Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"To Sleep With Anger"

On Martin Luther King Day day at our annual WTI gathering, we watched “To Sleep With Anger,” a 1990 film directed by Charles Burnett. The film is about a black family residing in South-Central Los Angeles. One day, an old acquaintance (Harry, played by Danny Glover) come to visit the Gideon and his wife Suzie. Harry seems to be a good old friend, but always seems to stir up trouble. The family already had some conflicts but they seemed to get worse when Harry was there.

Eventually, Gideon has a stroke, and Babe Brother, the younger son, is heavily influenced by Harry. Babe Brother is about to leave his wife. The older brother, Junior, confronts Babe Brother before he departs and a fight erupts – with a knife. The mother tries to break it up and her hand gets cut, and they rush her to the hospital.

The incident brings many of the family’s conflicts to the forefront, and seems to unite them in a positive way once all recognize the negative influence of Harry, as Harry is asked to go.

To me, “To Sleep With Anger” is a classic film, full of the issues that any family faces. Indeed, much of this reminded me of my semi-dysfunctional family with our many failures and some successes.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I went to a viewing of this film where Mr. Burnett was there to talk to the crowd and answer questions. It was a wonderful event. I’d already seen the movie but was compelled to see it where I could talk to the writer and director.

I asked him about some of the little details, like the young boy trying to play the horn, and the boy who fed the pigeons. These were little details that added a depth to the movie, though they had nothing to do with the plot. Mr. Burnett told me that that boy represented him, which made me smile. Watch the movie, and see how the boy and his horn practice somewhat frames the movie.

And Harry – who does he repesent? You have to see it and figure it out for yourself.

The movie won several awards, but I had never heard of it before a friend pointed it out to myself and Dolores back in the mid-90s.

“I think this is a great movie,” I told Mr. Burnett. “So why do you think it’s gotten so little attention?” Burnett’s answer was quick, and initially surprised me.
“Because there are all black actors,” he said matter of factly. “Really?” I said. Well, in fact, there were a few token whites in the movie, like one of the paramedics. Still, the movie was so good, capturing “family-ness” so well, that I just naturally assumed people would be color-blind and go see it and enjoy it and benefit from it.

Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, it can be rented or purchased at video places. I hope you view it and enjoy it like I did.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Birthday Run

I arrived around 8 a.m. at the Lower Arroyo casting ponds to do my annual birthday run that I’ve done for about 32 years now. I mentally divided the lap around the pool into seasons, and attempted to review each year of my life with each corresponding lap.

The day was overcast and cool, and somehow I felt very much in the past. In fact, as I ran, I had the sensation of viewing a single life, in the sense that it is only one life, no more, no less, and that I should attempt to derive lessons from the life that I “take with me.”

During childhood, I realized, perhaps more than ever before, all the opportunities that my parents afforded me. While we did not have the best nor happiest family, there was a stable home and regular meals. I realized that I was hungry for something as soon as I was able to think about things. And I pursued that something better, something more, in just about everything I did, which included poetry, painting, drumming, long conversations with friends about the meaning of life, gardening, meditation, and even drugs.

In many ways, that was good, since I had the chance to attempt to think for myself, and make mistakes, and attempt to evolve my own value judgements. On the other hand, I really should have had more parental guidance. I think I wanted much more pressure, and I felt I was able to do so much more at an early age. Nevertheless, I don’t harbor a bit of resentment towards my parents. I love them more than ever, and talk to each of them daily – despite that both have been deceased for many years.

I saw my life as the pursuit of meaning, of love, and of home, though I don’t think I realized it in those terms all those years. All too often, I did like everyone else does and engaged in the pursuit of money, thinking that money would provide my life with real meaning, love, and home. I think I still battle that one, since we all need the things that money can help us achieve, but we actually don’t need money, per se.

I cried the hardest when I thought of my acts of cruelty towards Dolores before we got married. It wasn’t intentional, and we were both homeless at the time (1984), and we managed to overcome that. But it still pains me, and I vow every day to not let my darker side ever overtake my actions again. And money never can buy love. Money bought our house, but we had to make it a home, which is an art, and requires love. And therein, in the act of lovingly creating a home, we found meaning.

And time goes on. When Dolores died two years ago, I relived that pain while running, and felt her soft hand caressing my forehead, saying both hello and goodbye.

By the time I finished running, I was in physical pain. I still, as I write these words, feel in that timelessness that the birthday run afforded me.

I realized, to my chagrin, that much of my life I was a taker, expecting others to carry the ball for me. Lately, I feel I am again somewhat imbalanced, giving, not receiving as much. So my gift to myself is to continue to seek the mysteries of life, to seek meaning, love, and home, and to allow myself to receive as much as I give.

In many ways, I felt that I died today, that some part of me died away, and that I am like a new child eager and ready for a new life. Too bad I am a new child in this broken down body….

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

On the Road to 2012

In December, I had the opportunity to travel to Yucatan and to visit Mayan sites under the guidance of Miguel Angel Vergara Calleros, PhD. Calleros is the author of numerous books on the Maya. He was the director of cultural services at Chichen Itza for several years and is one of the foremost authorities on the archaelogical site of Chichen Itza. Additionally, he studied with a Mayan shaman for 17 years, and now continues to share in classes and seminars about Mayan spirituality.

Among other things, I was going to learn about the significance of the December 21, 2012 date to the Maya. For example, were there any actual predictions about 2012? Did the Maya predict that the world would end? Did they predict doom and gloom? Did they predict anything at all?

But I wasn’t going to learn these things in a vacuum. I was going to spend nearly two week immersed in Maya culture, learning significant aspects of their beliefs, spirituality, and monumental architecture. I would learn about 2012 in the proper context.

I arrived in Merida by airplane in early December, ready for a week of travel to pyramids and caves and cenotes.

On our first day, I was pleasantly surprised that Calleros was not only incredibly knowledgeable about Mayan history and archaeology, but was also a true metaphysician who constantly drew parallels between the exoteric world of rocks and inscriptions to the inner esoteric world of my own soul and my own body.

“As above, so below,” he would often tell us.

We began by visiting Mayapan, the last place where Kukulkan was know to reside. Kukulkan, aka Quetzalcoatl, was referred to as the Mayan Christ, a visitor who came from afar, who uplifted the people, and who created Mystery Schools whose ancient universal teachings are still preserved in stone.

We visited Izamal, where the top of a major pyramid had been leveled to create a large cathedral in the colonial days. There, on the large sprawling plaza of the cathedral, Pope John Paul II came in 1993 to ask forgiveness of the native people for the atrocities committed by the Spanish and by the Church. Ten thousand native people showed up to see the Pope and to hear his plea for forgiveness.

Later in the day, we had lunch at Mani, where in 1562 the zealous Bishop Diego de Landa ordered the burning and destruction of Mayan codices and artifacts. Even though de Landa didn’t understand what the artifacts meant, he was convinced that they were contrary to the teaching of the church.

“This destruction was akin to the burning of the library of Alexandria in the ancient world,” said Calleros. Interestingly, as an afterthought, de Landa thought there might be something of value in the Mayan writings and he saved 4 codices from destruction, and began to write down everything he could recalled in his famous document, “Relacion de Cosas de Yucatan” (History of the Things of Yucatan). It is because of de Landa’s writings that much of the Maya writings have been translated and understood.

At each site we entered, Calleros taught us how to enter in reverence, and how to depart the site with reverence, much the way a devout person would do at their chosen church or mosque. He performed ancient Mayan ceremonies at most sites – at the pyramids, in a cave, at a cenote, on the beach at sunset. When we gathered around his just-assembled altar, he prayed to the six directions, and we sent offerings of seed to the six directions.

To me, much of the ceremony was reminiscent of the Catholic Mass that dominated my childhood, though the Mayan ceremonies were outdoors, natural, and pre-Christian.

One night, Calleros and Richard Jelusich talked about the Mayan calendar. Like our own modern calendar, the Maya had different divisions of time which they kept track of. We have the day, the week, the month, the year, the millennium, etc. The Maya counted time by the number of days that have elapsed since a day that corresponds to our August 11, 3114 B.C. (The significance of that date is unclear).

The divisions of time that they kept track of were one day (called a “kin”), 20 days (called a “uinal” – roughly a month), 360 days (called a “tun” – roughly a year), 7,200 days (called a “katun”—19.7 years), and 144,000 days (called a “baktun” – 394.26 years). Thus, a calendar glyph would be represented by 5 symbols, and a number to indicate how many days in each of the periods have elapsed. The “Long Count” of the Maya calendar is the time it takes for 13 baktuns, counting from August 11, 3114 B.C. This Long Count is a period of 5,125.36 years, and that cycle ends on December 21, 2012. However. the following day does not begin the 14th baktun, but rather, the count from 1 to 13 begins again. One Long Count ends, another begins.

“The calendar doesn’t end,” says Calleros. “It just begins another cycle. It just rolls on, just like our modern calendar that never really ends.”

There are no predictions about anything at all pertaining to December 21, 2012. This is due in part because the Maya who wrote these inscriptions have been long gone. Still, there is nothing in the recorded records about doom and gloom. In fact, there is hardly any mention about 2012 at all. Only one stela mentions it.

Calleros acknowledges that lots of folks are simply making things up to sell books and fill seminars. “But, the Maya would have celebrated such a cycle ending, just like everyone today celebrates the New Year.” Calleros is aware that many are treating 2012 with great fear, largely due to ignorance.

Over the course of nearly two weeks, we went to many pyramid sites, remote villages, beaches, caves, and cenotes. One late night ceremony deep in a cenote was exceptional. Equally exceptional was participating in a Mayan ceremony on the beach of Campeche while the sun set.

We looked at plumed serpents in stone, crystal skulls, red jaguars, and living mysteries. Throughout it all, Calleros emphasized that the meaning of “Mayan sacrifices” was that we must let our egos die if we want to transform ourselves and bloom spiritually. “Don’t polish the stones of the pyramids,” he’d tell us. “but polish the stone of your temple and improve your character.” We should be less concerned about the external crystal skulls, and more concerned about the skull within. The crystal skull, we were told, represents our own Christ within.

We learned that the secret to 2012 is everywhere. The secret is within you and it is within the cross shape of every pyramid, and within every tree. In fact, there is no secret at all. 2012 is everything and nothing. It is the ending of the 13 baktuns of the Long Count as another Long Count begins. It is a time, therefore, of increased awareness and internet connections that allows us to be instantly connected. It is a time of potential, and like any other such time, it is entirely up to us to fit ourselves to be ready for such opportunities.

Note: Though there are now numerous 2012 books flooding the market, the only one I’d recommend is “The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth behind the most intriguing date in history” by John Major Jenkins.