Having returned from Paris just a week or so ago, I expected my next post to be a sharing of some of the wonderfully idiosyncratic traits of this favourite city of mine as captured in some of my (many) photographs…and yes, that will be next. Yet, before I get lost in the sheer beauty and light of the place, a chance detour has presented itself to me and is so typical of the endless pendulum swing across both polarities of my experience at the moment – where, as fast as I’m celebrating how magical an experience or a place is, it show me its darker under-belly. Yet, rather than feeling dismayed by this, I feel newly convinced that this trait is pointing me towards the understanding that true reconciliation and healing is possible only once room is made for this broader spectrum experience of everything life has to offer without expectation or insistence that everything be all either one way or the other.
As an artist, I know this so well…any painting without its darker spaces is bland beyond words (and the light that I love to depict is barely able to declare itself without contrast to push against) and yet where we are now getting to, given the sheer breadth of experience that we have opened up for ourselves, which knows only the limit of the human imagination, is a place where we approach the difficult question of how to incorporate the contrast that reveals light without putting ourselves and others through all the pain, conflict and suffering that we have known before – or have the potential to invent, going forwards. This world is as dark as it is radiant and Paris is no exception yet these are the very contrasts that we came here – into our physical lives – to experience so is this possible without suffering?
The reason for this detour into the darker side of Paris: a surprising, moving and wonderfully thought-provoking film that I was drawn to watch called ‘Sarah’s Key‘ (or, in its original French, ‘Elle s’appelait Sarah’) adapted from the book of the same title by Tatiana de Rosnay who, interesting to me, is the granddaughter of painter Gaëtan de Rosnay. It is centred on an event which (surprisingly given how much I’ve read on the subject of the holocaust) I had never even heard about called The Vel’ d’Hiv’ Roundup: the mass arrest and detainment, by French police, of over 13,000 Jews that led to them being held at the bicycle Vélodrome that once stood within viewing distance of the Eiffel Tower. These Jews were detained in appalling conditions in this massive building, with just one water tap between them, very little food, near non-existent toilet facilities and in the stifling heat resulting from its glass roof with window screwed shut for security, for a five days before being deported to concentration camps. The sound and (mainly) stench of what was happening was a chapter in Parisienne history that, by and large, its residents tried to ignore then forget in the midst of the broader circumstances of those times.
Somehow, the fact of my standing on once ‘occupied’ soil was something I could literally feel in the most tangible of ways on my trip to France this year; the very energetics of what these places had been through was like a vibration that I was tuning into and yet I had no idea how close we were standing to a place such as this. Coincidentally, the address of the Jewish family that plays such a key role in the story of ‘Sarah’s Key’ is adjacent to where we spent a wonderful evening celebrating our wedding anniversary in our very favourite Parisienne restaurant during our visit, yet it was largely a sense of ‘thank goodness’ Paris survived the ravages of the war that came through to me when I was there and considered how the Germans were instructed to blow the place to smithereens when they left. We are all so well versed in the fact that there are these places tucked away in (we imagine) remote corners of Northern Europe where Jews were systematically tortured then murdered and yet I had no concept of there being such a place nestled within the very streets of Paris itself and yet, when choosing a hotel, I had rejected several that stand in close proximity to where the Vélodrome (now gone) once stood because I have never felt right about that particular quarter of the city and can never seem to get away from it quickly enough when we, inevitably, visit the Eiffel Tower although I love walking so much of this beautiful city and feel generally at home there.
The strongest energetics of the ravages of history came through to me as we continued our journey into Alsace where its proximity to Germany pre-conditioned me to expect to feel a certain vibe of past conflict and, indeed, whilst a visit to the Kaiser’s Castle of Haut Koenigsbourg was fascinating and afforded wonderful views, the dark energy of the place was something I could almost reach out and touch – helped along by a growling thunder storm and heavy rain clouds. Several castles framed our views, wherever we happened to be throughout that week, and on watching a glorious sunset behind those hills one evening, I found myself willing the light down into the very fabric of those places, to send healing into their very bricks, mortar and symbology and yet I was tending to think back to deepest history as I did this and so it was with a jolt that a war memorial, followed by some research online, drew attention to far more recent bloody skirmishes that took place on those vine-covered hillsides dotted with picturesque clusters of houses, and all less than seventy years ago. Our own little town of Riquewihr, picked for being one of the most beautiful places in Alsace, turned out to have a very battle named after it, played out between 12 -14 December 1944 as the Germans took their last stand against the advancing Allies – hard to imagine all this, taking in the fairy tale perfection of its tiny streets nestled in amongst the lush green hills and yet there it was, the darker underbelly had turned up yet again.
When it’s not on our doorstep or, as in Paris, is holed away out of sight, we like to think that there is no real dark in our own personal world…perhaps only shades of grey; where it is more overt, we strive to mitigate how it affects us personally and yet all this denial really does is polarise further. To me, abattoirs are the concentration camps in our modern-day midst and yet most people block this from their consciousness, just as I did not so long ago. This very week, I passed an open slatted vehicle transporting sheep to…somewhere. It was a gloriously sunny day; not one for imagining horror or bloodshed and I could see their faces filled with a mixture of alarm and curiosity – the very same idiosyncratic features that I’ve studied long and hard when I’ve painted them (though, I’ve noticed, my very desire to do this has waned since turning vegetarian; painting is an intimate process and I find I can no longer bear to bond so closely with farm-bred creatures, can no longer look them in the eye, as though there is betrayal in my very helplessness to save them from what is coming). On this particular morning, I looked long and hard and my stomach churned. It struck me they could have been any kind of living being – Jews, even, on the way to the camps – and that the indifference and looking away that is still the norm is just the same. Without judgement, all I ask is that we don’t look away: I call on people to live consciously, to knowingly participate in whatever they perpetuate through their particular choices and that includes eating meat, which can be like a dark secret that we have with ourself – eat it if you want but don’t pretend its anything other than meat, have the courage to look these creatures in the eye and get to know their fate, on intimate terms, and then eat it because, energetically, anything less is anything but health-inducing (and when I did this, I found that – out of respect for myself – I had to stop). The same goes for getting to know the conditions under which our products get made or grown, and so on and so on…because it is the unconscious allowing of what happens around us that seems to do the most harm.
What I’m trying to say is, there’s not a single place that hasn’t seen or been touched by what we would label atrocity, man-induced tragedy, crime against one being instigated by another and so on. My own view is that, across many lifetimes, we have all seen each and every side of this: both so called ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ and all stages in between. Without the need to label anything ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (for nothing is intrinsically so), we incorporate all of those extremes; we’ve done it all before and don’t need to do it all again to know that we are capable of it all. We are full-spectrum beings in every single way that it is possible of expressing this; as souls, we come from oneness yet choose these sojourns into physicality for the express purpose of experiencing this diversity and so it cannot be intrinsically ‘wrong’ to experience both ends. Both knowing and accepting this about our humanness is the very means of bringing down the much broader consciousness that extends beyond our physicality, our spiritual essence, into our subjective human form and bridging our way to a whole new state of existence that incorporates both: one that eliminates the need to play these extremities out in the very literal way that causes so much suffering as experiential reality.
I’ve talked about Story Waters before and he recently shared an interesting concept which felt like one I was already playing with in the back of my own mind: basically, the digitisation of suffering. What he suggests is that, now that we are in the digital age where information can be preserved forever without degrading, we are in the position of being able to preserve all the most graphic, visual, ‘could almost be there, feel it, smell it’ kind of records of past suffering, warfare, torture and atrocity that we could ever need without having to go there again. As ‘Sarah’s Key’ reminded me, there are vast walls inscribed with the names of all those who went to the camps and people who have dedicated whole lifetimes to documenting the individual stories behind these tragedies, attaching faces to names, sharing their fate in such a way that what happened can never be forgotten. For those who still crave extreme experiences, they can go to the cinema for full-immersion terror or loose themselves utterly in graphic computer games.
My parents were of a generation that periodically espoused the view that ‘we need a good war’ so that (they believed) people would pull together and sing songs as they did during the air raids, dissolute teenagers would be provided with ‘purpose’ and ‘discipline’ and everyone would feel vital, determined and industrious in a way that, they we conditioned to believe, was only possible when polarity is acted out as a push-pull that pits one group of people against another, with everyone rallied to a ’cause’. Perhaps, I prefer to imagine, the digitised age is stepping us towards other ways of experiencing these things without the need to act them out at all. Our teenagers, from what I can see, have a far different spin on the world than even my generation and, whilst their preoccupations can, at times, seem fatuous, this trait is actually starting to fill me with optimism since it would seem to mark a break with our old fixation with acting out our worst nightmares because there’s ‘nothing better to do’, no other way of exploring them – something which is no longer the case as these kids take virtual living into vast new territory whilst seeking something ever more hedonistic as their day-to-day reality.
At my teenage daughter’s age, I was immersed in reading about the world wars but especially WWII and the holocaust. It was as though I was trying to stuff a whole century of darkness into my teenage consciousness, trying to work out ‘why’. For my generation, born in the ’60s, WWII was still quite fresh; my father took part in the allied invasion in ’44, my mother remembered air raids and being forced to eat her pet rabbit (so maybe war just makes transparent what, at other times, remains comfortably hidden). There was a time when I found myself thinking rather scathing thoughts at the fact my teenager has no desire whatsoever to read or even, deeply, know about all this stuff beyond the level of reading Anne Frank when she was much younger but now I wonder if that attitude is all part of the evolving desire, embodied by our kids, to get over ourselves, to move into new territory, to not want to immerse in all this ‘old’ stuff to saturation point – not because they’re about to forget its lessons and so do it all over again but because they just want to move into something new and very different….and I really hope so.
I’ve increasingly grasped that my own healing journey is somehow analogous to the much broader one that includes all of us and I think that point of seeing how the micro relates directly to the macro, and vice versa, is a key stage along the consciousness road. Just as trauma impacts upon the individual, triggering illness and breakdown, these things that happen to us as a collective send shock waves through our energetic bodies whether we realise it or not and so we take the stress of these more traumatic world events into our very cells until we reach saturation point. Yet, as always, the solution lies within the very problem and so it turns out that the majority of people I’ve spoken to about this confirm that they embarked on their journey into expanded-consciousness as a direct, or indirect, result of a health crisis of some kind, often taking the form of one of the many chronic health conditions that are so rife these days and which come from reaching that tipping point of what the emotional body can take before declaring ‘enough’. Maybe the fact that so many people are now in the process of healing their own stuff, becoming ever more conscious along the way, is our way of healing the world together.
These days, as in all aspects of life, I choose not to engage in the drama of life, be it at the personal level or on the world scale. I admit, I don’t always succeed but I am getting there and recognising when there is drama playing out and grasping how not to get drawn into it is the first crucial step. That’s not to say I ‘don’t care’ and I am more than fully aware of certain world-situations that are playing out as I speak – but then, they always are and always have been…and I am holding fast to an important lesson learned; that it is only on stepping out of the endless drama of my own life that I started to gain the kind of traction in my own recovery process that didn’t backtrack a moment later. You see, I’ve steadily come to realise, from all the practice at the micro level that my health-issues have afforded me (and for which I am profoundly grateful) that I feel most empowered, most forward-directed when I shine light on situations around me, even those at the macro level – as I am doing now – rather than engaging in side-taking or contributing my own energy in such a way that is just another version of judging a situation or group of people.
I suspect that this is the way that an ever-increasing number of people are starting to respond to the various situations going on around them, applying consciousness without either turning away in denial of what is happening or adding their own shoulder to the push-shove of it all. Just as ‘Sarah’s Key’ pivots upon the plot of a little girl quite desperate to open a door, a world opened up through social media is facilitating such a change, enabling us all to engage in the process of casting light into the murkier corners – so exposing what is going on, bringing transparency into play where once there were veils and shutters – without actually casting a single blow. At macro as at micro, I suspect that this mass application of consciousness is the key to healing the planet and stepping forward to claim the light. It was only as this concluding thought came to mind that I was also reminded of today’s date – no bad anniversary to just ‘happen’ to air these thoughts, but then I tend not to believe in total chance. I prefer happy accident or ‘serendipity’ – and I am happy because, for one, I’m not made pessimistic by what’s still going on out there in the world; it’s always darkest before the dawn and (another thing I’ve learned from personal experience is that) every healing comes with its crisis, it’s entirely necessary detoxification process – so perhaps it is that, twelve years on, we are near-ready to take that next step into a dawning era.