Observations On the Train – Part Three

The tall, well-nourished Japanese man smiles as, with a tight smile, he manually indicates that it’s okay for me to sit near him in the Parlour Car. A somber looking ten year-old sits across from him, raven hair spilling into dark eyes riveted upward. It’s clear he’s either uncomfortable greeting strangers or merely ill at ease in his own skin; perhaps a little of both.

The dad is talking on his cell phone in soothing tones. He sounds like a professional therapist; the language is indulgent yet matter-of-fact. What one does in the situation. What one can expect from the other person causing the first obvious distress.

An older couple approaches the boy’s open booth seat tentatively, as it’s large enough to accommodate four adults comfortably. The atmosphere is relaxed as rays of morning sunlight stream through the curved glass flanking the train’s metal roof. As the young man begins to shift over, the father executes rapid hand and arm movements demanding his son relocate next to him. Unnecessary, I speculate, for these people seem openly delighted to share space with a child.

Presently the dining car attendant fetches father and son for breakfast, and, still cooing his most soothing voice into the cell phone receiver, the father gestures impatiently for his boy to follow and together they evaporate from the car, leaving behind traces of anxiety and distress.

Post Script: On the day I am to leave this moving hotel, I part curtains to my sleeping module, only to discover the same father and son traversing the car. The boy is smiling and, though the father seems rushed, he also appears more relaxed. My pleasure in this observation can hardly be disguised, as I disembark the train.


2013-05-20 06.16.15

Only The Shadow Knows: Boston Marathon Op Ed


image: Steven Kenny


From Wikipedia: the Jungian shadow often refers to all that lies outside the light of consciousness, and may be positive or negative. “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. It may be (in part) one’s link to more primitive animal instincts, which are superseded during early childhood by the conscious mind.”

It is when these ‘primitive animal instincts’ flood into consciousness, void of direction or understanding or the capacity for reflection before action, that we are in deep trouble.

Examples abound. Leaders who make excuses for war and senseless attacks of atrocity, abuse and torture for the sake of profit (and under the guise of justice or righteousness) exemplify this negation of Shadow. Their denial of motives becomes larger than life, which is as close to a holy war as America gets. It comes under the pretense of spreading democracy, but really it is for personal gain of a few misguided souls in positions of power. Many people have simply had enough of it, but feel despondent and powerless. Our democracy-as-participatory government seems a sham. Acts of desperation are often the result.

Is there anything that can be done to avert future acts of violence on a mass scale, such as happened most recently at the Boston Marathon? This kind of madness almost demands an inner confrontation in the individual. Any outer posturing is potentially dangerous. Rather than coming to grips with fears of insufficiency or powerlessness that lurk within, the unconscious among us may simply act out in whatever way seems compelling at the time. If we want to help heal the collective, we must learn to sit with discomfort until it becomes clear how, when and where to act appropriately, after grieving the loss of what cannot be grasped, either conceptually or materially. Facing what we find repugnant, we allow love to restore wholeness within ourselves. We may then begin to understand the capacity for these shadowy elements in others. Out of this comprehension emerges a more compassionate worldview, and healing begins from the inside-out.

Obviously whoever commits acts of desperation or hatred has a warehouse full of undealt-with emotional baggage. All our fellow human beings deserve our understanding and compassion – which is far more difficult to grant when they go out and destroy the lives of other people. Yet it is then, believe it or not, that these acts become our problem. Because they exemplify an aspect of our collective denial, it brings up whatever it does in and for each of us.

We are all in this together. We cheer on with great admiration our best, our brightest – and find it distasteful to observe our deepest, darkest demons out on the playing field. What we are witnessing is, in essence, our collective human drama being played out on the great, grand stage of life. A valid concern might be what role we, ourselves wish to play.

(Please) Say We Won’t

There is nothing I can say that could possibly convey my feelings of sadness and horror at what happened at the Boston Marathon yesterday. The complexity of emotions, interplaying with thoughts almost too onerous to bear, needs to be worked out first, somehow.

It is in the spirit of healing that I offer this song, written and performed by friends of ours here on the Big Island of Hawaii along with their band, Big Blue O. I hope you enjoy listening, and feel in your hearts the message, the opportunity to do things differently – to harness our  collective intelligence and heart and move forward into another paradigm – one that includes instead of ostracizes; one that appeals to our humanity and to our noble hearts.

Blessings, all.



Pigs in Paradise

Strange ritual, this gorging on holidays. Course after course – for we have paid dearly for them – slides down the hatch in habitual response to colors, textures, tastes. The floor is flagstone; the chairs in this grand old hotel are plastic, of all things; service is efficiently and politely provided by those I’m sure would rather be home celebrating with loved ones.

I’m a victim of my own awareness. These feasts always leave me uneasy and confused about motives and directions. While I am grateful for good companionship and superb views, I cannot will blinders. This is not a routine I was born to in this life, nor is it one I necessarily embrace. Classes, divisions, exclusions. Employees who are not allowed to pack unserved leftovers home to their families. People paid to smile and offer mandated authenticity, though I couldn’t blame the bulk of them for resenting what they, themselves may never experience, save vicariously.

Brunch ends at 2:30 sharp. Having spent years in the restaurant business, I note nuances in exchanged looks between the help; urgency in dark eyes. Carts are wheeled high with equipment designed to please finicky guests; plates are stacked and filed; food is discretely portaged away to be dispensed of in whatever manner the establishment sees fit. An elder friend among us relates that it is donated as pig slop, but I wonder about guilt, selective hearing and the wasteful truth.

We live amidst bounty juxtaposed against the backdrop of phenomenal waste; mountains of refuse alongside pristine beaches and bikini-clad tourists intent upon iPhones, flocking not to the spectacular vistas of rainbows and whales breaching in the background, but to the warmth of sun and impeccable service.


Commentary on Amanda Palmer’s “The Art of Asking”

This was so poignant, I cried. Absolutely brilliant. Attitudes and approaches are morphing on a grand scale, and it is heartening to observe these leaps in consciousness. We need hope in this rapidly changing world, in the face of all the greed and corruption and global warming. 

Becoming less cynical and bitter about unavoidable changes allows us to move into genuine gratitude. We are all changing and growing; making choices between the cocoon and the open sky; between addictions and subtractions, whether addictions to substances or behaviors or what we perceive as comfort. We’re all doing this in our own way.

But this can’t be forced; it has to be learned from life itself. It must be felt, viscerally experienced, as Amanda Palmer portrays. It HAS to be real.

We can rail at the gods for our lack of support as creative types; loss of profits on our talents due to the freedom of the Internet, for example. If we don’t deny this; if we look honestly at ourselves and our motives in work and in life, we will know something profound about ourselves. Do we feel entitled? Special? Do we compare ourselves to what we perceive as successful others who perhaps seem less deserving? These sentiments only separate us from our goals.

We are living IN the world, not apart from it. And Amanda Palmer gets this. We are living in the Age of Aquarius – a time to honor the collective and stop focusing on “poor little me.” I am only successful in relationship to you; we are all in this together. Such are Aquarian ideals.

No matter what each of us does for work in this life, there is growth and opportunity to learn, if we allow it. If we force it, resent it, bully it even –  there is plenty of misery. Karma hits us up and down – and not the bad kind – karma is simply cause and effect. That’s all. 

It’s important to be humble. You can see it in this woman. We cannot fake it. We can’t get away with duality and not reap the inevitable consequences of feeling alone and isolated. Our humility must be real. That’s why it works, for her. That’s why it works in the here and now. And it cannot be disingenuous or we find ourselves embarrassed and humiliated: not by others but by our own actions and lack of heart; by the failure to embrace Oneness with our ambitions and goals. 

The times, they are a-changin’ and we cannot stop a moving train with our puny little bodies. Time to get on board, and discover our seat; our place in the greater scheme of things. It can be done if we use our creative energies to offer our gifts in new and innovative ways. And if it isn’t easy, it’s because we are still addicted to fighting; to struggle; to opposing What Is.

~ Bela Johnson

Alone Together

Writing is often a solitary pursuit. Thus it is with strange irony that, in order to make a living, writers submit our innermost ponderings to public scrutiny. It might seem to compromise something within, but upon deeper reflection, we may discover this necessarily draws us out of our shells and into the world at large. We are, after all, crafting for the very community some of us eschew.

Who am I writing for, anyway? I never was a diarist, per se, rather I have filled notebooks with poetry, using metaphor to hide behind when I had powerful emotions I didn’t feel safe enough to share in any other way. For those of us who lack confidence or do not feel adequate or articulate in speech, the written word provides a powerful medium for the currents of feeling that flow, fluid-like, through our fingers and onto the page. Thus I guess I write mostly for myself. That I share these musings with others speaks to a sort of universal desire to belong and be accepted into a greater human community.

One of the most intimate experiences I have participated in as a writer is being invited into the safety of a clutch of like-minded souls with common purpose. To write and share and improve along with other talented wordsmiths is not something I gravitate toward naturally; in fact, I have only experienced its magic twice in my life. Before the most recent encounter, I had almost given up entirely.

I’d never considered myself a group person, and tended to outrightly reject the power plays and dramas that many gatherings engender. But lately I’ve been fortunate to fall into the company of a group of dynamic and gifted people who possess intelligence, heart, and a desire for understanding and support, one to another. And as long as it lasts, I will bask in the afterglow of these rare and precious encounters. Perseverence indeed  has its rewards.