Hunt for the affirming flame

There are times in the last few months when it has felt that as a species that we are intent on our own self destruction. Many have expressed feelings being immersed in a period of dark nights since the United Kingdom voted to extricate itself from the European Union. There has been an incipient rise in explicit acts of racism and xenophobia, with the police saying there has been a rise in the number of hate crimes recorded since the vote. It would appear that people feel such acts are permissible, whereas previously it was thinly veiled under a veneer of sophistication. Europe has also seen a rise in far-right nationalism and in the US Donald Trump has been elected as the future president. Some of this represents a felt anger and a hitting back at the establishment. We have also been hearing about the reproachable way in which indigenous Americans who are ostensibly peacefully protesting at an oil pipeline being routed through their sacred lands and potentially undermining their water supply by the police and private security guards of the energy company building the pipeline. It has seen ‘water protectors’ praying, dancing and singing being bombarded with tear gas, rubber bullets and water canons in near freezing conditions.

What can transform our current trajectory in terms of our values, culture and the impact we are having on the planet? It is in times like these that we need to look to an alternative mode of operating and involve artists in co-creating a different story.

As Toni Morrison wrote:

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and through it is important not to ignore the pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. Like art.

We might be feeling defenseless and overwhelmed by the events that are unfolding but we need to look at the opportunities to transform and find the light within the darkness. To realise there is light at the end of the tunnel and not another train.

As Auden wrote:

September 1, 1939

Defenceless under the night

Our world in a stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages.

May I, composed like them

of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair

Show an affirming flame.

There is a need for everyone to love and respect first themselves, and once the relationship to self is healed it is easier for the relationship with others and our communities to improve as well. In this way we will see women being treated with respect, along with people of different sexual orientation and those with disabilities as well. The machismo way will be replaced by a consideration of nurture and compassion. Our elders will be seen as a source of wisdom rather than being perceived as a burden and as those who have no benefit to society.

Leadership styles will also incorporate a feminine dimension rather than the predominant autocratic and authoritative one. The Dalai Lama says,

More women leaders might lead to a less violent world.

He concedes that women have more sensitivity than men and in 2013, during a visit to Australia he suggested that the world crises require a compassionate approach to leadership.

We are part of nature and our lives depend on it. We all want to live in peace, but peace is not something external to us, rather it is something here in the heart. Anger and jealousy destroy it. Inner peace is linked to cultivating inner values, which should be part of education.  (Dalai Lama speaking at “Women in Compassionate Leadership”, breakfast, June, 2016)

So our role as artists, writers and creatives is to, ‘hunt for the affirming flame’ and be a beacon for others so that each person can realise that we are all artists and each of us contributes our own creativity to the communities that we are all part of. In this way we can all make our own journey to find our creative esscence and thereby make our own contribution to humanity.


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