeply invested in their success. I want to see them shimmer. All of these sessions are powerful. None of them are replicable.
Forgetting the details… and more
In the middle of an intuitive moment I am fully present. I am conscious and yet my awareness is slightly shifted. When the moment is over I begin to forget. If I have another appointment immediately following, the shift must occur quickly or I risk bringing information from the prior session into the next one, offering inaccurate and irrelevant information to the new person before me in person or on the screen or telephone. If my schedule is open I might remember for a while longer, but in any case by the next day I have no clue what specifically a client and I may have discussed. I know that sometimes a client will ask me the same question or set of questions more than once to see if there is consistency in my responses. They will tell me directly: “That’s the same thing you told me before.” Or, “But you said before that…. What is different now?”
There is a gift in the ability to forget quickly and move on, returning energy that is not mine to its rightful owner while avoiding repetition, bias, and laziness. That same forgetting makes replicability more difficult, however.
So what is replicable?
• Process: how I receive and communicate information • Session format: how I structure time with the client • Client statements regarding the accuracy of intuitive information given • Client expressed feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction
While the process and format are similar, each session is unique, whether I have worked with the same individual for ten years or have never met them before. The key to receiving truly intuitive information is being open to surprise at every moment. Unlike controlled studies, I am not looking for the same result over and over. I am looking for the unique in the present moment.
“On the Record”
For matters in the public domain, intuitive confirmation might appear in the news but could take months or years to appear. Notwithstanding these appearances, eventual confirmation still does not address the replicability issue.
Contemporaneous documentation through audio/videotapes, emails, or testimonials, might provide evidence that I had information I could not have known except for intuition because the knowledge was either outside my domain or privileged and secret. As a matter of course I have published some predictions on my website in an effort to go “on the record.” The information came before the events, but the postings about the events are ex post facto. Again, no replicability and no reporting on erroneous predictions; thus, no prediction score.
Furthermore, there are some events no one would wish ever to be replicated even if multiple sources predicted them, such as the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima, Japan, and Chernobyl, Russia, or the earthquake in Haiti. We must find ways to codify and study such non-replicable events for which prior intuitive information exists.
The Chinese Restaurant
One of the most interesting examples of the power of intuition without replicability occurred for me in the 1990s. I have written about this elsewhere. Two British colleagues and I would connect virtually once a week for fifteen minutes and record our impressions. Each of us would “send” in successive order for five minutes and “receive” for the other two segments. During and following each session we would write down our impressions and exchange emails afterward which would automatically be date and time-stamped electronically. These were nothing like controlled experiments, but they were fun and raised a lot of questions that we are still trying to understand.
On a particular Monday, I forgot to send my colleague a cancellation notice about our session, but we later discovered that he saw what I was seeing anyway at the time we normally would have been sending back and forth intentionally. What my colleague saw was unusual and unexpected, but absolutely correct. We were not set up to record; I was not at my computer but sitting in a Chinese restaurant near a hospital where I had taken my daughter for an emergency. This was a one-time occasion, even for our loosely controlled weekly experiments. Replicability was out of the question, and yet the possibility of gaining an important understanding of the nature of consciousness was enormous. Is it time to give up replicability as a requirement for noetic scientific inquiry?
Evidence without proof
I am requesting that we lighten up a bit on our demand for rigor in the usual ways, let our minds wander just a bit off course, and explore the delights of inquiry and evidence without having to meet all the standards of scientific proof, starting perhaps with the requirement for replicability. We might come across a treasure trove of clues to the nature of consciousness that could straddle both materialist and non-materialist worldviews!
It broke my heart a few weeks ago to get a letter from my cousin and to have his partner mention offhandedly that all these years he has had to write my cousin’s letters for him. As part of the so-called new generation of African Americans, how is it possible that I can be more educated than most of any color, can make more money than many, and can see much of the world whenever I wish, while my first cousin cannot read or write, cannot get a job, and will likely die of AIDS before he gets out of his forties?
It is increasingly difficult to figure out the order of things, let alone the future of things because so many “things” seem to be in total disarray. We are struggling with a problem of definition, sometimes asking the wrong questions and sometimes looking in the wrong direction for answers. Many northeastern members of my family were actually better off in the Nineteen Twenties than they are now! I remember looking at the old photos of my grandparents attending the Massachusetts governor’s ball in the 1920s. My grandmother was a registered nurse, her husband was a sleeping car porter and her sister was an attorney: together they represented important elements of the black bourgeoisie at the time.
Today the photos are gone, the house has burned down and it is unlikely that either my cousin or I would be invited to a governor’s ball. On the other hand, there were only four black female lawyers in the entire country when my great aunt was practicing; now there are many, many more, to say nothing of black participation in every sector of the society at almost every level. The future may indeed be forward, but it is a lot harder to tell which way is “up.”
The very concept of “The Year 2000” is an illusion. We look to a number to explain a complex set of circumstances. No single number, whether that number signifies the beginning of a new millennium or an old debt, captures what we are doing through the policies we enact, the love we express or fail to express, or the distance we establish between ourselves and the rest of the world. African Americans are a symbolic group in American culture, just as the year 2000 is a symbolic number. Both represent hope and achievement, and both also represent dismay. The true meaning of the millennial concept is to be found in our collective consciousness, not in our mathematics or our calendar.
The Gift of the Ever-Changing Present
The year 2000 is NOW, created anew each moment by our complacency or commitment. To look in the mirror in this continuous present moment is to find the answer to what lies ahead for all of us, African American or other, in the year 2000 and beyond.
Is it possible that the ostensibly literate among us are skilled at the mechanics of reading, yet understand little of the content they encounter on the pages of our culture? Do we read the face of the homeless woman who sits each day in the pizza parlor and wonder what happens to her when the parlor closes? Do we read the heart of the person who looks and acts the least like us? Do we read the souls of our cities?
When Rev. Willie Smith asked me to do this piece I responded with a glib, “Sure!” But by the time I sat down to write I was in tears. I thought of my cousin, of the newly obtained knowledge that he cannot read or write and that he is dying. Then I remembered my mother’s telling me that he and every one of his brothers and sisters had failed the first grade. How can we fail our children in the first grade?! My cousin does not live in some rural outpost, mind you; he lives in the Boston metropolitan area, a region that acts as if it is the center of the universe and hosts about two hundred colleges and universities within a twenty-mile radius, some of which are the best in the country.
When I heard the news about my cousin I felt guilty and I felt a sense of desperation that the magnitude of the problems facing our community might defy human intervention. And yet it is human beings who created these circumstances. Now I know that each breath, each act of omission or commission, each story read to my granddaughter, each callous refusal to understand and embrace the soul of every beloved – first my own and then all others as if they were my own – is the year 2000 that I will have helped to create. Any sense of powerlessness I might have felt with regard to my cousin’s illiteracy or his illness is overshadowed by my absolute and uncompromising power to make myself emotionally, intellectually, ethically, and globally literate.
My people will live or die by the individual action of all people. If we take care of the now and treat all children as our own, then the year 2000 – or 2050 – will take care of itself.
MY COUSIN DIED A SHORT TIME AFTER THIS PIECE WAS PUBLISHED. HE NEVER LEARNED HOW TO READ AND WRITE.
Of all the words that might unite us across the political spectrum, the one I have heard most often over the past few days is “Enough!”
Enough dividing and conquering
Enough isolation due to COVID-19
Enough meddling from foreign powers
Enough being taken for granted in the electoral process
Enough working hard with nothing to show for it
Enough being sick without medical coverage
Enough being invisible, unheard, unseen
Enough condescension, misogyny, racism
Enough being the butt of others’ jokes
Enough threats to person, reputation, livelihood
Enough threats to democracy
Enough secrets and silences
Enough “bad actors”
Enough tearing the country apart
Enough problem solving by force
There is something for everyone on this list. Perhaps “Enough!” could become the rallying cry for a nation under siege from within as well as outside our geographical and economic borders.
For some time I have been wondering when and what it would take for the body politic to say “Enough!” January 6, 2021, may mark that day. Following the breach of the Capitol Building in Washington DC, my question becomes, “Are we looking at the beginning of the end of divisiveness, or are we looking at the beginning of something more sinister, a second civil war?
January 6th was the day to certify the selection of Joe Biden to become the 46th President of the United States. Typically this would have been a ho-hum, pro forma, procedural action in the House of Representatives. For many across the political spectrum, however, it was a nail-biter day.
At the end of his live televised address on that fateful day, President-Elect Joe Biden said, “Enough is enough is enough.” Early in the day, President Trump addressed his supporters at a rally in front of the White House: “We will never give up. We will never concede. Our country has had enough….we will stop the steal.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the events could mark the “death spiral of democracy.” Former Defense Secretary James Mattis called the lack of congressional action to rein in this president “profiles in cowardice.” CBS News anchor Major Garrett commented, “If this doesnʻt flush [Trump] out of the Republican Party, then he is not flushable.” When black Americans watched as one lone black Capitol guard faced a vicious mob without backup support, I experienced the collective sigh and whispered to myself, “Here we go again; enough.”
All parties claim to have had enough, but the focus of that enough varies widely. All claim to be on the side of righteousness. Many have repeated the sentiment that while certification of a Biden victory may signal the end of the Trump presidency, the end of Trumpism in America is nowhere in sight and his supporters have clearly not had enough. That base has been and likely will remain an omnipresent force in American history, just as other forces will remain that could be labeled “progressive” or “moderate.”
So let me be clear: my enough highlights cruelty, indecency, deception, and barriers to opportunity. I have had enough of beliefs and actions that inflict intentional harm, that stoke fear, that limit choice, or that see any other as evil. Particularly troubling are negative perceptions based on immutable physical characteristics, identity, and zip code.
How do we fashion peaceful coexistence among such starkly different perspectives? How do we determine the size and shape of such a tent that all would fit inside it without sacrificing fundamental identity? How can we make the ideal of American democracy an enduring form of governance, despite internal and external pressures?
Was Roberto Michels right? Is it impossible to avoid an eventual return to oligarchy, regardless of which form any governance structure takes at its beginning? What would it take for all parties to declare simultaneously “Enough!” and leave each other alone to live and vote and do no harm to their opponents while the pendulum swings back and forth, left to right, up and down?
Fifty years from now, what will turn out to have been the impact of these moments in the political life of our country? What choices will we make now to frame and reframe our identity as a nation so that fifty years from now we break out in a collective smile? I believe we are in a pivotal moment, one in which we face largely private daily choices-with-a-lower-case “c” and simultaneously long-term strategic cultural choices-with-a-capital “C.”
“Peace is not the absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.“
Perhaps we are seeing the beginning of the end of both divisiveness and a second civil war. Perhaps we will remove ourselves as a society from false dichotomies. Perhaps we will fashion a contemporary framework for understanding and reaching out to those among us whom we do not understand and who may look or think differently from us, but who are also passionate and patriotic citizens.
We have become a bimodal society in which the gap between not only perceptions of reality, but between the very realities themselves shows up in stark contrast. Can simple notions of decency, acknowledgment, common sense, and the common good strike a familiar chord in all of us, regardless of circumstances, and provide the alchemy to turn the many into one? I certainly hope so.
Being SecondBeing DefiledBeing SeenBeing VulnerableBeing JudgedBeing PunishedBeing MortalBeing ImmortalBeing Annihilated
Here they are, right up front. The fears of:
The Roots of The Great American Fears
My earliest notes on the subject of what I call “The Great American Fears” date from as far back as 1981. At one point I envisioned a full-fledged book, but alas, that may never be. Instead, I will settle for a simple set of declarations that may or may not resound with any reader who happens upon this page and wishes to pursue the subject more deeply. Someone younger and wiser than I needs to get a handle on this perpetual American sickness: at the most foundational level a fear of annihilation so deep and all-consuming that we would destroy any and all shadows, all projections, all representations of humanity that mesmerize us on the one hand, and reflect the opposite of how we declare ourselves to be on the other. We insist that we are first, pure, strong, smart, inventive, envied, courageous, and eternally dominant even though we are less than three hundred years old as a nation. We want to carve out a new and never before seen homogeneous culture that is so enchanting the whole world idealizes and embraces us, willing to forego their own varied cultural expressions and mastery achieved over eons to taste the sweet nectar of a truly intentional and chosen society, a brave new world. For some, a white world.
It is my contention that the Great American Fears arise out of the very nature of American history and affect everything from family structure, sex, and the capacity for love in all its forms, to domestic politics, immigration policy, and foreign aid. Americans will do anything to allay these fears. We will engage in brutal behavior that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We will unwittingly invite the suicidal consequences of acting out the fears whose truth we wish so desperately to avoid.
Furthermore, I believe that these fears are the soil in which both well-deserved pride and shameful prejudice flourish in the currently dis-united states of America. We have produced a deadly compost of arrogance and self-loathing that threatens to subvert every attempt in every generation to achieve “a more perfect union,” the penultimate flower of American democracy. On the one hand, we speak and write endlessly about the centuries-old impact of institutional racism on American ethos and consciousness. On the other hand, much like Holocaust deniers and survivors in Europe, we rail against anyone who dares to bring “that” up again: the genocide of indigenous populations, the unique system of slavery that kept Africans bound in perpetuity, the laws that kept Chinese and Japanese “excluded,” and the ridiculing of Irish, Poles, and Italians as Europeans of lesser intelligence or weak moral fiber. We are obsessive and compulsive as we repeatedly acknowledge and deny the deepest contradictions that make us one of the most interesting places on the planet.
The Inevitability of Physical and Political Contradictions
We are mesmerized by almond eyes, chocolate skin, thick dark hair, muscular build, and feisty women. And yet we persist in proclaiming the divine right of blond hair, blue eyes, dainty damsels, and extremes of either genteel or boorish men, preferably all of Northern European ancestry. As Christians, we borrow Old Testament Scripture from Middle Eastern Jews and Muslims with whom we share Adam and Abraham as progenitors, to declare that God has made us the chosen people and them the castaways. Of course, He told the same thing to the others in this dynamic historical triad and ostensibly gave us as Christians, Jews, and Muslims dominion of all we see before us, not only in our own countries but also in all other nations of the world. Our dominion extends to other humans, animals, land; elements above and below the land and sky and sea; dominion over the very planet itself. We borrow the seeds of democracy from Indigenous Americans and our definitions of high culture from our swarthy Southern and Eastern European neighbors, even though we now refer to contemporary Greeks and Italians as fiscally irresponsible, lazy, even unintelligent, along with Poles whose centuries of rich intellectual and artistic culture have been almost totally annihilated. Dare I say it? We consider them stupid.
Categorization Is Normal
To be clear, the very nature of being in the world requires categories and categorization to simply help us identify, get by, and organize our bombarded and complex daily lives. There is nothing inherently wrong with using the tools at our disposal – in this case attributions and ideas about people, places and things – just to help us function with ease and order. It is when those tools take on a life of their own and keep us from thriving that we must revisit the usefulness of categorization and certain categories in particular like race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, and class.
Geographically and Historically Challenged
In addition to physical and cultural categories, we are challenged geographically as well. Here in the West, we are unaware of the centuries-old and sometimes centuries-long empires of Africa such as the Kush, Punt, Carthaginian, Aksumite, Solomonic, Malian, Songhai, Benin, Yoruba, Hausa, and Zimbabwean. We even go so far as to remove culturally revered Egypt from Africa altogether, tacking it on to the Middle East instead based selectively on those in its population that are lighter-skinned. Many Americans have no idea that Egypt is actually located in Africa or that the continent (not country) is four times the size of the United States, or that there are Africans above the Sahara who are as dark as night. Some cartographers even point out that certain world maps, perceived to be scientifically objective, are not drawn to true scale because to do so would show the geographical diminutiveness of white inhabited spaces in multiple regions of the world vis-à-vis non-white ones. [globalcitizen.org/en/content/world-map-wrong-mercator-peters-projection-boston/(opens in a new tab)]
Europeans know much more about such things than we do here in the U.S. and are quite sophisticated about geography, but they become apoplectic when it comes to the Ottoman and Moorish invasions centuries ago by dark people and foreign cultures too powerful for anglicized Christianity to fend off. These “others” left their mark not only on the land but also on human biology, “defiling” the purity of northern European standards of beauty. That mixed biology persists in Western Europe and accompanied the first settlers to the U.S. centuries ago. Telltale tracks show up in DNA samples of genealogical buffs who make use of new technologies to unearth their roots, some of which are surprising and not altogether welcomed. Anecdotally, a few of my European friends confirm that much of what is going on politically in Europe at present stems in part from a centuries-old hatred of domination by Turks, and Moors, and Poles.
On the political front here at home, we refuse to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, even if our very own white women and girls are disenfranchised from participating in what we tell ourselves we built altruistically for them, not for ourselves. The documentary history of the suffrage movement in the U.S. shows intense brutality as well as disdain directed towards women who insisted on the vote.
“Women shall have equal rights in the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
That’s it. That is all there is, and since 1776 we cannot seem to get this done. Only fear can explain this – a fear so visceral and so deeply embedded in the American male psyche that no amount of evidence or assurance to the contrary can abate it.
Science and Reason
Okay, so what about the so-called preëminence of reason and neutrality: what about science? A science that derives from a religious worldview teaches us that genes come in three varieties: good, bad, and downright evil. The description of an eternally flawed and sinful self dominates many recognized religions, especially in the West, based on the concept of original sin.
On the other hand, a science rooted in a secular worldview teaches us that consciousness is local and controlled by a physical brain inside an ultimately weak body ravaged by instinct rather than choice. This view is based on the simple presumption of the survival of the fittest. The secular worldview also teaches us that we are a random collection of chemicals. If we could only kill and dissect enough species and grow their now-dead cells in a Petri dish, sooner or later we could actually locate, describe, predict, and control human consciousness, behavior, and morality.
Belief: evil is stronger than good and human nature is fundamentally flawed
In the deepest recesses of our minds, we believe that evil is actually stronger than good and that Satan, the fallen angel exiled and left to his own devices, could ultimately vanquish the good angels unless God and humanity exercise the strictest controls. The body must be constrained and the “other” must be controlled by force, if necessary, or these strong elements will get out of hand and drive us inexorably towards our baser instincts. If control proves difficult or impossible, then we must weed out and annihilate that evil twin before it takes preëmptive action. Furthermore, the good that we tell ourselves we represent must be cloned, evangelizing the world and bringing our particular “good news” to the ignorant.
Because of its locus in weak biology with limited recognition of consciousness and choice, good must often rely on external mechanical tools and military force. I believe this explains, in part, our love for “gadgets:” guns, bombs, and other weapons of localized or mass destruction, psychological experimentation, and technological games. Our natural curiosity offers endless possibilities for nonviolent creativity, but there is something lurking beneath our initially innocent creativity that leans regularly towards tools of dominance. We believe ourselves to be fundamentally weak as a species and thus no match for an evil which in some distorted way symbolizes the epitome of strength in our dominant Western cultural myths.
The Expression and Power of Fear
Free will must be the culprit; choice the leveler. That which purportedly distinguishes humans from beasts actually makes us behave more like our beastly constructs; therefore, we cannot be trusted with unlimited choice.
What makes us not do unto others as we would have them do unto us as individuals and as a nation? For me, the simple answer is fear – an interrelated set of fears that stop us in our tracks every time we attempt to live the American ideal of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. After all, we chose intentionally to add equal access and treatment under the law as we broadened the scope of inclusion for our citizens. When we knew better, we did better, and we can do that again.
Fear of Being Second
When I first began this inquiry I thought that the fear of being second was the most important great American fear, triggered perhaps by my own experience of having been born both the second child and the second sex in my second race family of origin. Eventually, however, my interest turned to the largely male-dominated fascination with sports and war. There are only winners and losers in these domains, and only those who are first can be declared true winners. Those who come in “only” second or farther behind by the slightest margin are losers. Seared into my consciousness from an early age was the phrase from some grade school history lesson in which a Spartan mother admonishes her son to “return with your shield, or on it.”Win or lose, dead or alive, give no quarter to anything less than being first.
Fast forward (and backward) to the macrocosm of America’s place in the world, particularly following World Wars I and II. America must be first on the global stage and American ideals must be dominant.
Nowhere is this obsession with winning and being first more apparent than in sports as the peacetime equivalent of war when there are no external enemies to fight. There may be literally a millisecond between first and second place, or a point on the scoreboard, or a length at the Indy 500 or Kentucky Derby, but the only name remembered and honored is the one that came in first.
What is most remarkable about sports as metaphor for cultural identity is that many of our most revered sports figures are also those who are the most “other” in American society: Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American, nonwhite Hispanics, and Eastern Europeans. Even those bastions of Northern European and American sports dominance – tennis, golf, cricket, polo, rugby, and baseball – have crumbled under the weight of crushing defeats by the likes of Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Venus and Serena Williams, Tiger Woods, “A-Rod” Rodriguez. The 1936 Olympic Games rattled the world when Jesse Owens, a black man, defeated the Germans and other “Aryans” in track and field just as they were beginning a putsch for control of white-dominated Europe.
The Fear of Being Defiled
The truth be told (but we dare not say it), the Aryan race is remarkably fragile. Our Scandinavian ancestors and cousins can withstand bitter cold and hostile climates, but mixed with the tiniest amount of non-Aryan genetic material their offspring quickly begin to look more like the subordinate others than like their tall, warrior, patrician blond and blue progenitors who claim to be the country’s primal source. That telltale blush of extra melanin, or fold in the eyelids, or curl in the hair, gives away its secrets even when the nonwhite parent is absent and possibly even unknown.
There are some parents who feel enormous pride in the racial admixture of their children while others are ashamed, regretting their youthful idealism, or even folly. The children know: they can feel the emotion, whether or not those feelings are ever said out loud. The grandparents are even more interesting to watch, as they move about in public with young children who do not look much like them. Accustomed to being unremarkable, suddenly all eyes are on the grandparents as they claim or distance themselves from their own kin. When the grandparents are uncomfortable, embarrassment and shame are palpable; when comfortable, everyone around the little family constellation seems to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Fear of Annihilation
It dawned on me at some point that deeper than the fear of being second lies an all-encompassing fear of annihilation, of having not only failed to win, or having existed in a subordinate position, but of not having existed at all! It is the fear of oblivion: no ruins to be discovered a thousand years later reflecting the natural rise and fall of civilizations; rather – and this is the most frightening of all – no evidence of ever having existed on the planet, let alone ever having exercised dominance over it as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob commanded. Worse than being the disappeared is the never having been.
And so it begins: tackling the Great American Fears. In this introductory moment, I will simply list them and let those thoughts rumble through our collective awareness. Then, bit by bit and musing by musing, I will attempt to deepen my understanding of each fear with compassion rather than judgment. This is a free-wheeling effort, neither doctoral dissertation nor history book: it is meant to be food for thought and thought for growth as the U.S. meets and fulfills its role of national icon and global citizen. I welcome all perspectives and ask for reflection and civil discourse as together we attempt once more what Franklin D. Roosevelt asked of us as a nation in the midst of the Great Depression:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933 Inaugural Address
Here again, then, are the Great American Fears, based on the natural presence and inevitability of contradiction in the deepest recesses of our national consciousness:
Let us begin to claim these fears, to take the sting out of them. Let us learn to be confident without being arrogant, to embrace our pluralism because it makes us stronger, not weaker. Let us be defenseless in our search for that more perfect union because the journey itself is the ever-present teachable moment. The task is never finished; we are never finished. In this way we remain both mortal and immortal: we exist and our very existence serves the whole and is imbued in the whole. Annihilation is impossible and it is never too late to exercise choice; that is the very nature of reality in my worldview. All that is simply is, ever-present. It is only our focus, our attention that shifts away from one scenario towards another. However challenging the present moment, together we can craft another that is more in line with our individual and collective desires. How fortunate we are that fear need not prevail!
Asylum, border security, and comprehensive immigration reform are not just issues for the mainland. In August 2019, three non-profit organizations co-sponsored a forum on issues of immigration and sanctuary here in the Hawaiian Islands. Panelists spoke of the historical roots of anti-immigration sentiment in the United States since the Seventeenth Century. We were reminded that anti-immigrant policies and actions have been implemented under both Republican and Democrat presidencies. Many contemporary detention centers on the mainland are indistinguishable from European concentration camps during the 1930s before they morphed into death camps. Speakers provided context for an immigration crisis looming here in the land of Aloha as well as elsewhere. All made it abundantly clear that the fundamental purpose of the Trump administration’s immigration policy is precisely and principally to exercise cruelty and to instill fear.
It is estimated that there are currently 40,000 undocumented workers in Hawaiʻi. Many work in the agricultural sector, typically flying under the radar of direct public awareness. They grow our crops, tend our fields, care for our children and the sick, and clean up after our tourists. In earlier times Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Korean workers performed many of these tasks but eventually moved up the assimilation ladder to non-farm jobs, businesses, higher education, and public service.
Immigration attorneys are doing what they can to assist with court proceedings, and places like Harris Methodist Church on Oahu have declared themselves to be sanctuaries for immigrants, providing whatever assistance they can through church and volunteer generosity. I have learned that migrants from the southern border of the mainland have been dispersed here to Hawaii too, not just to varied locations in the contiguous states. Determining who should be the last to arrive in any given location has always been a tricky issue, one that dogs our politics as well as our hearts and minds.
The Federal administration under Donald J. Trump’s presidency has brought out the worst in human nature, and Hawaiʻi has not been able to escape virulent anti-immigration rhetoric entirely, even though the situation here is better than in many other locations. One speaker that evening requested not to be recorded for fear of retaliation against him, his family, and his business.
There are many mixed-status families in Hawaiʻi too, in which some are citizens and others are not, who fear that they are all in danger of intimidation and deportation. Round up first, ask questions later. Once again, American citizens are being questioned for no reason other than presumed ethnicity and national origin. Immigration lawyers have more cases than they can possibly handle. Here. In Hawaiʻi.
What we still lack is a positive, integrative vision for immigration, not only as a country, but also as a state. Eventually the hysteria will pass. Eventually good people will speak truth to power. Who and how will we be then, and what can we do now? The panelists at the August event offered a lot of practical advice, to which I have added a few tips of my own:
Find out what is going on. Do not turn away because the truth is uncomfortable and the images are disturbing.
Camp out at the offices of our state representatives. Pressure them to support sound immigration bills. Ask them to refuse to support bills that round people up, deny, or circumvent international conventions.
Ask our representatives to fight any effort to transfer Federal funds from other important programs, including health and education, to support unwarranted and inhumane military action. Humanitarian aid funds should be used for humanitarianaid.
Refuse to support ICE raids and help neighbors you see being harassed or rounded up if you can do so safely.
If you can and wish, buy airline tickets for immigrant families who cannot afford to fly back and forth from the outer islands to immigration court on Oahu and then get slapped with deportation orders for failure to appear. Help them get court information and dates right. Here in Hawaii, air travel is the only way to get from island to island.
Make donations to the ACLU, sanctuary locations like Harris Methodist Church locally, and other organizations that provide aid and comfort to undocumented workers.
Form an immigration-related hui or community group to stay on top of immigration issues, inform the community, and engage in specific action.
Pressure the Federal government to end abusive practices of all immigrants seeking asylum on the southern border of the mainland, especially women and children.
Speak out against those who claim that the physical abuse of women and children should be considered acceptable “cultural practice.”
When you see someone being harassed by ICE or the police regarding immigration issues, walk up to the individual(s) and ask quietly if they are okay and if they need help.
Speak up when you see or hear racist remarks or behavior unless to do so would threaten your own safety or that of your family. When you can, team up and work in groups to lessen any individual threats to person, property, or business.
Write letters of praise when you see people getting “caught” doing good.
Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper about immigration issues and legislative actions that would negatively impact any and all of us. Write op-ed pieces like this one was intended to be.
Provide pro bono services as you can afford for individuals and families traumatized as a result of their immigration experience.
Notice your own behavior: watch and listen to yourself as you interact with people who are different from you. Remember that many undocumented workers are knowingly hired by local employers, are paid less in wages than other residents for the same work, and pay taxes on the money they receive in the form of sales and other taxes, even if they are paid under the table.
Do not turn your anger against adult immigrants onto their children, who are innocent and traumatized. Permit immigrant children to be healthy in every way.
Remember your own family history: how long ago were you immigrants here and your family was walking in their shoes?
March, carry signs, write-draw-paint-photograph, resist, listen deeply, and learn always. Adopt behavior that is consistent with the best in all of us.
The morning was filled with politics. What are we for, what are we against? What matters? What could touch the heart of any individual anywhere on the planet? What slogan could unify a divided country, a divided world, a divided self?
At the end of a recent local political meeting the phrase “Count me in!” suddenly burst into the forefront of my mind. Someone mentioned the power and effectiveness of Obama’s “Yes, we can!” slogan, and also Trump’s “It’s a disgrace!” or “It’s a hoax!”
“Make America Great Again,” with four words and even more syllables, has not seemed to carry the same force as those three-word tweets; in fact, most often that particular tag line is reduced to two syllables: MA’GA. Just in the past few days count me in has become identified with participating in the once a decade census: public service announcements show people of varied backgrounds extolling the importance of being counted… counted in!
“Count me in!” captures the importance of personal choice and personal responsibility, while at the same time joining with the rest of humanity. It is personal journey, tailored to the full range of human experience and possibility. I can make it mine; I can find my “tribe;” I can express positive action about something near to my heart without excluding someone else who also wants to be counted in, but whose tribe is different from mine.
We are all joined together by three simple words: count me in. Antithetical to the exclusionary tone of many campaign slogans that offer tests of purity or shared horror, these words embrace inclusion without having to mark people” in” or “out.”
Several years ago, my then teenaged granddaughter and I watched a reality television series called Project Runway. The contestants were to create an entire season’s fashion collection in one week, after which the collection would be judged by successful designers and by celebrities who might one day want to wear their fashions.
By the end of the week the fashion competition narrows to two contenders when the host finally declares, “Justin, you’re in; that means Sarah, you’re out.” Both finalists received high marks, but ultimately one was “in” and the other, by the very nature of the process, was “out.”
“Count me in” does not require that I be sent away, thrown out, fired, or labeled a loser because I only came in second. Rather, I am permitted to have a single focus, a short list of fundamental goals, or a long list that would change the world. I can be counted in the limited stratosphere of particle physics enthusiasts, or global activists for health care or civil rights, or those who want to assure continued corporate dominance. My list could be as long as what could fit legibly on a T-shirt, or it could be succinct: world peace or whirled peas.
Count me in implies belonging, even if I am a recluse or hermit. It offers agency, choice, and power without the need to dominate another. I can be part of a shared experience, whether local or at a distance. I can transcend language and cultural barriers.
Count me in levels the playing field when there would otherwise be separations based on physical characteristics, socioeconomic status, religion, or political point of view. It permits me to support healthcare whether I want Medicare for all, for all who want it, for all who don’t want to give up self-funded coverage, for all who want union plans and employer paid pensions, and for all who want to be left alone so they can create a plan tailored for their special needs, such as prosthetics or mental health.
Count me in gives me the power to decide if I belong or not. It also provides me the opportunity to leave a particular group or cohort if I change my mind. I get to be counted or not. I get to feel a part of something larger than myself – or not. I get to belong even if I don’t know the secret handshake, because being counted in is framed by me. I get to run towards or away from an ideal as much as a political party or social act. I get to shout my passion out loud or whisper it in small font under my “Count me in!” logo.
Count me in can express values as well as actions, identity as well as legislation, financial priority as well as cultural identity or heritage. It can be a tree house hideaway in my back yard or a march of thousands in front of the White House.
Count me in. Period. No more, no less. It is enough!