Karin Crona, Kristen Gallagher, Kayla Guthrie, Monica Mody, Katie Schaag, and Anne Lesley Selcer read new work.
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Meeting ID: 474 672 400
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The imprint of wholeness that is within us—within our DNA—is inalienably always there. Nothing can take it away, make it go away. If so, that sense of connection that coheres us with the Earth/Mother does not disappear. No matter how devastating, how total the severance seems to be.
I am thinking of ghost limbs, which continue to feel sensation and transmit this information even after the physical limb is gone. I am thinking of tree stumps whose neighbors continue to transfuse nutrients and minerals to them.
And, if so, even when egregious harm has been done (sexual violations, torture, mass murders), the actors of harm—disconnected from their web and roots of being—can be brought back to a sense of connection. Because the imprint of connection, to wholeness, is within them.
I ask how not to move further away from those that cause harm despite the urge to do so—how not to disconnect. Disconnection, I know, tends to push something/someone even more into the shadows where behaviors of harm find feast and shape.
I ask myself this, having retracted, yesterday, my poems from an anthology whose editor, I just learnt, was named as having touched another poet inappropriately. The editor-poet has neither acknowledged nor made any amends for his sexual misconduct. I asked the publisher of the anthology, who is based in the UK, to think about the nuances of responsibility and justice that land in his corner.
I ask myself this after challenging, as a feminist killjoy, the unexamined/out-of-touch/misogynist ideas of an Indian man I'd met via a dating site, around "typical Indian girls" and "Eastern style dressing and hair."
I ask myself this even as the voices and freedoms of the peoples of India are being quashed by a state wielding unmitigated power, whose anti-democratic logic is being bought into by apologists, economic neoliberals, and nationalist-fundamentalists.
I ask myself this after doing the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual labor of writing to a white woman poet who casually threw in an "ashram" while talking about literary festivals/retreats during a writing circle where I was the only nonwestern, non-white person. I wrote to her that I felt exoticized and othered and uncomfortable; I didn't tell her about the heat that arose in my body or that my thought right after she said "ashram" and even after I had interrupted her in the moment was that I now needed to prove I was not "exotic," that I belonged.
A friend reminds me that I can tell people this is not mine to hold alone. That everyone sees what is happening, and I can tell the others in the circle to speak to it.
How can I name with clarity a behavior or a string or pattern of behaviors as wrong, while still holding out for the possibility that the imprint of wholeness can reassert itself in wrongdoers?
How can I/we hold wrongdoers to accountability? How can I/we ask that they step up to take responsibility, to account for the harm done?
How can the wrongdoers step into taking responsibility remembering their own interconnectedness?
I am thinking of restorative justice and practices, where those who have been harmed and those who have caused the harm come together to talk about needs, obligations, what amends are needed. I am thinking of Angulimala. I am thinking of post-oppositional approaches.
We are them. They are us.
Is it possible to move towards "them" not to become them, but to eat away at the distance produced artificially, painfully, systematically, structurally, discursively? To devour the distance—like Kali-Chamunda lapping up with her tongue the blood of Raktabija?
What stopped the demons from multiplying was Kali devouring the blood, which on falling to the ground would have given rise to more demons.
To devour the drop of blood that would become a demon asks of us a profound spiritual/ethical commitment. To love ourselves, to love the other.
It asks of us to expand our range of holding so that it includes human-shadow-divine, Life-Death-Life. We commit ourselves to nonduality from that place where all is known as included.
It asks that we grow an unshakable sense of self that is embodied, that has the capacity to be present. That we are sovereign and restored unto ourselves.
And this is where I notice the ways in which, despite the theory and the vision, I sometimes hide in my own life. I hide from people who I perceive will judge me. I hide from myself and the knowing that what I vision is possible.
The journey to wholeness is both long and short, my friends.
I am glad to have connected with you along the way.
One can point to external recognition in bios for our metrics-oriented culture, but when you want to evoke the feltness in your life, the internal milestones, those that (be)came in your moving through the tenuousness and ruptures—the succinct always has a shortfall.
I found myself unable to laugh when I saw the video of the lawyer who could not turn off the cat filter during a court case on Zoom.
The filters are made possible through augmented reality or AR technology—which poses serious ethical challenges at both individual and collective levels. This technology can be used to violate privacy, and to fake identities and experiences to suit manipulative agendas, and may have negative psycho-social effects, among its other impacts.
As someone who has studied cross-cultural and depth models of the psyche along with the arts of ritual and magic, I know that consciousness is not meant to be linear/insular. Across societies and temporalities, there have been inner or life-based technologies to help people shift into varied realms of perception. These usually arise from the organic connection a community has with land/spirit, and there is a level of numinosity associated with participating in such life-based technologies.
What makes the AR technology different is the hijacking of experience without the requirement of collective/spiritual connection. It was built within an individualistic, capitalistic paradigm that centers individual "fun" or "exploration" over the deep roots of connection to living strata within consciousness, be it nature, the ancestors, or the body.
Let's look at some specific concerns around AR. "A user’s privacy can be threatened because AR technologies can “see” what the user sees. Thus, AR can collect a lot of information about who the user is and what he/she is doing." Privacy may seem like an innocuous issue if you don't think you are doing anything wrong and hence have nothing to hide, still, we live in a world marked by increasing authoritarianism and militarization of law enforcement. Facial recognition information and other information from the user's environment is liable to be used for militaristic/law enforcement purposes. This puts marginalized groups at risk, in particular.
AR technology also "sees" and therefore threatens the privacy of other people around.
Google recently fired its ethics researcher Dr. Timnit Gebru for writing a paper raising critical questions about the dangers of facial recognition/artificial intelligence, demonstrating that there is no in-house check on these technologies as is claimed by the company. And, that it is in fact actively quelling dissent around the development of controversial technologies.
“It’s being framed as the AI optimists and the people really building the stuff [versus] the rest of us negative Nellies, raining on their parade,” [Rumman] Chowdhury said. “You can’t help but notice, it’s like the boys will make the toys and then the girls will have to clean up.”
From a capitalistic profit-making logic, making and launching new technologies with dubitable effects is okay even if they compromise human or planetary interests. And, let's be clear, biometrics is data that big techs want to extract for its profitability.
This nexus between Big Tech and governments is building regimes of control based on frameworks that are not interested in the well-being of the Earth or the rights of its human and nonhuman inhabitants.
Technology is not what can solve the problems we currently find ourselves amidst. Most of the technology that is being seen as the panacea that will liberate us has been built within the same paradigm of disconnection that have created the problems in the first place.
"How are you feeling? Wait, don’t tell me. I’ll let the machine figure it out.”
The reason why companies put efforts into building technologies based on suspect frameworks (see "emotion recognition technology" in the article linked above)--despite their assailing norms of privacy, dignity, freedom of opinion, right against self-incrimination--is because they are not invested in our empowerment. Corporations and militaristic regimes would have us buy into the loss/ceding of self-knowing and self-sovereignty that would help further their agendas. By investing in technology that severs us from our consent—in effect controls us—they can continue to extract what falls into the "useless" side of the Cartesian mind/matter split.
The payoffs makes it easy to ignore the real environmental costs of some of these technologies. (e.g. "Just one hour of videoconferencing or streaming emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide (a gallon of gasoline burned from a car emits about 8,887 grams), requires 2-12 liters of water and demands a land area adding up to about the size of an iPad Mini.")
Many will probably say here that we are already too much of a technoculture to be able to change how we navigate our digital and analog experiences of life.
But just as we need to whenever we deal with toxic situations, we have to find our no's in regards to the digital culture. We have to do a cost-benefit analysis that reflects our actual values, not just those of soulless capitalism. We have look outside the grip of convenience so we create options based not only on sustainable frameworks but on regenerative frameworks, with care for the Earth front and center.
Every technology has costs. A connectionist worldview would soberly weigh the costs and then determine if the path of growth is serving collective well-being. Its medicine and technologies would tie into the imperative of healing and connection.
From everything we are reading, many technologies hailed by the tech corporations as revolutionary (another instance is 5G) are not serving collective well-being. Yet we are rushing in that direction, consumed by the desire to get somewhere that is a bodiless utopia. But we are right here. Our bodies are right here. Nature is right here. Life is right here. What we need is the deepening of attunement and connection and slowing down and care. The miracle of that which is life/nature/body continues to be revealed to us, through us.*
*Here, to add some awe into your day, are some findings by Dr. Katie Hinde, anthropologist and sustainability scientist, on breast milk.
Poets have a critical role to play in envisioning possibilities. Poets dialog with the pasts—with biological, cultural, and spiritual ancestors—with nature and the nonhuman—with the space between, the interrelational—with locations other than androcentrism, heteropatriarchy, and colonial modernity—with mother-lineages and the regenerative spiral—to create new paradigms of healing and synthesis. Through listening into the zones of fracture, poets engender relationships with that which is gathered in the interconnected, fluid, untamable, polysemous pneuma. In that place where the past, present, and future meet—a place of paradoxes—poets bring forth a knowing of connection (regeneration), activating the future.
(I adapted this statement on poetry for an anthology from an essay on Visionary Poetics published last year. Read the essay here or here.)
In conversation with a young scholar in India who is writing a paper on KALA PANI, I found myself remembering how much I enjoyed working with code in this book. Code, of course, is a way of saying the unsayable. In the world of KALA PANI, there are relationships—for instance between the new government and the six world travellers; between Sameshape and Othershape—where the unsayable has happened. The book speaks in code (and fragment) to take its narrative power back.
The new government in KALA PANI was inspired by the fascism that was rising in India. I had seen how tactics of terror were employed by the state first-hand in Gujarat in 2002 while volunteering in refugee camps. The new government in the book foreshadows the political developments in India, what we are seeing now--where truth-telling and code-making must necessarily go hand-in-hand as structure/anti-structure to counter the repression upon narrative and information enacted by the regime.
The instinct to write in code, of course, goes way back. Mystical and tantric texts in ancient India, for example, employed code, sandhyabhasa, to conceal different "planes of truth or of being."
I am thinking about both of these together right now. Code as resistance; code as initiation. The uses of ambiguity. The deep substructure that extends as empathy between politics and spirituality. What we know and who we are—and how language contributes to both, be it in the revealing or the concealing.
I have an interview titled "Every Cell of the Earth" in the current issue of Parabola (theme: Wellness). The interview is with Betsy Cornwell, who I first met at Notre Dame while I was completing a Sparks postgraduate writing fellowship and she was in the MFA Creative Writing Program. I enjoyed doing this interview and how it drew out from me interdisciplinary answers. You can get a copy of the issue here.
When figures from your imaginal world show up years later in spaces you have just begun exploring, you realize how mundus imaginalis functions. A beating heart that always links you with the cosmos, revealing something about your own arc of participation.
A while ago, when I was researching stories within my Motherline, I came across the mention of a witch called Tusheeta said to inhabit the Sulaiman mountains. Tusheeta drew me into an investigation of what life for a woman—a witch (yogini)—might have been like on these mountains near where my Nani (grandmother) probably lived. Tusheeta appeared, drew me on this exploration in the form of a long poem, and, as mysteriously as she had appeared, disappeared from the internets.
I had shared the first section of the poem that was coming through with Orion Foxwood, traditional witch, conjure-man, and faery seer. Orion confirmed that I had contacted a powerful presence. Writing the poem helped me "internalize" Tusheeta's messages. (The poem was first published in Wyrd & Wyse and is a part of my forthcoming collection, Bright Parallel.)
Then last week, imagine how amazed I was to come across a reference to "Tushita, the Joyful Pure Land, Lama Tsongkhapa’s and Maitreya Buddha’s pure land," while reading about Khadro-la, the state oracle of Tibet and said to be a dakini.
It is almost as though we are on a wilful trajectory set by our soul, which knows when it is ready to receive new information from still unfamiliar places in our spiritual topography. As I dwell on Tusheeta/Tushita, I wonder what this unfolding will bring forth.
Life takes me to places sometimes I would not on my own choose to go to—and these routes always fill my life with details--frequencies--that my conscious brain did not know I needed.
This Spring, I find myself teaching three graduate-level courses. One of these courses is an elective on Women and Tantra with the Women's Spirituality Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). When I was asked to teach it, I knew it would be a continuation of the ancestral healing, learning, apprenticeship I had entered into with my PhD dissertation. In the dissertation, I signalled tantra as one of the ancient pathways women in India had walked that honored their voices, vitality, and authority. Now, as I teach this class, I find myself arriving at a new rapprochement with tantra as a living tradition and methodology. In the process, I am realizing how my inner/outer practice—in the living, experiencing—has slowly been integrating the central tenets of Tantric thought. Life is truly a beautiful unfolding guided by the psyche in its collective, ancestral, interconnected, and arriving aspects—we can trust that we will get where we need to as long as there is an openness in us to be responsive. We don't have to plan it all.
Syllabi, however, do need to be planned. I am grateful to the scholars, practitioners, artists who have created texts imprinted with their seeing and investigations that will now create opportunities for others' voyages, contemplation (riffing off Lao-tzu). And, a reconstruction of women's wisdom lines from South Asia must surely be a collective voyage—not just because many of our wounds have been collective. The deeper I go, the more I encounter inhabitants traversing the deep waters.
Here then are a few scholar-practitioners I included in my Women and Tantra syllabus:
Neela Bhattacharya Saxena, who I met at her talk, "Kali the Evolutionary Force: Philosophy and Praxis for Our Times"—organized in 2019, serendipitously, a week after I had a vision in which Kali asked me to open up to her.
Rita Dasgupta Sherma, who was gracious enough to recommend some of the formative texts in Tantra.
Madhu Khanna, who I met in 2014 at her talk, "Reading Kali and the Tantric Way: What Would Kali Do?" and subsequently for a rushed coffee in New Delhi.
Lata Mani, who was initiated into an awakening to Devi, the Divine Mother, through her illness, and found her critical feminist frameworks transformed/expanded through this contact into a nondual orientation.
Mani Rao, fellow poet and scholar, who found a living legacy of mantras among practitioners in the Andhra-Telangana region coming from vedic and tantric contexts.
Vak (Vac) has been knocking on my door. Here is an invocation to Vak I wrote for the Reclaiming Spiral Dance. Kabir too has a lot to say about sabda--the true word—and this was part of the talk I gave at the Oakland Summer School, and the workshop I taught at the AAWAA.
To continue tending to this relationship with the word, I am also bringing in translations of poems/songs by practitioners such as Lal Ded (translated by Ranjit Hoskote) and Yeshe Tsogyel.
Since this class entails both critical and experiential components, I get to bring in earth-based/somatic practices so as to invite the students into an awareness of their connectedness with the living cosmos in an embodied, enfleshed way.
So here we are. The semester is underway. I am so curious about where this will take all of us who have come together in the circle/container of this class.
I am delighted to announce that my new chapbook Ordinary Annals is forthcoming from above/ground press. The chapbook, which includes my poems written during 2020, should be out in the next three months. Please check back for updates!