Murmuration and Censorship

Image credit:
Philip FalkenHagen
(before added text)

Have you ever leaned all your senses into the magic and beauty of starlings? I love watching them fly in their impressively fluid patterns. Today, as I sat writing, a murmuration of about 1,000 descended on the house and lawn. It was loud, full of energy, each one singing the song of it’s being. One flew over to my windowsill and began pecking away at the bottom of the window. I imagine there was something delicious worth catching, but it was unusual.

Starlings, as symbols go, are about community and communication. They are about the importance of vocalization. They warn about being swept up into mobbing behavior and being wary of a mob mentality. The medicine they offer is an assertive and confident use of voice and the intuiting of a group on a whole.

You can not control what people misunderstand and misinterpret and can only try to avoid those same pitfalls by always holding an open space in your heart for all to come forward into fullness and light.

If you repeatedly exclaim, in manners of all sorts, what your intentions are, what your goals are, and what your boundaries are; and another still goes on blindly murmuring as if you said nothing, revealing what their fears and distortions are to you with no respect for your boundaries or experience; you have to come to terms with the ineffectuality of repeating your intentions, goals, and boundaries.

Sometimes when miscommunication arises a greater capacity to listen deeply is called for. Sometimes the message has to be clarified without sacrificing content. Sometimes a situation calls for a more filtered and sensitive approach. This is part of human nature and conversation is a dance, a duette, and everyone must be free to move and sing in the space.

“Free societies… are societies in motion, and with motion comes tension, dissent, friction. Free people strike sparks, and those sparks are the best evidence of freedom’s existence.”

― Sir Salman Rushdie

The most heinous crime against the free expression of our human experience is censorship. Censorship is a poison and those who live yoked by it and those who oppress with it are both drinking that poison. Censorship is not just an outside job. We self-censor out of our cultural conditioning, fears, inhibitions, and limiting beliefs. Censorship is also not simply a matter of verbal expression, but also the modification of our bodies, activities, and even our way of life.

That doesn’t mean we run away with abandon and behave recklessly, it simply means we tune-in and discern our own voice for itself. Discernment is a skill that allows us to hone in on our authentic voice which fully embodies who we are and allows us to make mindful choices about how to navigate the world we live in and our experiences in it.

Sometimes the discomfort that drives the self-censorship lies not in what others think, feel, or do, but rather what gets excavated as we dig down into ourselves.  The deep and the dark can be unsettling and often we find that the unwanted experiences we thought we tucked away into tidy boxes and got rid of are often the weights and chains we must untangle from.

As a creative, my art is also my medicine. As it so happens, it is also my therapy, not simply because art is itself tremendously therapeutic. I am supposed to be reclaiming my narrative, engaging my narrative, defining the narrative of my experience in life. It is hard work, and it requires loyalty, reverence, and a considerable willingness to live outside of your comfort zone. It is the work we must all do.

“An attack upon our ability to tell stories is not just censorship – it is a crime against our nature as human beings.”

Sir Salman Rushdie

I am not as cooperative as I am supposed to be, and still find it easier to engage less difficult issues over the bigger ones. I even started participating in the curriculum of one of my creative acquaintance’s class, a Diary Seminar, this semester as a boost to that endeavor. I love it, but I also have tremendous avoidance. It is, in essence, a form of creative mindfulness journaling.

I am 4 assignments behind and need to read more in the diaries that I selected. She says my voice is like Nin’s, but I have not even checked into her work yet. My hang-up isn’t about my ability or creativeness, or even how it is or is not received.

My hang-up has to do with traumas I have endured and the coercive silence and isolation that have been used as punishments, often ironically for not being silent and cooperative about the suffering I was enduring. Ten years ago I committed to not living under that yoke. Here, ten years later, I am still steadily working at being free of it in full. Most of it now is a matter of unhinging self-censorship.

My therapist is a wise old black man and leader in his spiritual community, I think he understands coercive silence very well. I am supposed to speak my truth with integrity and dignity. He once said “Now, Branna, what would you think if you saw someone always crouching over like a hunchback around shorter people? Do you really think it’s appropriate? Do you really think that is how someone should live? Do you really think it would be helping anyone?” I understood what he was saying about appeasing everyone else at your own peril.

“The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

– George Bernard Shaw

Not everyone has a tight family circle full of sage grandma’s and wisened old aunts who are available or approachable. Women no longer gather around each other doing laundry by the river in the community as we once did. The links to tribal wisdom are rather broken by Postcolonial culture. Postcolonial culture also has an expectation that women will be complicit and silent, and it rarely benefits them to speak their truth except in the internal spheres of their own being. The advent of therapy and psychology in the industrial era was inevitable and necessary.

If you attach a stigma to therapy, I invite you to acknowledge the loss and absence of tribal wisdom and give yourself permission to find a Village Elder. We need friends and spiritual family, in many circles. If you are too dependent on one and it becomes inaccessible or unhealthy you will need the support of your other spheres even more. This can be a result of death, career changes, and an unending list of other possibilities.

Give your trust over to those who know you the best, who have lots of direct experience points and hours invested in your life, those who have never violated your trust, those who can give you honest and direct critical feedback with no personal agenda. They could be your priest(s), your family, your BFF, or a therapist. In short, a village elder.  You get to co-create your village. They are still human people with the same tendency to bias and fallibility of all other humans, so don’t fall prey to authority bias or place undo expectations on others.

My own full engagement in the process of personal growth and cultivating a healthy village led to the discovery that my stifled periods of creativity have a lot to do with the connection between past censorship of others in an attempt to control the narrative of my life. My efforts to re-engage in the reclamation of my voice and story have been met with celebration and support by my oldest and closest friends and my spiritual family; yet also the statement “advise to refrain” from an unexpected place.

I have dealt with that before, most of us have at some point or another. My mother’s own favorite tactic was being more distant and unavailable if someone’s behavior threatened to expose her alcoholism and neglect.  People that use silence, distance, shame, and isolation as control tactics will often move on to trying to control what others think of you when they find you are beyond their control.

“Censorship is the tool of those who have the need to hide actualities from themselves and from others. Their fear is only their inability to face what is real, and I can’t vent any anger against them; I only feel this appalling sadness.”

-Charles Bukowski

My Mamaw once told me “Don’t barter with the devil, sugar.”. I am sticking with that. Now, if someone makes a reasonable request for you to briefly modify your dance and song in life and  you feel it does not violate your boundaries, compromise your commitment to personal growth, or unduly impose on or constrain you, that is not actually censorship. That is simply a song request.

Life is a beautiful dance, sometimes people step on your toes, sometimes you find you have crunched a toe, sometimes its the song you love, and sometimes not. Don’t let anyone tell you you are not allowed to sing and dance! If someone is struggling to sing and dance send them some music and a kiss on the wind as a blessing.

Starlings dance and fly in one amazingly graceful effort, and I hope to manage it with their grace and ease one day. They are ocean and wave fully embodied swaying to the rhythm of the moment.

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Here is an example of raw unedited entry to the Diary Seminar. It is so awkward to strip down naked and share it, but it is so freeing! Ever since I had that lucid dream where I realized I was dreaming and excitedly decided to find the nearest door, go outside, and fly…. well I have decided live that way.

Hawks in Waiting

It is some really hard work. I learn a lot about my subconscious through dreams and creativity. It is more than empowering, it is freedom itself. If you want to learn more about Narrative Therapy this is a good description “How We Story Our Life Experiences”.

If you want to combine that kind of mindfulness with writing as therapy you can google about journal therapy and similar terms, I am sure there is a lot. However, the best approach, in my opinion, is to utilize a highly trained village elder as a guide into that jungle. You get an unbiased and customized experience. If you have had more than one trauma in your life narrative exposure can be very healing. If you are really lucky the first person will be a fit, and if you are luckier still, they will be spiritually awake and vibrant.

Please do more than survive the day.  Choose to thrive because, quite frankly, I’d love to hear your story. Take a cue from the starling and sing your song,  and don’t forget there is always room in the sky for your dance!

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Meán Fómhair, 3, 2019

Diary Seminar. In the 3rd item, from the assignment, we had to begin a biographical narrative about someone else and morph it into our own. I think I could have been more creative there, and it might be a fun place to play around in the future.

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Arrow into Blossom

Arrow Into Blossom
Line Drawing

In a teaching workshop during last year’s fall Ango at my Zen Buddhist temple, I was inspired to do a quick thumbnail sketch of an idea for an illustration. The concept I wanted to encapsulate within it I had gotten to share with the others in my group during a break-out discussion.

Jizo/Arrow into Blossom
Thumbnail Sketch

For a long while now, and perhaps increasingly so, I have been aware of how reactive people are becoming in and off of social media. It is a pet peeve of mine, and I am so disturbed by the data-mining greed factory that social media platforms can be. Social media at it’s worst encourages reactionism and writes carefully curated algorithms to push it along. Whatever item gets you to respond you will receive more exposure too. Choose mindfully.

I have this deep love of people, but not all the things they do. On more than one occasion in my life, and perhaps more to come, I have had to give considerable effort to pull myself back into mindful presence after letting my mind get intoxicated on some emotive reaction or another. It would be harder, so I suspect, except that there is also some very obstinate part of me that relishes the notion of not letting anything affect my decision to remain steadfast. Even then, fallibility overpowers at times, but intention wins out in the long run, with practice.

As time goes along, what would make me feel sad or angry is now more often a murmuring disappointment, that over time, becomes easier to step around. I have learned to see the suffering in the other person and it makes a tremendous difference for me. That does not mean I am hosting dinner parties for them, just that I can choose to be unaffected and hold them in my intentions.

I choose not to judge them by a bad moment, bad habit, or bad day. No matter what arrows, or words, or stings, or slights that are encountered. I choose to go on with the effort to be a calm compassionate person. I believe our compassion should be like a bridge that invites others to cross over into a state of acceptance and peaceful abiding. I do not suggest that means inviting abusive behaviors to be closer to you. You must love yourself enough to have solid boundaries. My own resolve has been tested by some really difficult situations and people. I never regret choosing compassion.

For me, compassion has been too often simply walking away and not being involved, sometimes leaning in and offering to listen deeper, sometimes just silently wishing a person what they need to heal, sometimes it’s confronting them without losing hold of intentions. It can happen with graceful ease and something as clumsy as falling backward downhill. I have dusted off my knees many times.

Currently, for me, compassion means executing due diligence to address aggressive behaviors I have had to suffer. At one point, at a spiritual retreat, an individual allowed their underlying aggression to manifest into physical action. During a ritual, while I was sitting on the floor, they loomed over and suddenly and aggressively yanked the serving utensils I was holding out of each of my hands, then hey served my next meal to me cold. To this day I have no idea why.

I avoided being anywhere near that person for about a month, which got me some criticism for my absence. At a spiritual retreat, you assume being fully vulnerable and open is safe. The last thing you expect to happen is to encounter such behavior with no indicator it could happen. Anything is possible anywhere. Eventually, almost two years later, when feeling anxious about being alone in a meeting with that person. I let them know how much a bully I thought they were, though not very mindfully in my wet sobbing grief.

Ultimately, it opened the door for me to finally try trusting the larger body of the organization enough to confide about what has been happening. This is very difficult for me and I am not sure how it will go, as relational aggression, as I was told it is, is not easy to address.

Practicing compassion sounds like it should be really easy and sweet. It is when we want to do it for people we like, but practicing it when we don’t want to with people who have been unkind and hurtful to others or our own self is not always easy, not at first. It takes some heavy lifting, but it leaves you feeling light and free in the end.

Whatever is causing the suffering that is leading to such behaviors, may it be cast out. Ultimately, that individual will have to dig down into the roots of that suffering and yank it out, just like a weed. Then it can decompose back to fertile ground.

Jizo
Line drawing

There is no end to the arrows life throws at you. Sure, you could just isolate yourself away, but your mind will still throw arrows at you. If we are really honest about it, that is where all the arrows originate. The practice of transmuting the arrow into blossom is about keeping your heart empty enough to hold everything…. the whole universe… as it is.. right now. One flower after another.

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