Friday, December 15, 2006

Following Rainbows, Sun Dogs & Shadows

[Some thoughts on the unacknowledged world and shadow self, banged out Friday 12/15, on my pda/phone, on a plane]

There were low-hanging, thin clouds over O'hare airport this morning. After we broke through the cloud cover, I looked down and saw the shadow of our airplane, surrounded by a lovely rainbow hued nimbus. The colors were quite intense, with three visible bands of fading saturation. I watched the shadow of our plane throughout our ascent, as our shadow became smaller, and the refraction, though visible, gradually less evident. The effect persisted for a surprisingly long time, and even as the clouds thinned, and our shadow became a speck, then disappearing, I could see a hint of rose pacing our progress. Just as the clouds were reduced to small clots, we passed over something highly reflective on the ground - a thin, narrow band, though of what I can't say (a steel barrier of some sort? It seemed too bright for water). There, again, that rainbow hue became visible again - no longer a hint of rose, but the divided, visible spectrum. I've no doubt it follows still, though I can't see it.

I'm sure this is a natural phenomenon; a product of the light bending around the skin of our aircraft in the moist air. We turned at one point, casting the surface of our wings more directly against the oncoming sunlight, and the effect intensified. I don't know why I've never seen it before. Perhaps it takes a unique set of conditions, and angle. It reminded me, once, of a day I was driving to a conference in the Utah mountains, north of Morgan. It was a clear, cold, sunny day, with the light intensified by the reflective snow. I looked up, and saw an intense, vertical band of rainbow (a sun dog), as the light passed through what must have been suspended ice crystals. I'd never seen one before, and I haven't seen one since. It was an unexpected wonder.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of an early morning drive on highway three, along the Saranac River. I come from a mixed desert and alpine climate, and it’s a rare joy to drive through wisps of fog so thick you feel as though you could catch hold of them. There are rock faces along that road where small natural springs make their tiny contribution to that lovely waterway, and though its unseasonably warm there now, they'd become frozen miniature sculptures, under the shadow of night.

I have reverence for the gifts afforded by shadows. There is an underbelly to the world - a place where terrible things happen that almost never see the light of day. But it’s a gift to understand there are two sides, not one; a gift that fosters kinship between poets, artists, therapists and drunks. Though the disparity can be shocking, attempts to reconcile the worlds within a unified view, particularly those involving the creation of an externalized construct, result in objects with the power to convey the solution attempted, with varying degrees of success, by its creator.

So out of the shadows of genocide, the work of Victor Frankl emerges, or from madness, Van Gogh. Childhood alienation and failure produces an Edison, or an Einstein, while wasting disease produces a withered, luminescent Hawking. Out of the bitter shadows of subjugation and murder comes Martin Luther King jr., Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. From the ravages of addiction: Dylan, Jerry Garcia, or any number of modern artists (though I dearly wish they weren't using self-destructive substances as a substitute for transformative experience).

But there are grave risks, and a terrible price that is only mitigated, not absolved, by reconciliations between the two halves of things. To the extent that transformative experiences with the unacknowledged prompt a broader consideration and view of the universe, they facilitate wisdom, innovation, and art. To the extent they encourage increasingly frantic efforts to deny the unacknowledged, they stifle internal development and foster conditions that make unspeakable acts possible. This, for better or worse, appears to be an integral aspect of being human that supersedes philosophical assertions about moral relativism; intentionally keeping one eye closed narrows view, and limits the universe of potential solutions.

Despite what is characteristically promulgated, the world is not threatened, now or at any other time, by evil persons. The world faces grave threats from concrete thinkers - literalists who find virtue in the certainty afforded by closing one eye. To the extent we encourage this in our culture, we are cultivating the elements of our own destruction - no matter how virtuous we convince ourselves, or noble our cause. Evangelical Christianity, fundamentalist Islam, or blind adherence to political, economic or philosophical ideology all require us to shut off our precious cognitive faculties, selectively limit our field of vision, and preclude consideration of, or reconciliation with, the unacknowledged. Self-blinded narcissists have worked more destruction than all the sociopaths who ever walked the face of the earth.

So, while I don't love my shadow, I acknowledge its importance, and value its gifts. It keeps me humble, and forces me to acknowledge my own divided nature.

I’d much rather be complete, and conflicted, than at peace in my blinders.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.



fluffy black puppies said...


off-topic-ish, but this post made me think of it again ... i've seen tree people and shadow people all my life [that i can remember], but never worried about till i stumbled over this
some time ago.

it's one of the many things i like about having a dog. if my dog runs up to it and pees on it, it's just a figment of my imagination.

TenaciousK said...

Ouch - didn't mean to scare you. Using your dog to discriminate between what's there and what's not; you're not the first person I've heard that from.

If you've seen them all of your life, then it's certainly not what I was describing (evidence of a substance-engendered breakdown of the feedback loops associated with perception). With kids, a hallmark symptom of anxiety is when they, or their parent, talk about the kid periodically coming into the room believing they'd heard the parent call their name. This is different than an adult (or family member reporting), "One of the things he's doing is hearing people call his name all the time," though transient examples of this are certainly common enough (I've woken on a number of occasions in my life hearing someone in the room speak my name, though there's no-one there, for example).

If your experience of the tree people is lifelong, I imagine it has more to do with a neurological idiosyncrasy than a psychiatric instability. Sorry to have scared you.

Still, I'd stay away from meth (sound general advice, of course), unless in therapeutic quantities in a controlled state from a reliable, clean pharmaceutical company, with traditional dosage delivery, etc. Everybody's brain has tipping points.

fluffy black puppies said...

i'm pretty sure i'm not the only one who uses their pets' reactions [or lack thereof] as a reality check.

i did notice that the various hallucinations dropped off in intensity and frequency when i stopped taking sudafed [and most other drugs as well].

i had some really eerie ones earlier this year on one of the prescription drugs i was taking, but the doctor convinced me it was a necessary evil and would i please take it for 30 days. i did, but it wasn't any fun.

i've always liked that bumper sticker [t-shirt too] that says i do what the little voices tell me. i've always heard those voices, too, but they're always on the radio, in another room, lots of static, and they've never said a word to me [or about me], they just drone on and on and...

interesting. i can only remember one time waking up thinking i'd heard someone call my name. probably i just haven't been paying attention.

most of the people who know me in real life would say i'm a bit odd, but not a one of them has ever suggested i'm psychotic. funny thing, though, i've usually gotten on quite well with [seemingly] psychotic dogs. hmmm...

anyways, i wasn't all that worried, more curious i suppose. but please don't stop posting interesting stuff just because it might scare somebody.

speaking of droning on and on, i didn't mean to.

Dawn Coyote said...

Hey hipparchia: A couple of years ago I was taking a medication that turned my pattern recognition up a little too high. Disparate events would resolve into connections that lent an odd, mystical quality to everything. It was sort of fun.

I use my cats, usually asleep on the bed at night, to ascertain whether sounds that I hear ought to raise my heart rate. The cats are typically unconcerned, except for a recent incident when Sweet Pea and I both awoke in the early morning to stare at the bedroom door, just beyond which an odd swoosh swoosh sound could be heard. I got up to investigate, and heard the thunk as Scooter dropped all 20 lbs of himself onto the floor.

Outside my bedroom, at the front door of the house, there's a coat rack on the wall with all my various scarves on it. Scooter, devising a new method to get me to get up and feed him, had clawed five of them off their pegs by the time I woke up. Not wanting to reinforce this clever new trick, I picked him up and tossed him outside in the rain.

fluffy black puppies said...

hey, dawn! i knew i wasn't alone!

gee whiz, i never have any of the fun drug reactions. that last one, i was being flung against the walls by poltergeists. disorienting and painful.

poor scooter! all that work for nothing. less than nothing, actually. i usually enjoy my pets' creativities, but they/ve learned not to wake me up from a sound sleep.

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