A spring break medley

medley (med-lē) n., 1 a mixture of things not usually placed together; heterogeneous collection; hodgepodge.

A quiet week, with many ideas wandering through my mind without quite attaining blog post velocity. Sitting here, with a cup of coffee and the windows open to a fine spring morning, I decided to scoop up some of these notions, not necessarily in order of importance, and present them to you as a medley, or hodgepodge as the case may be.

On Mickey Rooney: I wish I had known that last Sunday, all day, Turner Classic Movies was  hosting a day of Mickey Rooney movies. I tuned in late, but did get to see Boy’s Town (1938) and The Human Comedy (1943), both notable for their idealistic and almost too sentimental presentation of American life. Boys Town tells the story of Father Edward Flanagan (Spencer Tracy), who founded a home for abused and delinquent boys in Nebraska. Rooney plays Henry Hull, the tough kid who tests Flanagan’s belief that there is “no such thing as a bad boy.”

Tracy and Rooney in "Boys Town," 1938

Tracy and Rooney in “Boys Town,” 1938

In addition to the real life humanity of Flanagan, whose Boys Town still exists in the Midwest, the film reflects 1930s progressive ideals, as well as an older, deeper, American romanticism, the belief that by nature, we are noble beings, corrupted only by cultural dysfunction. Watching Boys Town, I thought of the next great eruption of that ideal in the ’60s and remembered a line from Crosby, Stills & Nash that almost stands as an epitaph for that era: “It’s been a long time coming / it’s gonna be a long time gone.” The album came out in 1969, the year Charles Manson called optimism like Father Flanagan’s into serious question.   

Mother Nature on the run: Now that I’m thinking of Crosby, Stills & Nash, that phrase popped to mind as title for this subsection, though it’s really about animals on the run. An editorial in yesterday morning’s paper, The case for banning wildlife-killing contests by Camillia H. Fox, outlines the common practice of for profit, recreational predator hunting contests.

Exercising Vixen the fox while a volunteer at the Folsom City Zoo, ca. 1996. She was a sweetheart, though a bit of a drama queen. Is this the enemy?

Exercising Vixen the fox while a volunteer at the Folsom City Zoo, ca. 1996. She was a sweetheart, though a bit of a drama queen. Is this the enemy?

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Gandhi. It is heartening to learn that pushback is growing, both from citizens and state Fish and Game Commissions. In California, commission president, Michael Sutton said:

“I’ve been concerned about these killing contests for some time. They seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”

The way we treat the animals seems increasingly to be like the way we treat each other. Witness the case cited in the article, of the organizer of one of these killing contests, who (allegedly) pushed a 73 year old man to the ground for trying to photograph the event. We have to say, “allegedly” because, although the older man’s spine was fractured, the perpetrator has yet to be charged. This is not what our founding fathers meant when they spoke of a “well ordered militia.”

Of Jungians and Tibetans: I’ve recently started, with keen interest, The Psychology of Buddhist Tantra (2012) by Rob Preece, an in depth practitioner of both Jungian psychology and Tibetan Buddhism. Tibetan iconography is striking and vivid, almost begging for Jungian analysis, but most western commentators, including Jung himself, have written about it as outsiders looking in.

Not Preece, who studied with Lama Thubten Yeshe, one of the greatest 20th century Tibetan teachers to come to America. Lama Yeshe understood Jung and understood that Buddhist practice has always undergone change when crossing geographic and cultural boundaries.

Preece writes of Col. Francis Younghusband, who visited Tibet in 1904. Seeing pictures of wrathful deities, Younghusband concluded that this was a culture that worshiped demons. Jungians may pounce on the concept of shadow, but that too, will often be wide of the mark. Although Tibetans and Jungians both understand such imagery as depicting internal qualities, in this case, it is wrathful energy in the service of compassion. It’s the energy of, “This shit’s gotta stop!” The energy that led Camilla Fox to start a foundation to stop the slaughter of animals.

Two large gatherings: Over the last two weekends, I took part in two separate events which drew hundreds of people. Both were immensely satisfying days of harmonious groups, drawn together by shared interest, working cooperatively and having a lot of fun doing so. It’s almost enough to make you believe in no such thing as a bad boy or girl, in Mickey Rooney’s America.

That fundamental goodness is precisely what the Tibetans and Buddhists in general believe, even with their finely honed awareness of both relative truth, here in the trenches, and ultimate truth. Our ultimate nature, they say, the ground of our being is pure, unstained by any event, the way the sky is unstained by pollution. The bad news is, it can take eons for us to figure this out; a weekend at Woodstock is clearly not enough.

Still, I always feel energized after such gatherings, even as that wrathful energy rises at the thought of all the artificial barriers that divide us in our day to day lives. That’s something everyone has to work out for themselves. Meanwhile, I felt like listening again to Crosby, Stills & Nash. I hope they’re right in this song: that it’s always darkest before the dawn.

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4 Responses to A spring break medley

  1. rjl2727 says:

    thanks for the medley, all very interesting. i wish i could get on board with the Tibetan and Buddhist ideal of pure goodness, and believe we enter life in such a state, but it is too quickly taken away and replaced or replicated by something less ideal. the sky may be unstained by pollution, but the air is still toxic to breath.

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    • I cannot claim to be an expert interpreter, but it is not even that we enter this life with pure goodness. Believing in rebirth, there’s the assumption that we bring tendencies from countless other lives, but that the original “ground of being” is untouched by this. One of the key images is the lotus, which grows out of the mud, to eventually put out a gorgeous bloom, unstained by the mud. The question for how long this process takes for us, to uncover this original goodness, is only answered by metaphors indicating a long, long time.

      In far more down to earth terms, when I see certain movies from the 30’s and the 40’s that feature a sense of community and goodness, I wonder to what extent it’s a true reflection of the times, and to what extent wishful thinking? I think there was some truth to it. My wife and my parents were both from that generation, and both of us grew up in real neighborhoods, real communities, where people knew and looked out for each other. Now, of course, that’s only a memory, e.g., there’s no greater oxymoron than “gated community.” Anyway, just thoughts like these behind the post, questions with no solid answers. Thanks for your comment.

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      • rjl2727 says:

        hey Morgan, thank you for your thoughtful reply. i am not a disciple of rebirth, but i don’t discount it either. when it comes to religious claims of the unseen, all we have are the words of humans who have not been in the case of heaven, etc., or those who cannot know in the case of rebirth. so whatever is beyond rigor mortis will be a surprise to each one of us in our own time.

        as for the days of yore, i can identify so many things from of innocent from my childhood in a rural Kansas community such as yards with no fencing, children walking through town, even at night, with no fear, neighbors not only knowing their neighbors, but investing time in such friendship. but i always temper the rosy view of the past with an absolute belief that each age had it’s own struggles and evils that set its teeth on edge, and each generation has a tendency to romanticize the past.
        thanks for the thought provoking conversation. i came across this on NPR and thought of you. it is quite interesting.

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2014/04/18/304156771/how-do-we-explain-the-evolution-of-religion?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20140418

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  2. This was buried in the plethora of email I am still digging through after our malware mess last week. It is a very uplifting post. I love the old movies that have an idealized view of America. Although I know they are far from accurate, I think they are particularly American and they make me feel good. Maybe that’s enough. Wildlife killing contests are horrible and inexcusable. It’s time to be rid of them. Thanks for the CS&N fix. Always welcome.

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