Solstice 2010: Shadows and Oil
Coney Island Mermaid Parade is where I want to be on the Summer Solstice.
Every year the Mermaid Parade opens the swimming season on the island, and Queen Mermaid and King Neptune throw offerings of fruit into the water to ask for a peaceful sea. The Summer Solstice is a festival of light and also water. Water rituals prevail now, as much of us in the Summer is drawn to water, to the fluidic balance it gives to the heat and the dry.
But I have no idea how to celebrate this Solstice. How can I celebrate anything of water, when the animals of the Gulf of Mexico are dying in an Armageddon of oil?
I write this reflection not with pessimism or despair, but with honest confusion and lostness. I am trying to figure something out. The Tantric explanation isn’t working for me right now. I write because it is hard for me to hear ‘Shri!’ when I am Shri-king inside, or to stomach glib aphorisms like ‘The universe is a big blissball’ when tarballs are washing ashore, when pelicans sit so miserably drenched in oil that you cannot tell what kind of birds they are, each small, unique and precious life in complete incomprehensible and uncomprehending suffering as their world is slowly destroyed. Even if these animals are taken to a sanctuary, they can never go back home. They are refugees forever from an ecosystem of which they evolved to be inherently and inextricably a part and which was part of them and which is now ruined.
I am trying to figure out what to do with all this.
When my mind is stumped, it defaults to the Kabbalah Tree, to the great branching Tree of Life and the spheres of the Sefirot gearing and communicating to each other across the middle pillar. On a causal plane, the plane of endless light, which Kabbalah calls the Ein Sof and from which all emanations, even the highest Sefirot, the highest forms and functions of G-d, emerge and return, all is fine. That Light is a plane where mercy or justice are not even issues or values because they are unnecessary; nothing has been divided.
But there is a beautiful and productive notion in Kabbalah, an idea that our behavior on Earth affects the balance of the Sefirot in the Tree of Life. As far ‘up’ as they are, or as far ‘in’ as they are, as beyond our embodied comprehension, they are responsive to us. The Sefirot, the great whirling emanations that are Power and Glory, Justice and Mercy, Vessel and Seed, balanced opposite one another as contrary complements, are mighty and vast as the first ideas of things. But it is possible for us, through our behavior on earth, to throw them out of balance, turning Justice (Gevurah) into something hard and punishing and horrible, called Din. Din is punitive and wrathful. It teaches with a hammer.
I feel like what we have unleashed in the Gulf of Mexico is Din. Din is more than an equal and opposite reaction; it is the wrath of the godhead wrought on us, this delicate system of gears and checks and balances which is the physiology of the Holy torn off and gone mad, all of these shining suns of light which are always negotiating each other are now screaming, the divine ecology reeling with pain. And I do not know what the medicine is, the remedy, or I would give it. Pitching fruit into the ocean while the powers-that-be secretly cut deals, sending money to the bodhisattvic angels who will clean shorebirds with detergent, seem to be at the moment all we can do, because right now what is happening feels beyond all oceans.
What is the lesson? For us to learn we have an effect on this earth? That seeing thousands of lives destroyed is the only way we will wake up? Damn your lessons, Nobodaddy, if that is the way you teach. I do not want to wake up to Grace this way. I do not want to translate ‘apocalypse’ as ‘divine revelation’, because the only thing being revealed right now is a deep desperate anger. I do not want all of these animals, these holy beings innocent of this oil, to be a sacrifice so that a bunch of monkeys in clothes can become wiser. I do not want these birds and fish and cetaceans to die for the awakening of my or anyone’s heart. I would rather my heart be closed forever and I live in ignorance if they could remain alive, if they could live their life swimming and flying free, where they are supposed to be. If this is our Oppenheimer moment, where we realize what we have done, if this is what is supposed to make us better people, I do not want to be a better person. I do not want the animals to pay with their lives in order for that to be so.
‘Even the very wise cannot see all ends,’ says Gandalf. Maybe. Maybe what would be coming is worse? That our long and ineluctable love affair with oil would have sacrificed these lives over time anyway and in a way more sorrowful even than this. Maybe this will be the thing that ends our addiction to oil, but we will still have sacrificed too many lives in the process. To all of us, then, congratulations on how wise we will become. That wisdom was written in oil with the wingfeathers of herons and gulls.
O, Sun, on this Solstice day of your highest power, I cry to you: make it better, because it is too much to deal with. It is too much. Make it stop, please. Inspire one person, one brilliant whip-smart and wise child, with cleverness, with the miraculous innovation that will allow us to begin repair and restoration in earnest. Make her or him like that Lady-Gaga-singing internet boy of a month ago: someone who comes like the meshiach of engineering, a divine sport who blows us all away.
O Yemaya, Great Mother Ocean, O Binah, great sea of origination, if I could offer my life in exchange for this repair I would. With your waves and tide and currents sweep away any obstacles to getting this problem fixed, be they of politics or bullsh*t bureaucracy: make it possible for the great idea to get through, O Yemaya. Make it fluid, make it go.
I want there to be a Mermaid Parade next year. I want there to be an ocean. This Solstice is so necessary, and this one is not about us. Or, not about us first. It is about this Earth, daughter of the Sun, and about all of those creatures of Earth who have no choice or power to avert what is happening to them right now.
And to all of you my dear friends: if this is the end times, then I am happy to be in them with you. Keep awake. Keep aware. Have as much compassion for the embodied realms as you have interest in the ‘higher’ ones. Through the lower we speak to the higher, but the lower is important in its own right.
May the Light of this Solstice bless us all!