Wednesday, April 20, 2016

On Stories That Don’t End Happily Ever After

Sometimes a fog obscures our vision.
         Recently we adventured into the African village where the princess searches for her perfect match and discards all the suitors: too fat, too smelly, too boring, pretentious, naïve, goody-goody, too quiet, too loud. All are disdained mirrors. Finally, her father gives the ultimatum for her to find an acceptable man in a week or he will do it for her.
         In an interesting way, this story turns around the theme we explored with Dame Ragnell and the dynamic of choice. How far is the just reach of an individual’s freedom to choose? With Ragnell and Gawaine (and King Arthur!), we suffered the damages of male prerogative and worked into the perennial rebalancing of masculine and feminine from one side.
         In this African tale, Princess Nikun shows the other extreme. What happens when the feminine presumes to know-it-all (cf., Jung’s anima/animus possession). She acts as if the right to choose is cheaply won? In our “real world,” it seems that at every moment someone's hurting due to the illusion of invulnerability. Surely this illusion ranks high among false beliefs. In the mirror of Nikun, we might glimpse our danger and wake up before it’s too late.
         For we are perilously endangered. A great strength also makes a tremendous risk. In Brian Boyd’s summary of the evolution of consciousness, he emphasizes the potential we have to unmask false belief.
Because other agents--prey, predators, and especially human friends and foes--make the most dramatic difference to our chances and choices day by day, our understanding of other minds has evolved into our richest natural mental capacity. We explain the visible behavior of agents of all kinds, especially human agents, in terms of things we cannot see-beliefs, desires, and intentions-and we find these explanations powerful. We see psychological cause as a paradigm of all cause. . . Precisely because we understand false belief, because we realize we may err in action if we err in knowledge, we try to explain events more deeply. (pages 281-2, On the Origin of Stories, my emphasis)
To our extreme risk, we often do not recognize false belief. Our desires can spin delusion, at least misimpression. At times, we don't acknowledge our failure to see, and we even refuse to admit what stands clearly before us.
         Nikun looks so ridiculous especially when she has targeted her dream-match and as she refuses to acknowledge the clear signs that her choice pursuit is not only disgusting but also highly dangerous. No one would act like that, we might scoff. Well, try talking to someone who has watched a loved one sink into addiction. Ask if the wrecks, the lost relationships, the health issues were much too clear to be missed—and yet like Nikun they get denied.
         Good stories offer a chance to witness forecasts of unhappy consequences. Hubris. The old stories often warn us of presuming to know too much, of rushing into freedom as if it demanded little responsibility, as if we knew love. Helen Luke opens the treasure in Good Stories including the Biblical account of Jacob. Her analysis suggests that although Nikun receives a terrible disfigurement, perhaps even the scars, inner and outer, serve a purpose.

If we dare to wrestle as Jacob did, we may be in some way crippled in ordinary collective living. Without this we would not be able to stand it. We would rise out of the weakness of our humanity into the hubris of fancied equality with the gods. After a new insight there are two dangers; either an inflation of the ego may possess us, or we may fall into discouragement, imagining that the insight means that we ought now to be free of all our old inadequacies. The “lameness,” accepted, cures both these delusions. (page 116; Helen M. Luke, The Inner Story: Myth and Symbol in the Bible and Literature)



Sunday, April 3, 2016

Winning and Losing: The Marriage

early April 3: the play of light and dark
Have you noticed in the sports world how many #1s there are? While this might seem ludicrous, almost a parody on excellence, I wonder how this claim toward the top might signal a positive pathway.
         Let’s not be naïve about it. The reach for the crown carries a dangerous aspect. Given the dominant paradigm that offers only one ultimate champion, the multitude of claims for being the best often leads to disappointment and heartbreak for everyone but the one winner, generating despair and broken dreams. Viewed rather cynically, this championship enterprise markets gambling, along with drinking and drugs to distract from the pain of loss.
         Yet these dangers do not disqualify seeing a multitude of teams chanting “We’re Number One!” as an opportune moment. In Good Stories, we explore this paradigm-changing potential through teaching-narratives when we probe the depths of archetypal constructs, especially marriage and treasure. As we all know, fairy tales often build to the climactic wedding. This motif opens consideration of the “marriage of opposites.” How, then, do we marry winning and losing?
         Before we move directly into that question, let’s also note a companion theme that helps open the mystery: the treasure. But treasure is also a polyvalent window; it’s a threshold or opening to another world where the prize shifts shape and where what has been lost gets found. Or, in other words, trash turns to treasure.
         We entered a Good Story this week about twins who initially appear as opposites: beauty and ugly. But, in the way of story, it’s the  unattractive, troublesome one who deals with the trolls. And it’s the loss of beauty’s head, a saving transgression, that empowers their travel under the edge of the world and on into the double wedding, the marriage of opposites in a dialectical transcendence where new vision recognizes beauty beneath the superficial.
         Can we imagine a world that sees beauty as the power to deal with dark forces instead of the number of zeros after the dollar sign? The teaching on treasure is continued redemption. Talents are to be wisely invested in the purification and renewal of life, not hoarded and buried away.
         Playing games that mean for us to lose puts us in the face of our fear of ultimate loss, dying. Rilke resonates this in our wrestling with the angel, asserting, “This is how we grow! By being defeated, decisively by constantly greater beings.” John Dominic Crossan in The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story tells: “game is a very serious practice session for life and death, or, more precisely, for life towards death” (p. 5).
         When we and our athletes have to absorb the loss of the dream of being national champion, do we find redemption? Among the variety of possibilities, let’s consider the world of multiplicity.  To struggle with the marriage of winning and losing builds a world with space for paradox. How do we learn to continue to live as if winning is the only thing at the same time that we accept defeat by constantly greater beings? How else do we learn to go under the edge of the world? We must move beyond the world that wins at small things because we realize the loss when winning gains the whole world but loses the soul!
         Crossan says that we live within story where myth and parable shape us “to be human and to remain open to transcendental experience” (p. 39, Dark Interval). In this paradoxical world formed in the Winning-Losing wedding, our treasure chest stores the liberating role of not-yet-sense.  Storytelling’s redeemed from the poor-box where it’s often relegated in contemporary academics. Instead of the singular presumption of objective reality, the gold coins become Uncertainty and Indeterminacy, affirmed even by quantum physics (e.g., p. 116, Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning.)
         There is no closing to the mystery wedding of Winning-Losing, but a few lines may serve to keep us going:
“And the wonder and mystery of art, as indeed of religion in the last resort, is the revelation of something ‘wholly other’ by which the inexpressible loneliness of thinking is broken and enriched.”  Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, p 237. (Quoted in Crossan, In Parables, p. 2.)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Long View of Old-Growth Cultures

Looking north, predawn, March 19, 2016.

In our study of Good Stories, in addition to reading print versions of the stories, the primary text has been Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Standing out to me from his survey of the dynamics among his subtitle’s three forces are two essential themes: cooperation and reciprocal altruism. In order to survive (evolution), in order to advance thinking and consciousness (cognition), and in order to engage, to imagine, and thus to advance culture (fiction/story), good guys need to work and play together (cooperation). In my simplified paraphrase, Boyd even asserts that for the good guys to advance culture and civilization, they must be willing to punish those persons who share with the goons. To put it even more starkly: altruism has to be strategic; new-agey unconditional love gives away too much to the haters. Boyd says:
Cheaters will thrive in exchanges with altruists unless altruists discriminate against—refuse further exchange with, or actively punish—cheaters. . .
For altruism to work robustly a whole suite of motivations has to be in place: sympathy, so that I am inclined to help another; trust, so that I can offer help now and expect it will be somehow repaid later; gratitude, to incline me, when I have been helped, to return the favor; shame, to prompt me to repay when I still owe a debt; a sense of fairness, so that I can intuitively gauge an adequate share or repayment; indignation, to spur me to break off cooperation with or even inflict punishment on a cheat; and guilt, a displeasure at myself and fear of exposure and reprisal to deter me from seeking the short-term advantages of cheating. We can reverse-engineer the social and moral emotions so central to our engagement with others in life and in story. Rather than merely taking these emotions as givens, we can account for them as natural selection's way of motivating widespread cooperation in highly social species. (pp. 57-58; Kindle, 686-691)

         A refreshing complement to Boyd has come in reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of PlantsKimmerer, a botanist and the director of the Center forNative Peoples and the Environment, also shares her vision in a 2012 TED talk: Reclaiming the Honorable Harvest Perhaps her text will soon be added as required reading for Good Stories. Reciprocity strands through Kimmerer’s scientific accounts of plant life and her reflections on the teachings they offer for sustainable living as well as for depth of meaning, extending even into the spiritual realm. I continue to be moved by her grace in re-member-ing our country’s colonization of the “new world” and its many native inhabitants: stone, plant, animal, and human.
         One particular section contributes especially to the prospects for cooperation. In her study of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, she underscores a kind of bittersweet hope for us in our time of endangered global warming.
         When resources begin to run short, as they always will, cooperation and strategies that promote stability—strategies perfected by rainforest ecosystems—will be favored. The breadth and depth of these reciprocal symbioses are especially well developed in old-growth forests, which are designed for the long haul.
         Industrial forestry, resource extraction, and other aspects of human sprawl are like salmonberry thickets—swallowing up land, reducing biodiversity, and simplifying ecosystems at the demand of societies always bent on having more. In five hundred years we exterminated old-growth cultures and old-growth ecosystems, replacing them with opportunistic culture. Pioneer human communities, just like pioneer plant communities, have an important role in regeneration, but they are not sustainable in the long run. When they reach the edge of easy energy, balance and renewal are the only way forward, wherein there is a reciprocal cycle between early and late successional systems, each opening the door for the other. (p. 284)

         In my own experience, I’m cautiously hopeful in voluntarily taking less while increasing gratitude and seeking more deeply while expecting multiplicity. Love, for example, comes in so many colors and textures. In sleeplessness at two a.m., love invites meditation. A touch of pain advises adjusting motion: slow down while weeding and hear the birdsong. Hurt feelings expand care and prioritize inner understanding over external approval.

         And stories, the good ones, open windows to rooms capable of holding all this. Our next one might be “The Mechanical Horse” because it pushes us to realize the dangers of demanding immediate gratification. The eye wanting it right now loses the soft gaze that attends to hard wisdom found in old-growth cultures.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

To Long for the Apprehension of Wonder

Life at the edge of wonder opens wordlessly in the poetry of images, in awe, having to remember to breathe.
         And then words come in, in this shimmering veil of thin apprehension, fearing the magical immediacy slip away. The words I wish to return then: “Fear not. For I am with you.”
         Love is always present. But how to know it in sadness, even in grief, depression? There the wished-for security, the holding-still power of language, fails. How can the word love contain ecstasy and despair the way deep inarticulate knowing does? So we’re released from words back to the dance, the just-enough, the unquenched longing.
         Perhaps that’s why I love the fog, once in awhile.
         Teaching, like learning, at least as I aspire to move within them, long for this apprehension of wonder. That’s where my search belongs: how do we move so fully prepared to risk the presence. How to hunger for the taste of words unashamed of being fragile, of disappearing like the fog, and to be left wrapped in silent warmth.
         Not many educators mumble around like this, distrusting the adequacy of the published word. Rarely I feel companionship, but I do with Robin Wall Kimmerer. She bravely and beautifully writes in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants:
“To have agency in the world, ceremonies should be reciprocal co-creations, organic in nature, in which the community creates ceremony and the ceremony creates communities. They should not be cultural appropriations from Native peoples. But generating new ceremony in today’s world is hard to do. . . [especially when we] lack an active, reciprocal relationship with the more-than-human world.” (Pages 250-1)Earlier she summarized: “The land is the real teacher. All we need as students is mindfulness. Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart. My job was just to lead them into the presence and ready them to hear.” (Page 221)
         Robin’s writings help me articulate my focus in teaching. It’s on gift, on giving back. To discern the advent of life, authentic flow of gusto, the joyful embrace that affirms the connection with the source, love. “I was a hidden treasure and wanted to be known” (e.g., Chittick, Sufism, 77-). Love is the presence of the beloved, the eye of the creative force looking back into the Source of Love, the life-giving gift, the indwelling presence, spirit in matter, the voice of gratitude. My intention in Good Stories, echoing Robin: that we enter the presence, ready for giving.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Good Stories Move Us from Literal-Mindedness to Transformational Living


Dawn, today, March 12, 2016
Good Stories transform the literal (mundane, meaningless, and/or mean) into the Essential: True, Just, Peace, Beauty, Love. . . In doing this, the pathway of Good Stories progresses from resonance into amplification, through translation of nonsensical and fundamentalist oppression into liberating personal and social meaningfulness.  At best, Good Stories thrill in transformation.
         As we produce digital media projects and work through the associated journal assignments, we enact this progression. I’m finding it’s a pretty good model for transforming life in general. After all, we are making a Good Story, aren’t we? So here we go:
1. Identify the strongest point of resonance.
2. Develop amplification at the story level.
3. Translate to the individual level and amplify at that level.
4. Establish need for amplification through showing a complication.
5. Connect the amplification to an archetypal term.
6. Translate the archetypal term across the universal level to the local level.
7. Explore the transformation in meaning and/or capacity.
          As in most attempts to articulate a complex process, the seven steps are an oversimplification.  The actual work of moving from Resonance to Transformation usually takes these steps out of order, goes back recursively, and dialogically intermingles the steps. So don’t force yourself to go 1 to 7; when your imagination opens windows in a different sequence, go with the flow. I’ll illustrate the movement from Resonance into Transformation with my own thinking and composing, and you might notice how it flows on its own dynamic wings.

Step 1. Identify the strongest point of resonance.
Resonance: Centering on the individual’s resonant moment/image in a teaching-story focuses the big question that wants exploration and integration. An individual’s big question often paradoxically appears initially as trivial or as nonsense, and so it’s better to respect the small voice as “not-yet-sense.”
     For most of my life I’ve resonated with the Epaminondas story, particularly with the Puppy Episode. [For background on the story, see Note* at end of post.] The story is often portrayed as a “nonsense tale.” Yet, especially due to a near-death childhood experience, I’ve been drawn to wonder about someone (like Epaminondas or Lazy Jack) who follows directions exactly and without the understanding of when and how prescriptions ought to be modified. As Brian Boyd asserts in On the Origin of Stories, the ability to adapt is crucial to survival and to advancing both consciousness and culture. Good Stories, like Epaminondas, when developed as a teaching-story help us adapt through developing symbolic capacity and thus liberate us from being stuck in literalism.
         Maybe my wonderment also concerns the nature of knowing, including intuitive capacity, and about serving true authority instead of ones that have lost contact with the essence. Note that wonder continues to provide a center for the composing of a digital media project, just as it does for life worth living. It's important to identify a question or a puzzle capable of motivating exploration. The inquiry isn't worth the effort unless the question is significant and vital to the individual explorer and to our world. The effects on the puppy in the early versions of Epaminondas force me to confront the consequences of literal mindedness.

         Here's an image of wonder; certainly one I find wonderful. 
It’s a photo I took on October 9, 1982 when my mom was telling Epaminondas to my three-year-old daughter, about thirty years after she first told it to me.






And just in case anyone got a mistaken notion that I don’t love puppies because the person listens to the story too literally, here’s a photo about thirty years further down the road from the one just shown, from about December 2014, with my daughter, me, and the sweetest doggie in the world.








In my digital media production, when I talk about Epaminondas, I might show these two images as well as this sketch.My voice-over might talk about having stars in my eyes and missing the consequences in the "real world." For example, a devotion to being an academic star (or any other kind that is not authentic to the indwelling light) risks loss of the sense-born-with, the essence of it all.


Step 2. Amplification with Nonsense stories & with Buried Treasure story.
Because I want to understand more about this kind of event, I amplify my point of resonance with other stories. When I looked for anyone who acts like Epaminondas, I found the Lazy Jack story.** Going further with the "lazy" theme, I found a book called Lazy Stories and in it I found "BuriedTreasure." Further tracing has taken me into the amazing Nasruddin
         In each of these, the protagonists act in some ways like Epaminondas.  But they often end up with happy results!  I wonder how these starkly different outcomes happen. What might I do that would increase my chances for happy results?
         My thinking leads me to consider Step 4 and then 5 before I attend to Step 3. As noted earlier, it's fine to skip around as your thought path and association of images leads you. 
4.Establish need for amplification through showing a complication.
As just indicated, I see a complication about when this literal-mindedness works and when it doesn’t. Why does Jack get the rich man’s daughter when he’s following directions almost the same way that Epaminondas does and Epaminondas loses everything? Why does Luis get the buried treasure when he seems to sleep so much? That reminds me of Spider in the Kanu story…Hmmm...
         Maybe there’s something about Luis, Jack, and Spider that is not evident at first glance. Maybe there’s something about me and about the work I’m here to do that has that kind of invisible and non-appreciated aspect.
         Sometimes our "gift" is hidden until the time is right and/or until we search enough to find it. Sometimes a gift or talent is too big to manifest until the person entrusted with it has developed sufficiently to be able to handle it without harming self or others. I'm still searching and finding more that seems to hide behind veils. My blog posted on Sept. 13, 2015 shows part of this search.

Step 5. Connect the amplification to an archetypal term.
As I look for comparison stories and for the relevant moment in the stories, it's obvious that I  need a broader term than “Epaminondas.” I know the story is called a “nonsense tale” and that he is called a “noodlehead.” So I look for characters who act a bit looney. When I look at categories of archetypal figuresI note the “jester.” In addition to the Jack tales, I can amplify with Nasruddin and similar figures. In looking into archetypes, I also found Jung’s “inferior function.”
         As expected with working with archetypes, I’m not really content with any single label. This feeling is typical when dealing with archetypes because they tend to defy labeling. But I can work with the term “nonsense,” especially when I put it in the context of moving toward not-yet-sense with the potential of advancing further into sense-born-with. The culture of “court jester” also helps because it affirms the place of story in advancing social justice.
   Possible image I could use:


Now I’ll skip back to Step 4. Establish need for amplification through showing a complication.
When reviewing archetypes, I was teased by Jung's "inferior function" and how something that isn't articulate might be the important place. When we feel drawn to something and it still doesn't make much sense, maybe it's not a problem but a clue that this is where things are hard to see.  This feeling reminds me of Luis in “Buried Treasure” and how it didn't make sense at first that he should get the treasure instead of Wally. Maybe there's an "invisible" dimension that allows Luis to engage power (the horse) in the amazing way he does. Again, the blog post just mentioned explores this point of wonder.
         A visual that I might use appeared when I was in production and noticed a fade between two images. The process of digital media producting offers opportunities to see ourselves in ways that penetrate veils. The screen capture of this fade is shown here:

Step 3. Translate to the individual level and amplify at that level.
The images just shown begins this translation. Sometimes I'm in the place of the avatar and the story figures. Now I'm trying to show and tell how this relates to me and not just to Luis or Jack or Epaminondas.
         As I consider this, two areas at the Individual Level dominate my thinking: storytelling and horsemanship. When my thinking jumped to Step 5, I saw that the word “jester” derived from storyteller or minstrel. The point in "Buried Treasure" that especially commands my attention is when Luis catches the horse by the bit. I can show visuals and talk about these areas in amplifying the movement of not-yet-sense into meaningfulness. How does storytelling open my capacity for imagination, for play, and for empathy? 

In this next image, I'm pretending to be in conversation with Jim Henson and Kermit. As explained in Step 6, the image overlaps Individual Level with Local Level; but here I'm mostly exploring my own Individual Level of my storytelling. I would also consider elaborating my personal engagement in horsemanship.

Step 5 (again). Connect the amplification to an archetypal term.

When I work with the theme of horsemanship, it takes me back into the connection with archetypes because the horse is a prime reference for the archetype of power. 
Here's a drawing I made by looking at an image that I found. I used it as a model for how I see the power in horses in a somewhat abstract way that fits with archetypes.






6. Translate the archetypal term across the universal level to the local level.
 Brian Boyd gives his definition for Local Level on page 322 of On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, & Fiction: "a local level...focuses on particular cultural, historical, social, economic, technological, intellectual, or artistic contexts." 
I see many Local Level possibilities for my point of resonance. As noted above, Jim Henson's work with storytelling gives an outstanding model for me to consider. I also consider models of horsemanship going back to the Spanish Riding School and contemporary persons such as Karen Rohlf's "Dressage Naturally" and Alan Hamilton's Zen Mind, Zen Horse. This photo below shows me in a workshop near Tucson, Arizona that is led by Dr. Hamilton. 
As shown in my sample digital media project, I connect horsemanship, horse rescue, and human recovery. I used photos of a prison fence that I took in Maryland and a horse rescue program in Maryland. Another terrific model involves connecting rescued mustangs with veterans and PTSD: braveheartsriding.org.

To amplify across the Local Level, I also get ideas from the following:
a. Darwin makes a positive model in establishing the importance of adaptation. In Tree of LifePeter Sis wonderfully shows the multiple levels of Darwin’s dealing with his developing consciousness.
b. Religious wars as negative: e.g., Crusades, Great Britian (Church of England vs Irish Catholic), ISIS. Even the hostile relationships in my home town among different churches.
c. Power struggles among academics for what counts as “research” in making tenure decisions.

7. Explore the transformation in meaning and/or capacity.
In this step, I can look at the three levels for indications about how to progress. At the Universal Level, I look at stories for places that light me up. For example, my energy level jumps when Luis stops the run-away horse by reaching out and catching the bit in the horse’s mouth! While I’ve not done exactly that, I have experienced exciting and insightful moments related to riding and working with horses. I also look in the Local Level for the persons who have inspired me: poets, storytellers, gnostics, and horsemen. I can talk with them or read accounts about their challenges and advances.
          Maybe the nonsense theme connects with moving toward a more meaningful understanding of power. This archetypal theme often offers the organizing principle for my production: I could show the nonsense situation with Epaminondas, move through my difficulty with the Puppy Episode, go into the amplification with Jack and Luis, show the connection I have with horses, explore how I've learned more about engaging power with respect and subtlety, weave in Local Level cases where they best fit, and conclude with insights I'm reaching about the big questions related to transformational power. Possible development could show movement from "out of control" toward "cooperation."  I might link with our Big Question in Good Stories that relates to advancing Peace & Justice. Again, I might return to the use of playful images such as the final one shown below. Any digital media production is unlikely to "answer" a big-enough question; instead, further possibilities are glimpsed before the closing credits. This closing image comes from a story called "Horse of Power" that we'll soon engage:

* The link is to my telling of Epaminondas and Lazy Jack. I’ve also made a 5-minute Vimeo (available by request) that includes an audio recording of my mom telling the story to my three-year-old daughter. It also shows evolution of the text of the story from the earliest print source I’ve found, ~1907 Sara Cone Bryant. The illustrations used in the early versions and portions of the text are sometimes criticized. Insensitive handling of the story deserves to be critiqued. I have great respect for the story and for the transformations it’s brought to my life and to the people and profession I love.


** Appalachian versions of the English tale of Lazy Jack were almost certainly the source from which the Kentucky tale that Sarah Cone Bryant reports as the basis of her “Epaminondas.”

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Riding from Passion to Compassion

Taken this morning, about 6:30AM, Sunday, March 6, 2016  


“In winter, when the green earth lies resting beneath a blanket of snow, 
this is the time for storytelling.” 
first line of Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kemmerer

         A story opens, “Long ago on the Yellow River, the people loved racing on swift horses . . .” Not surprisingly, DocHorseTales gets captured by these lines. In the way of true stories, it is my own, our own story. Yet to realize how this tale translates into our lives takes some diligent imagination. This past week when telling Kuan Yin, I wanted to bridge the long-ago with the contemporary.
         Our world, the one along the Potomac River, not far from our classroom, and the world of our campus culture, like most of our country, risks falling off the fast horse in our compulsive chase to claim “We’re #1.” This craze is obvious in sports, but it’s also the insidious power-drive radiating from Capitol Hill. It’s the power-drive that endangers the potential goodness of politics, business, and academia. The craziness gets mirrored in the barely conscious, racecar madness, experienced everyday, especially when driving on the Beltway.
         That’s how I see the Yellow River’s obsession with swift horses reflected in our Potomac River culture as well as in this wider land we call our country. I still love us, and for the most part I’m impressed by our athletes who serve as ambassadors for our university. But too often I hear of Heisman winners who are charged with domestic violence and “heroes” who model dependence on performance-enhancing drugs or alcoholism instead of authentic heroism. Then my hopes turn to the Yellow-River Kuan-Yin story for a cure.
         The positive side of this dangerous racing probably adheres in the value given to passion, strange as it may seem. As developed in the Kuan Yin story, even though this compulsive activity exposes the culture’s “darkness of the heart,” it also invokes the god/dess of compassion. Might compassion only be reached through the fires of passion? Remember the scripture says, “Be hot or cold—not lukewarm!” Yet, keeping with the nature of redemption, we should expect that the visitation demands evolutionary change. To develop a compassionate heart looks likely to require a life-changing experience.
         Why should we expect guidance into the deeper levels of love to come from a story? Both ibn `Arabī and Rumi assert that the discourse of definition doesn’t know love; instead, look to the tales for the phenomenal. William Chittick (Sufism, p. 77) translates the guides this way:
Those who define love have not known it, those who have not tasted it by drinking it down have not known it, and those who say they have been quenched by it have not known it, for love is drinking without quenching. (ibn `Arabī)
          Someone asked, “What is loverhood?”
            I replied, “Don’t ask me about these meanings—
         When you become like me, you’ll know;
            When it calls you, you’ll tell its tale.” (Rumi)
                                    
         The gift of story suspends around listening, not semi-present attention, but full-fledged engagement with receptors tuned to resonance. Reception of the gift, of the present that is brought in that immediacy, depends on the teller’s attunement as much as on that of the other participants during the story experience.
         While I was telling the Kuan Yin story this past Tuesday, my receptors picked up a disturbance near the opening. It happened when I was trying to bridge the long-ago with the now. I offered an aside suggesting a connection between Yellow River racing on swift horses and our chasing after balls with clubs and sticks. When saying this, my glance focused on student athletes from our golf and lacrosse teams.
         In the next days, I returned to consider the disturbance that I’d felt and began worrying that my brief comment might have been taken as an unintended devaluation of our student athletes. So in the moments before the next class, I checked with persons I thought might have been offended and found that my reference to their sports had not been taken negatively.
         I wondered, instead then, if the vibration I picked up was a direction telling me to return to the dangers attending collegiate sports. I followed this lead and developed a sample plan for a digital media production as a model for an upcoming assignment. The next major project for our class organizes around a “big question” that consolidates points of resonance each person has felt in the stories. The digital media production then amplifies and translates the big question into personal and social applications. The big question I shaped was:
How do we make a positive balance in our culture so that the lavish attention on sports enriches the world?
         I don’t know if any of these college students might go somewhere with that question. It will be interesting to see if any of them pursue it in their individual digital media productions. As I’m about fifty years older than them, my perspective on the question perhaps involves looking backwards more than they will and should. But I still value this question, and I feel very strongly that the advance most needed in my life and in that of our culture, the advance for our individual and our collective consciousness, centers on the movement from passion to compassion.
         Looking back, I sense that my mid-life crisis, at least one of them, had a passionate experience that was attenuated by riding fast on swift horses and ducking under low-hanging branches over the woodland trail. Fortunately, before serious injury, this craze was translated into safer riding through the discipline of dressage.  Embodied knowing, or perhaps it’s knowing through the body, recalibrated passion into compassion. I realized that I really cared about the health of the horse, not just about getting a rider’s high.
         With the help of patient horses and coaches, I accepted that those mad dashes were really bad riding and poor horsemanship, and yet I acknowledge that they did serve to hook me on horses. Perhaps in a rough analogy to the Bodhisattva Kuan Yin’s visit, Rhiannon worked through horses turning wild passion into natural horsemanship, balanced riding, and care.
         As just suggested, in addition to experiences with horses, my work/play with teaching-stories also guides the translation of passion into compassion. In amplifying the swift-horse riding of the Kuan Yin story, I took in Rhiannon from the Maginobion as well as Luis in “Buried Treasure” and the “Water of Life” stories. In the Grimms version, the arrogance and presumption of control shown by the two older brothers is sharply contrasted with the humility of the youngest who listens to the small voice.  By the end of the story, he is able to ride the gold road because he’s not distracted by self-centered desires but rides with clear focus on the beloved.


Another amplification comes in the Arabian Nights variation on the Water of Life showing the youngest sister’s ability to propose a strategy to deal with the “voices” that overpower anyone not connected with the authentic ruler.
         When I translate my question into the local level looking for applications in history, I’m drawn to one of the earliest sports involving horses. Rumi says “Kings play polo” to show the people their military prowess. It's “like an astrolabe for the serious business of fighting” (Chittick, Sufi Path of Love, p. 326). The astrolabe represents the connection with “inmost consciousness” and reminds me of the youngest brother’s “small voice.” The “inmost consciousness” guides the path of love, the way of compassion.
         The local-level example of playing polo informs my big question by suggesting that in order to rebalance our contemporary passions (such as the sports culture) we need a dedicated attention to developing the inmost consciousness. How do our sports direct us to our “serious” business? Once again, I believe that the vital need for our culture and consciousness points to the development of compassion.

         And to develop that, yes, we need Kuan Yin, Rhiannon—we need increased devotion to our higher powers, like the stories teach. In our telling of Good Stories, we’re asking for their help as we braid together the strands of our passions with the traditional tales, weaving with and toward our inmost consciousness.